Mage of the Blue Light

Mage of the Blue Light

It’s Free Flash Fiction time again, you lucky, lucky people!

It’s the latest distraction I gave to myself over the weekend to get my head back into things. It’s based on Daniel Pilla’s The Journey of the Wandering Mage, courtesy of Charlie Hoover and his Geekscape page. Please check them both out, but I suggest pulling up Daniel’s work in a separate window as you read to get the full effect. And while you’re on his page, be sure to show him some love. Encourage the arts. Encourage creativity.

 

Paal would rather be elsewhere right now. He would rather face the daily consternation from his wife about how much of a charlatan he is, and how her father was right in saying she should marry someone who was rich. He would rather be surrounded by squealing, rosy-cheeked, snot-nosed children as he would astound and amaze them with basic magic for a few coins a day in the village square. He would rather be surrounded by the safe and familiar walls of his Kingdom, or at the very least, surrounded by the prison walls of which he’s more accustomed to. Literally anywhere else would be preferable to be standing before the Kingdom of Krauthuga, whose very walls seemed to be carved from nightmares as it reflects and refracts the light of the rising Witch’s Moon.

Murrir stood resolutely by Paal’s side. Claws extend and contract methodically around the leather woven handle of a battle axe that has been wielded by his father many times in battle. A golden eye scans the stone walls, ramparts and battlements for the slightest weakness to exploit. The other eye rests cold and dead behind a crude and tiny eyepatch. Murrir has been aching for this day. Before the blood red moon sets, he will finally win his freedom for his family and for the rest of his Feliformian brethren.

The wind changes direction. Murrir points his nose to the sky, his whiskers follow suit. His tail twitches as his ears spin to capture the smaller details of the night’s landscape.

“What do you smell?” Paal was interested in what caught his diminutive companion’s interest.

“Shhh,” Murrir extended a paw. “Voices, Mage. Our presence hasn’t gone unnoticed.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Paal sqwaked as he tried to count the number of torches and angry howls echoing across the valley. ” They know we’re here?”

“Hmm? Oh. No, not them. The Fae Folk. They know of our quest. They…” his feline ears flatten closer to the ground. “They warn us that the horde will attack when the moon is high… and…”

“We know this already, can they point us in the direction of a way in? I guess going through the front door is out of the question. because that bridge seems to lead to nowhere.”

“Quiet, Mage!” Murrir growled as he struggled to translate the rest of the message. “There is a way. Under the wall. No one will be paying attention.”

“I can see that. The shouting is pretty articulate even all the way back here.” Paal is convinced he can smell the collective stench of their breath every time the black speech of the horde rises in a hellish chorus. Fires from a thousand torches and the clang of a thousand swords carry across the chasm. In a matter of hours, the countryside will be scorched by an evil that will bring about the end of all life.

“Well, this has been… an experience, my talking tabby friend. I think now would be a good time to start warning the nearest village that they’re about to be mowed down like a winter harvest.”

“No, Mage.” Murrir’s voice was as fragile as a bundle of dried reeds. “We stay. Rescue Kova. He protect my clan. Must keep Tabbi Clan safe. Must keep family safe. You help.”

Paal’s cheap boots have already started the retreat. “Yes, that’s all well and good. Family should come first, yes, but you see…”

“What?”
“…I’m not…”
“You no help?”
“No, you see..”
“Why you no help?”

Paal’s reaction got the better of him. “I’m NOT…I’m not who you think I am.”

Murrir cast a skeptical gaze at his reluctant partner. “What you mean, Mage?”

“That’s just it. I am no mage. I am no wizard. I’m just a street performer who practices sleight of hand for cash, and not very well, I’m afraid.”

“That not true,” Murrir chuckled, playfully slapping Paal’s knee with the back of his paw. “You are The Great Palindrome! Weaver of Time and Space. Master of Dark Arts and Illusion. You very clever.”

“Ah, how wonderful. You’ve… you’ve memorized my intro. Look, nothing I say or do is real. It’s an act. It’s all make-believe. There’s no such thing as magic,” Murrir’s whiskers wilted as his words land like soft blows to his ears. “This jewelry I wear is fake. Nothing more than shards of glass and strands of copper. There are no magic properties to them. This cape is a piece of a tapestry I stole from a traveling minstrel show. Nothing there either.”

“What about your staff?”
“My what?”
“Your staff. Where did that come from?”

“This,” Paal had been walking with it for so long, he almost forgot that he’d been leaning on it for days. “This is just a prop. The crystal,” he pointed to the deep blue iridescent rock crowning his staff, “was payment for performing at a birthday celebration. Nobody seemed to think it valuable enough to trade, so I kept it. The staff itself is a tree branch that broke over a dog’s head. This dog wanted to kill me so I ran, I climbed the tallest tree I could find, I stepped on this branch and it snapped and fell right on top of him. Knocked him out cold. I supposed it’s been my good luck charm ever since. I don’t know, I think it adds to the whole ensemble, don’t you think?”

“So, you made that?”
“Yes, I did.”
“You are Mage.”
“I’m not a… right, why do you insist on thinking that I am some magical being that will aid you in your quest? I am a clown that occasionally gets incarcerated for practicing magic in public. Why you would trust me to help you with anything is beyond me. You should have let me rot in that cell.”

Murrir turned slowly to face him. “You can believe what you want. You can be a street performer if it will bring you comfort, or a thief if it will give you spirit. But only true Mages have the power and wisdom to forge their own magic staff. You may think it nothing more than a fancy thing, but this eye can see much. I can tell you real Mage.”

“How do you know that,” Paal said as his own disbelief paints his face.

“You told me there were Fae Folk nearby.”
“I did?”
“Yes.”
“When?”

