Monday, August 25, 2008



Ni awoke.

The tiny hut was dark, but the shadows were beginning to retreat in the purple light of the coming day. Soft scratching sounds came from a corner of the single room. Another rat sneaking in to escape the daylight predators. If the day’s hunting went poorly, he would kill it later and they would not go hungry.

Beside him, his mate slept. He traced her form with his thick fingers, hovering for a moment over her ripe belly. It rippled beneath his hand. Ni grinned at the strength of his unborn child. Before long, his son would see the world outside Ta’s sheltering body.

His son kicked again, reminding Ni of the need to start his day. Ta could sleep until the sun was above the horizon, but he had work to do. His son would need fur to stay warm in the coming snows; his mate would need meat to stay strong for the coming birth.

It was his job to provide these things.

Creeping as carefully as the stalking cat, he moved from the mat of woven grasses. Ta stirred slightly and then slept once more.

Through the tattered pelt doorway, Ni could see the sky brightening and strode forward. Soon, the animals would be stirring from their sleeping grounds, and he had to be hiding along the path before they passed. If he missed his chance, the remainder of the day’s hunting would be long and hard, requiring more energy than he could spare.

Near the entry was the thick stick he’d sharpened to a deadly point, and he grasped it firmly as he pushed the pelt aside. It was a good weapon—much better than the rocks his old clan had used—and it had helped him bring down many animals. It took too many men to bring down a single meal with rocks and Ni hunted alone. He had needed something more, and the stick had made his work so much easier. Hardly a hunt left them in bed at night with an empty belly. Soon those barren hunts must never come. His son could not live if he did not bring home food each day.

A short walk brought him to the trail, and he was happy to see no fresh tracks upon the ground. He was not too late; the animals were still bedded down. Tonight his mate would have a large beast to fill her belly, and his son would grow to be strong.

Settling into the crotch of a towering tree, Ni waited.

And he thought.

He made a vow when Ta first told him of the coming child. His son would not know the hungers he had known. Even in the clan, many hunts had been fruitless. Great bands of men would set out in the morning, boasting of their prowess. Humbled bands of men would return with the setting sun, boastful no more.

Ni had watched his father lead those bands. Quiet and careful, the man had been. Strong and wise, his father had fought for his right to lead those bands. At night, Ni would listen to his father grunt in the caves, talking of those most boastful men and how none of them had the skill to track or to kill. Ni had seen the hateful glares of those men, after his father had gone to his furs for the night.

And Ni had heard the whispering.

One day, the men went out and the worst among them were very quiet. At night, they returned empty handed and leaderless. To hear them tell the tale, his father had been gored during the hunt, but Ni knew in his heart what the truth of it was.

A new leader stepped forward the next day, unchallenged. He stepped into the place Ni’s father had held in the clan, and he stepped into the place the old leader had held in Ni’s home.
Like so many other predators, when a new leader stepped forward, the offspring of the old leader were set upon—to be killed or driven away. So it had been with Ni.

He had only seen ten summers when the men of the clan came at him, beating him with sticks while the women shrieked and jeered—his own mother among them. He was a stout and sturdy boy, not far from joining the hunt even at that tender age, and he warded off their blows as best he could.

So many summers had passed since that wicked day, when he’d been forced out of the caves and into the world beyond. So many winters, when he’d barely lived through the cold and the damp, had come and gone.

After many summers, he had found Ta. Living with a band of wanderers and outcasts, she had never known the comforts of the caves, nor the warmth of a dozen bodies piled together in sleep. She had been hardened by the wind and browned by the sun.

Near a gentle stream, he had hidden and watched her trying to hunt the creatures beneath the waters. One rock and then another went into the cold clear depths, until finally she had reached down and pulled a flopping meal from beneath her feet.

He had loved her in an instant.

When he had stepped forward to show himself, she had growled her fear at him and turned to run away. He’d called to her, but his grunts had meant nothing to this wild thing. She’d screamed back at him as she leapt through the tall grasses, and the chase has been on.

Hunting her like any other of his prey, he had used more brains than brawn. Soon, she hadn’t been able to see him behind her, and she’d assumed he had gone away. It was then that he’d been upon her. She’d snarled, and he’d growled; she’d bit and he’d shaken her teeth away, laughing. She had been perfect.

She still was.

On the path below his tree, Ni could hear the approach of a beast making its way to the feeding grounds. He bared his teeth in pleasure. It was a large male, already fat for the coming winter, and lazy without the urgent need for food.

When the buck was beneath him, he sprang from the tree and on top on the animal, driving his stick into the beast’s side. He pushed and the beast bucked. It jumped and he held tight to its neck. He squeezed the place where the breath of life flowed through it and it thrashed, trying to gore him. Its sharp antlers ripped through the flesh of his arm, and his weapon gouged deeper into the flesh of its flank. He shoved until the stick was driven into the beast and the beast squealed its death cry.

Afterwards, Ni lay panting on top of the animal. The battle had been harder than he’d expected, and his torn arm burned with pain. If he could just rest a moment, the burden of dragging the animal home would be so much easier.

But a growl from the bushes ceased all thought of the task ahead being easy. Ni slowly rose to his feet, standing over the carcass of his hard-won prize. Nearby was the cat or the wolf, and either would not hesitate to take both him and his meal.

Ni gathered what little strength he had, and slowly began dragging his prey home. He had no choice. If the hunting creatures caught him here, in the open, and weakened from his fight, he would lose. If they followed, he could fight them better from his own lair and with the help of Ta. Even round with his child, she was as fierce as the day they had met.

He pulled, stumbling a few steps at a time. He dragged, gaining so few feet of ground he felt like he was standing still. Still, the growling beast never showed itself, and after a while, the growling faded into the morning mist.

The sun was high above him when the hut came into view. He stopped. Ta would come to help him move the beast closer to their home. She would help him skin the beast and ready it for eating.

He called for his mate.

When Ta stepped out into the sunshine, his breath caught. As tired as he was, he could still admire how valuable his mate was to him. She was strong and sturdy, like a deer after the long and bountiful summer. Standing there with her belly rounded by the weight of his son, he could remember exactly what had drawn him to her that day by the river. She was a good mate, and she would be a good mother. She could not be otherwise.

He barked out a command, and she lifted her head in laughter before she obeyed. Na had never ruled this one, and he never would. His own deep laughter joined her own as they labored beneath the weight of his prey.

The skinning took little time, and each of them picked the choicest meats to eat immediately, before the heat of the sun soured their flavor. Ta grunted to him, indicating the beast was too big and the bounty would soon be no more than offal. He shrugged, waving aside her concerns. If too much meat existed for them to eat, he would hunt again when this carcass went bad. Hunting was nothing to him.

She rubbed her precious belly lovingly. Her hand drifted to the clotted line along his arm—too much closer and it would have been his chest, not his arm, pierced and bloody. He knew she meant for him to think about the days and weeks to come. With his son soon to be born, he must think before he risked himself on too big a prize, especially one that would not last long enough to warrant the danger. She needed him now, but she would need him even more once the birthing was close upon her.

He must no longer take the chances like he took today.

Looking down at the bounty before him, he wished for a better way. The meat, if kept from rotting, would last them days. When the snows fell, it would last longer, but it would be too hard to eat without staying in the warmth of the hut, and then the problem of rot returned.
He would think on it another day.

Every morning, Ni hunted while Ta gathered water from the stream and bounty from the fields. Some nights, he would come home empty-handed and they would chew the grains and roots to quiet their bellies. Some nights, he would come home dragging a beast for them to share. Never again did he try for the biggest beasts, but never again would his hunt last them more than one day’s meals.

The cold wind blew through their tiny hut, and each day Ta would add some mud here or grasses there to keep the chill from their sleeping furs. It never seemed enough.

One morning, long before the winter sun had reached above the earth’s line, Ni sat in his hunting tree waiting for a stout beast to take home. His mate was nearly bursting with the son he’d planted there, and she could no longer fetch the water for their home. Already the streams were thickening with ice and the plants were readying for their long sleep. Soon, the hunt would be all they could expect for sustenance, and soon he would be unable to hunt too far from their shelter for fear Ta would need him.

He had to catch something big today, and he had to find a way to make the meat last until the birthing was over.

The wind blew harder, stiffening his thick fingers. He rubbed them together and he blew his hot breath over them to keep them warm.

He stopped. A kernel of thought drifted through his brain. He rubbed his hands together, and they stayed warm.

