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.

Why You Should Tip Big

I once heard somebody say, “Everyone needs to work a season of retail during the holidays so they know not to be disrespectful,” and I respectfully say, “F*ck that.”

Not because I don’t think people need better manners on the whole, mind. In fact, most definitely the opposite – all too common nowadays is it for people to feel insanely entitled – I just really don’t want to work a season of retail. Rather, I don’t want to work any retail, if I can help it, precisely for the above reason.

But that’s one of two occupations that experience a ton of entitled crap from a largely unforgiving public. The other, of course, being restaurant staff. (And yes, yes, before we go any farther, clearly there are other jobs that have to endure this too, but let’s focus here for today.) From complaints, to demands, to unreasonable privilege-seeking, Martha who grooms dogs or Bruce that manages a car lot seem to suddenly find a gem-crusted crown atop their domes the moment someone shows them to a booth at an Applebee’s.

And even setting those cultural, societal, (dumb) norms aside for the moment, working for damn-near free/”grovel wages” would be reason enough for the title. So yes, tip big if you find yourself able.

I tip between 20%-30% on average regardless of the bill for a number of reasons that will soon make painfully clear that those figures are in no way some sort of ‘humble brag.’ The first being that I can never remember what’s proper: Is it 15%? 18%? Is that with gratuity, or without? Was there a gratuity this time? I don’t want to leave 15% when 18% is the norm, and now that person thinks I’m stiffing, them or making a negative comment about their help, or something. So, if for other reason than laziness, err on the side of a touch more than a touch less.

Another shade to that reason too, actually, is embarrassment. Not at my powers of retention regarding customs, but at…hmm, expectation? Let me put it this way, if it’s Valentine’s Day and your classmate (pretend for a moment we’re in grade school, it makes the mental exercise work) gives you a Valentine’s Day card that states simply “Will you be my Valentine?” is that a sincere gesture, or just witnessing the fulfillment of a perceived obligation? Right? So if you’re given that card, it doesn’t say anything special and isn’t really even for you, it was just done out of tradition, but now you have to thank them or you’re the turd; but if you aren’t given a card, oof, well now you’ve been snubbed. Ouch.

But if you get a card from a classmate that goes a little above a beyond…? Oooo, that’s kind of sweet. That card has some hand-drawn glitter art? Got a little chocolate that comes with it? A personalized note? Oh, lawd, well now it’s kind of touching.

I don’t see how tipping is really all that different in form from the above situation with Valentine’s Day cards. It’s a win-win, too. If the service was great, the bonus tip sends the message, “Hey, you there, for real, thanks for taking care of me today.” And even if the service was awful and the person was kind of a butthole about the whole thing, you leave with the satisfaction that that person is probably going, “Aw, jeez. Well now don’t I feel like a rube…”

Moral victory secured.

But really, even all of that is just because I enjoy crafting a torturously long wind-up to my real point. And what I really draw from when I press this, is the following experience.

There was a time I went out to lunch with a friend (shocking, I know – I have FRIENDS), and I covered the bill. My memory’s a little fuzzy on who it was with, I don’t quite remember where we went, what we ate, or even clearly how many years ago this was, but I do very clearly remember what happened as we were leaving. I left a pretty sizable tip for all the above reasons (maybe closer to 30-35% this time; I was doing alright), and did so in cash just because it was what I had on me. As we were walking to the door, the fellow who’d served us ran interception and asked me if I’d made a mistake. Honestly perplexed, I just raised an eyebrow, smiled, and said, “No. No mistake, that’s yours.”

Now, there were no tears. No heart-pouring tales of hard times. But there was an indescribable look in his eyes that I didn’t know at the time I would one day understand intimately well. On the surface, he was just really grateful, and a bit surprised, so I took it that way. It was nice. Put a pep in my step, and I got to be That Guy (the good kind, not the bad kind) to somebody that day.

Fast forward a few years to Fall 2019, life’s gotten pretty hard. I’d left my job somewhat ambitiously only to wind up pouring most of myself and my worldly goods into a family emergency (Don’t regret it, do it again in a heartbeat only smarter), dropped classes I’d promised myself I’d finish that semester, had maxed out credit cards, and had $1.63 in my checking account…

It was rough.

I had a job lined up, but it didn’t start for another week. So I was taking a walk to a local deli, and I was going to put that last dollar and sixty-three cents to work (technically, I also had a paper dollar and two quarters in my pocket, as there’s a debit card minimum set above $1.63 at most places) on a cheap roll and a mini cup of salad dressing, which I knew to be a $1.25 in total. I get to the counter, and I guess prices had gone up, because the register rings me in at $1.89.