“A few minutes ago. When we passed that tree.” It was information that was a just a bit too much for Paal to handle at this moment. Waiting for a tree to do something answers no questions. Murrir is getting anxious. The moon is rising, and they are running out of time. And so is Kova. “Here, I show you.”

Murrir turned to face the ancient tree growing precariously from the raised wall of Earth just behind them. He took a deep breath and mewled a soft song from his throat. It was an ancient tune sung in a Feline dialect. It was what Cat Folk mothers sang to their young to call them home.

It would seem that the tree was unimpressed with his vocal ability, but one by one, tiny winged, glowing creatures the size of moths would take flight and paint the night sky in a brilliant azure hue. Soon, a cloud as blue as a robin’s egg on a spring day and as dense as a murmuration of starlings encircled the tree and hovered over their heads in joyous flight.

“But, how did I tell you they were here? I don’t remember saying, ‘hey Mur, there are little flying faeries over in that tree.’ Unless I’m mistaken.” Paal stretched out a palm to invite a tiny faerie to land.

“You no say one word, no.” Murrir rasped through purring vocal chords. “Your staff did. The gem is what they call an Angel’s Tear. It is not valuable to eyes of man but is very precious to magic users. The crystal glows bright when magic is near.”

The crystal atop Paal’s staff radiated with the same blue faerie hue. He was too awestruck to notice. “I did this?”

“Yes,” replied Murrir bluntly. “Only true Mages can capture magic from nature. This is no accident. You real Mage now.”

“I’m sorry,” said Paal. “I just don’t believe it.”

Murrir slung his mighty axe over his shoulder. “Well, I believe in you, Palindrome The Great,” and with that the fearless Murrir, The Feliformian Warrior continued on the path. “Come. Great heroics will happen. Stories to tell your children.”

Paal waited for the last of the blue Fae Folk to return to the tree and for his stone to dim. The Witch’s Moon is higher, and the horrific chanting has yet to cease. He faces the dark castle and knows that there is a possibility that he will not make it out alive. But that doesn’t matter. He is no longer Palindrome, Prince of Parlor Tricks and Master of Illusion. He is now Paal, Mage, and Steward of the Blue Light. A deep breath and his cheap boots bring him a few steps closer to legend.

©2018 AAPayson

 

Author’s Shameless Plug Corner:

Thank you all so much for reading. Please be sure to sign up for notifications so you’ll never miss a post.

Also, I’m considering publishing this as well as other short stories into one book. I’ll be putting my first short story up for sale soon, but until that time, donations are greatly appreciated. Thank you all again.

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Nothing To See Here: Notes on a Current Flash Fiction Project

Nothing To See Here: Notes on a Current Flash Fiction Project

The Call of the Wendig has sounded, and I must follow.

Here we all are, doing what needs to be done. Some of us in the midst of taking care of some business that has been needing to be taken care of for the longest time. Suddenly, and without warning, another school shooting happened on Valentines Day 2018. As of that day, the number of school shootings stands at 17. That’s two away from meeting the record from last year.

Chuck Wendig’s felt it. I’ve felt it. Anyone with a pulse and a conscious has felt it. It’s really hard to concentrate on doing anything creative when another unexplained act of extreme violence takes the lives of 17 children. It’s also rather chilling to think that in 2018 we have to use the modifier another when speaking about an atrocity like a school shooting. Like we regard it as a casual inconvenience along the lines of Five o’clock Traffic. Chuck has posed to us a challenge because there are things to be said. There are more voices that need to be heard. There needs to be a healing.

The theme of this latest challenge, to the surprise of absolutely no one, is “A World Without Guns”. I have spent a few days with this going through my head. I don’t think I’m any closer to visualizing it than I was the week before. Maybe this is why he made this challenge. Maybe this is why I need to accept it.

 

How Did We Get Here?

 

Okay, let’s clear the deck and start rearranging the furniture. There’s a lot of stuff to unpack, and it would help if I kinda knew where I was going. First of all, what type of world are we talking about? Second, there is a consideration of story length. Third, what is the theme? What is the message I’m trying to convey? Once again, I’m treating the smaller things with great importance. I’m doing it again because it matters. This one effing matters.

1. What Is The Shade of the Sky in Your World?

There is probably no way to get through this without blatantly committing the worst examples of Impostor Syndrome. I’ve researched all the examples I can think of, all the classics, all the new voices. Sooner or later, they all start sounding familiar. Bradbury leaps to mind. Vonnegut could probably do this in his sleep. For this, I think I want to go a little darker, and this means I have to ask myself one thing before I jump in with both feet: What Would Stephen King Do?

First, is this a world where guns have been outlawed? Well, if that’s the case, then it kinda isn’t necessarily a world without guns. If you ban something, anything, make that thing even more desirable because it is forbidden, they just don’t go away. They go underground. You would have the deepest and darkest of black markets where the world’s weapons would still be for sale, but only to the people who will go to great lengths to get there. I think this world would exist without stretching the imagination too much, and so I think I’ll stick in this one.

The other possibility is that they were never invented to begin with. We could live in a world where we never evolved passed the Dark Ages. This could mean literally, where dragons exist alongside WiFi technology. Or it could mean figuratively where our attitudes haven’t changed much since then; we still fear the unknown, witchcraft is very much a thing and surgery is still done with leeches. The former seems like a decent idea for another time, but the latter would be better suited, if only for a spice, an accent, for this scenario. It’s modern day, but people are still completely, willfully, dangerously ignorant. Flat Earthers and Anti-vaxxers come to mind.

2. That’s A Rather Personal Question, Isn’t It Sir?

How long is it? This is a very real issue that needs to be addressed. The challenge is for 1500 words, no one is going to fault for going a smidge over. The point is that it needs to stay short. The basis of writing Flash Fiction is to tell the story, sell the story, get to the point as quickly as possible in the space that you have. 1500 words is pretty much max capacity for Flash Fiction. The answer to this question should be exactly that, and it should be something that I stick to, but is there another way around it?