Grasping two of the dead branches from around his hiding place, he rubbed them together. Nothing happened. He rubbed them together faster, as with his hands on the most blustery of days. They felt warm to his cold fingers. He rubbed them together as fast as he could, and the warmth spread through the wood in his fingers.

If he could take that warmth home, Ta would not need to worry about the chill of the hut. She would be warm as she gave birth, and their son would not be born into the cold world after all. Ni rubbed the sticks together with such ferocity the sound startled a beast wandering up the path toward the hunting spot. As it ran away, Ni saw his first white puff of air.

When the storms came and the jagged white light from the sky landed on the trees, the light would spread and this white air plumed upwards from the spot. He sniffed the air cautiously. It smelled the same. He shuddered. The light from the sky spread in great living tongues of unbearable heat, and the clansmen believed it was a warning from the gods. No one would dare go near the light as it spread over the ground, eating everything in its path.

Suddenly, Ni was very afraid of what he held in his hand. If the clansmen were right, the gods would rain their fury down upon him for touching what was theirs. It was for the gods to create, not Ni. Still, one thought of his son, shivering in the drafts of their hut, and Ni renewed his fury upon the wood.

The gods be damned. His son would be warm. He would make their light, and he would hold it in his hand. Then he would bring it to his mate, as a gift.

Ni rubbed at the pieces of wood until his muscles ached with the motion. Never could he manage more than the tiny white puff of air, and the warming of the wood as it turned to a brownish black. His hands ached with the motion, and his skin became raw with the rubbing. It wasn’t working.

Leaping to the ground and sitting with his back against the tree, he focused all his energy on rubbing at the wood in his hands. Near to giving up, he set his latest attempt down upon the ground beside him, and laid his head in his hands. The sun was dropping low in the sky, far from where it had started its journey, and still he had no meal to bring home for Ta. Shuddering, he thought of another night spent with no food in their bellies, and the cold winds blowing all around their sleeping furs.

A soft crackle, like the step of a mouse through dried leaves, brought his attention to the sticks beside him. The tiny puff of white air from his work had grown, and the hunger of it was beginning to consume the twigs around it. He watched in amazement as first one dry, crumpled leaf caught with a red light and then was gone, followed by another and another.

He picked up a larger stick and set it amongst the hungry puffs. The red light caught hold of the stick and began eating it, too. Setting the stick down, he rose from his hiding spot and scanned the earth for a larger branch to feed the light he’d created.

Just as he spied the perfect food for this new thing, he felt a curious prickling along his foot. He shouted and jumped. The thing had tried to feast upon his own flesh. He kicked at the dirt around it, until it was once again a small thing, and under his control. Grasping the large stick, he thrust it up against the hungry light and it licked along the wood.

Once the stick was glowing with the tongues of red hunger, he kicked the dirt again, killing the last of the light he’d created. The child of it would live on the branch he held until he could get it home, and then it would live as he chose to let it live.

It was only fitting that the child of his creation would serve his own child.

Thus, Ni’s son was born into a warm hut while the snow swirled outside, and while the child’s cries mixed with the snarl of the winter wind, the wind touched him not. While Ta slept, Ni wrapped the squirming boy in the best of his furs, and carried him closer to the fire. This was my greatest creation, Ni thought looking at his son, and now it shall serve you who have taken its honored place.

In the weeks that passed, the snow fell thick and buried the ground beneath it. The tracking of the animals became easier, and their hut was filled with the smells of cooking meat.

And their son, Ka, grew as fat and round as a bear cub.

Every day, Ni would leave for the hunt, slogging through the mounds of snow, while his mate and son remained nestled in the warmth and safety of the hut. Every afternoon he would return, pulling his prize over the drifts.

One morning, as he was on his way to his hunting spot, though, he noticed a track of the sort he hadn’t seen in many years. It was the long flat track of another man. Ni growled his displeasure. This was his territory to hunt. He had claimed it with his blood and his sweat; he would not have another man taking what was rightfully his.

Sniffing the wind, he could just catch the scent the other human, and somewhere in his mind, the smell was familiar. He hissed. This other must be stopped even if it meant returning home empty handed. At the hut, there was enough meat to miss a day’s hunting. He followed the track.

It lead him far away from the trail where he hunted every day. It lead him even farther away from his hut and his family. The track seemed to have no purpose, leading first one way and then another, but always, always, away from his home. Ni paid no attention to the distance he was covering; he only knew he must stop the other one. When the sun was high above his head, Ni could almost smell the man around the next bend, and he quickened his pace.

The memories had faded to a dim gray, but the pain of his beating and the death of his father were still fresh in Ni’s mind. Behind a tree stood the one human for which Ni would kill himself, if only to see the other die. Before him stood the murderous leader of his former clan.

Ni screamed his fury, and leapt toward the hated thing. He would kill it, and like every other beast before, he would drag it home as a prize for his mate and son.

The man laughed and crouched to take Ni, expecting to face the child he’d nearly killed so many winters before. He did not expect to face Ni’s sharpened stick.

Ni stabbed, and found his mark. The crude leader howled in pain and fury, bringing his hands up to protect his remaining eye. Like a wild thing, Ni stabbed again and again while the man beneath him squirmed to get away. Ni would have nothing of it. Each thrust of his weapon a punishment for the death of his father; each drip of blood a small return for the drops of his own blood shed on the day he was driven from the caves.

When finally, the old leader of the clan shuddered once and fell away into the snow, Ni was covered in the thick red retribution he had not known he wanted. Now that it was over, and Ni looked at the old man he had beaten, he was ashamed he had killed so old and frail a thing. It was not a prize to take proudly home to his mate.

He left the crumpled thing lying in the snow and trudged home.

The sky was washed in the blood of his kill by the time he stepped back into the clearing. Ni was tired; more tired than he had ever been from the hunt. All he wished was to wipe away the remnants of his foe, and fall into the arms of his beautiful Ta.

He didn’t notice the stillness of the clearing, but his nose caught the smell he never thought he’d find around his own home.

He shrieked for his mate.

Ta did not come.

He looked toward the shelter where Ta should be cooking, but no smoke drifted forth from the hut. Frozen with fear, he strained to hear the sounds of Ka’s robust cries. The only sound was the whistle of the wind. Racing across the clearing, he hoped for the best, but feared the worst.
His fears were not unfounded.

The hut was dark and cool inside. Nothing had changed since he left for his hunting trip. Even the rat was still scratching at its hole in the corner. Ni’s brow furrowed. If some horror had taken his family, some sign of it should be present, but his eyes weren’t seeing it. Eyes that had served all his life to track the beasts he hunted, were now failing him in the most important task of his life.

He called to his mate again. No one answered. His eyes darted to the sleeping mat, and the furs piled high there. Jumping toward the pile, his hands went forward to the lump curled within them.

The furs were piled, but nothing was wrapped within them.

He ran outside, and called for Ta—louder and longer. Turning to face in each direction, he bellowed his frustration and anxiety to the winds, praying to the gods that his mate would answer. Only the wind rustling through the trees called back.

Running into the hut once more, he focused his careful hunting eyes to the walls and the floors. No signs of battle were visible within the hut. Racing outside, he scanned the ground looking for traces of the answer in the snow. In his fear, he had trampled over the strange footprints, but they were there. Many, many men had come, crushing the snow beneath their fur-covered feet.
The exhaustion slipped away from Ni, and the terror clouding his vision disappeared. His mind became clear and the events that had occurred in his absence were suddenly obvious.

Ni became the hunter once more. His nose caught the scent of a dozen men; his sight fell on the myriad of tracks. Kneeling to the ground, he brushed his fingertips along the curve of a footprint and felt the snow. Not long after he’d left for the hunt, the outsiders had snuck into his camp.
He searched for more clues. The hut was empty, but so were their stores of meat. The fire he’d worked so carefully to build had grown cold. The tiny bed they’d made for their son… His face grew hot with the thought of the outsiders and his son. His blood began to burn again, and he began to lose sight of his tasks.

He cried out in the darkness of his empty hut. If they’d harmed one inch of skin on his son, he would kill them all.

Gathering his furs, and his hunting sticks, he strode from the dwelling Ta had always kept so well. He would find his family, or die trying. And if he must die, he would take the clan with him into hell.

Tracking the band was easy. They had stampeded through the forest like a herd of injured beasts. While his eyes stayed focused on the trail, looking for some sign of his mate, his mind drifted back over the morning. The old leader had been the trap to lure him away from his home. Of that, he was certain. If he’d hunted in his usual spot, he would have heard the commotion, and the old leader had drawn him further away so he could not defend his family.

