Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The King's Crown - Chapter Three

This is a short chapter, written before I knew what chaptering was all about. Hell, it was written before I knew what writing was all about. Like so many others, I figured I could crank a book out in no time and as soon as I finished it, they'd be crawling all over each other to publish it. Easy as that, right?


At any rate, writing doesn't work out quite like that.

Here's chapter three of The King's Crown. I hope you enjoy it.


Chapter Three

Alex met Paul during her first semester at college. He was a Senior finishing up his degree requirements by taking a beginning computer course. They met in one of the computer labs where Alex was working. He was cute and charming. She thought it was romantic the way he called her Alexandra, so she began concentrating on helping him in the evenings when she was supposed to be helping everyone. One night he had a project that was due the following day, and she let him stay after she locked up so he could finish it. One thing led to another that night and they began seeing each other.

Thinking back Alex could see it was anything but a normal relationship. They met in the back of the library or at a small coffee shop just off campus. Paul never took Alex back to his dorm room. When they ran into each other on campus, neither one spoke. Paul convinced Alex that meeting in out of the way places and not acknowledging one another in public would be exciting and would keep them out of the rumor mills that were a large part of campus life. They saw each other in secret nearly every day for two months.

One day in particular stood out in Alex’s mind...

"I love you so much, Paul.” Alex looked over at the fair haired man sitting next to her. “I can’t wait until we can finally be together.” She grinned into his sparkling blue eyes. They sat under a tree in front of the Student Union building. They didn’t touch. Sitting a small distance apart, they held books and did their best to appear to be studying separately. Occasionally Alex would turn to talk to Paul but when Paul replied he spoke into his text book.

"I love you too, baby. We won’t have to wait much longer. After all, I graduate next month.” Paul turned the pages of the book he obviously wasn’t reading.

Alex sighed, “But then you’ll be going to graduate school. Paul, I need to talk to you about us.” She gave up the pretense of studying and turned to Paul in earnest.

He didn’t even look her way, although you could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t appreciate her dropping her end of the act. “Oh, baby. Don’t be such a worry wart, I’ll only be an hour away and by the time you get your degree here I’ll be graduating there. We can be together then.” Paul took a highlighting pen out of his book bag and began marking sentences randomly.

Alex snatched the pen out of his hands, “Paul, I said I need to talk to you.”

"Alexandra, please, you’re making a scene. We can talk later. Now I’m going back to my room, and I suggest you do the same before somebody sees us.” Paul began to gather his books. He began stuffing them randomly into his book bag.

"Paul, I said I need to talk to you and I mean now. I’d prefer if we don’t talk here but if you insist...” Alex began.

"Really Alex, can’t this wait. I told you we could meet the coffee shop...we could get that booth in the back.” Paul glanced around nervously, “Alex people are beginning to stare. I’ll see you at 9.” And with that Paul turned to walk away.

"I’m pregnant.” Alex stated.

That little phrase stopped Paul dead in his tracks. “YOU’RE WHAT?!” He shouted. He grabbed Alex by the top of her arm and jerked her closer to him. “How did this happen?!”

"Paul, you’re hurting me.” Alex cried as his fingers dug into her. “And you know very well how this happened. You were there too, you know.” Alex tried to pry loose of his grasp.

"Don’t get smart with me you bitch.” He growled, “This will ruin everything. Why weren’t you more careful? I thought you were on the pill for Christ’s sake.” Paul began to shake Alex. “What will happen to my studies? Did you think of that? I can’t very well support you and pay my tuition too. My God! What is my wife going to say?!” He stopped and physically shuddered. “You conniving little bitch! You did this on purpose. You with your big lofty talk about how you wanted to concentrate on your studies and how nothing was going to get in the way of that. Bull shit. Boy, what a liar you turned out to be.” He screamed. “Give it up for adoption, get an abortion, get hit by a truck for all I care. Just don’t expect to get a cent out of me. It probably isn’t even mine, you little slut!” And with that Paul pushed her away from him.

Alex remembered stumbling for a few feet and then her feet seemed to drop out from underneath her and she was falling. Too late she remembered the stairwell leading to the underground amphitheater. Her ankle turned on the first step causing her to fall down the remaining twelve. She hit the landing with a sickening thud and everything went black.

When Alex awoke, someone had carried her to the grass at the top of the stairs and there was a crowd of people standing around. Someone was patting her hand. She tried to push the hand away and stand up but the hand held her in place. “No honey, you must try to lie still.” a woman’s voice said, “The police have been called and an ambulance is on its way.”

"I don’t need an ambulance.” Alex denied and she sat up. It was then that she noticed the pain and the sickening wet feeling between her legs. “Oh my God! My baby!” She cried. She could feel herself getting dizzy and she heard the sirens in the background. She tried to keep alert but the pain was too great. The last thing she remembered of that day was the sight of Paul being pushed into the back of a police car.


Alex shook herself and went back into the house. The memories of that day still haunted her after all these years. Alex spent a few days in the hospital recovering from her miscarriage and the infection that followed. Paul spent a few months in jail for assault. The results of that day left Alex infertile. Paul’s legal career ended with a that push and his life ended with a leap off a chair in a jail cell. She wasn’t sorry that she had pressed charges against Paul. She was sorry that he wasn’t man enough to take the punishment for what he’d done.

As she wandered through her big empty house, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in a china cabinet. She saw the face of the girl she had been then - haunted and empty. The tell tale traces of her tears could still be seen on her cheeks but for the moment she was done crying. 11 years she had spent most of her time crying. She cried for the baby she had lost; she cried for the man she had lost. She didn’t cry for Paul. He wasn’t the man she thought he was; she was in love with the lie he had created. Paul’s wife, it turned out, was living back home in Ohio - waiting for her devoted husband to finish school and come back to her.

The only thing about that incident that Alex was thankful for was that her parents never found out a thing. Her mother commented on Alex’s dropping grades that year, and on her lack of communication for about a month of so, but after that she never thought about it again. Alex threw herself into her studies. She completed her bachelor’s degree in only three years. Everyone who knew her at school told her she was driven but they never once mentioned the reason why. Her father exclaimed to his lodge buddies about what an over achiever his daughter was; her mother lied to her bridge club that Alex was finishing school quick so she become an eligible and sought after single woman. Alex never talked to a soul about the whole disaster, even though friends tried to get her to open up and her doctor recommended counseling. She buried herself in her work and tried to forget.

Now, after all these years she met someone who ignited a spark in her and it brought all the old hurts back to the surface. And the old fears. Here was a man she knew nothing about; a man who charmed and surprised her, just as Paul had. She shook her head and walked into her work room. Computers were her life now and she thought that she’d come to terms with that years ago. Computers didn’t require an ounce of emotion; they never lied and they never betrayed.

Being a freelance consultant gave her the freedom she required. Working with computers allowed her to keep her distance from humanity and that was just how she liked it! She thought angrily. “How dare this stranger, this man, barge into my life and destroy the careful walls I spent years building!”

"Well,” she said to herself, “That’s the last I’ll see of him.”

Friday, December 7, 2007

The King's Crown - Chapter Two

Per a request from Janime, here is the second chapter of my romance novel, The King's Crown. I've only written 41 pages of this book, so at some point you're all just going to have to be frustrated, but for now...

Enjoy! =oD


The King's Crown
Chapter Two

Two weeks later, Alex was deeply engrossed in building a complicated database for one of her new clients when the sound of insistent knocking pulled her back to reality. She rolled herself back from the workbench and headed toward the front of the house. As she neared the front door the knocking ceased. Just as before, Alex looked through the peephole at a broad back. She smiled.

Pulling the door open she shouted “Wait!” and was rewarded with a glimpse of one of the most gorgeous men she had ever laid eyes on. Michael was as tall as she remembered, but somehow the low light and barely veiled anger of their previous meeting had over shadowed how incredibly handsome he looked. Alex inhaled sharply.

“Hi! I was beginning to think you weren’t home.” Michael said, “Let me guess, you were deep in thought again.”

“I’m afraid I get that way. I was working. Is there something I can help you with?” Alex asked. She thought about the morning after when a flatbed tow truck had come and hauled his car away. That was the last she had thought about that awful night.

“Actually, I was thinking that there may be something that I could help you with.” He replied.

“Help me with? As I remember the last time I saw you, you were recovering from a couple of accidents caused by my dog. I can’t think of any reason why you should want to help me with anything. In fact I am quite surprised that you never sued me for the damages.” Alex looked at Michael suspiciously. “Now, why did you really come here?”

“Really? Well, I’d say I was in the neighborhood, but you don’t really live on the way to anywhere. So I guess I’d better come out with the truth. I wanted to repay you.” Michael grinned at the disbelieving look on Alex’s face.

“Repay me for what?”

“Repay you for letting me use your phone that night and for not calling the police to come get me when I was done.” The two of them stood on the front steps of Alex’s three story Victorian mansion staring at each other. “But I would like to request one more favor from you.”

Alex nodded her head as if she were sure her suspicions were confirmed. “And just what would that be?” The tone of her voice was designed to turn away the most insistent of men, but Michael just smiled.

“I’d like for you to tell me your name,” he said, “I’ve been wanting to call you for the past couple of weeks but in the morning after the accident it occurred to me that I had never asked you your name. So, I drove up here on the first opportunity I had to ask you for your name and to repay you.” Michael stated.

She shook her head, “Alex.”

“Just Alex?”

“Alexandra McKenzie. Alex for short. Al for very short, but there are very few people who call me Al. Look, why don’t we talk inside where we can sit down?” They moved up the steps and into the foyer. “We can walk back to the kitchen if you’d like something to drink.”

“No, that’s all right. I only came here to ask you to dinner tonight.” Michael looked Alex up and down; he liked what he saw. From her long dark hair, to her green eyes, to her long shapely legs, she was every bit of the dreams he’d been having about her every night. “I know a little out of the way restaurant that serves the best steaks.” Alex shook her head. Misunderstanding, Michael said, “Of course, if you’re a vegetarian, they also serve very good salads.”

Alex continued shaking her head, “It’s not that. I can’t join you tonight. I have a great deal of work to do. I’m under a dead line and I’m afraid I can’t spare any time until after I’ve completed the job. Maybe I can take a rain check,” she said doubtfully.

“Nope. No rain checks.” Michael said quickly and pushed past Alex. She watched his figure stride down the sidewalk, like some great cat. She was so dumbfounded by his reaction that he made it all the way to his car and down the driveway before she came to her senses. She called for him to come back, but it was too late. Dejectedly, she shut the door and wandered back to her work room. Eight computers gleamed at her from the interior of a large room. At first the room appeared to be dark and foreboding, but she walked to the far wall and pulled a cord allowing the afternoon rays of sunlight to bathe her. She sighed. She really didn’t feel like returning to her work but then she thought about the consulting fees that her clients were paying and she sat down at the nearest monitor.