As of this point, I’m well over my daily session target of 500 words. Not bragging, but I knocked them out within an hour, and I’m not slowing down either. I feel this play needs to be performed in 4 acts. Realistically, I could smoosh everything down to Flash Fiction size, but my compulsion to go big is speaking louder, so how do I curb this?

 

  • Keep it short: Limit to one scene. Limit to two characters AT THE MOST. Begin close to the end.
  • Use one theme ONLY
  • Use one plotline ONLY
  • Keep it tight: save only the essential items of a back story. Get rid of fluff words, and unnecessary dialog.

Keep in mind that Flash Fiction is essential if for nothing else than practice. It’s something that tightens the spring for a longer story. That’s why this is a challenge, it’s going against everything that I want to do.

3. What Are You Saying?

The premise of this story is a world without guns. But does that necessarily correlate to a world without violence? From an outsider’s perspective, gun culture, particularly an American brand of gun culture, seems to be not too far away from a sort of Feudalism. Maybe the term “living in the dark ages” as a little more apropos these days. Within the framework of what I need to write, there is now a world completely devoid of guns, but evil still remains. Nobody shoots up a school anymore, but people still fear the unknown. People still segregate, diminish, hate. It’s the notion of accepting a Utopian society were it not for the people who still feel the “need for a gun”. They need some magic weapon to make all the things they consider bad to disappear. Take away the guns, but leave the fear and ignorance. What happens then?

I envision a world in the final throes of a democracy. A world where enlightenment has been going on for so long that it feels like it’s been tarnished by its own brilliance. How would this story be told? How would I write it? What am I trying to say? Throw all the guns away, if it will make you happy. You still won’t erase ignorance and greed. You still won’t save people from themselves. It is 2018, and we have learned and will learn, nothing.

But, let’s put all that on the back burner and focus on something in particular. I have yet to establish a theme, and instead, I’m focusing on a broader picture.

What am I trying to say?

Yes, violence is bad, life and liberty are good and all that is very useful if you’re teaching children. But this is a story, not a homily. Gun violence is out of control and they should all be banned and blahblahblah I’m putting myself to sleep on this.

No one will listen if I went down the Ban All Guns road. At the same time, the point wouldn’t be made if I glorified violence either. I’d be riding that fine line between preaching to the choir or screaming in the wind. Instead of coasting on a broad generalization and starting an argument that goes nowhere, maybe try and disassemble the whole morality of it, lay the whole issue out on a blanket as if I were taking apart a motor, and find one thing about this topic that is important enough to write a story about.

Let’s step away from the guns themselves for a moment. It’s window dressing and only represents a small part of the argument. Not to diminish their existence and the destruction that they bring, I get that part. What specifically about the gun culture that riles me? Is it the deaths? Sure. Is it that we are the only country in the “civilized” world that assassinates children on a regular basis without really doing anything about it? Absolutely. It’s all those things, but the biggest issue I have, the thing that makes my blood boil, has nothing to do with the actual weapons of war. It has to do with the hypocrisy around it.

A tragedy happens, and the normal thing to do, outside of the natural mourning period, would be to take steps to figure out what happened to make sure that it never happens again. Regulations are put in place. Media blitzes swamp the landscape. People talk about it. Seatbelts. Drunk driving. Smoking is bad for you. Speed limits. The ineffective “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. All of these were the result of people taking action after a tragedy, and all of these are all commonplace now. We wear seat belts. Drunk driving is a no-no. Smoking is no longer socially acceptable.

Someone shoots up a school, which *winces* happens on a fairly regular basis these days, and the people, the people we count on, the people we elected to hear us and understand us and do something when our lives are in danger, are strangely quiet about it. In the case of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, they’ve been seeing something and saying something for a while now. In fact, they’ve been quite active on this. The tragedy here is that no one bothered to listen or take them seriously because… pfft… kids… amirite?

It’s not just the weapons themselves, it’s the ignorance and the arrogance and the hypocrisy and the twisted logic surrounding it that I find the most horrifying.

This is where my story lies. This is where I’ll start.

 

The Road to eBooking Part 1: Where To Begin?

The Road to eBooking Part 1: Where To Begin?

You know how it goes…

It’s late summer, and you’re holding court at some corporate Tiki Bar in the middle of the banker district. There’s a beautiful sunset overhead, but you ignore it because, at the moment, one hand is feverishly flipping through your news feed on your phone, while the other is wrapped around your third Suffering Bastard. Right now, all you can think about is where your next gig is coming from.

Your buddy’s Hawaiian shirt is so loud it could be heard over the soulless banter of the Mid-week Happy Hour crowd and whatever piped in audio sedative treacle they have playing at the time. It must be a Tuesday. His gait is wide as he clears a path back to your table. He removes his cheap, ill-fitting sunglasses from his pockmarked face, and he reveals a very serious expression. He orders a Red Stripe, turns to you and says, “That was the main office. They want to know if you can write a novel.”

“A novel?” You ask with heavy indignance, “Can’t those bastards find anything else to do in this godforsaken time? They had plenty of time to unleash this task last month. Novel. Pfft. They must be getting desperate.”

“I dunno. It could be important,” says your buddy as he gives the glass back to the waitress and takes a mighty swig from the tiny bottle. “As your attorney, I advise you to consider this option. Pack up the car, leave town for at least 48 hours. It could be just the thing you need to get out of this rut.”

“Those barking jackasses won’t get a word from me,” you say as you adjust your amber tinted aviators and turn your attention back to your Twitter feed. “Don’t they realize this country is going to hell in a handbasket? There are more important things out there than just casual reading, dammit!”