He sneered at the ways of his former clan. They had behaved like stupid old women, and now they were without a leader. Instead of facing him like men, they had snuck in like rats, stealing from him those things they could never achieve on their own, and now they would die.
It would not be hard to kill them. The stupidest of beasts was always the easiest to kill.
In the gathering darkness, the trail became harder to follow. The clouds, present all day, covered the light of the moon, and he cursed his gods for aiding the thieves. Still, he pressed on. If he could not follow their trail, he at least knew the way to the caves, and they would have no other place to hide.

He sniffed the wind. From somewhere beside the trail, a sickening smell drifted to his nostrils. It was the smell of blood—human blood. Fearing to leave the trail and lose precious time, yet afraid of not knowing the source of the smell, he tentatively followed his nose. His brain screamed that he must not go; the smell was too familiar. One foot and then the other ignored the screaming voice.

He found her just beyond the trail. The dark lump of her furs stood stark against the whiteness of the snow; the dark stain of her life’s blood spread out in a pool around her soft hair.
Falling to his knees beside her broken body, he scooped Ta into his arms, and held her close against his chest. She was cold, but the stiffness hadn’t crept into her limbs yet. He smoothed the sticky mass of hair away from her face, and softly kissed her cheeks. A single perfect teardrop fell across her pale lips.

He howled into the night.

Laying her gently upon the ground once more, he walked slowly back to the trail of his enemies. Hardened to the grief, he put one foot in front of the other. Slowly at first, and then each step quickened his pace until he was running. His mate was gone, but they still had his son. He must save Ka.

And then he must kill the clan.

The darkness was nothing. The snow was nothing. He ran like a devil through the forest, and nothing stood between him and his anger. Before the dawn broke, he came within sight of the caves, made bright and brilliant by the gift of his fire; a gift he would never have given them.
He had another gift they could take, and his fingers tightened around the weapon in his grasp.
He could hear the gleeful cackling of the crones, and the strident cries of his son. He ached to run to Ka, but the coolness had retaken his heated brain. If he ran to his son now, he would surely fail, and he would not fail in this.

As he crept toward the caves, Ka’s screams grew louder, and then fell to silence. Failure or not, Ni broke into a run, and was within the caves before any of the clansmen could move.
He stabbed the first moving thing he saw, and felt the blood spurt along his hand. He kicked at another body and heard the crunch of ribs beneath his heel. Like the devils of their nightmares, Ni was everywhere and the clansmen were afraid. He struck at them, and they cowered before him.

Ka! He could not see Ka. As he attacked the objects of his anger, his eyes searched for a glimpse of the tiny bundle; his ears strained for the hearty shriek of his son. Nothing.
Recovering from their shock, the clansmen returned the attack, leaping at him from every direction. He fended off their blows with his sharpened stick, gouging and rending the bodies that fell within his reach. Like a great cat—blood-crazed after the hunt—he flung himself among them, a high-pitched mewl upon his lips. Like frightened birds, they flew away from his bloody grasp.

In the light of the fire, with the blood of their clan dripping from his hands, he appeared to be some avenging god. First one, and then another, fell prostrate before him, whispering prayers. He laughed at them. Stooping, he picked up a brand from the fire they had stolen and brandished it in their faces.

He called for his child. The people of his childhood family cowered further, sweeping the cave floor with their dirty, matted hair. He bellowed for the child to be brought to him, and they trembled in fright.

He raised his fiery weapon above his head. He would burn them all with the gift they had taken, if they did not give him his child.

An old and scraggily woman crawled forth from the mass of whimpering bodies. Clutched to her chest was a furry package. She held it forth, and from within the folds of animal hide, a single tiny hand pushed forward.

Setting down the fire, he scooped the child away from the crone’s twisted fingers. The babe was safe. He raised a single, meaty fist to crush the female who had kept his son from him, and saw a look of recognition in her eyes.

Staying his blow, he cradled Ti within the folds of his own furs, and turned away. His anger spent, he could not muster enough of his fury to strike down the woman who had taken his son, because she was also the one who had given him life.

Quietly cooing to his greatest achievement, Ni kicked dirt over the fire, snuffing it into embers and then grinding the embers into cold black soot beneath his heel. It was his to create and his to destroy.

As the first pink of the morning sun chased away the darkness, Ni took his child and walked away. The people he once knew lay crying in the darkness of their cave, whining for him to bring back the treasure they had stolen from him.

The fire was dead in the cave, and it was dead in his home, but he knew the secret to creating it again. It was a secret not one of those other creatures would ever discover. As his steps lead down the trail and away from the caves, he whispered the secret of fire to his son.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tom Sheldon

Hi. It's been a while since I posted anything here, so I thought I would leave another couple of snippets cut from Fear Itself. Below is what basically amounts to a character study of network executive Tom Sheldon. I love this, and maybe it will make it back into the book should it ever get published, but for now, it's snipped.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tom Sheldon

Tom Sheldon was a self-made millionaire who’d been born into money. As the son of an industrialist who’d had to work to pull himself out of the gutter, Tom wanted for nothing but earned everything he had. While working to rise above his background, his father had also worked to instill that same ethic in his only son.

At the age of fourteen, Tom used an alias and applied for the job of day laborer at his father’s largest factory. He spent his summer sweeping metal shavings from beneath the feet of lathe operators and from between the cracks of large machinery whose purpose he could only guess at. At the end of the summer, his means of giving notice was walking into the plant manager’s office and telling him what he thought was wrong with the way the plant was run. Tom was dead right on every point and he knew it, but he was fired immediately. He could still hear the loud ranting of his former boss as he punched out for the last time and headed for home.

That night he strode into his father’s study and laid the entirety of his summer earnings on his father’s lap. “I’ve been working at the Rouge plant since I left school. That’s the money I earned, minus a bit I spent on myself. Consider it a down payment on the rent.” Unsurprised, his father gathered the money and nodded. Tom finished with, “From here on out, I pay my own way,” and walked from the room. His father slowly tucked the money into his pocket and went back to reading the newspaper.

Tom never told his father of his means of resignation, but word spread quickly from the plant floor into the executive office. Given two weeks to comply with the younger Sheldon’s plans or face the consequences, the plant manager chose the latter and was easily replaced. No man ever went against a business plan of Tom’s again.

Never once did he shirk his self-imposed rent, despite his mother’s protestations. She insisted he needn’t work and he needn’t pay his parents for his keep. Once, in the study after dinner, she went so far as to say everything they had was his without asking. His father silenced her with a single look and the subject was never broached again.

Upon graduation, his father presented him with a check for $50,000. He indignantly refused the perceived handout, but his father assured him it wasn’t a gift. His father then explained how he had taken every penny of rent Tom had ever paid and invested it. The check was strictly the profits from the investments. His father assured him he had kept the rent plus a minor broker’s fee, which suited Tom just fine.

His grandfather offered to pay his way through college, but Tom refused that as well. Irreverently, he laughed at the old man and his thought of higher education. Tom knew there was more to be learned in the world than one could learn in a lifetime of classes. Then, sensing he had somehow deeply offended his mother’s father, he apologized. He noted then something was deeply wrong with a man who would offer another money and then be offended when it was refused. That was the last time he spoke to his grandfather, and it was the last time he apologized to anyone for his own integrity.

Taking his own $50,000, he left home—principles intact.

... (several chapters later)...

When he left his father’s home all those years ago, it had been to fight the first battle of his war to the top. His father had unknowingly given him the key when he’d given him his stake—the key was the stock market. If Thomas Sheldon, Sr. could take the pittance his son paid in rent and turn it into fifty-thousand dollars, then surely Tom Sheldon, Jr. could use the same plan to make a much larger fortune. Heading east into New York with a plan in mind, he vowed to take the first job he could find, strictly to keep himself alive while he learned his trade.

Tom planned to hold his stake until he’d taught himself enough to trade and trade wisely. Working as a day laborer at a factory in New Jersey and as a night watchman at a high-rise in Manhattan, he scraped along quietly and was able to keep himself nicely, but it wasn’t enough. He discovered he missed the opulent lifestyle of his father’s home, and he buckled down to achieve it.

In the hours between his day job and his night job—working weekends when he could find the work—Tom took whatever work he could find. Soon he began pulling in more money than he’d ever earned. The increase in money allowed him to regain something of the lifestyle at his father’s home—a spacious apartment in a high rise, the best foods, and the best wines.