Shortly after nightfall, Alex was shocked to hear faint footsteps from the interior of her home. She cursed herself for not locking the doors and crept around the workbench toward the phone located at the far side of the room. She tiptoed the few yards, hoping that one of the old boards wouldn’t creak. It did.

Alex froze in terror. She could just imagine some common criminal walking into her house, going through her things, stealing from her, thinking she wasn’t home. She cursed the fence around Cargo, wishing he were inside with her. Slowly the footsteps came closer to her. Standing in the middle of a bare room, Alex knew she was a perfect target. As the workroom door was pushed open, Alex dropped to floor and scurried for the one phone at that end of the house. She could only pray she’d make it before they caught her. As a hand closed around her upper arm, she could almost here them chuckling cruelly. She came up screaming at the top of her lungs face to face with...Michael.

He was laughing softly. “Its okay. Its just me.”

“Its not funny.” Alex sulked. “And how dare you break into my house in the middle of the night.”

Michael slowly shook his head, “Its only eight and I didn’t break in, your door was unlocked. I knocked, but when you didn’t answer the door I guessed that you may be working so I let myself in. I was looking for the kitchen when I heard movement back here and came back to let you know it was me.” Michael smiled, “Next thing I know you’re commando woman, crawling across the floor to call in the cavalry.” He wrapped her still shaking body into his arms. “Its okay. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just didn’t want to disturb your work again.”

She pushed herself out of his arms. “I am not scared.” she denied. “Why did you come back? I thought it was no rain checks.” Alex walked over to her workbench and began the task of bringing her computer systems down.

Michael walked up behind her and watched as she went through the slow process of shutting down each program and logging out of the network. “Why don’t you just turn them off?” He inquired.

“Because I could lose valuable data and disk space that way. Its a long story, but the computers are just happier if you shut them off properly.”

Michael chuckled, “The computers are happier?” he said. “I always thought they were just machines.”

“They are.” Alex replied, “But it helps to personify them a little bit, you get a better understanding of them that way. I mean, I haven’t given them names or anything.” She said, catching look on his face that meant he was beginning to doubt her sanity. “They just have glitches and quirks sometimes that make them seem almost human.” Alex shut down the last system and turned to Michael. “You haven’t answered my question.”

“There are no rain checks, that’s why I didn’t wait for another night. But in deference to your work schedule, I thought I’d compromise. Follow me.” Michael turned and walked out of the work room. Alex followed him as he meandered through her house toward the kitchen. She was amazed he managed to find his way in her maze of a house. As they neared the kitchen, the smell of oregano and tomato sauce was almost over powering. She smiled at the thought of a meal cooked by someone who actually knew what they were doing. Tonight’s dinner would be a huge step up from her usual burnt grilled cheese or cold cereal.

“What is that glorious odor?” She asked as they entered her spacious kitchen.

“Baked mostaciolli, fresh spinach salad with a light vinegar and oil dressing, garlic breadsticks sprinkled with parmesan cheese, and a light Chianti.” As Michael spoke he pulled various take-out containers out of a brown paper bag and laid them out on the counter. “I have certain connections who assure me that the sauce is made from scratch by little old ladies from a tiny village north of Venice.” Smiling, he began to open the cupboards. “Where is your tableware located?”

Alex pointed to the left of the sink and walked around the cutting block to assist him in the preparation. Giggling she pulled out her finest red checked picnic table cloth. “I hope this will do. I let the maid have the day off and I can’t find a thing.” She joked.

“Of course it will. I found some paper cups for the wine. I guess your ‘maid’ must have hidden the champagne flutes too.” He jested in return.

Together they settled down to her dining room table. They enjoyed the finest Italian food in upstate New York out of Styrofoam boxes and paper cups. Laughing all the while, they ate until they were both too full to move.

“Ugh! I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” Michael groaned pushing away an empty mostaciolli container. “Luigi’s is too good. I eat like this every time I go there, then I have to do two thousand push-ups just to get rid of the weight.”

Alex looked at the broad chest of the man across from her. With his muscular build, she could never imagine an ounce of fat having the nerve to stick to him. “I’ll bet.” she scoffed, “You have never spent an overweight day in your life.”

“And you have?” Michael spent a moment in stern appraisal of Alex’s lithe figure. Boy, she had curves in all the right places. Michael couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually undressed a woman with eyes but he was getting to the point of mentally unbuttoning her blouse.

“You bet I have. I remember when I was sixteen, I was madly in love with the drum major in our high school band. When he backed out of a date with me to take the captain of the debate team to the homecoming dance, I spent the evening with a gallon of ice cream, a can of Hershey’s syrup and a spoon. I must’ve gained ten pounds that night. I spent my whole sophomore year with people like Betty Crocker and Sarah Lee.” Alex shook her head at the thought of those days. “You wouldn’t believe what first disappointment can do to a young girl’s ego.”

Michael frowned at the thought of how hurt Alex must have been all those years ago. “I understand. And that’s why you spend your time now with IBM and Compaq. Nice guys.”

“Yeah.” Alex smiled, “And don’t forget Packard Bell.” Michael smiled in return. They sat for a while in companionable silence. Marveling at how easy it was to be with each other, they began chatting. They talked for hours about their lives, their jobs, and any number of topics.

“So you own your own publishing house. I’ve heard of Crown Books. You stick mainly to popular fiction, don’t you?” Alex remarked. “I don’t get much of an opportunity to read books, Well, except for computer manuals, that is.”

“You should give yourself some time to sit down and relax. Read a book just for enjoyment.” Michael thought about that statement for a second and chuckled softly. “Actually, I should take that advice myself. Since I opened Crown, I only read books to evaluate their marketability. I can’t remember the last time I read for enjoyment.” He smiled and Alex marveled at how smiling lit his face up. She remembered the night they met. The scowl on his face then and the smile he was wearing now almost made him into two completely different people.

“I like this you.” She said.

“This me? I didn’t realize there was another me.” He said laughingly.

“There is. The you that showed up on my doorstep that night was too gruff and foreboding. I much prefer this you.” Alex spoke softly, as if she wasn’t sure how he’d react to her revelation.

“I’m glad you like this me. But you know, that guy you met two weeks ago is as much the real me as this is. I can be a real bear.” Michael looked into Alex’s eyes, “I sincerely apologize for my behavior that night. It’s no excuse, but I was rather shaken up that night.” He took Alex’s hand in his and started caressing the backs of her fingers with his thumb.

“I understand. Anyone would be under those circumstances.” She looked down at their hands. It was nice to hold hands with someone again. She really liked this man. If she wasn’t careful she could easily fall in love with him. Love! She hastily pulled her hand free. Embarrassed, she babbled, “Would you look at the time! I can’t believe we’ve been sitting here for so long. I really should be getting to bed. Tomorrow’s a work day for me, you know.”

She began picking up there dinner dishes and tidying the room. He assisted in carrying cartons to the kitchen. He didn’t know what had gotten into her so suddenly but he would abide by her wishes. After they finished cleaning, he grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.

“Well... I had fun tonight. Thank you for letting me treat you to dinner.”

“Yeah. I had fun too. Thank you for treating me to dinner. It was nice to take a break and eat a good meal.” Alex grinned and opened the front door for him. He hesitated and looked at her for some kind of reassurance. She smiled at him, but he could see that something was holding her back.

“Well, have a good night...” he said as he walked through the door.

“Yes, you too. Have a safe drive home.” Alex watched as he walked to his car, got in and backed down the driveway to the road. She watched his car until she could no longer see his tail lights. She watched him drive away and then she sat down on her front step and cried.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The King's Crown - Chapter One

Sorry it's been so long since I stopped over here, but I've been scattered between life and various projects.

As a way of apologizing, I thought I'd offer you the first chapter of a romance novel I started writing back in 1996. I haven't touched it since 1998 or so, but I still like it. Maybe someday I'll finish what I started.

The King's Crown
Chapter One

“I am never getting married!” Alex said with an emphatic shake of her head. “Give it up, Mom. I swear, every time you meet someone new at the club, she has some unattached son that you try to pawn off on me.” She tossed her long waves of soft brown hair over her shoulder as she cradled the phone to the other ear. “I’m seriously thinking of becoming a nun, just to get you to leave me alone.” Alex stalked over to the picture window overlooking the winding road on which she lived and took a deep breath. Her mother could be a wonderful woman but this conversation was always a major strain on their relationship.

As her mother rattled on about the latest ‘perfect husband for her little girl’, Alex took a mental refuge by gazing out to the calm of her tree-lined front yard. In the six years since she’d bought the old mansion, she had spent many evenings just staring into the darkness. Decades before, the quiet winding road had been a busy highway and tourists from hundreds of miles around would take the highway into the mountains to their shady summer hideaways. Since the interstate was built, however, hardly any cars passed her house. It was the peaceful woodland setting of which she’d always dreamed. Tonight, though, with the sound of her mother’s droning lulling her into a daze, she could almost imagine that headlights were winding their way up her road.

“But honey, I only want to see you happy,” said the voice on the phone. “Your consulting business is going so well, but really, you can’t live your life with nothing but computers to keep you company. And you going in and out of office after office, day after day, I’m sure you get all kinds of unwanted advances from the wrong kind of man. Heaven forbid you should succumb to one of them in a fit of desperation. You know... your biological clock is ticking...”

Alex watched as a car actually did materialize out of the darkness and pass her lonesome old house. The shock of seeing a real car shook her out of her dream long enough to catch the last bit of the conversation. “Mother! I can’t believe you would even think such a thing. There is no way and I mean no way, that I am going to ‘succumb’ to any man in ‘desperation’. And, as for the clock thing again. Listen, I’m only thirty. I have plenty of time to raise children. I just read an article about a 60 year old woman who adopted twins from Guatemala.” Alex grinned at the thought of the two shy smiles she’d seen in the paper - looking up at their new mother for the first time. “ I know you don’t like it, but I just don’t see myself giving in to the ‘bonds of holy matrimony’.”

“But honey...”

“Listen, Mom, I have to go. Uh, I can smell the meatloaf burning. I...I’ll call you back next week. I love you. Bye” Walking away from the window, Alex slumped back into her overstuffed easy chair and hung up the phone. She didn’t have any meatloaf cooking and her mother knew it. Her mother knew that the only thing Alex cooked with any great accuracy was gelatin, and that was after years of practice. “Lying again, Alexandra Marie.”, she said to herself, “You ought to be ashamed.” But Alex knew that, when it came to her mother and the 45 minute marriage lecture, she’d do it again, in a heartbeat.

The “lecture”, as Alex always referred to it, was a regular occurrence in the past few years. Shortly after her father passed away, her mother felt the burning need to experience grandchildren first hand. So, whenever the occasion arose, or even when it didn’t, she would start into the “biological clock” thing and the “you must be so lonely” thing.