Next thing you know, you wake up in some horribly painted unfurnished apartment out by the railroad tracks on the edge of town. You are surrounded by stacks of notecards, a mountain of hastily written drafts that seem to be propping up a tower of pizza boxes, a minefield of empty coffee cups underfoot, and huge goddamn WiFi bill that your buddy stuck you with.

You squint at the Dollar Store Adorable Kitten calendar affixed crudely against the kitchen wall with duct tape. You notice it’s November. You notice this not because of the fluffy baby tabby kitteh posed perfectly on a pumpkin in pilgrim attire, you notice this because the name of the month circled and underlined repeatedly in red marker with an equally urgent treatment given to the date of the 28th.

Today.

You look over at your laptop and you notice a jibberish laden manuscript flickering on the screen with a bold heading that simply says Chapter 3. You panic. At least, you think about panicking if it weren’t for the dull nausea in your gut that you get from too much coffee and not enough food. It has garnered your full attention and is quickly amplifying the hell that you found yourself in.

Everywhere you look is chaos. Nothing is making sense. Seriously, where did this cat come from? Do I even own this much paper? These aren’t my pants. Did someone actually use a highlighter on my screen? You’d be more inclined to think that you’d been robbed, but nothing appears stolen. But then again, you don’t even know whose place this is.

You turn around and come face to face with a wall-sized cork board completely choked from corner to corner with more notecards, color-coded and frenzied. A few are stitched together in some random network of colored yarn and thumbtacks. Confusion fills your head because you can’t recall any conspiracy theories that you’re following at the moment. Then, it hits you. It’s NaNoWriMo, and you’re about to go down in flames.

I know, I know. We’ve all been there.

My experience wasn’t any different.

With a little restraint, I’ve managed to control the impulse to do something like this, and it has gone down a few notches since then.

Write Smaller, Not Harder

Before signing up, I honestly don’t think I had a cohesive idea for a novel at all. I had the beginnings of an idea. A spark. I had the willingness to elevate the way I use this craft, and the desire to see it through to the end, only to have the wind knocked out of my sails by the end of week two.

I was ill-equipped, and perhaps just a little full of myself. I ramble, in case you haven’t noticed. And as such, I thought I would be able to make it to the finish line. Most of my blog posts average around 2000 words so it should be no problem. True, there are times where it takes me a few days, sometimes longer to finish. I accept this because time and privacy are both luxuries I do not possess. These are the things that I would need in order crank out more, if not better and more consistent posts. These things would facilitate a decent showing at the end of November.

At least I’d get a t-shirt out of it.

These are also the things I will probably never get by being a stay-at-home dad. So, in order to reach a compromise, it made more sense to set my sites a bit lower and work smaller.

Writing prompts and Flash Fiction contests are great to make sure the imagination keeps flowing, but these days, I tend to gravitate more towards static art. Building a story around a painting just makes sense because…well… they are worth a thousand words, after all. So, why not figure out what they are and write them down? You know… for kicks!

At Home Among A Gaggle of Geeks

When you post a work of art on your social medias, you’ll get your usual, obligatory likes, and random one or two-word comments. You feel this fleeting moment of satisfaction where you think someone might have the same taste you do.

Post that same work onto a community space that is inhabited entirely by a nerd herd of people with similar likes, interests, and experiences, and you’re bound to get something a little more fleshed out.

Examples of this can be found on Tumblr, Medium, Facebook (I’m presuming) and in this case, Charlie Hoover’s Geekscape of the Day.  There is no contest he constructs. He offers no direction. One would think that he would posit a challenge at the very least, but he doesn’t. He simply posts a work of art that he likes, something that can easily fit with the community’s namesake, along with the name of the artist who made it and a link to where they originally posted it. That’s it.

To the average person, this is just another post on just another social site.

To a person who is predisposed to letting their mind wander, it’s like catnip.

Sooner or later, the word nerds from the nerd herd would gather and start clicking away at their keyboards like little nerdy word birds. What ultimately ends up happening isn’t a competition or even a round-robin type thing. It’s more like an unofficial open mic night at some bar that only the locals know about. One person would leave their related micro-fiction as a comment. Then another would leave their interpretation, then another, and so on.  This is what happens when you show something interesting to a group of smarter than average people who read a lot in their spare time. This is how I often thought an ideal social media interaction would take place.

This is also how I came to travel down the road to my first official publication. Fingers crossed.

I’m about 1200 words in, and I still haven’t provided anything actionable yet.

For some reason, I’m still thinking that the point of writing this post is to show what my thinking process was in writing a short story, or anything else for that matter. I’ve been fighting with this part for about a week now because there’s a big part of me who is convinced no one will care.

As I’ve stated before, do you really want advice from someone who isn’t a professional? Advice, good advice, should be dispensed by smarter people than me.

But then again, advice isn’t gospel.

The best I can do is impart a tiny bit of wisdom through experience and hope that it might be beneficial to someone.

Where To Start?

The painting that I based my current story on, is found here. Take a look. Take a good long look at it. Absorb it. Spend a few minutes with it, then get back to me.

Welcome back. Now, answer me this. What did you see? Who talked to you? What was said? What did you smell? This way of doing things accounts for the majority of my present and future drafts. I’m not saying that it will work for you. It may, but it may not. Looking at the source material is the first step. This is what I normally do next.

1.) Remember The Basic Rule.

“Every play has to have a beginning, middle and an end. Jean-Luc Godard said, ‘Not necessarily in that order.’ And that’s why French movies are so effing boring.”
-David Mamet

I will acknowledge that liberties are ours for the taking. We as writers, professional and amateur, will always have the freedom to do what we want with our own work.

Mix it up ‘Memento’ style?
Go ahead with your bad self!