Unfortunately, his work schedule didn’t allow much time for studying the markets, and he could feel his stomach twist each time a penny stock jumped while he was busy grinding out a living. Taking the chance he knew he had to take to truly succeed, he quit his jobs and his nice apartment. With the last of his wages, he paid two months rent on a tenement in a somewhat seedier part of town and knuckled down to earn the skills needed to turn his small stake into his fortune.

Studying the markets hard, he looked for trends in the stocks. Diligently watching the news, he studied the behavior of corporate executives. Within a month, he found just the right stock in which to invest his money—all of his money. He’d never cared much for doing things by half measures.

He watched and he waited as the stock hovered, wavering slightly up one day and slightly down the next, always within mere cents of the price he’d paid for it. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy, the papers said. They said it was only a matter of time. If the company went bankrupt, his investment would be worthless and his money lost, but he was unafraid. He had an instinct about this, and he knew his instinct was born of knowledge. As the rent on his apartment was overdue for the second week in a row, and the landlord was threatening eviction, Tom’s knowledge was born out.

The company had been a small venture with a simple product—a venture too small for the company to rise without assistance and a product too brilliant to escape the notice of a bigger enterprise. When the little company was bought-out by a much larger conglomerate, Tom walked away with his first million. It was a lesson he never forgot: knowledge and hard work always wins.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Below is a scene I snipped from Spectacle (aka Fear Itself) - my first book. I still love it, although I admit it has some flaws. (Of course it does, it was my first work.)

The premise of Spectacle is that a comet is headed for Earth. The general populous believes it's going to wipe out life as we know it - because the truth about it's harmlessness has been kept from people. Fearful people are easy to control, and that kind of thing.

Anyway, the book was never about the comet. It's about the panic that ensues after a glut of bad information is perpetuated by people we trust to tell us the truth. This scene shows one example of the mindset of people faced with their own destruction.

Without further ado, I give you...



In a bright and airy house on Postcard Row in San Francisco existed a cheerful, plant-filled living room where a small group of acquaintances gathered to discuss their plans for the future. Unlike previous discussions they’d had while they were still college students, discussions when they talked about how they were going to change the world, they now talked how their world would end.

In one corner of the room, perched in an overstuffed easy chair, was a skinny, pinch-faced woman of thirty-four. Her hair was drawn back in a tight ponytail she’d hoped would give her a youthful air but instead gave one the impression of a sour old spinster. When in public, she often expounded on the evils of technology and then went home to thoroughly enjoy her luxury apartment with its genuine imitation fireplace and its air conditioning—often at the same time.

On the couch lounged a vibrant, trendy couple in their late twenties. The couch was upholstered in a quaint pattern meant to imitate the art of patchwork quilts; the couple was upholstered in a fashionable statement meant to indicate how little they cared about their appearance, but which made it glaringly obvious that they cared a great deal about their looks and how they were perceived by others. This couple spent their days shaking their heads in disgust at the world around them, dreaming of going back to the old ways—to the ways of those nice Mennonites they’d met on a vacation the summer before—although the man had never done a hard day’s labor in his life and the woman couldn’t envision ever doing her own laundry.

Slouching in a chair by the window was a willowy girl who was easily mistaken for a precocious teen, but who was, in reality. twenty-three. She had always wanted to be a dancer, but had never bothered to apply to the better dance academies. She made it clear she thought ballet was boring and refused to learn it, preferring instead modern dance which allowed her to interpret what the music meant to her.

Sprawled on the floor was a handsome man whose flawless features and chiseled physique made one think of Greek sculptures until one discovered he was painted from shoulder to crotch with tattoos, and then one could only imagine how graffiti would look on Michelangelo’s David. He had been taught the human body was somehow ugly and disgusting, and so had thrown himself into the task of changing it in an effort to fight against that image.

Each of the guests in the house had designed themselves to be very different from some aspect of the norm, and thus each of them succeeded in becoming a caricature of someone else’s ideas. It was the only thing they had in common, other than the bond that brought them to the house each week. The bond was only their dogged worship of the house’s owner.

The owner of that palatial home stood leaning casually against the wall listening to their conversation and smiling softly to himself. He was a tall thin man with a shaved head and black Van Dyke. Normally a man of his age and standing would have been considered both handsome and distinguished, but this man had adopted a sardonic look and sarcastic attitude that made him neither.

He had been teaching for nearly twenty years when the news of the comet broke. Seeing his end-of-the-world philosophy finally coming to pass, he felt there was no more he could do in the classroom. He preferred instead to open his house to those of his students who needed him, and he found that after years of his teaching, most of them did. Over the years, there had been many such gatherings in his house, where he’d listened to and encouraged groups of people such as this to express their opinions. More often than not, the opinions they espoused weren’t their own but were, in fact, ideas he had carefully planted in their heads. It filled him with great satisfaction to know these people would come to him now—seeking reassurance from his home and his presence, seeking sanction for the ideas they thought were their own but which still held a tinge of his work, seeking an escape from the world he’d made sure they would never belong to and would never understand. The man had been a professor of Philosophy at Berkeley and each of his guests had, at one time or another, been one of his students. The day before there had been a different group of former students. Every day the individuals units changed, but the whole remained basically the same.

This night, the professor said little and watched the interplay of his guests from his chosen place, slouched against the doorframe as if he could casually walk away at any moment, but giving the impression he was glued to the spot. He was guarding the room against something, although his guests would have said otherwise, and the something he had appointed himself to guard against was any glimmer of independent thought.

Looking up from his post, the professor noted the would-be dancer was crying again, but the others were paying her little attention. She cried every time she came, and most of the others were beyond caring. The spinster was saying mankind was at fault for the comet and if man had only been a little kinder to his fellow beasts, nature would not be so cruel as to take its benevolence away. The couple was nodding in agreement. The young man on the floor was looking at them all in an odd way, as if he couldn’t understand the language they were speaking.

“Benjamin?” their host inquired. “Is something wrong?”

“No, sir. Just laying here and minding my own business like I always do,” the man replied.

Thinking back, the professor noted Benjamin was never one to lie quietly and mind his own business, but he let it drop. The professor reflected on how Benjamin hadn’t been acting like himself the entire evening but why should Benjamin be any different than anyone else? “It’s the comet. It has everyone acting out of character these days,” he thought. Benjamin had not graced them with his presence for a few weeks now and, adding to the sum total of the boy’s behavior, he had chosen to dress heavily despite the balmy temperature outside. Not a tattoo was in sight, and Benjamin usually liked to show them off. The professor dismissed Benjamin’s strangeness as just another quirk in the boy’s psychology and resumed a watchful gaze over his disciples.

It was late into the evening when the conversation began to wind down, and the guests hesitantly took their leave. Playing the gracious host, the professor saw them all to the door and turned to begin the task of tidying his house for the next night’s gathering. It was then he noticed Benjamin still lying on the floor, hands behind his head and legs crossed at the ankles. For the first time all evening, Benjamin was smiling.

“Why, Benjamin, I would have thought you would join the crowd. I heard them say they were going for espresso. If you hurry, you can still catch them.”

The guest smiled wider from his position on the floor. “But sir, I thought we might have a few words alone together tonight. There is something important I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

Never before had the professor felt like his storybook home was closing in on him, but tonight, with that odd smile on his face, Benjamin was making him very uncomfortable. “Not tonight, son. It’s late and I have people coming for breakfast in the morning. You understand, I’m sure.” The professor motioned toward the door, but his guest made no move to leave.

“Professor,” the student proceeded as if he wasn’t being ushered away, “let me at least ask you this. Did you understand what it was you were doing all those years?”

Confused, the man shook his head. “I don’t know what it is you’re talking about, Benjamin. I really don’t have time for games this evening. If you’d like to come back tomorrow night, perhaps you can ask your questions with the rest of the group.”

Shaking his head, the former student just smiled. “I don’t think I’ll be coming back tomorrow night, sir. So, please just answer the question.”

“I don’t understand what you mean by your question.”

Benjamin had always been a bright student, brighter than any of his professors had ever imagined. Since the news of the coming Armageddon, he had thought very carefully over the premises he held and the actions he had taken in his life based on those premises. He had put two-and-two together and didn’t like the answers he came up with. Looking back over his life, there were many of his teachers—both in school and out—who had been responsible for the ideas that had overwhelmed his mind, but when he tried to pinpoint the worst of those, his mind kept coming back to the same person.