Alex was so deep in thought that it was several minutes before she heard someone banging on her front door. As she neared the entryway, the pounding stopped. She looked through the peep hole just in time to see a broad back striding away, down her sidewalk and towards the street. Hurriedly, she swung the front door open. “Wait!” She shouted as the stranger turned onto the street. It took only moments and a quick glimpse at the scowling features for her to rethink her decision to call after the large man. From what Alex could see he was humungous. At least 6’9” with the build of a small battleship, he did little to ease Alex’s fears when he strode past her and right into her house.

“I need to use your phone.” He growled as he walked into her living room. As large as her living room was, this man managed to make it seem tiny by comparison. “Blast! Where is the damn thing!” He turned and his ebony eyes seemed to bore right into her.

“Excuse me, sir. But I don’t believe I asked you into my home...”

“Oh, there it is!” he exclaimed as he flopped down on her couch and reached for the cordless set that she had just put down. “I’ll only be a second.” He stabbed out what looked like a long distance number and leaned back as it rang. With every ring Alex’s blood pressure rose another point or two, until finally someone picked up on the other end. “Roger! Great! I need for you to come get me. I was on my way up and I thought I’d take a short cut, when this great mangy hulk of a dog jumped out in front of my car.”

“Cargo!” Alex said in a strangled gasp, “Oh my God!”

The man looked up at her in disgust, “No, Roger, I didn’t hit it for Christ’s sake. But in swerving to avoid it I managed to neatly wrap my car around a tree... No, No I’m fine. Yes, I had my seat belt on. If you could just come get me, I’m at...” He looked questioningly at Alex.

“4335 Maple Grove”, she answered.

“4335 Maple Grove. No, its not the way I usually come out but I thought I was taking a shortcut. Yes, I’m calling a tow truck right after I hang up with you. Listen, could you call Jeannine and tell her I’m running late. Don’t give her the details; I don’t want her to worry. I’ll see you in about an hour. Thanks.” The stranger hung up and began looking around again. By about this time Alex’s blood pressure hit the boiling point.

“I don’t know what you’re looking for this time, and, frankly, I don’t care. You have been nothing but rude since the moment you pushed your way into my house. You nearly ran over my dog, then you barge in my house, without asking or introducing yourself and now you’ve made a long distance call on my phone, and OH!” Finally, Alex’s anger made her speechless and she stomped her foot for emphasis.

“Listen, lady. I was nearly killed out there missing your hairy monster. As far as barging into your house goes, I was standing there pounding on your door for nearly five minutes when I could plainly see you sitting on this couch staring off into space doing nothing. And here,” he said pulling out his wallet, “is ten dollars to cover the cost of the phone call.” And with that he threw the bill in Alex’s direction. “ Now, if you don’t mind ma’am, I need to use your phone again to call a wrecker to come and unwrap my car from around a tree out there. Now, where, if I may ask, is your telephone book?”

Alex stooped down to pick up the crumpled bill and stuffed it into her pocket, she glared at her unwanted guest and stomped out of the room. A couple of minutes later she came striding back and plopped a thin book on the table. “It’s not much but it works for us.” She walked over to the couch and sat down, propping her legs up on the table in front of her. “And by the way, there’s only one wrecker service in town and I happen to know that Rex is out of town until Monday.” Smiling wickedly she laced her hands behind her head and closed her eyes. She didn’t know why she was suddenly so mean spirited, but she felt satisfaction in knowing that this rude bully wasn’t going to get what he wanted immediately.

“What!? Its only Thursday! I need to get my car back to the city and in to a mechanic by tomorrow. I need to have my car back by Monday! I have meetings all day! This is unbelievable!” He ran his fingers through his short black hair and turned to look out the window. He stood there for a long time, just staring into the gathering blackness.

With the stranger finally standing still and giving Alex a chance to relax, she took advantage of the time to get a good look at her visitor. Her initial impression was right. He was huge. He was wearing a light spring jacket; it was a little crumpled but she could tell it was of quality material. His trousers were dark and conservative, more like ‘business casual’ than ‘weekend in the country’. His hair was jet black and cut short - as conservative as his attire. As Alex watched, she could almost visibly watch the tension drain out of him. It almost transformed him.

When the darkness had completely engulfed the world outside, he turned and looked at her. “I can see headlights coming up your road. I assume that’s my friend Roger since it seems you don’t get much traffic out here.” His voice was warm and almost friendly as he finally introduced himself. “My name is Michael Kingsley. I apologize for my behavior earlier. I was a bit shaken by the accident and I honestly did believe that you were being rude by not answering the door, but that’s no excuse for barging into your house. Now I better head outside. I never told Roger where I was.” He turned and headed for the door.

“He’ll probably assume you’re here,” she said, “Mine is the only house for about mile around. And...I’m sorry for my behavior too. You must admit you pose a pretty intimidating picture. I mean, it being dusk and all. And you were pretty angry.” She shrugged. “I also apologize for my dog. Cargo has broken every chain I put him on. The car chain was my last vestige of hope and now it looks like he’s broken that too. I guess I’ll have to put up a fence now.” She smiled and got one in return.

“A cyclone fence with guard towers, if that dog was as big as he looked. Well, thank you for your hospitality. Even though I took it without it being offered.” Michael pulled the door open and headed down the sidewalk toward the road.

Alex decided to be neighborly and, after turning on her outside lights, started after him. Neither of them made it very far when they saw the headlights stop near Michael’s wreck. They quickened their pace and trudged up the hill towards the new arrival. Suddenly, they heard a shout and a crashing of brush. Shortly afterwards, they heard another flurry of activity and barking.

“Cargo!” Alex called.

“Roger!” Michael shouted.

“I’m all right.” A voice shouted back. “Just call this monster off of me.”
They both ran toward the sound of the voice. It seemed to be coming from just off the road past Michael’s car. They hurried through the undergrowth. A few yards in they spotted what appeared to be a moving mound of loose white hair and barely visible underneath was the figure of a man.

“Cargo! Down!” Alex commanded. The mountain of fur turned two black eyes toward her and shook itself. Then it stepped over the body of its victim and rushed towards Alex. As it approached it stopped short, sat down and wagged its big fluffy tail. Alex reached forward and patted its head. “Stay.” she said softly. She then proceeded to the prone figure.

Michael was already crouched next to his friend, Roger. “Are you okay Rog?”

“I’m fine. A little startled when the ‘hound of the Baskervilles’ rushed me, but, other than nearly being drowned in dog drool, I’m just fine.” Michael leaned out of the way and Alex got her first glimpse of Cargo’s conquest. He was a small man in his early to mid-sixties. His full head of white hair was in complete disarray and was slightly wet around his ears where the dog had shown his affection. His clothing was covered in dirt and she could see a few tears here and there

Alex was horrified. “I’m so sorry. First Cargo causes this car accident and now he chases you and knocks you down. Are you hurt?”

The gentleman looked at her as Michael helped him from the ground. “It’d take more than your bundle of fuzzy energy to hurt me, I assure you. I’m quite all right.” He shook off Michael’s steadying hand. “ I told you I am not hurt.”

“As long as you’re sure.” Michael said uncertainly.

“Positive. Now, if you still want to see Jeannine tonight I suggest we get on our way.” saying that Roger straightened and brushed the loose grass off of his trousers. He turned to face Alex and reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. Alex cringed at the thought that she was about to be paid for the trouble her dog just caused when she should really be paying for the ruined clothing and the wrecked car. However, she was both surprised and relieved when Roger handed her a business card. “Thank you for taking care of Michael, my dear. If there’s anything we can do for you, please don’t hesitate to give me a call.”

“Thank you, but I should be the one offering my help if you ever need it. In fact, tomorrow I’ll contact my bank and have them make out a cashier’s check for the damage that Cargo has caused.”

“You’ll do no such thing!” Roger and Michael said in unison.

“As long as you’re certain.” Alex said hesitantly. The two men nodded and the subject was dropped. Between the three of them they managed to get Roger looking presentable again. The two men then began walking toward the road.

Alex grinned as she caught the wry look on Michael’s face as he walked past Cargo, who was still sitting as instructed. He shook his head. Alex shrugged. “He really is well behaved, but you have to keep him within eyesight.”

“I’ll bet. Listen, thank you for letting me use your house and your phone. And what Roger said. He meant it...I mean it. I’d give you my card but I’m afraid they’re in my my car… which I’d really rather not go back into tonight. I’ll call the police and an out of town tow truck as soon as I get to Roger’s. Thanks again...Would you like lift back to your house?”

Alex thought about the short walk and the huge dog who needed tending to, “No, that’s okay. I need to herd Cargo home and I don’t think it’d be a good idea for him to get near either of you again tonight. Thanks for the offer. Have a safe trip.”

Michael turned and headed back to the road. Alex could hear Roger’s car ignition and she watched as the head lights turned back up the road. “Well, Cargo, I think we’ve had enough excitement for one evening.” The big dog rose to his feet and padded his way over to Alex. Together they headed for the bright lights of home.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Below is the beginning of a different kind of horror story. I haven't finished it, and I don't know if I ever will. Truth is, it scares the crap out of me, and I don't quite know how to finish it. I know what the reality of the situation is, but I like happy endings, and the only way to make this a happy ending is to fudge on reality. Definitely not my thing.

Anyway, it's the story of a woman trapped inside her own head after an accident. I met a woman like this while I was in therapy for my own accident. A couple years after I 'graduated', I saw her in the mall. Her husband was rolling her through the crowd; her children tromped dutifully behind. Nothing had changed. Nothing except her eyes, that is. The horror within them had died. All that was left was a sick resignation to her fate.

I turned and walked the other way.



“…car accident… her brain sustained massive injury… loss of voluntary motor control…”

I can hear you, you know. I’m right here.

“Will she recover?”

I’m okay, Chad. Really I am. It doesn’t hurt at all. If you’ll just get these people to untie me, I’ll show you. We’ll go dancing tonight like we always do, or we can take the kids over to Mom’s house and then I’ll show you when we’re alone.

"After time and therapy, she’ll improve… But Mr. Boyd? I want you to understand, she’ll never be the woman you married.”

What is this guy talking about? I’m fine. Tell him to be quiet, Honey. Take me home.

“When can I take her home?”

Now. Take me home right now. I don’t like it here and I certainly don’t like the way these people ignore me.

“I think it would be best if you checked her into a facility more suited to her needs right now.”

Will you please shut up? I’m going home with my husband. I don’t have time for this shit. Teddy’s starting kindergarten soon, and who’s going to take Lara to band practice?

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

You tell him, Chad.

“Mr. Boyd. I’m sure you think you’re doing the right thing, but you don’t realize how much care your wife will need now. Someone is going to have to bathe her, and feed her…”

Bathe me? My ass someone is going to bathe me. I’ll bathe myself, thank you very much.

“There are going to be diapers to change…”

Did someone have baby without telling me?

“I work out of the house. I can take care of her. I won’t put her in a home.”

Of course not. There’s no reason to. Now will someone please untie me?