Sticking with the ‘Once Upon a Time’ to ‘Happily Ever After’ formula?
Well, look at YOU in your Sunday Best!

Whatever route you follow, always remember that every story will have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Absorb the source material. Think about a beginning, you don’t have to get into too much detail. Then a middle; will there be conflict? What will that conflict look like? Then the end; what would be the result?

If you can fill in these blanks, then you’re well on your way.

2.) Keep Asking Questions.

Imagine you aren’t a writer chained to your desk to finish your latest work of fiction. Imagine you’re a journalist who just arrived on the scene of a botched robbery. Your job is to get all the important details out of the way first. The rest will take care of itself.

  • Who was involved? Who was the victim? Was there a perpetrator?
  • What happened? What is the evidence? What are the facts?
  • Where did it happen? Home or business? City or suburbs?
  • Why did it happen? What was the motivation? Who stands to benefit?
  • How did it happen? What was used? Where was it acquired?

The principle is the same regardless if you’re creating worlds for your next novel, or writing a fully detailed article for the Washington Post. Once you get all the important information down, ask yourself, “Is this all to the story, or is there something that I missed?”

3.) Stay Curious.

Right around this time, Imposter Syndrome kicks in, and I go back over everything to see if it’s slightly original, or just another worn out trope.

If it starts ringing familiar, then I try to steer the narrative into a new direction. If it doesn’t, well, it doesn’t make it any less challenging.

Can you work with it? Are you willing to work with it? Is it something you’re willing to put the hours into? If the answer to these is no, then it probably wasn’t meant to be, but that’s okay. There are plenty of other motes of inspiration out there waiting to fly into your nostril cavity at any time. All you have to do is to keep an open mind and stay curious.

It’s been over a week on this post. I’ve spent long enough away from my draft, and I should return with a fresh set of eyes. Revisions will be the house in which I will be moving into soon, but for now, something else has my full attention. Something awful.

In the course of writing this post, an American radicalized by a White Supremacist Terrorist Group walked into a Florida high school and murdered 17 children.

He walked in with an assault rifle. Passed metal detectors. Passed armed guards. 17 children, 3 adults, murdered. In school. On Valentine’s Day. It’s now two days later. No motive has been given.

I know it’s our job to stay on task and finish the article and stick to the program, but shit like this makes it hard to talk about anything else. Everything else seems small in comparison. I’m writing about some stupid book that I’m trying to publish. Meanwhile, 17 kids were slaughtered on Valentine’s Day. That’s 17 kids who will never have the opportunity to make the world a better place. 17 voices silenced. Hundreds in mourning. Thousands enraged. A country fed up.

Right now, there isn’t anything else.

Right now, there are more important things that need discussion.

 

Road to My First eBook (an introduction)

Road to My First eBook (an introduction)

I am finished.

After years of psyching myself up while at the same time learning to let go of doubt and fear and perfection, I fulfilled a promise made to myself from years ago. I finally finished something.

It’s taken me 5 months, and the length of it should reflect the time invested into it. But, no. Although, I’m not entirely sure that taking a long time on a project is a bad thing. Five months to write something should mean, according to most bloggers, that I have spawned a full length, 180,000 word, child booster seat usable, make War & Peace look like a diner menu type novel. Instead, it’s pocket-sized, and I’m okay with that.

“So, whatchoo been doin’, brah?”
Oh, I just completed a draft for a short story.
“Ah, that’s pretty righteous, Mr. Edgar Allen Bro. How long it take? A week or two?”
It took me five months.
“Oh…okay. Well, hey gotta go do my pecs. Catch ya later, Brotato Chip.”

For those of you who were wondering, yes. I did just equate people who win at NaNoWriMo every year to gym bros. And before you start crying foul about it, it’s a totally fair analogy, because in both scenarios, I think I’m making great progress at what I’m doing, until I see how far along other people are, then I just want to go home and bury myself in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

I’ve finished. And yes it has taken me an especially long time to do so, but I don’t care. One of these days, I’ll learn to set personal benchmarks and deadlines, but for now, I’m enjoying this achievement. This is big for me, realistically and spiritually. The race ended a long time ago, and everyone went home, but I’m crossing that finish line covered in sweat and puke stains come hell or high water.

The magic number was 10,000 words. That’s all. Just get to that level.

Hit 10,000 words so it could be trimmed back to 7,000 so it could be easily be digested in one sitting, and if I’m lucky, sold into anthologies and stuff. That was the intent.

September 2017. The Beginning.

Kermit

I have this terrible habit of not finishing things. Call it Fear of Failure. Call it the pitfalls of being a Perfectionist. Say that I’m a chronic procrastinator. Throw all those things into a word salad, serve it with a steak, and I’d give my compliments to the chef. There is always that other thing. That story I need to at least get an opening scene happening for so I don’t forget why I wanted to pursue it to begin with. For me, this has meant a folder full of barely started manuscripts that are still miles away from their resolution.

This has been my go-to destructive habit for a bit too long, and so in September of last year, I decided to put my foot down, draw a line in the sand, find a hill to die on and… um… I dunno… choke a…yak with a… uh… banana-nut muffin? Anyway, I decided to make it a priority to find one last project and stick with it until completion.

Okay, yeah. Sure. I slipped a little Flash Fiction somewhere in there, so what? It wasn’t a complete distraction. If anything, it helped.

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So, five months later, I have finished my short story. Well, technically my first draft, but I still finished it. My goal was for 10,000 words. It ended up being just south of 12,000. I added a little wiggle room on purpose to see what could be saved and what couldn’t.

What I have just completed is the first step into uncharted territory. I have read several blogs on what I should be doing as far as prepping for publication, and I will be taking them all into consideration. But, as with most advice I seek out, I’ll have to keep in mind that it’s all subjective and what works for one person may not work for me. My experience won’t exactly reflect their experience because YMMV.