I stare at the numbers. My stomach drops out, anxiety and embarrassment prickle my scalp in turns, and I start muttering to myself about how it’s okay, I’ll just put the cup of dressing back. The fellow behind the counter waves it off after a moment with a smile. “You’re in here all the time,” he jokes. “Let me cover this one.” He presses a button on the machine and the balance goes to $0.00. I don’t know precisely how I must have looked to him, but in that moment it occurred to me with a painful lucidity that I must be giving him the same stare that waiter had given me years back. I choked out the same, whispered “Thank you.”

I barely made it to the door before I was bawling my eyes out.

So there you have it. You never know where someone’s at, and there’s no risk in being kind. Not just nice, but kind. Really, it’s a “There but for the grace of God go I” type of tale, a reminder to be kind in all those ways that can help even if you aren’t around to see it and it costs you next to nothing, because you could very well at some point wind up desperately grateful to be on the receiving end of a token like that.

Throw in that extra two bucks, Money Bags. You could make someone’s day, or leave an impact so deep and meaningful someone will preach about it online years later.

Ciao, everybody.

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!

What Would you do with the Lottery? (You’re Wrong)

Hey everyone, and sorry – the title’s a mite too aggressive, but you can never be too careful.

Let me explain.

You know when you’re going through your daily life, and all of a sudden you’re struck all over again by something that got your irritated years ago? Something that really chive’d your spuds, ground your gears, got your goat, years ago? Well I had one of those moments the other day.

I was working in an optics factory at the time, and I had a coworker who regularly followed the lottery. Not one of those “If you just follow the numbers, man” types, just kept a healthy eye on it. Well, as I remember it, the Super Lotto Jackpot (if that’s what it’s called) was at some truly ridiculous sum. If you hit all the numbers, the winner would be given something like 500 million dollars, either in the form of a 350 million dollar one-time payout, or basically $300,000 every month for the rest of your life.

Three hundred thousand dollars, every month, until you died.

Naturally, the question roamed around work: What would you do with it if you won? And some of the answers I heard infuriated me. “Oh, you know,” they began. “I’d keep my day job, of course. I’d make sure that plenty of it went into savings, and I’d use the rest to take care of my needs and live comfortably. Maybe a small house.” Even now, years later, I can feel my pulse quickening at how stupid that is.

Do you-

Can you even-

Does it settle on you how much money $300,000 is? Much less, that much every MONTH. That’s $10,000 A DAY. For most of us, that’s more money than we’d know what to do with. “Keep my day job-” Listen lady/dude/you, fu** your day job. Your day job doesn’t matter anymore. Literally, whatever you were doing, it doesn’t outweigh the net good you can now do with these boatloads of cash. It would be the most actual waste of time. Your day job is now hiring the right people to make sure this money gets spent properly. Set yourself up, set your family up, then you know what you start doing? Start solving sh**.

Homelessness in your area? Not anymore there isn’t.

Local schools having issues with budget constraints? Thing of the past.

People with crippling medical debt? Be gone, foul financial demon.

Your main concern now is living a loooooong healthy life and putting together a network of qualified, trustworthy individuals who will make sure the funds hit their mark and achieve the most good. With that much money, there is no such thing as a savings account for you to squirrel away to; and if you did you’re a villain who will wind up in Dante’s Fourth Level of Hell (Avarice). In a single month, you make more than the FDIC will insure.

Maybe it’s the fact that it is so unfathomable that made my friends give such dumb answers, but it just struck me as sublimely poor reasoning. “I’d buy a yacht.” “I’d buy a private jet.” Sure, you do you, boo; but I say forget the luxury industry. They have plenty of Old Money twits to keep them in business. Be the hero the world needs. Buy whatever kind of house you want, pre-pay your life and your grandchildren’s lives, then fix the world.

In other news, I have another book out!

Well, one that I helped contribute to. Proper ownership goes to Jessica Augustsson, as she’s the editor. And due credit to her, as she was a joy to work with. So, if you’re feeling like a tale featuring a quirky future kid getting tangled up in the misadventures of time travel, check it out on Amazon, and look up my piece, “30,000 B.C.” [Here, if you’re in the UK, chaps.]

I’d be much obliged.

Stay frosty, remember ya beautiful, and I’ll see you around.

Life, Death, Redemption, and Cute Little Birdies

Hey all. On a trip, so gonna make this quick, but it weirdly came to mind as worthy of sharing.

I was on a job out in a rural part of the county a few months back. It was a big house up in the hills behind a winery, so it had a really nice view from the front deck we were working on. The house itself was shaped a bit like a horseshoe, and the whole inside curve of that shape was lined with floor-to-ceiling windows. It was cool.