“I think you do, professor,” he countered. “How many students have you taught in the past two decades? You’ve been teaching the same dogma all those years, haven’t you? Of course you have. It was working perfectly for you, so you had no reason to change. How many minds did you touch during all those classes where you taught your version of the truth? You had the perfect podium for your own agenda—hundreds and thousands of young men and women coming to you for guidance. Oh, God, and we paid you for the pleasure!” Benjamin choked out angrily, his calm demeanor fading beneath painful memories.

Gathering himself once more, he proceeded more calmly, although a muscle along his jaw twitched from the strain. “And we paid for it dearly,” he said, his voice no more than a whisper. “How many minds, like mine, were clean and healthy, but all too trusting, when they stepped into your classroom? How many minds, like mine, were dirty and twisted when they stepped out?” Gazing at his surroundings he hissed, “If tonight was any example, I’d venture to say almost all of the naïve fools who walked into your classroom walked out programmed with the filth you peddled.”

The professor was shaking his head as if confronted with a truth he had never allowed himself to consider. “You’re mistaken, son. I never… Those minds you saw tonight were healthy and normal. I didn’t do anything to them. If they’re a bit off-kilter now it is because of the fear of death. I am not to blame for their own frailties. Look at yourself, Benjamin. You’re a bit off-kilter yourself tonight. You should take a walk and think about all this. You’ll feel better when you’ve had some air.”

It was then Benjamin noticed the professor had begun a slow retreat toward the door. Still, he continued to lie in the center of the living room, willing his calm to return so he could finish what he had come there to do. “Not leaving are you, sir? But I have so much more to say to you before we part.”

“Why no, Benjamin. I was just thinking we could step outside and chat in the fresh air.” A bead of sweat trickled slowly down the professor’s forehead and he wiped at it angrily, knowing it betrayed his anxiety.

“I would rather talk inside. Fresh air isn’t the proper atmosphere for this discussion, sir. I prefer the closeness of your home, don’t you?” Not waiting for the professor the reply, Benjamin began once more. “Do you remember Alise, professor? She was my girlfriend.” The professor was hastily shaking his head, either to indicate he did not remember or to remove all traces of the memories creeping into his consciousness. “Oh, professor. How soon we forget. It wasn’t that long ago. You remember, surely. You suggested I encourage her to attend one of your classes. It was only her sophomore year. She was bright and glowing and alive, and I loved that about her. She sparkled when she entered the room, and I sparkled when I was with her. I followed your suggestion and encouraged her to sign up for your Philosophy 101 course because I believed you would help her to understand how she could use that spark of life within her to help the world.”

“Oh, yes, I believe I do faintly remember her,” the professor lied. He could remember every awful detail of that year. “I certainly hope I was able to help her.”

Benjamin’s smile changed to a sneer. “Oh, you helped her, sir. She began to see the world for the first time through your eyes. In a matter of weeks, she became as cynical and bitter as you are. She began to see your view of the world, you see, and it twisted something inside her. Mid-semester that something in her took one final twist and then…” the young man motioned in the air, “…snapped.” The professor flinched and shrunk away from the thought of a horrible night all those years ago. Lost in memories of his own, Benjamin paid little attention to the professor as he continued. “She hung herself from the window in her dorm room. I should have been there with her but I was here… listening to one of your inane discussion groups. The note… the note said, ‘If this is the way the world is, then I can’t live in it any more.’ Surely you must remember it, sir. It was in the papers. I think I even saw you at her memorial service.”

The professor had frozen in place, his lips moving without sound as if he were silently praying. Benjamin continued. “I believed then that the joy and the life in her was just a façade to cover the overwhelming pain she must have been feeling all along. I know now she didn’t feel any kind of overwhelming pain until you showed her your version of the world. I never noticed because it was the way I had come to see the world, and it never occurred to me the horror to which I had come to be numbed would have any effect on her. I was young and foolish then; I was easily misled. I’m only sorry it took me this long to see you for what you really are, and I’m sorry I don’t have enough time to make it right again. At least… I don’t have enough time to make it right for anyone but myself. It will be made right tonight, sir. Every inch of it will be made right tonight.”

Benjamin began to grin as if remembering the punch line to a joke told long ago. Shivering in place, the former teacher could only stare at what he perceived as mental deterioration, but Benjamin was feeling more mentally alive than he ever had in his life. To Benjamin, this was the final irony, and the humor of the situation was becoming more poignant with each passing second. As he lay there in the center of the Persian rug, in the middle of the professor’s meticulously decorated living room, Benjamin found this entire thing too funny for words, and his twinkling eyes locked onto the shining, frightened eyes of the man he once thought of as a mentor.

If the professor had been able to find the strength of will to move from the steely gaze of his student, it would not have been strength enough. By the time the pretty painted house on Postcard Row exploded, Benjamin was laughing.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

An Experimental Story of Sorts

Below is an experiment I tried last year. It is a story told completely as a series of digital voice recordings. In a way, it's a horror story. I know it certainly gave me the willies when I read it just now.

I did try submitting this to a SF lit journal, but the response was pretty-much what I feared. He didn't get it. *shrug*

You see, "Haudego" is the story of a scientist obsessed with eradicating selfishness. Sounds like a good thing, right? Well, you know the old saying: "Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it."


“Oliver? How do I tell if this damn thing is on? Oh, I see… Well… Yes… Hello. Today’s date is January 29th. I am Doctor Manny Kanton. After years of searching for the answer, I believe have finally found it. A single chemical chain in the cerebral cortex holds the key. Therefore, this set of recordings shall serve as my journals for the trials of the experimental drug to be known as ‘Haudego’, and may they serve as the testament for years spent in the search to solve the one problem behind all other problems known to man—selfishness. Understand whatever I am about to do has been done strictly for the sake of my fellow man.”

“February 12th: The university has given me the go-ahead for implementing my research. I am happy to know that they understand the importance of this project, although I am not fooled. Some members of the board certainly see this as a means for financial gain. I gave them only the barest of information for that reason. All notes and data will be guarded closely from this point onward. No single person will benefit from my work. It is for all of mankind.”

“February 18th: We began with the usual rodent test subjects today. All have been given the same dosage and the blind trial is in place. I expect to see results within a week.”

“February 22nd: Initial tests using rodent subjects for Haudego have proven fruitless. I had hoped the chemical chain in these lower animals would be suitably similar to our own, but when combined with the drug, these chemical chains become unstable causing immediate death. Curious. There is no indication for this result.”

“February 24th: Hypothesis of chemical chain instability in lower mammals incorrect. After biopsy, no data can be found to support that conclusion. According to my initial theory, nothing about this drug should cause such an immediate and fatal a reaction. I see now I was right. I’m looking at this the wrong way. Perhaps the dosage is too high… Yes. That has to be the answer. A lower dosage should suffice.”

“March 1st: New tests with lower dosage show promise. Rodent subjects no longer exhibit respiratory failure immediately following administration of the drug. I expect to see great improvement in these subjects over the next few days.”

“March 2nd: Initial subjects for test with lower dosage have begun to exhibit extreme loss of appetite and rapid dehydration.”

“March 3rd: Second test has failed. All subjects from the initial test but one have expired. Last subject shows no ill effect of Haudego, and tomorrow, remaining live subject will be tested to ascertain the drug’s desired effects.”

“March 4th: Final subject from initial test has proven immune to lower dosage of Haudego. All tests show no effect on brain chemistry… Hmm… This is actually promising. If I can eradicate this immunity, I should be able to insure Haudego’s efficacy.”

“March 4th (addendum): Earlier, I increased the dosage to gauge its effects on the immune subject, but regrettably, the subject expired in the same manner as the initial subjects. Subject not immune. Tolerance was higher… Nothing to suggest a possible way to increase the positive effects of the drug while diminishing the fatality rate, but it must be there. It has to be.”

“March 7th: I am now certain my failure with the rodent subjects was strictly due to the difference in anatomy between species. Closer examination of the exhumed brains of my subjects shows total atrophy of the cortex area, to the extent that many brain cells necessary for the successful function of the organism have ceased to exist. This can only be due to specie.”

“March 8th: I have convinced my superiors of the need to utilize subjects closer in makeup to mankind. Tomorrow, we begin work with a small sample of rhesus monkeys.”