My original intent for this post was to make a Top 5 list for Things You Need to do After Completing Your First Draft…ugh… Seriously, would you follow the advice of some unpublished noob? Of course not. I wouldn’t.

I’m just feeling my way around at the moment. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ll admit it. I am going to make mistakes, and more importantly, I am going to own my mistakes. I’m not at that point where I can properly dispense wisdom, and something tells me that when I do, I probably won’t be as forthcoming then either. So, no advice from me. I promise. However, the SEO gods have to be appeased, and so I must document something on this here bloggeroonski in regards to my current endeavor.

I could do research on what would be the next steps to publish and give you some worn out list that has been offered over and over again by a dozen different authors. But from me, it would just sound ridiculous. I mean, more than it does now. It wouldn’t make much sense. What would make sense, I think, would be to blog about the current state of the project as I’m going through it. That way, it will keep me honest and motivated into seeing this through. Plus, it’s always satisfying to read an origin story. Maybe I’ll offer sneak previews and such here and there. You know, like what a real blogger does.

Consider this an introduction. The next few steps should be coming relatively quickly because I’m practically there.

I am going to publish my first work. This is new to me, and it’s very exciting. I could fall flat on my face, I could turn out okay. Who knows?

Stay tuned…

 

Inkwell-ness

Inkwell-ness

41LEkwL-FnL._SX355_At the beginning of the year, I think I may have caught the Hipster Flu. You know that type? The kind that enables the almost unreasonable want for skinny jeans, locally sourced floppy hats, ironic tattoos and analog technology. Case in point, I got it in my head that I needed to get a camera. Not wanted, needed. Not a digital, film. It had to be a discontinued film camera from the 80s or earlier, because the high definition digital camera on my Android phone wasn’t cutting it anymore (he says in a tone more closely resembling a question than a statement).

For about a week straight, I gave myself a crash course on exposure, aperture settings, lighting, film speed. I basically crammed a semester’s worth of Art School into a few days because it wasn’t the camera that I really needed. Oh nonono, see the camera wasn’t the end result. It was a means to which I will get to an end result.

This wasn’t a spur of the moment thing either. This wasn’t some random impulse buy. This wasn’t an urge to satisfy some irrational yearning for some random material object that I will most assuredly purchase but never use because reasons. I attribute this particular need to discovering Lomography back in 1999. Since then, I have desired to someday purchase a Holga or a Diana of my very own for the soul purpose of capturing a moment from the hip, and framing it.

But why stop there? Why just decorate my own walls? Makes no sense to be completely selfish. Why not sell my photos? I could start a little cottage industry on Etsy. I could build a website. I could I could I could…

Last week, it was something new that caught my attention. A video appeared on my YouTube channel’s “Recommended” list which featured how to carve an intricate design into a garden stone using a grinding tool.

Immediately, my mind jumped to Volusia County Rocks.  It’s like a community Easter Egg hunt that lasts all year long, but instead of eggs, you’re hiding and looking for…well…you know. The family is quite into this activity, and so we have a bunch of rocks laying around the house just waiting to be prettied up. I thought I could offer a little something unique into the mix, and maybe get a following happening in the process. And then, I could probably extend that craft into opening an Etsy shop. I could build a website. I could I could I could…

A few days ago, I started getting into woodworking videos…

…I could I could I could…

It’s not compulsion. It’s not ADD. It’s something that looks an awful lot like it, but isn’t as clinical or severe. As far as I can see, there is nothing that can come close to what I have. Every attention deficit test I take marks me up as below average. If I had to be quantified into a category, I guess I might be considered a textbook Compulsive. But, I have lived long enough to know when to say when. I was close to a thirty year, pack-a-day smoker who quit cold turkey, I think I can keep myself in check.

I guess what I have is desire in a vacuum. And I know that sounds like I might be a latent appliance fetishist or something, but it’s not, and shame on you for going there, ya perv. You could call it Compulsion with Intent; I don’t desire to acquire whatever I’m fixated on at that moment just to have it, I intend to invest in whatever that thing is now so that it may become useful later. The intent is harmless, but it’s deeply flawed. It doesn’t get me into trouble as it would want to do if left unchecked, but it does occupy my time when I should be concentrating on other things.

This is what happens when it’s January, I’m still unemployed, and I have copious amounts of time to devise a plan like Wile E. Coyote stocking up from the Acme catalog. Tragically hopeful that this will be the year that I’ll finally get that scrawny-ass Roadrunner. Completely oblivious that these new plans that I come up with have nothing to do with writing books. At least, not on the surface.

Compulsion with Intent. “Why yes,” I would say to myself. “I do need to nurture a very expensive hobby that I have no experience with because this is how I will bring in an income, and this is how I will fund my future writing projects.”

Need. Not want. And I know what you’re thinking, but honestly it wouldn’t be the first time I walked into a job not knowing what I’m doing.

Forget that I’m kind of late in the game for pretty much everything. If I were to do something like this, I should have started about twenty years ago.

Forget that I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m learning as I go. The first few months spent on a new project will mostly be taken up with nothing but filling the Giant Failure Bowl of Shame daily. This is time that could be better spent on something that I’ve already started.

Forget the up-front investment needed in order to start generating said income.

Forget that there is no guarantee that I will achieve immediate ROI.

Forget all of it, because I’m on that path already. Throwing words into the void is really no different than snapping ironically out-of-focus pictures or grinding stones for children to find. Switching paths is equal to starting over, and I don’t have time for that now. I have a singular goal to get to first. My goal is to not be a useless lump writing occasionally. My goal is to become a financially well off lump who contributes to society and tries to make the world a better place… who also writes occasionally.