Well, I’m walking along that path to get some tools from the truck when I look down and see a bird on the concrete walkway. It’s on its back, wings splayed, kind of contorted out of shaped. Aww, poor little guy, I think, and start looking around for a bush to set the remains in. It was pretty obvious he’d gotten ambushed by one of the windows, and speed plus little bird spine equals…well, this.

Then I get a little closer and see what I didn’t want to: little sharp, stuttering, haggard breaths.

“…Fuck,” was of course the next mental diagnosis of the situation. Now, rather than a dead bird, here I had one that was dying and very likely suffering from its injuries. Didn’t want to move it, for fear of scaring it and causing it to twist painfully with reflex. Couldn’t just leave it there, for fear of a coworker stepping on him, if not just the unsightliness (is that a word?) for the owner. Wanted to mercy-kill it, but all I really had on me that was appropriate was my framing hammer, and that would have been a bad look if the aforementioned owner came around right as I was dropping it on the little guy.

I asked my older coworker for advice on what to do, and his answer was something akin to, “Hmm…dunno. Sucks.” I came back by the bird, and by now the dog of the house was staring at it, salivating, on the other side of the glass. So I bucked up, knocked on the door, and told the owner – just hoping she wouldn’t let the hounds out to brutalize the little guy with ‘play time.’

She saw, laughed, totally agreed, and we figured we’d just try and leave the little guy in what peace he might find in his last minutes; knowing that around evening time, nature (or a cat) would take its course.

Eventually, I come back and find the bird sitting upright, and I’m shocked. That ruled out a broken back, far as I could tell. He sat up straight, but his head was a little off-kilter. Broken neck still, maybe? I think, and I approach him a little.
[By the way, I swear to God we got work done that day, even though this view may not make it seem like it. lol]
His eyes flittered in and out of sleep. He’d lean forward with the loss of consciousness, catch himself, and sit upright again, like he was dozing off. As I got closer, he regarded me with one of his eyes, but he could. Not. Give. A. Shit. That I was coming within inches of his person. His birdsman…ship?

That was a first. I don’t think I’d ever seen a little finch dealing with results from a concussion before.

Later on, a landscaping crew came by, and before I could warn them about the bird [Again, guys, serious about my job, I really was working on the deck as my primary interest of the day.] I saw that one of them had picked the little guy up and was lightly petting his back between the wings. Who am I to say he shouldn’t? So I just watched from afar and smiled at the sweet moment.

Towards the end of the day, I come ’round the bend doing a final clean up of the day [See? Working.], and I notice the bird was gone. I check the hedges nearby, seeing if he was set in the shade. Nothing. I asked the owner if the landscaper had moved him, and she told me that no, he’d pet it and put it right back where it was. Then I’m ’rounding the bend for the final time that day – and I swear to God this is true – I hear a single ‘tweet’ from above me on the roof.

Now, I’ll never know if that landscaper was actually a Mexican druid with healing abilities or not, but I’d like to imagine that the bird had just taken a massive hit to the dome, suffered a bad concussion, and just needed some time to shake the cobwebs out; and that that ‘tweet’ was some kind of, “Hey, buddy, thanks for not smashing me when you thought I was dead.”

Altogether, it was a tale of trial, hardship, patience, adversity, and the ability to rally and overcome, all wrapped up in a neat little quarter-ounce package with wings.

Old Limits, New Heights – an update & news

Twenty-seven is a strange age.

You’re old enough now to have enough experience to “know better” and have gone through enough tribulations that you’ve come out the other side of some difficulty; but at the same time, still young enough to be referred to as “a kid in their 20’s.” In a lot of ways, it’s kind of having the best of both worlds: enough years under your belt to claim experience and authority in some situations, but just enough green to claim ignorance and get away with it most of the time.

It’s also tricky, because I want to introduce a story with “when I was a young man,” or “when I was younger,” they both feel a little disingenuous because I mean, like, five years ago.

So, when I was a young(er) rapscallion, I was delusional about my prowess in hand-to-hand combat. Like we discussed way back in “Fight Club: Fringe League,” I’m way more cognisant of those limits nowadays. I know that I don’t know the correct way to uncork a punch. I’m aware I don’t have a trained poise for rolling with or absorbing punches and kicks. I have some idea of how hard it is to control yourself or another human while in a wrestling scramble. But a few years ago, that wasn’t the case at all.

I argued with friends and coworkers, pretty vehemently mind you, that I could handle myself in a fight with a mountain lion. I was convinced that as the cat would leap at me, I could sidestep it, pop it in the mouth, and leave it dazed and confused on the dirt. I had a whole technique that was 100% foolproof (emphasis on “fool,” here) wherein my thumbs would hook the corners of its mouth and my forearms would block the claws just below the paw, rendering me completely safe from its assault.