…one thousand, one hundred, ninety-two… one thousand, one hundred, ninety three… one thousand, one hundred, ninety-four! Who’da thought there’d be so many spots on the ceiling? Chad’s supposed to be here soon, if that silly girl is to be believed. I’d slap her if I could move my arm.

I wish I could still imagine I was tied down, but the first time one of those burly young men hoisted me up and into that damn chair, the illusion was shattered. Would have been nice if someone had said something. I felt like a fool those first few days, cursing them all for strapping me down.

“There’s my girl.”

And there’s my man. Damn, he looks so good. I miss him so much. If he could have only kept me at home, but that damn doctor talked him out of it. Not that I really blame Chad. After seeing what all the people here do, I wouldn’t want to do it either. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t want my husband—the man I slept with for almost ten years—to have to wipe my ass. It’s disgusting. It’s degrading.

“How have you been this week?”

Time to try talking again. Nothing ever comes out, but I think it makes Chad feel better if he can see some kind of movement. If I could make words come out of my mouth again, I’d tell him I was as fine as anyone can be whose trapped inside their own head, but that would only hurt him. I’d do anything not to hurt him any more.

“I have a surprise for you.”

I wonder if I can still look surprised.

“The kids are waiting in the lobby. The doctor says we can take you for a little drive. I had to badger him, but he finally caved. I couldn’t let you spend Mother’s Day inside.”

The kids are here? Oh god, no. I know I’ve been praying to see them again, but I don’t want them to see me like this. I want them to see their mother, not the drooling husk I’ve become. Please don’t do this to me.

“We’re here.”

Oakfield Brain Injury Center? Not another one. I don’t know why Chad keeps dragging me to these charlatans. None of them can help me. I know that. Three years and nine miracle therapists later and I’m still a lump.

Roll me in, talk at me for a while, move my legs and my arms. Every day for weeks until Chad buys a clue there’s no improvement. Not that all of them don’t promise him he’ll see something out of me. Heh. Even that first doctor said with time he’d see improvement. What a waste.

“Good afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Boyd. Welcome to Oakfield. I’m the director, Steve Winfield. We spoke on the phone. Our patients are just sitting down to lunch, so if you don’t mind, I’ll postpone the tour until afterwards. Why don’t we sit down and have lunch with them before we talk.”

Oh boy. I hope they have a blender and a straw. This is ridiculous. Didn’t Chad tell them I can’t chew?

Someone please tell these people brown and orange don’t go together. I wouldn’t be caught dead with those chairs.

“We don’t have a state of the art kitchen, but it works well for our purposes. Today, as with most days, the lunch has been made by our advanced kitchen skills class. Mostly the higher level brain injury patients.”

There are levels to this? Sounds like one of Teddy’s video games. Maybe if I roll over a magic turnip, I’ll move to another level. One where I can speak again.

“Good afternoon, Ella. May we sit with you.”

Oh, great. Let’s inflict my drooling on someone right off the bat.

Pretty girl. Too bad about the scar on her face, though. Heh. I’d trade my face if I could hold a conversation again. Then everyone can say, ‘To bad about her face, but she’s one heck of a witty chick.

Why isn’t she staring at me? Everyone stares at me. Why not? I look like a mannequin in a wheelchair. The only part of me that still looks alive is my eyes and no one can look into my eyes anymore. Even though they stare, it’s almost like I don’t exist. At least not as a human being any more. More like a curiosity. Like a two-headed cow at the fair.

“Hello, Ginny. Welcome to Oakfield. I hope you’ll decide to let these guys work on you.”

Ah. Marketing bitch. I should have known.

“Ella’s been a patient with us for a couple of years now.”

Okay, so maybe not completely a marketing thing.

“Two years, five months and twenty-three days, Steve.”

Smart ass.

“But who’s counting. Ella is almost finished here.”

“As a patient, anyway. I’m staying on as patient liaison.”

Stepford patient?

“If you don’t mind my asking, what happened to you?”

That’s it, Chad. Get right to the heart of the matter. She probably fell off her chair and got a little shaken up. Two years and thousands of dollars later, she’s well again.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Very Special Collectible

This essay was originally written specifically for a small magazine for book collectors, but I never quite got it just the way I wanted for the publication in question. Still, I think it's a pretty good essay, even if it doesn't have a home. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


Whether one buys older books for their monetary value or for the sheer visceral pleasure of smelling the dust of ages past, an added joy can be found in the artifacts left behind between their covers. The impromptu bookmarks and scrolled inscriptions of the past, even if they lend nothing to the financial worth, can give books a simple and meaningful significance.

Throughout my college years, I uncovered many great treasures from that bargain bin—an undated Dickens, a forgotten Dumas, an ancient Defoe—but none was so precious to me as a copy of The Fountainhead found unwanted and overlooked at the bottom of a pile. Although it was not in the best shape—its cover stained, its title rubbed from the spine, signs of mildew creeping through it like some kind of cruel leprosy—I knew the book was something special. Without hesitation, I slapped down the three and a half dollars to make it mine.

Research told me that I had found a rare Bobbs-Merrill edition, but to my dismay, I also found that a single page had been cut from the middle of the book—the remnants barely apparent along the binding. Monetarily the book was valueless, but in my heart it was still the crown jewel of my collection.

Many years and many books later, it remained on the most honored of my shelves—nestled between a leather-bound volume of Shakespeare and a boxed edition of Cervantes—barely read yet still loved. From time to time I would take it down and simply caress the cover or flip idly through the pages, reveling in the smell of that far-away store. It was during one of these hedonistic pettings that I finally noticed its inscription; although how I missed it during all of those years still escapes me. The words scratched in faded green ink only told of a former owner, a man who had loved this book enough to ensure it would come home if ever lost.

My book, the writing told, had once been owned by a serviceman in the military. His name, rank, serial number and unit carefully written in precise handwriting: Sergeant George H. Normandin of the 351st Bomber Group. Curious, I took the information for my new compatriot, George, and quickly tried to hunt down information on the man and his platoon. I never found George, but from the bits I was able to piece together he and his men flew the South Pacific during World War II. The Fountainhead was first published during the war, and though I have no way to prove it, I can imagine George carrying the novel with him as he went to fight for his values.

To me the book’s stains and scars are now easily explained; its rubbed edges and its crumpled boards standing as a testament to spending life on a carrier while its owner was away on a plane. The missing page, which had been so carefully cut from the book, was accounted for as well. That page was taken from Roark’s famous courtroom speech; a speech which speaks of fighting for your values, of standing up for your freedom, of holding your own good as a paramount virtue. I don’t blame George for keeping that page. Of all the things to carry into battle, the weapon he chose would have served him well.

Collecting books for many years now, I have found many artifacts of the previous owners—news clippings and grocery lists left to mark pages where the reader paused, flowers and leaves pressed flat to preserve a memory, notes scribbled to mark important passages. Each piece of ephemera I find adds a definite personal value to a potential monetary one. Still, I doubt that I will ever find another piece for my collection so precious as the one left by George.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

When Queries Go Bad

Last year a group of writers at an online writing community got together and, as a gag, tried to write the worst query letter ever. Below is the best of my attempts.

And please PLEASE please, don't think it is supposed to be taken seriously. DO NOT use this as a template to send out for real. Remember, this was a winner in the WORST query competition, and is to be used for humor purposes only. (Although in some ways, it does reflect how many - including me - feel sometimes about the rejection process.)


Dear Great and Powerful Agent,

I'm writing to you as a last ditch effort to get someone, anyone, to read my first book. So far, no one has cared about my book but some place called P------ A------, and while I am getting quite desperate, I'm not insane.

I believe that I've written the greatest novel anyone will ever read, but if I can't get anyone to read it, no one will ever know how wonderful, thoughtful and insightful my book is. I'd crawl on my knees through broken glass to get someone other than my friends and family to read it, so please consider giving it a chance. I know in my heart that the world needs to read this book, and that once the public has a chance to buy it, they'll be flocking to the stores to get one.

I haven't submitted to any publishers, because frankly I'm scared sh*tless that they'll ignore me, too. Please don't step on my soul like everyone else. I don't think I could take that.

Enclosed is everything your website asks for, and nothing that you don't want. I can't afford to have you even the least little bit irritated with me because you hold my future in your hands.

I'm waiting by the phone for you to call, holding onto the last drip in my well of hope that it will be a request for more material and not the silence that precludes another rejection letter.

Pathetically yours,

A. Writer

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Time Stops Here

The following was submitted to The First Line last January for their very specific needs. If you're not familiar with this particular lit journal, they give you the first line and you have to write a story from there. Below is my attempt:


Time Stops Here

In Pigwell, time is not measured by days or weeks but by the number of eighteen wheelers that drive past my house. So, my guess is when the factory shut down, time couldn’t help but stop.

Don’t it seem like nothing ever stops all at once? This place really ain’t any different. What happened here was more like the last puddle in a drought, though; it just gets smaller and smaller until there ain’t nothin’ left but mud. One month the trucks were flowin’ by—headed west with steel and wire and crates of who-knows-what; headed east with big boxes of stuff from the factory. The next month, the trucks were only headed east. Last time a semi went through here, it didn’t carry anythin’ but the innards of a man’s gutted future.

Pigwell never was great or sprawlin’ by anyone’s standards, but after the factory went belly-up, this town rolled over with it. Since pretty much everyone who lived here worked there, it wasn’t really any big surprise. At least not to me it wasn’t. I saw it comin’. All those people without any money, and the stores couldn’t help but dry up and blow away, like the dust of a ruined riverbed.

You know what they say: “Last one out’s a rotten egg.”

Looks like I’m gonna be the rotten egg in this one.

If I didn’t own the only bar left in this town, I probably woulda blown away like all the rest of ‘em. But no matter how tight a man’s pocketbook gets, it’s never so empty he can’t squeeze out a little cash to get himself tight, too. Like my daddy always said, “Booze don’t make the hurtin’ go away but it sure does lubricate the trip.”

I suppose when the money dries up completely, I’ll be outta here myself.

When Frank Petrie came here a dozen years ago and built his factory out in the scrubby fields, I bet he never saw this comin’. Of course, the Frank Petrie I met years ago wouldn’a been able to see it. He was so damn full of life then, he fairly crackled with it. The whole mess is too damn bad if you ask me. A man puts everythin’ he is into buildin’ his dream—into breakin’ out on his own—only to see it crap out on him; that, sir, is a horror no man should hafta face. Frank faced it for as long as he could, I guess, but finally, he couldn’t take it no more. I saw him leavin’ town a while back. He stopped in here for one last belt.

He wasn’t cracklin’ anymore; he was crawlin’.

The other day, Danny Watkins—he was Frank’s foreman once upon a time… Well, Danny was in here, sittin’ at my bar, doin’ his best to crawl into the bottom of one of my whiskey bottles. All of a sudden, he started goin’ on and on about how Frank Petrie was a crook, and how he’d screwed Pigwell. Before I knew it, I was mad as a wet cat. I cut him off of my booze, then I told him to get the hell out of my bar. That shut him up, and he got real sorry then, but he shoulda known better than to talk that kind of trash in my place. He’s banned for life. Well, he’s banned for as long as I own this place, which don’t look like it’s gonna be too much longer.