“March 15th: Primate subject tests are all failures. Same basic cause of death as the rodent subjects. I can only assume the monkeys are still too far away from the chemical makeup of the human brain. I need a human subject. There is no other way. I am certain that if I could work with just one man, I could prove my theory is correct.”

“March 18th: My request for a test sample of volunteers has been denied. Damn them. If they had any idea what they were preventing… It’s madness. The board… Men and women who never once thought about their fellow man… They are apparently not convinced I am correct. They do not understand. Even if a small number of volunteers are lost, the importance of Haudego is worth it. Millions will be saved once this chemical chain is eradicated from the human physiology. I have to convince them. They have to listen.”

“April 9th: I located my first human subject tonight. A male of fair health and medium stature. He jumped at the chance to make money so he could buy his next fix. Heh. I think that once Haudego succeeds, however, he will be so grateful, payment will become unnecessary. This subject is perfect. The track marks along his arm are classic. Once my drug takes effect, he will no longer feel the need for narcotics of any kind.”

“April 9th (addendum): Impossible. The first test subject expired at 10:02 p.m… I don’t understand it. Ten minutes after Haudego was introduced, he… The subject gasped once and then stopped breathing. My assistant, Oliver, administered CPR and breathing resumed briefly. But each time the subject was resuscitated, he took one or two breaths and ceased breathing again… Oliver is now readying the corpse for further study. I need to know why this is happening.”

“April 11th: Just as I had suspected! Autopsy shows no ill effects of the drug upon the respiratory system. I knew it! Oddly, it was almost as if the lungs received an order from the brain to cease function, but… that cannot be so. The chemical chain involved has no bearing… none at all, on the respiratory system. However, this bears further study. When Oliver returns from disposing of the remains, we will go over the data together to determine a solution to the problem… Oliver is a good man… It was his idea to hide the remains. He understands the importance of this discovery, and he understands any negative light shed on our experiments will jeopardize the success of the project... This project must succeed… for the betterment of humanity.”

“May 10th: We have hit upon the possible cause of Sub1’s untimely and unfortunate death. A single molecular chain in the drug’s chemistry affects the subject’s autonomic systems. I will adjust Haudego and resume testing as soon as possible.”

“May 27th: Our second subject was acquired, and we administered Haudego without delay. I remained in the lab tonight for the observation of the second subject. He experienced no ill effects, and after three hours, I left him asleep in the lab. I am confident we have finally resolved any issues with the autonomic system, and the test will be successful. I will run further tests tomorrow to see if Haudego has accomplished my goal.”

“May 28th: Success! Sub2 has shown vast improvement from his former state. All tests have been passed, and the subject has been released with instructions to report back to the lab in the morning. My assistant showed concern for the subject’s return, but it cannot be helped. We do not have adequate facilities to house a human subject for too long, and I cannot afford to have rumors of my tests leaking to the advisory board. This experiment cannot be jeopardized for any reason. Oliver’s concerns are duly noted, however, and I took the precaution of offering some additional financial incentives to the subject. I am confident the man will be prompt in his delivery of his body for further testing.”

“May 29th: Sub2 did not return as expected. I sent my assistant to retrieve the man from his place of residence. Perhaps this is another indication of the drug’s success. No other man in his position would have stayed away from the fee I was offering.”

“May 29th (addendum): My assistant arrived this evening with the unfortunate news of Sub2’s expiration. At first I feared Haudego was the culprit, but my assistant assured me that Sub2’s death was purely accidental. It appears the man was killed on his way home from the lab. Vehicular homicide… Stepped in front of a freight van. Curious. One would think a man in his position would have been paying closer attention.”

“June 21st: I… I went into the lab tonight. We… That is, I… have been unable to locate any appropriate test subjects for nearly a month now. Oliver has been overly concerned that the delay would impede our research, and delay the chance of Haudego reaching the market in a timely fashion. I tried to explain that sometimes trials of this nature can take years, but being young, he didn’t comprehend my words. I went into the lab tonight and found Oliver. He couldn’t wait. He used himself as a test subject.”

“June 21st (addendum): I disposed of Oliver’s body. What a horrifying task. Upon my return I went over his notes… His notes were flawless. Right down to the instant of his death. Every sensation; every thought carefully recorded. But his observations cannot be so. I refuse to believe Haudego has any ill effects. I have tested and retested the drug’s composition myself. Nothing is present to indicate this kind of reaction… I have no choice now. I must explore his observations for myself.”

“June 22nd: As of ten o’clock tonight, I am under the influence of Haudego. As foolhardy as it may seem, I had to know what happened to Oliver. I have to know where I went wrong. I must… Curious. It doesn’t really make any difference what I think I need to know… But Haudego is for the betterment of humanity… I should care about the completion of our work if only for that reason… But what does it matter? I… I don’t understand… What is happening to me?”

“June.. 23rd… This… will be my last… recording… I have destroyed… every last vestige… of this project… save for this… final epitaph… to my own folly… Even now… I have to fight… against the drug… to do even this… last small thing… for myself… Haudego… was designed… to spare mankind… from the one… malady… the one cause… of suffering and war… of hate and depression… since… the dawn… of humanity… I… created… Haudego to… save humanity… I… We… were taught… all along… Selfishness… is so… wrong… How… can it… be possible…? Selfishness… is… self… preservation. How… can… I… have… failed…? How… could I… have failed to see…?”

Thus ends the transcription of recordings found with the body of Dr. Manny Kanton. The only punctuation for his final recording: the exclamation point of a gunshot, and the final ellipsis of a soft, heavy object falling to the floor.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Morphed Beginning

Below is a piece I had originally started as one story but which morphed into the book I called 'Blink'. Now that Blink is finished, it's so far from this beginning I'm thinking about using this to begin another story I have simmering on the back burner. *shrug* We'll see.


Title Redacted

“Two and two are…? Anyone?” asked a young woman with long curly blond hair. Many of the small children seated at the circular table around her stopped their eyes from wandering about the large and brightly colored room and attempted to focus their attentions on the adult standing in their center. Several of the children continued with other pursuits as the teacher patiently waited. One tiny girl sat looking thoughtfully at her teacher as if she were also patiently waiting for something to happen; the teacher could feel herself beginning to squirm beneath those dark eyes. She felt unreasonably relieved when one of the other children was the first to speak.

“Five!” a chubby boy with thick glasses called from a space on the teacher’s left.

“Very good, Evynstyn!” The teacher said with a good-natured smile. “Does anyone else have an answer?”

A small hand shot confidently skyward just as another of the children yelled out, “Seven!”

“Very good, Taffinia!” The teacher nodded approvingly. “Anyone else?”

Once again, the small hand raised and the young girl beneath it wiggled in her seat as if the answer were alive inside her and trying to wriggle free. The teacher scanned the group from her position in the center of the circle, her eyes hastily jumping past the eyes of her most animated student to land on a girl to the right.

“Jennifrika? Do you have an answer?”

The chosen girl blushed and timidly whispered out the word, “One?”

“Oh, Jennifrika!” the teacher cried, “That’s perfect!” The teacher clapped her hands joyfully. “What a bright girl you are!”

The wiggling little body could stand it no longer and she rose from her seat. “Ms. Blandingsworth?” she said boldly, “The correct answer to the question is ‘four’. Those other kids are wrong.”

At first the teacher went white, but then her face quickly reddened and she shouted, “Mary Jones! I should’ve known that you’d be trouble. I don’t know what your last learning group was like, but this learning group isn’t like that. We don’t talk that way here.” She quickly passed outside of the circle and stood beside Mary’s spot on the bench that surrounded the class’ oblong desk, her arms crossed almost protectively before her chest. “You will apologize to your fellow learners right now.”

Mary stood silently defiant. As she ran over the whole thing in her mind, she could not think of a single thing that she needed to apologize for, even if she could hear the beginning sniffles of the timid girl next to her.

The teacher’s hand quickly raised and Mary could almost imagine that this woman would strike her for her disobedience, so angry was her demeanor, but the teacher stabbed a finger toward Mary’s tote bag and then stabbed again toward the doorless opening of the classroom. “Very well, young lady. If you refuse to apologize for hurting the feelings of your groupmates, then I have no choice. You will pick up your things and march right up to the office right this instant,” the teacher commanded shrilly. Mary carefully gathered her belongings and made her way toward the hall. Just as she exited the room she could hear the woman call after her in a tone that sounded too much like glee, “And don’t be surprised if they call your parents!”