I realized later that, as a cat in that situation, it would still have hind legs with sharp-ass claws that it would use to deftly carve open my soft-ass torso, disemboweling me in maybe a few seconds.

And while I’m ranting about this, another thing. I saw a YouTube video some years ago (I tried finding it, but to no avail – so allow me to paint the scene) featuring a zoo enclosure somewhere in southeast Asia, I believe. Unlike the enclosures we have here in the U.S., it’s the massive open expanse, and the feed isn’t a slab of steak through a door, but a live feeding. Meaning, they dump a live cow or goat in the middle of this field, peel out, and the – in this case – tigers jump all over it, giving them some semblance of a hunt.

It was in this particular video that they were fed in this way a single large cow who, after being dropped in this field, naturally tried to make a break for it. To humans, do you know how f***ing strong a cow is? A cow could level an average person without even meaning to. Well, four tigers swarm this ole gal and just one of them brings her to the ground with minimal – and I mean MINIMAL – effort. Three just start going to town, tearing into the soft bits, and the cow is…well, being loud about it. The fourth tiger is calmly watching its siblings fill their tummies when it decides to saunter over, grip the cow’s neck with its teeth, and snap it like a cracker.

Y’all, it mercy-killed that bovine with the same energy I use to take a sip of coffee. And that monster was the kind of thing I thought I could “K.O. if I had the chance, bro.”

Disgusting.

Anyway, another book with my name on it came out this month!
Bards & Sages Publishing has their “Society of Misfit Stories Presents…” vol.III issue out now on Amazon for those looking for a paperback, and for the e-readers among us, Smashwords is doing their thing and offering a 20% off discount through the end of the year if you use the code PC74V at checkout.
Look for my contribution to the collection, “High Noon,” which follows a Canadian kid who tries to hike the Pacific Crest Trail but gets…caught up as he takes on a mysterious guest.
And that’s kind of sweet.

Til next time, y’all.

Update: A Little Nothing Placeholder

So, I’m working. A lot. Both in a day-job sense, and on something special for here. I’ve also got a number of fiction publications on the way that I’ll get to bug you about when they hit the market (which is rad), so stay tuned n’ such.

I’ve also been working on…calculations? Yeah, I think that’s the simplest and most accurate way to describe that. I’ll put up a preview soon, but in a nutshell: it’s the most bro-science, but legitimately hardcore math I’ve done in a long time.

In the meantime, a note: A lot of people think it’s annoying to talk about your diet, which is true. But mine’s, like, 50% hummus, and I think that’s interesting.

Anyway, keep it breezy. I’ll have more soon.

“Artificial”

Hey all, happy middle-of-the-week.

Growing up, in the war between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, also known as the ‘Great Conflict of Sci-Fi Nerds and Fantasy Nerds of Forever,’ I always had my flag pitched pretty firmly in the camp for Fantasy Nerds. That’s right, you science nerds can suck it with your “lasers,” and your “spaceships,” and “anti-gravity-whateverthehell,” I’m over here with dragons, immortality, ethereal curses, and all the rest.

And even now at twenty-seven, I still do kind of hold that stance, but am waaaay more of a mercenary now than married to either side. My heart will always be with the art of High Fantasy, but I’ve come to see the love for science fiction a great deal and have really become a sucker for things like the cyberpunk genre (R.I.P. CD Projekt Red). Movies like Upgrade, Blade Runner 2049, Ex Machina, Ghost in the Shell, and to a lesser degree of genre, Arrival, Inception, and Tenet.

As it turns out, Sci-Fi is awesome.

Alright, I was writing something out, but then I began to notice all I was doing was spoiling the story here today, so I bumped it to the bottom. Without further adieu….

“Artificial”

April 6, 2034

This day…just…keeps coming back to me.

You’d just died maybe two months before, and I’m standing at your grave. The headstone your family got for you is nice, nobody seems to go out for real marble anymore. Others have been by and left flowers too, I guess. But you didn’t tell too many people you liked sunflowers best, natural ones. The synthetic daises under your name smell right, the petals even bruise if you press them, but they never wilt. And they don’t bob in the same way when the rain drops hit them either.

I want to stand in the rain because with you gone at least it would feel like I have someone to cry with. But of course Lucille’s right there with the umbrella.

“Are you cold?” she asks me.

“No,” I tell her.

“Are you sad?” she asks after a pause.

I almost laugh, but there doesn’t seem to be a point in it. “Yes. Of course.”

“Barry,” she says again. “May I ask you a personal question?”