Don’t get me wrong. Danny was one of the only people left in town with money, but no amount of money from him or anyone else is ever gonna be enough for me to put up with that crap.

Especially not in my own place.

After all, Danny Watkins’s kind of thinkin’ is what got folks into this mess in the first place, only they don’t know it. Don’t shake your head at me. I’ve had more than my fair share of time to think about it. It’s what killed the factory, and this hole some idiot christened Pigwell along with it.

What most folks don’t know is that a man can work himself damn near to death buildin’ something for himself and while he’s doin’ that, other people can work along with him—each profitin’ from it in their own way. Frank worked his ass off for that place. All the folks here, as long as they were willin’ to put in the work, got pretty comfortable off Frank’s place. Everything was goin’ fine until one day, those fools got to thinkin’ that because they worked so hard and all, they were entitled to somethin’ more.

Old foreman Danny got them all together and decided they were gonna ask the owner for a cut—their share of the money, they said. The damned fools didn’t know they were already gettin’ a cut every time they got a paycheck. I mean, Christ, half of them guys didn’t even graduate high school and they were makin’ more than some college fellas I know.

Well, this little… uh… idea of theirs came right after they’d all gotten their fat yearly raises, but the money still wasn’t enough. They saw the owner driving a Mercedes while they were driving Chevys; they saw him living in a big house in the valley while they were living in town. So, they figured they deserved a bigger piece of the pie. Of course, when they asked Frank he said ‘not yet’. He wouldn’t have minded, but it wasn’t the time for spendin’ money. Seems he was waitin’ for a big order to come through, and he had to sink every spare penny into buyin’ raw materials.

Did anyone here think of that? Nope. Everybody at that meeting came back to town and what they’d heard him say was ‘No’; he didn’t say ‘No’, mind you, he just said ‘not yet’, but that wasn’t what they heard. Or maybe they heard him right and just didn’t care.

The next day, the whole lot of them got together—right here in my bar—and after a dozen beers, they hemmed and hawed and belched and burped, and when it was done, they’d voted to go on strike. Then they all patted each other on the backs and staggered home to sleep, or to pass out, or whatever those idiots do when they’ve drunk themselves stupid.

Now, they didn’t strike right away. No, they waited until the moment was perfect; when they could do the most damage. It was right about the time when the factory was due to fill that really important order, actually. Then, the whole crew walked away from the line. Before Frank even had a chance to blink, they sent Danny up to the office with a list of what they said they needed, and one demand: pay up or else.

What the hell was Frank supposed to do when they had him by the short hairs like that? He melted quicker than a snowman in April. The whole lot of them got raises, better bennies, longer vacations. Jesus, they were livin’ like kings. Some of them guys were makin’ twice what I was makin’, and I owned my own place.

Lucky for them, the order got out on time, and the company got paid for it. But in the end, the company paid for it—if you know what I mean.

Before anyone knows it, the factory is slowly bleeding to death, and I’m ashamed to say, a lot of their blood was seepin’ into this place. I’m not complainin’ about that part, mind you. I’m just sayin’.

Then, all the boys from the factory start showin’ here up at any time of the day. I asked Hank—he worked on the assembly line—what he thought he was doin’ playin’ hooky in the middle of the day, and he just winked at me. Another one of the boys told me they could do whatever they wanted and if Frank had a problem with that, they’d make sure to hold up some orders, just to teach him who was really boss.

It wasn’t long after that the trucks stopped and time petered out for Pigwell.

I don’t expect to be here much longer. Most folks who had any sense have headed out, looking for wetter places to put down roots. Hell, I heard even Danny went east to find work. And old Hank? Last I heard, he’s moppin’ floors at some place up near the city, makin’ half of what Frank was payin’ him, even before the big strike-raise.

Me? Oh, I’m headed out, too. Time is stoppin’ in too many places around these parts. Too many other Franks are gettin’ showed who’s boss, I guess. I heard tell of a place somewhere up in the mountains where things aren’t so bad. Maybe I can open another bar; put down roots of my own, you know. Maybe I can go up there to wait it out, and hope time starts back up again.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bad Fluffy Bunny

Below is the pre-cursor to a cute sci-fi story I have brewing in the back of my head. It's the story of attempted conquest by a race of vicious conquerors, and how mankind is saved by one of its inventions.

Oh, and I forgot to mention... The vicious conquerors look like cute, fluffy bunnies.



Bad Fluffy Bunny

"I have achieved my objective. The atmosphere here appears to be quite breathable and I am outfitted for the long journey into one of their metropolitan areas. I will probably be out of radio contact for a short while and then I will contact you with my coordinates. Do you have any further instructions before I set out?”

The radio crackled once and then there was silence. Bob waited patiently; he knew that transmitting a signal through layers of atmosphere could sometimes be difficult. They would make the proper adjustments soon enough. Bob was right and the radio crackled into life. "Commander Bob, we have received orders that you must reach the metropolitan area by nightfall. It appears that some of the leaders are beginning to lose their appetite for this mission, and if you are not able to achieve some measurable and immediate progress on your own down there, they may pull the plug. Do you understand what is at stake in this?”

Bob shook his head. This was just like those lily-livered pansies. No guts for what needed to be done. “How many other worlds have I landed on and accomplished the objectives they’d set before me?” he thought. “This world with its backward technology will be like any other. Walk in. Set up base camp. Find a suitable area for landing the armada. Piece of cake.”

“I understand what is at stake, sir.” Bob said. “It will be no problem to reach the nearest metropolitan area and set up base. If research is as correct as it has always been then we should have control of this world long before the nay-sayers get any foothold with the world council.”

"Then go to it, Commander. And may the gods watch over you.”

More and more often, it seemed, the leaders of the world council were losing their stomach for this kind of work. Some of them seemed to think that they no longer had the right to take what they wanted, to do as they pleased. A few even suggested that they had never had the right to do it.

“Bah!” Bob said aloud as he stepped over to the airlock door. He could see the image of himself in the glass, and admired the handsome face looking back at him. The airlock buzzed and then opened onto a still and quiet morning in the forest glade he had chosen for his landing site. Bob walked forth and breathed deeply the clean fresh air. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a brightly colored flash moving past him. He watched as it landed on a branch and began to sing. He quickly pulled something from his pack and then just as quickly replaced it. Humming to himself, he was walking out of the glade by the time the cardinal’s body dropped from the tree.

The travel was easy in the countryside, and he made good time. Bounding between the tall trees and over the moss covered rocks, Bob didn’t have time to notice the other creatures quietly watching him from their hiding places. He didn’t have time to wonder that some of them looked curiously like his own race. The long ears and twitching noses of any heathen impostors held no interest for him; he had work to do. His legs worked furiously and he covered the ground as he never had before.

When he stopped briefly to rest, he reflected that this world seemed as if it had been built for his people, and if circumstances were different it was a world upon which they could have lived quite happily for many generations, but that was not the plan. Soon, his people would have harvested everything they wanted from this world and then, like so many worlds before it, they would lay waste to those things they did not want. Bob smiled at the memories of the dozens of worlds that lay behind him—scorched and dead—and the hundreds more that lay ahead.

The sun was high overhead when he finally reached some sign of the civilized races that inhabited this world. “Civilized?” he thought as he reached a hard gray surface, painted down the center with parallel yellow lines. “Bah,” he exclaimed as his weapon appeared once more and blazed a hole through the center of the road. “These beasts will soon learn what civilization is all about. When my people come and take this world, they will see.”


"Ah was born to be a truck-drivin’ cowboy,” Hank sang from his perch over the 330HP diesel engine of his Mack. “Ah was born to be a cowboy drivin’ truck!” His voice filled the cab; his only accompaniment, the sound of the highway beneath his wheels. “An’ if Ah die today, pleeze let the good Lord say… Sunuvabitch!” His song stopped abruptly as he whipped the steering wheel harshly to the left, narrowly avoiding a sinkhole that had developed in the road ahead.

His brain barely registered the critter trying to get out his path.


“Mission Control to Commander Bob, come in Bob,” the radio at the ship crackled to life, but the ship itself was cold and silent.

“Sir. We have been unable to reach Bob for several weeks now. How should we proceed?”
Inside a vast metallic ball hidden safely behind the moon, a large gray rabbit stood thoughtfully scratching the fur between his ears. It was unlike Bob to stay out of contact with the ship for longer than it took to complete his mission, and his mission should have been completed within several days not several weeks. Although he was loathe to abandon Bob, he had to admit that if no word had been received from the commander by now, no word would likely ever come.

The captain stood in thought so long that the young communications officer was afraid the old buck hadn’t heard. “Sir?” he ventured. “About the mission? Homeworld is expecting an answer. We need to…”

“I’m well aware of what we need to do, young one,” the gray said quietly but firmly. He’d been at this game too long already, and he was one of the many who had lost his taste for the job of conquest. Still, he’d worked with Bob too long to just give up. On the verge of commanding another sweep of the surface, he stopped. He knew already what the answer would be. No sign of his advance officer. No sign but the soft crackle of a radio in a ship that would never be used again. After all this time, he had to finally admit to himself that Bob was dead.

"Tell Homeworld that the mission was a bust. Announce this world as unconquered and unconquerable.”

"Sir? Why? We’ve never had to do that before.”

"Any world that could take out Bob, is more world than we can handle. Initiate auto-destruct for Bob’s ship. We cannot leave any trace behind.”

Later, in his quarters deep within the metallic ball rolling quickly through the galaxy on its way home, the captain sat in thought. After some time, he began a job he never thought he’d have to do, and prayed he’d never have to do again. He needn’t have worried. This would be their last mission—their last attempt at conquest. The mission had failed and it was that failure that had finally swayed the great Homeworld council to leave behind the days of conquest and pillage.

But not only had the mission failed, a great warrior had been lost in the process.

"Let it be written on this day, that Commander Bob was sent forth to scout the fourth planet from the star in the system locally known as Sol with the intention of initiating a landing zone for our armada. Let it also be written that the commander was lost during this mission to forces on that planet which were beyond his abilities. The planet, known locally as Earth, is hereby posted as ‘Off Limits’ to all of our brethren and our allies.”

"If we cannot have this world, let no species have it. Bob would have wanted it that way.”

Friday, September 7, 2007

Upon the Stage

This piece was written years ago, more as a recorded memory than a fiction piece. Think of this as flexing my writing muscles. This was one of the many first exercises before I completed my first novel.

Upon the Stage

Peering through the crack in the door she could see the auditorium filling and she flexed her fingers. After four years, one would think she wouldn’t be so nervous before the annual Spring Concert. The year before she’d risen to the honor of first chair flute and had been the soloist. She’d been nervous then, but this was something different. Maybe because it was her last year; maybe it was because she was playing piccolo this year instead of flute. She wasn’t sure.