As Mary walked down the gleaming corridors of her new school following a path of purple dinosaur tracks that she had been told would lead her to the office, she pondered the reaction of the woman they had chosen to be her teacher. Neither the reaction of her teacher nor that of the timid girl made any sense to her, but she was sure that this would all be straightened out once she spoke to the principal; she was certain it would.

Sitting silently in the hall outside the opening for what was obviously an office, despite its lack of a sign to that effect, Mary gazed about her new surroundings. The walls were covered in pastel butterflies and there were images of happy looking bugs painted at intervals along the baseboards. If the surroundings were any indication of the school, then the teacher had been right in suggesting that this wasn’t anything like her last school, but she hadn’t expected it to be that way. Her last school had been more concerned with what the children were learning than with what the children were feeling. There had been no butterflies or smiling bugs flittering along the walls; her last school didn’t need any illusions of happiness because it had made the learning itself fun. Her last school had been run by her father.

A voice interrupted her thoughts. “Mary?”

While she had been lost in her memories a rather strange looking woman in a garish t-shirt and blue jeans had walked up to her. Mary acknowledged that she was the girl in question, and the strange woman ushered her into a room. After a few moments Mary realized that she was now in the principal’s office, although it was like no office she had ever seen; there was no desk and the only furniture seemed to be a group of comfortable chairs nestled together in the center of the room. The woman quickly flopped into one of the chairs and indicated that Mary should take another. Quickly Mary realized that this person was the principal.

“I’m Ms. Lovinghouse, Mary… but you may call me Lovey. After you’ve been with us a while you’ll learn that all the children here call me Mama Lovey, though, but I will wait until you feel comfortable enough to call me that. Now, honey. Do you know why you’re here?”

“No, Mrs. Lovinghouse.” Mary said politely.

“It’s Ms., dear, and remember to call me Lovey.” The principal corrected.

“Yes, ma’am.” Mary replied.

Patting Mary’s hand, the principal told her, “No need to be so formal, sweetie. We’re going to be good pals, you and I. I’m good pals with all the children. You’ll see.”

“Yes, ummm… Ms… ummm… Lovey.”

“See? That wasn’t so hard now was it?” The principal reassured her. “Now, my dear, the reason you are here to see me today is that your teacher said that you were being disruptive in your group room today.”

“How?” Mary asked.

“Well, darling, Ms. Blandingsworth said that you stood up in class…”

“I’m sorry about that. I’ll apologize to her ma’am.”

“Mary, we don’t have any rules about standing up in class, darling. You were just expressing yourself, and that’s wonderful, but, Mary… You told the other children that they were wrong.”

“But… But they were wrong and Ms. Blandingsworth was acting like they weren’t. She was letting them think they were right.”

“Mary, honey, I know that you think that you were helping your groupmates to learn, but your teacher knows better ways of teaching than you do, doesn’t she?”

“But they were wrong…” Mary insisted.

“We don’t teach that way, Mary. Maybe your last learning facility did, but that doesn’t make our way of teaching wrong, dear.” Noticing the look of consternation on Mary’s face, the principal quickly added, “And it doesn’t make your old learning facility wrong either, dear. Just different. When you’re older, you’ll understand. After all, you’re only seven…”

“I’m six.” Mary corrected.

“Well, Mary dear. I can see what the problem is now. You’re obviously in the wrong group.” She said cheerfully and then mumbling, added, “Funny. Your transcript shows that you were being taught at the first learning group level…” Lovey drifted off as she contemplated the situation she was now faced with. Finally her gleaming smile returned and she beamed down at Mary. “I’ll take care of this right away, dear.”

Mary was led quietly back to her bench in the hallway to await her new group assignment. Oddly, her new school wasn’t really a school; she could hear the woman answering the phone, calling it State Learning Facility number 10045. And her class hadn’t really been a class; they’d called them by the name of learning groups since she had arrived. This was a strange new place that she’d been brought to and she wasn’t quite certain that she liked it one bit. However, her father had always taught her to embrace new experiences and to learn from them, so she made up her mind to make the best of it.

Several minutes passed before her principal returned bearing a clipboard and a pencil. “Are you ready to go to your new group, Mary?” The principal said cheerfully.

Mary nodded as a grin spread slowly across her face. She was excited. The lessons that she’d experienced that day had covered material that she was already familiar with and the other children had seemed a bit slow to her. Happily, the little girl tramped after the principal as she was lead to her new learning group, knowing in her heart that this woman would make things right. That’s what grown-ups did.

“Here we are Mary,” the principal proclaimed. “Mrs. Christiansen’s class.” The principal pushed the door open and a wave of noise swept over Mary. Children were running around a large room with brightly colored walls, shouting to one another and barking out cries of glee as they ran. There were no desks present—not even the large circle that her last learning group had to work upon—and the room seemed to be devoid of even the few simple books that group had offered. She clasped her tote bag to her chest as the principal prodded her to enter.

Stunned, Mary looked up into the face of her principal, unable to form the words that bubbled up in her mind. The principal merely beamed down at her. “Welcome to kindergarten, Mary,” she said.

Before Mary could even respond a large, round-faced woman scurried up to them amidst the chaos. “A new student!” she cried with obvious glee. “Let me take those things.” She then snatched Mary’s belongings out of her tiny grasp. “Everyone will be so thrilled that we have new things to play with!”

Mary opened her mouth to speak but her words were lost in her throat. Her things were not for everyone else to play with—they belonged to her. Powerless to stop this new intrusion into her life, she watched in horror as her papers and books were distributed throughout the gathering herd of children who were clamoring for their chance. The books were grabbed and hastily chucked aside, and Mary gasped in horror as her copy of Black Beauty was carelessly trod upon.

Mistaking the cause of the tears in her eyes, the principal knelt down next to her and pulled her close into a hug that Mary neither wanted nor understood. “It’s okay, dear. Kindergarten can be a scary new experience; go ahead and have a good cry.” Mary struggled against her grip, but the woman only squeezed her tighter. Finally Mary gave up the struggle and swallowed back the tears of frustration that clouded her dark brown eyes. When the woman finally released her, it was to hold her at arm’s length. Looking into Mary’s face, the principal said, “I’m sorry that you’re having such a tough time today, Mary. Please tell your parents that I’m terribly sorry about the mistake, but if they had only pointed out your age when they registered you, then this never would have happened. You would have been placed where you belong and all six year olds belong in kindergarten. They never really should have taught you beyond the kindergarten level anyway, you know. You were too young, and in teaching you beyond your age group your parents have really only made your adjustment here more difficult.” Adopting a look of insincere sympathy, the woman tousled Mary’s hair and patted her on the back. “Now run along and play, darling. You’ll want to get to know your group-mates before recess.”

Mary stood in front of the entryway long after the principal had skipped back to her office, wondering how she was going to fix this, and then it occurred to her that this was the way her life was now, and she was just going to have to accept it.


Mary awoke with a start to realize that once again, she had fallen asleep in the middle of her studies. With a sigh, she carefully marked a place several pages back where she had last understood what she was reading and then set about the task of getting ready for work. A glance at the clock on the wall showed it was fast approaching midnight, and she was probably going to be late—again. As quickly as she could, she pulled on an orange jumper and raced out the door, cognizant that she’d missed yet another meal as she attempted to combine a full night’s work with a full day’s study, and had once again succeeded at neither. Shrugging as she climbed aboard a cross-town bus, she acknowledged that it was only par for the course; her teachers had always intimated that she wouldn’t succeed at much in her life.

As usual, the bus was jammed full of bodies; people pressed in one upon the other like so many pickles stuffed into a jar. Shuffling into a space near the back, Mary pondered her latest analogy and decided that the smell of dozens of humans packed into a plastic alloy shell was faintly reminiscent of vinegar and dill. Yesterday, the best she had been able to come up with was the old standard of sardines, although she couldn’t remember ever have seen a can of the little fish. She sighed. Some days were better then others, but it was her only amusement—finding new ways to describe the world around her.

Lurching to a halt at each stop, the bus slowly unloaded its stale lot of passengers to acquire a fresh batch. People shuffling off the bus on their way home from second shift; people scurrying onto the bus on their way to clock in for the third. Every night Mary went through the same ritual, but the mornings she chose to wander the streets, soaking up the architecture of the city and wondering who the great men were that had created such grandeur and beauty as could be found in the oldest of the buildings, wondering if there were any great men left.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Time Stops Here

Below is a story I wrote for a theme lit mag called The First Line. They give you the first line, you write a story from it. (This submission period's first line is in italics.) Needless to say, I didn't get this one published. (If I had, I wouldn't be able to post it here.) I suppose I could've reworked it and submitted it somewhere else, but for me, it's had its run.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


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 getting’ 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.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Spunky the Bunny

I wrote this years ago (so long ago, I can't remember exactly when), but suffice it to say, this is the final incarnation of a story I wrote in 1986 - for my sophomore English class. It's really morphed since then, but so have I.