This always happens in the month of January. I’m energized at the possibility of achieving something more, something better. Do something. Make something. Sell something. Work at what you love and the money will follow is the credo I will follow, but the work that I would love doing seems to involve crafting something … anything, other than stories.

So, why not make storycrafting the thing?

Imagine drowning.

The first thing you do when attempting to keep your head above water is flail because your arms are instinctively trying to grab a hold of something to float. It’s survival.

Photography, t-shirt design, woodworking, random eclectic art are all examples of me flailing. Writing is the thing I’m drowning in.

Up until recently, I haven’t yet mastered being in control of my own time so that I can devote at least a few hours to a manuscript. Distractions have placed me in front of the computer screen late at night when the rest of the house is asleep. Up until recently, I was okay with thinking that the best way to deal with crippling doubt, Imposter Syndrome, and writer’s block is to jump into a new task altogether. Projects, particularly first drafts, especially when I’m not established, feel like they take an unnecessarily long time to refine and publish. A long time, with no income. Things have got to happen much quicker at this point, and if writing’s not done, then it’s time for a plan B.

Just like it was last year.

And the year before that…

…and the year before that…

Always forgetting that this brand new shiny red ball of opportunity that I found has nothing to do with writing.

This is what drowning feels like.

“So, you seem to want to flee when things aren’t happening fast enough, is that what you’re saying?”
Yes, Voice In My Head. You would be correct in saying that.
“You also seem to gravitate towards making things with your hands or utilizing tools.”
Yeah, I suppose that’s true too.
“Why?”
Well, because I see people more at peace when they make things with their hands. They seem genuine and whole when they do something they love, and I so desperately want that. Because the end product they produce is more immediate than sitting around waiting for your characters to talk to you so you can finish a chapter, let alone the story. Because people make it look so easy. Because they are practicing in a more sought after skill. Because I’m a guy and guys like power tools, dammit!
“Well, if that’s the case, you have tools available to you too, ya know?”
…I do?
“Of course. Listen, if you believe that tools are your key to your salvation, then you’re in luck. You don’t have to seek out a new skill, you don’t have to go into debt purchasing tools you can’t afford for projects you’ll never finish, you don’t have to go chasing that shiny red ball. You can help yourself move forward by doing what you’re doing right now. It’s normal to want to try something else, and that you want to turn it into a marketable skill is admirable. But there is a way to improve and keep you focused without busting your bank or your knuckles. Turning away from something you started just because it’s taking a long time to finish isn’t how the song is supposed to go. You need to see it through. If it’s a tool you desire, then I know of a perfect one for you.”
Ooh! Is it the laptop that I’ve had my eye on for a while?
“Nope. Something much, much cooler.”
…cooler than a laptop? What is it?
“Have you ever written with a fountain pen?”
…I hate you sometimes, Voice In My Head.

It has been noted, and by more than a few people in this World Of Wordcraft, that a journal, an actual bound journal with paper and covers and stuff, an ancient arena where you are forced to slay the dreaded Demon Blankpage with the stroke of a pen, is kinda necessary to improve your craft. Writing something down in a journal, so I’m told, is good exercise. While not necessarily a cure for writer’s block, it could make those inevitable bouts seem less troublesome. Somewhere in the research process, it was suggested that if one were able, writing in a journal with a fountain pen would heighten the experience.

This was information I gathered during gift giving season. I hate gift giving season. It’s not that I don’t like getting things, I do. I really, really do. I find that these occasions where you’re expected to give and receive a little annoying. Because I have to guess what some people want and people have to guess what I want, and in the end, it’s… how should I put this?… It’s the thought that counts. Let’s put it that way.

In any case, I forged ahead in my research of writerly gifts on Amazon and found a moleskine, a fountain pen, and a jar of ink. Humble, inexpensive, and unexciting. In the end, I still wanted the power tools and the vintage camera. But, necessity won out. A Dremel tool isn’t going to help me finish my book. Bottom line.

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First day taking her out for a spin.

Happy birthday to me, my package arrived a few days later. The Pilot Metropolitan pen felt heavy in my hand as I removed it from the case. The replacement ink cartridge that came with it, I quickly found out, wasn’t that necessary (which is to say that the directions were a little unspecific on how to install it… which is to say, I had no idea what I was doing… I’m seeing a pattern here, how about you?), and so the obligatory splattering of ink got out of the way right off the bat. Noob status achieved, I filled the pen’s bladder by dipping the nib into the well, squeezing the bladder until filled, and reconstructed the pen.

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Dagnabbit!

I had no idea what to expect.

After filling a page in the barely cracked moleskin with fresh ink chicken scratch, words are lacking on how to describe the experience.

It was like sipping fine whiskey.

It flowed. So easily. So deftly. The nib was gentle and the inkflow graceful. It was as if the poetry wasn’t in the words, but in the wrist.

The world slowed down. That was the most important part. The world. Slowed. Down.

The last time I wrote anything in cursive was my senior year of high school. I was trained to write like this, as with the rest of my classmates, because good penmanship was the key to adulthood or something. I resorted to writing out everything in Roman letters by my Senior year because it was easier to read, and I found it better suited to writing notes faster. The ability to write elegantly was almost completely lost.

Even though I wasn’t looking for it, I found the ability again at the bottom of an inkwell. The way the pen moved over the page forced me to remember how to write a certain way, which I did. I was compelled to do so, or else I wasn’t pleasing the Cursive Gods, and so they would demand a sacrifice. Slowly, the lessons came back. The words were barely legible and adorably sloppy…

…but it felt good.

The world slowed down. And for someone who insists they might have some sort of Asperger’s, this is a really big deal. If the world spins really fast, then I must as well. Anything that roots me to the soil and draws my attention away from bright and shiny objects is to be respected. You can’t feel the spinning when your feet are on the ground.