She turned away from the door again, but the band room didn’t hold any appeal. She could hear the various other instruments tuning up and practicing one final time. If she went over the piece one more time, she could make certain of those trills, but the thought caused the butterflies in her stomach to break mach 3. Maybe she could straighten her uniform for the millionth time.

As she entered the bathroom, she caught a glimpse of herself – blue trousers, blue suit coat, tuxedo shirt – complete with ruffles, bowtie. She looked awesome. Taking her brush out of her purse, she brushed her hair to a sparkling glow. It was time.

Back in the band room, her friends and fellow band members were lining up for entry onto the stage. She waved at Janine who shifted her oboe and waved back. Janine would soon be headed off to Michigan State. She nodded to Joe who smiled and went back to practicing fingerings on his sax. He would be off to U of M. Many of them would be leaving high school soon – off into the world and the future.

Taking her place, she turned to look at Don – the new first chair flute – and smiled. She thought about the day when he had won the chair position from her. He was good; he practiced hard; he deserved to lead the flutes. She hadn’t tried to beat him – which bothered her still – but she already had her sights set on taking the piccolo position. It was a simple shift, and she still lead the section. Tonight would be her first public piccolo performance of the one piece that had scared her four years ago. On the flute, it was difficult; on the much smaller piccolo, it was excruciating.

As they ascended the stage, she scanned the crowd. Far in the back, she could make out her other friend, Maria, who had come for moral support. She suppressed the urge to wave. Concert flautists didn’t wave and she was ‘in the zone’. In the middle to the left she spotted her parents. Dad was wearing that powder blue suit coat, which would have bothered her at any other time, but was strangely comforting tonight. Mom looked great.

The entire band took their places, standing straight and proud before their chairs. The teacher nodded and as one they took their seats. He raised his baton and the music began. Each piece sounded flawless to her ears and she was playing better than she had ever played in her life. But she knew that those pieces were nothing compared to what was scheduled for the last piece.

Finally, the program was coming to a close. It was nearly time. The conductor tapped his baton on the podium and they raised their instruments to their lips in one fluid motion. Her body was poised in the perfect shape of an L – back straight, head held high. And Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever began.

She was never so proud in her life. The notes were coming from the piccolo as if it had a life of its own, but she knew that she was the one who gave it life. Never before – and never since – had she played with such precision and such clarity. The trills, which had always given her trouble, were easy beneath her fingers.

When the final notes were still lingering in the air, the conductor lifted his arms and they rose again and bowed. He nodded and the senior members of the band walked to center stage. The crowd rose to its feet and the applause was deafening. She bowed one last time upon the stage and lead her band slowly down the steps.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Reflections of an Unpublished Writer

Below is an essay I wrote for a writers forum I belonged to last year. This got mixed reviews. Some people thought it was uplifting; others thought it was depressing as hell. I fall in the former category. This business of writing can only get you down as long as you let it. This is the story of breaking free of the vicious circle of depression and writer's block, of moving forward past the pain.

I hope you'll find it as uplifting as I do.

Reflections of an Unpublished Writer

After weeks, or months or years, sitting at your keyboard trying to get a story out of your head, you type those most wonderful words: The End. You’ve finished your first book! You feel like dancing around the house (and maybe you do, just because you can). You open a bottle of champagne (or a beer, or a bottle of Boones Farm) and bask in the glow of being amongst the few who started writing a book and actually finished it. Feeling pretty proud of yourself, you strut around your house like a god. (And why not? You should be damned proud of yourself because you have accomplished a great feat.)

But eventually, the inevitable question arises: What now?

Maybe you pick up The Writer’s Market and start attaching sticky notes to every agent who looks like they might represent you. You know you aren’t really sure what you’re doing, but you shrug and pick the one absolutely perfect agent who is certain to love your book as much as you do.

You read a little bit about what the agent wants you to send, mainly because you know there’s got to be some kind of procedure for this. Then you think to yourself: What in gods’ name is a query? You shrug and put together a reasonable looking business letter, and mail it off with a return envelope. (Assuming you’ve figured out what SASE stands for, that is.) Time passes and your envelope comes back. Your heart swells with expectation, never thinking its contents could be anything but glowing praise, only to find a nice letter inside telling you while your work isn’t for them, they’re sure you’ll find an agent in no time.

Bruised but not broken, you whip out your big book of agent names, and pick a few more. After all, Perfect Agent was sure one of his brethren would snap you right up. Same letter, different names and off they go into the blue box on the corner. And you wait.

A few more days (weeks, etc.) pass and all your little envelopes find their ways home with more rejections—all pretty much worded the same as the first. More queries go out; more rejections come back. You kick yourself, and cry a little maybe. You throw your big book of agents across the room, and curse the day they were born. You go through all the phases of loss: Anger, Denial, etc. until you get to the inevitable Acceptance.

You suck. Now you're cursing the day you were born.

Weeks go by, and dust covers your keyboard. You thought your words glowed like the sheen of love on a young girl’s face. Now you just think you’re a hack.

Finally, however, your creative juices reach their boiling point. You can’t take it anymore; you can’t NOT write, so you sit back down at your computer. You start writing your next book.

But your confidence is toast. When you started out the last time, you knew without a doubt that you could write. There was nothing to it, and the words flowed out of your fingers like a dam had burst somewhere along the Colorado River. Now, it’s like Death Valley.

Hopefully, a little light bulb goes off over your head. When you first started writing—way back when you were in 2nd grade and your teacher made you write about your summer vacation—you were learning how to put words together to make some kind of cohesive story. It was a learning process then; it is a learning process now.

Hopefully, a little voice in your head tells you to figure out what went wrong with the last book. You do some research. You pick a whole new list of agents who really do represent your genre. You find out what a real query letter looks like. You find out how to write something called a hook. You read everything you can get your grubby little hands on. When you’ve learned everything there is to know about the business, you try again.

In the meantime, maybe you realize your writing, as wonderful as it is, needs some fine tuning and a little more polish. While revising and editing your first book, you keep writing your second book, tweaking and shining until it really does glow. A short story or two come to mind, and you pour those words onto the paper while you mull over your novels.

You never quit. Because NOT writing would be like not breathing.

Maybe you’re still waiting for your acceptance letter to come. Maybe it’s waiting in line behind another slew of rejections. Or perhaps, it’s waiting because you just haven’t queried the right agent yet. But no matter what happens, if you’ve done your work, you have done your best to kick the obstacles out of your way. And you can come to realize no matter what has happened or will happen...

You are a writer.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Traveling in Armageddon Pt 3

When the cab came to a stop Michael was just finishing up and tucking his papers back into his valise. He looked around him and noticed that they were in front of an apartment building on the upper west side of Manhattan. Looking over at Marisa, he noted that she was making no move to exit the vehicle and head toward the building. “If you’re worried that she may still be back at the train station waiting for you we would be happy to take you there to look for her.”

She shook her head slightly. “No. She’s here. She has to be; I’m hours overdue. I know Mother. She would guess that there was some sort of problem and come back here to wait. Besides,” Marisa craned her head to look up at the building, “I think I see a light on in the window. And even if I’m wrong, I have a key. She’ll be here sooner or later.”

Marisa adjusted her son, who had fallen asleep on her lap, but still made no move to leave. “It’s not that, really. It’s just that I… I don’t know what I’m going to say to her. Could you… No. I can’t ask that. You’ve already done so much for me.”

“Marisa? You have to ask yourself if you’re certain of the truth and if you’re certain of your decision to live now that you have the truth. I have provided you with as much information as I can, but you have to be certain of the truth yourself or you will never be able to convince your mother.”

“I’m certain, sir.” Josh chimed in from the front seat. “I can talk to her for Marisa.” During the course of their drive he had changed visibly, slowly reverting to a happier, more relaxed young man.

Michael smiled and shook his head. “I know you’re certain, Josh. Thank you for the offer, but I don’t think that will work. Marisa’s mother doesn’t know you from Adam. It will be hard enough for her to believe all this—think how hard it was for you—let alone believe this coming from someone who looks like you do.”

Josh looked down at his attire. His t-shirt had the logo of a popular rapper and his jeans were torn. Josh looked up at his reflection in the mirror. With his earrings and spiky hair-do, he had to admit to himself that he didn’t look at all trustworthy. He glanced at Michael and blushed. “Guess you’re right, sir. Who’d believe a punk like me?”

“Other punks?” Michael offered jokingly and instantly regretted his attempt to lighten the situation when he noted that Josh could no longer look him in the eye. “Listen, kid, I’m sorry, but that’s the way things are. News like this requires some serious thinking so it would be more believable from someone who doesn’t look like they dropped out of any kind of serious thinking a long time ago. It is fixable, of course, but we can talk about that on the way to the network. Okay?” Josh looked relieved but still disheartened. The boy would have to find his own way through this, and while Michael would help him as much as possible in the short time they would be together, there wasn’t much he could do for Josh. “Now, let’s take care of Marisa and Tyler before we get on our way.”

Both men got out of the cab. Michael helped Marisa and the baby while Josh gathered their belongings. Together, they got everything arranged and the trio crossed the street to the apartment building. Marisa stood in front of the door to the elevators for a long while deep in thought. After several minutes had passed she looked at each of the men in turn and politely thanked them for all they had done for her. Josh offered to join her as she went to face her mother, but she declined. She knew that this was something she must do for herself. In the end though, Marisa consented to let Josh wait downstairs for an hour and if he didn’t hear from her by then he was welcome to come upstairs and check on them. They all agreed.

The minutes dripped by like Chinese water torture and Josh squirmed in the posh lobby of the building, wanting desperately to ascend to the apartment above. However Michael held him back, allowing Marisa time to explain the situation as best she could. He was pleasantly surprised when, just forty-five minutes later, Marisa stepped from the elevator with a stately, well-dressed women in her fifties. Marisa’s head was held high and, although there were tear stains drying on her cheeks, she was smiling widely.

The woman strode directly to Michael and held out her hand. “I’m Eileen. I insisted that Marisa allow me to come downstairs and talk to you personally.”

As they shook hands, Michael looked into her eyes. They were honest and open eyes, and the face showed a hint of the wisdom that comes from having experienced the joys and sorrows that reality can bring. “I understand, Eileen. I appreciate that you are willing to listen to what I have to say. I have my papers in the car outside. If you’ll give me a moment, I’ll collect them.”

Eileen laid a hand on his arm. “No, sir. I don’t really need to see those. That isn’t why I wanted to talk to you. I wanted to come down to thank you for what you have given to us. Marisa told me everything. She barely took time to put down her bags and put Tyler to bed before she started explaining everything. We’re leaving the city tonight, once Tyler wakes up. I have some friends in Maine and I’m certain that they will allow us to stay with them until all of this blows over.”

“You’re certain that you understand it all?” Michael began.