This story was written as a children's story (at least I think that's what the assignment was). I realize some of the language is above the intended age-range, but since I don't plan on ever seeing this published, it no longer really matters.


Spunky the Bunny

Being a bunny takes a lot of effort, but Spunky was a bunny who loved to work at being the best bunny he could be. Spunky ran fast, but sometimes the other bunnies would run faster. That didn’t stop Spunky. He would practice and practice until he could be the fastest bunny. Spunky jumped high, but sometimes the other bunnies would jump higher. That didn’t bother Spunky. He would practice and practice until he could be the highest jumping bunny.

One day Spunky met Roger the squirrel. Roger was the best squirrel he could be. He could climb any tree quicker than all the other squirrels. Spunky watched as Roger climber the tallest tree in the glen and Spunky was very impressed. Later when Roger went home with the other squirrels, Spunky tried to climb that tree. He tried running up the tree but he didn’t make it very far before he fell on his fluffy white tail. That didn’t stop Spunky. He tried jumping up the tree, but he didn’t make it very far before he fell on his fluffy white tail again. That didn’t stop Spunky.

He sat under the tree and thought about how to get up that tree. Then he remembered how Roger had climbed the tree. Roger didn’t run up the tree. Roger didn’t jump up the tree. Roger dug in his little claws and pulled himself up with his own effort. So Spunky used his little bunny claws and his big bunny brain. Slowly but surely he climbed up the tree. Little bit by little bit he inched up the bark. Once, he slipped and slid down the trunk just a little, but that didn’t stop Spunky. He dug in tighter with his little bunny claws and pulled a little harder. It took a long time but Spunky finally reached the first branch of the tree. Only then did Spunky stop and rest.

He looked out across the glen and saw his burrow far below. Spunky was very proud of himself. He looked up to the top of the tree and thought about all the work it took to reach only the first branch. That didn’t stop Spunky. After he rested and created a plan, Spunky started up the tree once more. He couldn’t wait to see the view from the top.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Stab at Writing for Kids

Below is the beginning of my almost attempt at writing for the 8-12 crowd. Too bad I don't remember where I was headed with this, because I think it's a good beginning. *shrug* Every single thing we write is a learning experience. Good thing I learned to put more of a plot down for the stories I start.

Summer Vacation Story
Julia couldn’t believe her ears. Her whole summer vacation was ruined! The entire class went from raucous enthusiasm over the last day of school to stunned silence. Mrs. Fitzhugh was still talking but few of the students were actually listening.

“… due the first day of school next year. Since I’ve been reassigned to teach sixth grade, it will be no problem to pick up where we’ve left off. Provided, of course, that you keep your minds sharp during summer break. That is the point of the assignment I’ve decided to give you for summer homework – keeping your minds active while you’re out of school.”

“Active?!” Julia thought, “My mind is active during the summer. I have a whole list of things I was going to do this summer. Homework was NOT one of those things.”

Mrs. Fitzhugh started passing out piles of paperwork. Each of her fifth grade students grudgingly took one from the top and passed the rest back to the unhappy individual behind him. As she was handing out papers, she continued, “Now I’m sure you all have plans for the summer,” almost reading Julia’s mind, “so this is going to incorporate your summer plans with your summer homework.”

Julia looked down at the sheet in her hands. The words were all a blur swimming in her thoughts of the beach and the park and the library. “Ahhh, the library,” Julia sighed under her breath, “Maybe the assignment has something to do with researching things in the library. I hope it’s not one of those lame ‘How I spent my summer vacation’ sort of things.” Julia focused her eyes and read, “How I spent my summer vacation” in big, bold, underlined letters at the top of the assignment. Groaning, she laid her head on her arms in defeat. The teacher was still talking but Julia no longer cared to listen. Minutes later she was roused by the sounds of her classmates pushing their chairs into place and gathering up their belongings. The last day of school was over.

Julia sullenly followed her classmates out of the school and toward the buses. Everyone was abuzz with excitement, but Julia was too lost in thought to even notice. She was sorely disappointed in her teacher. All year long she had given such interesting and thoughtful assignments. This was totally uncalled for. Every year some teacher or other had given Julia the exact same assignment and it had the exact same results – utter boredom. Julia thought Mrs. Fitzhugh was different.

Amy, Julia’s best friend rushed over and tapped her on the shoulder. “Ohmagawd, this is so exciting!” She gushed. Amy had a way of gushing when she was excited, but Julia didn’t mind because most of the time Amy was pretty sedate and thoughtful. “Can you believe that we get this to do all summer? I’m so glad we’re getting Fitz again.” All the children referred to their teacher as Fitz in conversation – it was shorter and Mrs. Fitzhugh didn’t mind as long as they addressed her properly at any other time.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Julia. “I can’t believe that we have homework to do this summer. Well, I’m telling you, I’m going to whip out something quick and get it over with so that I can enjoy my break.” Pulling her backpack farther up on her shoulder, Julia started to walk for home. “I’ll catch you later. I’m going to get started on this thing right away.”

Amy stood watching in disbelief. This wasn’t like Julia. Usually things like this got Julia more excited than even Amy could manage. Maybe Julia was having an off day or maybe she was grumpy because Amy would be leaving that night to spend the summer at her aunt’s house in the country. “Oh well,” thought Amy, “I’ll write her a letter once I get unpacked and maybe she’ll let me know what’s wrong when she writes back.”

Of course, Julia had forgotten that Amy was going away for the summer. Julia’s mind was on other things and she was feeling quite sorry for herself by the time she arrived home. She could hear whistling in the kitchen which told her that her father was home, but Julia didn’t feel like conversation so she tromped right upstairs and flopped herself down on the bed. Her mind was racing with thoughts of her summer plans and with how she was going to word her 3 or 4 paragraph essay summarizing those plans. She could do the essay now and then she would just do what her essay said she had done. A little backward, true, but the best plan that Julia could come up with. Julia was an excellent writer and it would take her no time at all to make up details of she was going to do. All that it took was putting it into past tense. Since it was what she was going to do anyway, it wasn’t really a fib.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Movie Review

Way back when I was gainfully employed, I was asked to do some articles for the company newsletter. (Co-editor number one asked me, but number two and I didn't get along, so nothing was ever published.) A couple of the articles I wrote were reviews of old movies I thought my fellow employees might enjoy. Since they will never read these, I thought I would share one with you.

In the words of Rocky Squirrel: "And now for something we hope you'll really like."


Silverado (1985)

Kevin Kline, Kevin Costner, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy, Linda Hunt, Rosanna Arquette, John Cleese, Jeff Goldblum

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Before Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer could clean up Tombstone (1993) and before Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster could gamble on Maverick (1994), a band of men rode onto the streets of Silverado and into the ranks of classic movies. This disparate quartet of cowboys – and virtually unknown actors at that time – showed America that the classic western was not dead and that Hollywood could still make a movie that was both entertaining and thoughtful.

The year is 1880 and the opening scenes follow Emmett (played by Scott Glenn) as he heads west to “meet a guy and go to Silverado”. On his way, Emmett stumbles upon Paden (Kline) in the desert and agrees to help him get to a town. However, they make it to town only to find that the ‘guy’ Emmett is supposed to meet is not only going to hang for murder the next morning, but also that the man is Emmett’s little brother, Jake (Costner). With some timely assistance from a stranger (Glover), the four men are rapidly on their way to their destination. That is when the fun really begins.

When these unlikely looking heroes ride in, Silverado seems like any other peaceful western town – plenty of pretty girls, horses and saloons – and it is peaceful, too, as long as the townspeople ignore the corruption going on around them. No such luck for them, though, as the heroes get embroiled in fighting for their lives, their property and their integrity.

Silverado is a movie with big vistas, big stars and big guns, but it goes beyond all that with big ideas – the big ideas that made the old westerns such an important part of America. Silverado shows that the only way for evil men to succeed is for good men to sit and do nothing. It also shows what happens when good men decide to stand for what is right – no evil is powerful enough to stop them.