“Shoot.”

“Are you afraid?”

It’s hard to say what it was, but the question stopped me. I had to swallow a lump in my throat before I found I could answer. “Of what?”

“Dying,” she says.

All I did was watch the rain break against the marble and run along the letters of your name. She’d struck a chord.

I want to tell her I am, but am also not. After all, you’d done it, so had everyone in history, so it can’t be that bad. I think of all sorts of reasons to be or not to be, but in the end all I say is, “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“May I ask you another personal question, Barry?”

I don’t say anything, but just nod.

“Are you afraid of me?”

This time I look at her, and she looks at me. It’s tough to say what it is – at first I think it might be because she looks like you – but I think instead it’s the way she looks at me. I look into her eyes and every second longer I do, I see something else. Her eyes aren’t steadfast, they flutter subtly, searchingly, minutely quivering like yours or mine. Her lips flex so slightly, the way they do when your teeth don’t touch and your jaw is uneasy, so subtle you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t locked in such an intimate moment with someone.

“It isn’t fair,” I say.

“What isn’t fair, Barry?” she asks.

“To be so unsure.”

And why shouldn’t I be? The small signals in her eyes, her face, her hands. The soft cues of inner feelings we all use, all wrestle with. Our emotional responses have outward signs, just because she’s different doesn’t mean they can’t come from the same place. And how is she so different, anyway? Because she has a production date? I have a birthday. She has a serial number? I’ve got a social. Because of her programming? I’m a creature of habit and education too, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a person beneath it all. And that “unique cipher” DigitalBio is so proud of each of their products having…

I look down at my hands and think of the countless times since androids were first announced that I’ve done that. The runic layout of our fingerprints, the ridges of those tiny lines, the creases in the palm – it’s hard to see how that’s really any different.

I look back at her and she looks at me. Just like you she’s beautiful. The way her hair rests on her shoulder, the way the blue of her eyes contrasts against the gray background, she reminds me of you a lot.

Two men walk past and I catch their sneers. “They let you bring that thing onto the grounds?” they mutter. Of course she hears them, I’m sure, but she won’t move.

1’s and 0’s. Plastic, carbon fiber, and alloys. A machine of intelligent design is what we’re supposed to see. Programmed responses, algorithms, protocols, functions, and nothing else. But why is it foolish to see more than that? Once upon a time, the animal kingdom was thoughtless and bereft of conscious intelligence, but look a little further and gorillas take up sign language, whales and dolphins speak, crows remember faces, elephants lament and mourn their dead – all just like we do. Hell, even mushrooms communicate with each other. It only took a small amount of respect to see humans aren’t as alone as we pride ourselves.

So why am I so unsure when I look at her? I’m standing there, in a city cemetery, and she just stands there looking back at me. I feel the first tears burn down the side of my face and I know exactly why: because I don’t know whether or not to feel alone there.

“Do you,” I say still wiping my face, “do you ever get that way?”

It would have stuck with me no matter what, but what really got me was that she didn’t answer straight away.

After a few seconds of silence, I look at her again and her eyes are in the grass. I see her squeeze the grip on the umbrella, barely, hardly perceptible but it’s there.

“Yes,” she says.

Arthur C. Clarke had this great quote once upon a time where he said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” He’d meant E.T.’s, I think, but here I was confronted by a one-word answer that scared me, relieved me, excited me, lifted an enormous weight off my shoulders, and settled a new one on them all at once. I’d never felt those words more heavily than I did in that moment. The rain began to pick up again and drum against the umbrella’s hood.

“Come on,” I say.

“Where are we going?”

“Let’s go get a coffee for starters. This talk should take a while.”

Maybe she’s more like you than I thought.

Funny thing since you named her, eh?

END

I’ve harped on it at length before, but the game Detroit: Become Human may have faults here and there, but I ultimately found it to be an incredible ride in narrative. The piece below (now above) started, I’m pretty sure, was born of inspiration from playing that game. It was a Mental Movie that featured a man and a woman in a hospital room, at first. The man would be older and sort of plain, looking sort of like Paul Giamatti, and the woman would be young, fair, and beautiful. She would be in the hospital bed, and he would be standing beside her, and all that would take place is a conversation about humanity. Slowly, it would unfold that one of them was an android while the other was human, and I felt the natural assumption would be that the woman would be the manufactured android, giving how beautiful she was, but in reality it would be the man – I don’t know, an attempt to show the separations of what we value, humanity, and how those things influence our assumptions while at the same time being intrinsically linked. Then, one morning, I sat down, slapped some keys, and we got the above little piece.

Anyway, something to think about, maybe.

Til next time.

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.