“Marisa says that you gave quite a lecture in the cab on the way here and she also said that you were adamant about making sure she understood the information before you’d let her believe you. I don’t really need you to go over it with me. I know my own daughter, young man. That this was too important to even get settled spoke volumes for her certainty. If she were unsure of it, she would have hedged around the issue for hours and then presented it to me as a question. She certainly wasn’t behaving like she was uncertain. If she knows the truth of what you say, and she obviously does, then that is all I need to know. She’ll fill me in on your details later.” Michael could see the signs of despair and stress that lined the woman’s face beginning to ease. She was speaking the truth. “Do be quite honest, Dr. Montgomery, I was never all that keen on suicide in the first place. That has always seemed like the coward’s way out to me. This time, however, I just couldn’t see any alternative. You have shown me the only alternative there ever is—life. Thank you.”

Michael was touched by this woman’s forthrightness. He took her hand warmly and then raised it to his lips, gently kissing it. “You’re welcome, ma’am.”

The older woman colored happily. If she had been a little younger she would have taken Michael’s gesture as one of casual flirting and she would have responded in kind. Instead she rose on tiptoe to place a light kiss upon his cheek.

Michael then stepped forward and enveloped Marisa in a hug. Despite their limited acquaintance, he had come to value the young woman. “Take care of that boy of yours. I have a feeling that in the years to come we’re going to need the likes of the young man that the two of you will raise.”

After Josh, too, had said his good-byes, the two men walked back to the cab. Stopping to look about them, they noticed that it was now fully dark and many of the windows that formerly would shine onto this street were black. In the eerie gloom they silently pulled away from the curb.

Too late to attempt entry to the NBS offices that night, Josh instead took Michael to an out-of-the-way hotel that promised both quiet and luxury. Josh felt that Michael could use a few days of rest and relaxation after all that his new friend had gone through, and Michael gratefully accepted the gesture on Josh’s part. The kid wasn’t ready for finishing school, but he had come a long way in a few short hours because someone finally had the courage to tell him the truth about himself. Along the way to the hotel, Michael gave Josh pointers on his appearance and language. Josh listened intently as he drove so that he would certainly be a more believable spokesman as he ventured away from New York, but also so that when the chaos was over he could begin to work toward making something more of himself. In return, Josh gave Michael pointers on how to get around in New York now that tensions and crime were high. They shook hands and departed. As Josh drove away, headed home to pack his belongings before heading south, Michael stood and watched the taillights disappear down the city streets. “The kid’ll be okay,” he thought.

:End Scene:

Friday, August 24, 2007

Traveling in Armageddon Pt 2

As they began to pull away from the train station, Michael wondered at the state to which they’d been reduced. Receiving hazard pay to drive into New York City—it was like the punch line to some sick joke.

Turning to the window, he watched the people still departing from the train. Now that the cabs were full, some of the passengers were making their ways toward waiting cars and some were beginning to walk toward the ramshackle hotel near the tracks. Michael’s cab was nearly out of the station parking lot when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. The young woman who had sat across from him with her baby was standing helplessly on the sidewalk. She didn’t look as if she were aware of where she was or what she was going to do now.

“Could you stop the cab?” Michael asked the driver.

The boy looked at him quizzically. “What for dude? You want to get the other cabbies pissed or something? Once you’re heading out they don’t like it when you stop.”

“I don’t care what the other drivers like or don’t like. Stop the cab.” Michael told the driver bluntly.

Shaking his head emphatically, the boy replied. “No way, dude. They’ll give me hell when I come back through later.”

“Stop the cab,” he roared. The cabbie slammed on the brakes and the car skidded to a halt.

“Whoa, shit. Don’t do that!” the boy shouted. Turning slightly in his seat to face his passenger, he said, “What’s you’re major maladjustment, dude?”

“We need to pick up that young lady and her baby,” Michael said coolly.

“Oh, man.” The kid rolled his eyes. “That means I gotta back up and they really ain’t gonna like that. Do I have to?”

“Yes.” Something in the tone of Michael’s voice told the young man that he was not going to win this battle.

Huffing angrily the boy shifted his car into reverse and winced at the resulting chorus of car horns. “This is gonna cost extra, ya know.” Michael dug some more bills out of his wallet and when the cab came to a stop in front of the little family of two, he stuffed the money into the kid’s outstretched hand. As Michael was about to put his wallet away, the boy added, “Umm, dude? According to the new rules, you gotta pay for her, too. No cab sharin’.”

Michael glowered at the kid’s reflection in the rearview mirror and the boy’s head seemed to shrink down into his shoulders. “Tell ya what, dude. I’m feelin’ gen’rus. I won’t make ya pay for the kid… unless it starts cryin’ or sumthin’. I can’t handle cryin’ babies, dude.”

“Fine.” He assented as he handed the driver another fifty. Opening the door to the cab, Michael spoke to the young woman. “Excuse me, miss? I’d like you to share my cab into the city.” She immediately stopped staring off into space and turned to stare at Michael. “Miss?” He said softly. “Would you like a ride into the city?”

It was as if she were in a fog, looking at him but not seeing him, until the driver behind them honked long and loud startling her and shaking her back into reality. “I… I didn’t know the train would stop here.” She began without preface. “My mother is waiting in New York… The cabs are all gone. Not that I have enough money for a cab anyway… Thank you, sir, but… but… I don’t have enough money for a cab.” She stopped helplessly and resumed staring into space.

“It’s okay, miss. I’ve got it covered. Climb on in.” Then noticing the sudden look of distrust in her eyes he added, “I don’t want anything from you but a bit of conversation during the ride. Really.”

At that her face relaxed slightly, and she appeared as if she were going to accept, but the suspicion remained in her eyes. Finally she made her decision and said, “I guess that would be all right. Thank you.” She gathered her bags and with Michael’s help climbed into the cab.

A short while after they had resumed their journey, the girl spoke. “I really do appreciate this, sir. I didn’t want to accept your ride because I don’t have any way to repay you, but then I realized that I don’t have any other way to get into New York, so it was the only choice.”

“As I said, you’ll repay me by talking with me. It could take some time for us to get into the city.” Michael reassured her.

“Well, if you’re sure…” the girl began hesitantly, “…and the other reason is that I don’t know if I can trust you.” She spoke as if she were afraid that by saying this she would offend him in some way. “I’m probably being silly.”

“I understand. It would be sillier for you to feel that you could trust a complete stranger.” He said, and then jokingly added, “I probably wouldn’t trust me either if I were in your boat.”

The girl smiled shyly. Quickly she added, “But you look okay, and, like I said, I don’t have much of a choice…”

“If I look okay, I must be okay? You have to watch thinking like that. Some of the worst serial killers looked like average guys.” Michael warned, and as the girl’s eyes regained a measure of her earlier distrust, he continued, “But in this case, you thought right. I’m harmless, and if you’re still worried about me after a few more miles, I’ll pay the driver to take you back to the station.” At that statement, the driver groaned and Michael firmly added. “Whether he likes it or not.”

Relaxing considerably, the girl settled into her seat and turned her attention toward the child she had settled into her lap. After fussing nervously with the baby’s blanket and then its bottle, she spoke, “Listen, you said you would accept conversation as payment. I don’t know what I could say that would be interesting enough to repay you. You look like some sort of professor or something. I was never very good at talking with my professors.”

Michael looked at the young woman gently and smiled. “That’s okay. We’re even. I was never very good at making conversation with my students. However, I haven’t taught professionally in years, and you’re not one of my students, so we should be fine.”

She smiled, too. “Okay then. My name’s Marisa and this little person is Tyler.” She held her infant son up so that he could see Michael. The boy smiled and cooed at him.

Michael smiled back. “He’s a handsome little guy. He’ll be a lady-killer when he grows up.” Without warning, Marisa broke out sobbing. Stymied, Michael sat in silence for several moments. He patted her hand clumsily. He had never been good at dealing with people this way, and couldn’t think of what to say to comfort this young woman. “I’m sorry, Marisa. I know this is a hard time for you.”

She looked up and saw the confusion on his face. “Wha… Wha… What you said.” She stuttered. “About… Tyler whe… when he… he grows… He’ll never grow up! The comet… the comet is coming and… we… We… we’re going to New York… so we can… so we can… die… Die with… our family!” With a forlorn cry, she clutched the little boy to her chest and rocked in her seat. Michael was stunned into silence. When he looked up at the cabbie, the young man turned away embarrassed.

Struggling for the right way to approach this subject, the subject that so many had turned away from in the past few weeks, he started to comfort her, “I know this is hard to understand, miss, but it’ll be okay. Everything will be just fine…”

“No… it won’t…” She hiccoughed. “It’s over and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it. That’s all they keep saying on the news. The scientists can’t do anything, and the government can’t do anything, and we’re all going to die. Nothing can save any of us now.” Marisa sniffled, and her son buried his face in her neck as if to say that he had as little hope as she.

“Miss. I promise you that everything will be fine. I am certain of it…”

Something in his voice drew her attention and Marisa looked up at him disbelievingly, her eyelashes spiky and her cheeks stained with the salt of her tears. For an instant, those eyes held a glimmer of hope before they darkened with her thoughts. “Now listen here. I’ve heard this line of bull before and if you’re going to start… telling me that God will save us all… you can… stop the cab… and let me out. I… I’ll walk to New York before I listen to any more of that crap.”

Thinking that he was about to be relieved of the emotional tension in his cab, the driver started to slow down and Marisa grabbed her things in readiness for departure. Michael laid a firm hand on her arm and said calmly, “I don’t think that will be necessary. I don’t have any such intention.” He locked eyes with the cabbie in the rearview mirror. “Continue on, son. We’ve paid for a ride to New York and we’re going to get one.”

Once the cab had sped up and continued on its way, Michael turned toward his companion. “Now, Marisa, I tell you what. You tell me a bit about yourself and I’ll tell you a bit about myself and then after you know me a little, I’ll explain what I meant when I told you that everything would be okay.”

Marisa looked at him resentfully. “I don’t know. I’ve had about enough of your type lately.”

“Okay, I’ll make a deal with you,” he said firmly. “If I mention any type of deity, you are welcome to kick me out of this cab and take it the rest of the way into the city on my dime.” As she considered his offer, Michael took the time to look over his companion. She was a plain girl of moderate means, but his original estimate that she was very young was off base somewhere. Although when she looked scared and confused, there was definitely a child-like quality about her, now that she was angry and ready to stand her ground she took on a more mature appearance. There seemed to be a fire in her that wouldn’t be easily doused, even if it seemed to die down from time to time. The thought of that grit in her made Michael more hopeful that, once she had listened to him and looked at the data, she would understand what it all meant and that she would carry it with her to New York; that she would hold onto it and not give in to the hopelessness that was overtaking her now.

“Don’t think I won’t hold you to that,” she said decisively.

“I hope you will,” he replied, happily thinking, “Good. We need more people like her around.”

She eyed him uncertainly. “Well, what do you want to know?”

Michael shrugged. It didn’t really matter where she started or what she ended up telling him. This was more an exercise in building trust through mutual knowledge than anything else. “Where you’re from, what you do, anything… Just nothing about the comet right now. We can talk about that later.”

She nodded her agreement; she didn’t want to talk about the comet any more than he did. Hesitantly, she began. “Um… okay. I’m twenty-six years old. I’m originally from Manhattan, but after I graduated from NYU, I got this awesome job down in Charlotte and I’ve been working there for about four years.”

“What is it that you do in Charlotte?” he asked.

Proudly, she replied, “I’m the executive assistant for the VP of Ops of a large manufacturer of plastics.” Michael nodded and she continued. “My folks… well, just my mother now I guess… my dad had a heart attack after the… sorry, we aren’t talking about that… well, my mom has lived in New York since just before I was born. They used to live somewhere further west, but my dad got a job in one of the brokerage houses and they picked up everything and just moved.” She grinned, “Sort of like I did when I went to Charlotte. Like father, like daughter, I guess.” Her voice trailed away. Michael waited patiently for her to resume, but her eyes were looking at some point in the distance. When she turned to look at him again, he could see that she was near to tears again.

“Sorry,” she said. “I guess I kinda miss him. Were you close to your dad?”

“I still am. Both of my parents are retired and living in Wyoming.”

Wistfully she mused, “I bet it’s pretty out there. I’ve seen pictures and documentaries about the west, and I’ve always wanted to go there. In fact, I was planning a trip to Yellowstone the summer before I found out I was expecting Tyler, but things sorta… well things got put on hold.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, will Tyler’s father be joining you in New York?”

She smiled wryly, “Him? I think the only thing he’ll be joining is a barmaid for a few drinks after she gets off her shift. Last I knew of him he was sitting in a bar looking for his happiness at the bottom of a bottle of vodka.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m not. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me… when he walked away from us, I mean. But I don’t want to talk about that any more. It’s water under the bridge. Tell me about you now.”

“My turn?” He asked and she nodded. “Well, my name is Michael.”

She held out her hand and shook his heartily. “Pleased to meet you, Michael.”

“The pleasure is mine, Marisa,” he replied. “Now, let’s see. I’m thirty-eight and I work in New Mexico… but if you don’t mind I’d like to leave my employment there for right now. As I said, my folks live in Wyoming on the farm they bought after my father retired. Dad raises elk now. I grew up in northern Utah…”

“See?” Marisa interrupted, “I knew it!” She crossed her arms over her chest above the sleeping Tyler and stated, “You can stop right there, mister.”

Confused, Michael fell silent, uttering only one word, “Why?”

“Because you’re like some kind of Mormon or something,” she insisted, “and I knew you were going to start with the whole god-thing sooner or later.” To her surprise, Michael burst into helpless laughter. She grew more furious with every chuckle. “I don’t really see what’s so funny.”

Sputtering out a few more healthy guffaws, Michael took a deep breath and explained, “Because it’s been a long time since anyone made that assumption. I used to get that a lot when I was younger, especially when I started college, but it tapered off eventually. To settle your mind some, I’m not mormon. I’m not anything as a matter of fact, but that is neither here nor there. Remember our deal, Marisa. If I mention religion you can kick me out of the taxi. I wouldn’t have agreed to that if I thought it were a possibility. Trust me, I don’t relish the idea of walking to New York.”

Abashed, Marisa apologized. “Sorry. It’s just that I’m so used to being blindsided by stuff like that. I guess that it’s made me kinda jumpy.”

“Apology accepted. So, now that we’re settled on that you can relax a bit and we can talk without your having to read between the lines and wonder what I might be saying that I’m not really saying. Now, where was I?” He pondered.

“You grew up in Utah.” She offered.

Michael laughed. “Ah, yes. How could I have forgotten that point? The reason we lived in Utah was that my father was employed by a company that makes jet-propulsion systems and when they opened a lab facility up there, my father was the obvious choice to head the division. My family is originally from the Midwest. In fact, I was born in Columbus, Ohio.” Raising one eyebrow, Michael looked at Marisa. “You don’t have a problem with former buckeyes, do you?”

She giggled. “Only if a buckeye is some kind of cult fanatic.”

“Actually a buckeye is a kind of nut, but not the religious kind.” He explained. Marissa was now completely relaxed and bright-eyed, and Michael reflected on the contrast between her and the young receptionist at the Global Science Institute. Where Marisa had originally seemed very plain and mousy, she now appeared quite lovely.

“Tell me more,” she requested.

“Well…” he searched his mind for some other piece of information that the girl might find interesting, “…my mother is a romance novelist.”

He had chosen well judging from the way Marisa perked up. “Really?” she asked cheerfully. “I hate to admit it but I read tons of those things. Maybe I’ve read some of her stuff. What’s her name?”

“She writes under the name Madeline Brook.”

A wide smile broke over the girl’s face. “That’s your mother? I love her stuff. It’s very real, but also so very romantic.” Marisa sighed. “I’ve always been a sucker for the kinds of men she makes up for her books.”

Michael grinned, thinking that his mother had once told him that all her heroes were based on his father. “I’ll pass that along to her. Mom loves to hear that people enjoy reading her books as much as she enjoys writing them. By the way, her real name is Marjorie. You may have noticed that she hasn’t written much lately, but that’s because she is enjoying puttering in her garden now that Dad is retired and only writes when the mood strikes her.”

“Thank you, Michael. I’ll remember that. So, now that I know all about what your folks are doing, tell me what you do for a living.”

“I’m an astrophysicist.”

She giggled. “No. Seriously. What do you do?”

“That is what I do. Seriously.”

“Oh,” she said with a strange look in her eyes, less distrust than a sort of gentle sadness on behalf of her newfound friend. “Well, I can certainly understand why you didn’t want to talk about the comet. You guys haven’t been much help lately, have you?”

“My field hasn’t been any help at all lately. That’s why I’m headed for New York—to try and put things right. It’s also why I stopped to help you today. You looked so lost and afraid and you shouldn’t have to be.”

Her lips curled into a wistful smile. “It’s okay now. You helped me a lot. You see… I’m going to New York to die and I was afraid that my resolve would fail me. But you’re going to get me there and I can do what I have to do now.”

“You don’t have to do anything.”

“Oh, I know that. Come July, it’ll hit and we’ll all be dead, so I could just wait until then and take what’s coming, but I don’t want Tyler to suffer in the end, so my mother and I came up with this plan and now I’m seeing it through. It’ll be better this way… to die quietly in my old bed with Tyler in my arms.” Marisa looked almost serene, but Michael was reeling. He couldn’t bring himself to believe that this intelligent, vibrant young woman was going to kill herself, but it was true. How many others, like her, were ending their lives before the horror could overcome them? That the horror would never come made it doubly hard to bear.

“Marisa,” his voice had gained the hard edge of barely reined anger, “I know that you think this is the only way, but you cannot kill yourself when you get to New York. I know you don’t know me and have no reason to trust me, but this isn’t necessary. When you get to New York, I want you to take your mother and leave the city. Go somewhere away from people and wait it out. Please.”

Her mouth tightened and she shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry, but I can’t bear the thought of slowly dying inside over the next few months just waiting to be vaporized. I can’t do that. I’ve never sat around waiting for anything to happen, and I don’t want to start with this… not with the end of my life. Oh sure, I could spend the next two months partying it up somewhere like Tyler’s father and like some of my friends, but I couldn’t do that either. I’m not that kind of person. Nope, this is the best way.”

“Marisa? What if I told you that the comet will not hurt you or any of us? What if I showed you the proof of it and asked, not that you trust me, but that you trust reality?”

She looked at him disbelievingly. “If that’s true, why doesn’t anyone else know?”

“I don’t have the answer to that. I wish I did. I have been telling everyone who would take a moment to listen.” Michael shook his head at those memories. “I’m headed to New York for an appointment with NBS. I’m hoping that they will listen to me, and that they will help me to tell the public the truth.”

Marisa’s eyes had grown wide. “I don’t believe you. No one would hide this kind of information from people. There’s no reason to do something like that. No one can be that cruel.”

“I don’t know if they’re doing this deliberately to be cruel or if that’s just a by-product, but the fact is that they are doing it. I have the proof…”

“I don’t know why you’re doing this,” she cried. “I don’t know if you’re sadistic, or insane, or just mean. I don’t care. This is wrong of you.” She was looking at him with a wild-eyed horror that slowly changed to disappointment. Michael waited patiently until slowly a sad sort of pity crept into her eyes and she very gently told him, “You have to stop telling people this. Why get people’s hopes up that way? We only have a few months, but we shouldn’t go around with our head in the clouds over nothing. I’m sure that if your proof were correct, someone would have listened and let everyone know. I don’t get it.” Shaking her head, she inquired, “Why would they hide something like that from us? Why?”

“I don’t know why, but what I’m telling you is the truth. Look, I’m not asking you to just believe me. That is exactly what they are asking you to do. I’m not basing this on conjecture, but they are. I ran tests—every test I could think of and then some—to check and re-check every single conclusion I came up with. They didn’t bother with tests; they didn’t bother to check anything. Someone said, ‘We’re doomed,’ and someone else said, ‘They must be right because they’re the ones who are supposed to know.’ And no one bothered to ask them why they thought we were doomed. I didn’t listen to their words. I looked at the data and the data proved them wrong. Maybe they’re afraid to be wrong. Maybe they are afraid to be alive at all. I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to live. Do you want to live, Marisa?”

“Of course I do. Doesn’t everyone?”

“I’m beginning to have serious doubts about that.”

Michael heard a strange cough from the front seat. He looked into the eyes in the mirror and noticed that their driver’s cheeks were damp. “It’ll be okay, kid.”

The cabbie looked at him and Michael saw the face of a frightened child. “You serious, Mister?”

“If you’ll pardon the phrase… I’m deadly serious.”

The kid smiled. He looked like he’d just been released from prison—an innocent man given a pardon on his death sentence. “I believe you, Mister.”

“Thank you for the vote of confidence, kid, but I’d rather you believe the data. Unfortunately, you can’t read and drive at the same time.” The cabbie winked and turned his concentration back to the road. Marisa still looked wary, but she seemed open to the possibility that Michael may have the answers she’d been hoping for. “Maybe since you can’t read and drive, I could read the data to you both while we travel. I want you to understand it so that you can be certain of it for yourself. If you’re certain, you can help to pass the information along to your fares. Just in case.”

The kid shook his head and exclaimed, “Dude, you’re my last fare… ever! I’m beatin’ feet out of the city as soon as I drop you off. Hey, I’ll even give ya yur money back. You already paid me more than this drive is worth. We’re gonna live, Dude!”

“Keep the money. You’ll need it over the next few months.” Michael winked at the boy and he winked back. “Shall I begin?”

Both of his companions nodded silently and listened carefully as he laid out the information they would need to make their own decisions.

Stay tuned for Part 3...