Things came into focus. I was able to actually focus. Nothing else mattered. Not desires, not needs, not fear, nothing. I was in “The Zone”, but instead of intense music and explosions, it was that quiet room in a cabin in the middle of the woods I secretly desire. I was looking for catharsis in all the wrong places, and now, with a few strokes of a pen, everything is how it should be.

I have finally found the tool that I needed. This is the year that I’ll finally catch that Roadrunner. This ritual might not be for everyone. Some people might find it a bit boring. But if you had an opportunity, I would highly recommend giving it a try. Who knows? Maybe the world might slow down for you too.

Will this make me a better writer? Probably not, but hey, it doesn’t feel like I’m drowning anymore. To be sure, I have plenty of notebooks, and most of them are filled with notes related to other things. But none of them are a place where I can just talk to myself, and therein, I think, is the base of most of my problems.

The simple act of slowing down, taking the time to form the word, concentrating on making it legible, then making it beautiful, it is there where secrets are revealed. We live in a world that has become too convenient and quantified. Film photography, crafting your own items, these are all not just trends. There is a greater purpose. There is a greater need to create than there is to purchase. I recognize the craft, and by extension, I have allowed myself to be open. To listen. To feel. I am perfectly satisfied, and somewhat healed. I have found my own craft.

Also, this could lead to exploring different pens… or even building my own! Can you imagine?! I could learn calligraphy so I could make and sell my own typeset, you know the ones that are all swirly and hand drawn that seems to be everywhere you look these days. I could build a cottage industry on Creative Market. I could build a website…

…I could…

More to come.
Thanks for reading.

Author’s Note:

Helllllllo everyone. Thanks again for reading, it’s much appreciated. As you can tell from a couple of the links posted above, I am an Amazon Affiliate (aka Associate). I’m not really in the habit of folding products into blog posts, but if you click on the links it would help me out a little bit. You don’t have to purchase a fountain pen. Although if you did, you’d be pretty swanky and so much cooler than all of your friends. You could get laundry detergent, a new pair of shoes, the Exploding Kittens game. Everything that you get by shopping through these posted links helps me, helps this site, helps all future projects. This will probably change once I have my own items to sell, but until that time, every little bit helps. Thank you so much. Hugs and kisses.

New Year Updates and New Flash Fiction

New Year Updates and New Flash Fiction

Happy New Year, everyone.

I’m still here in sunny, tropical Florida, but at the moment it’s about as cold and wet as a typical British springtime.

I have spent the past few months hammering out a short story that I promised myself that I would finish and self-publish. Making the transition from Pantser to Plotter isn’t easy, and I’ve experienced a fair amount of setbacks and obstacles. That it might effect the final product still remains to be seen. I mean, I’m no expert or anything, but I’m pretty sure Science Fiction isn’t supposed to be boring as hell. I know I’m not going to be setting the literary world on fire any time soon, but this is where I am with it. I’m hoping the second draft improves.

Let’s see, what else?

Cash that I have received as a Christmas present is going directly to rent.

I have no paying gigs in my near future.

It’s my birthday, and the “Orange Faced Shit-Gibbon” that is currently sitting in the Oval Office has just spent this morning in a dick measuring contest with the leader of North Korea.

We’re all gonna die.
Happy birthday to me.

This morning, I checked my page views, and noticed that none of them have anything higher than 28 views. I’m not sure if that’s just par for the course and should just feel lucky that I got that. Or maybe I need to bite the bullet and buy a domain and an actual website. Or, maybe I should take the advice of every single blogger out there and just generate more content. Or, maybe I just suck.

With that in mind, here is another installment of Flash Fiction inspired by a Geek Scape of the Day.

It’s not insightful or informative, but it’s slightly entertaining. Maybe.

A short story is in the works. I mean an honest-to-goodness, 10K or so word story. It’s been tinkered with for the past few months and as soon as it’s finished, I will be posting (looking for future beta readers, btw). Here it will stay until I can get it published. It will stay available for download indefinitely. The plan this year is to write and publish enough short stories to publish an anthology, so I hope to write and publish a few more times this year.

I hope.

Look, I know I’m supposed to be posting the usual New Year pablum like bigger news, or a plan. I’m not much for beginning of the year pep talks like, This year is going to be MY year, I can FEEL IT! Or, It’s a New Year and that means a new ME!

It’s all bullshit, and I’d rather not puke out a listicle to prove it. It’s bad enough that this post will probably get like two views at best, so I’m not going to waste my time wasting your time. Cool? Cool.

So, on to the current doodle.

This current Geekscape was posted by Charlie Hoover earlier last month. It’s a painting named The Red Knight, and you can see the artist’s work here. (As before, I’m making an effort to link and not show when it comes to flash fiction based on someone else’s artwork. It’s better this way. For a full effect, open the picture in a separate tab.)

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment. Happy New Year and all that stuff.

(Author’s Note: Naming things, especially Flash Fiction, is not one of my strengths. Since this one didn’t have one to begin with, I had to make one for this post. It’s the equivalent of needing to put pants on to go to the store, so apologies if it sounds awkward. Enjoy.)

 

Edgar and the Twilight of the Dragons

“No.”
“Please?”
“No.”
“Why?”

The dragon adjusted his resting posture a bit. A burning chunk of coal was causing some mild discomfort in his abdomen. “Edgar, I’m not sure if anyone’s told you, but I am retired. I’m sure there are plenty of other dragons out there that can help you for whatever half-baked scheme you have going on. Have you asked Grendieg, The Destroyer of Life, or Kemmim The Dark? I hear Zyvire, the Bunny Killer is available.”

Edgar drew a sigh and fidgeted uncomfortably in his armor. The heat in the dragon’s lair was making him braise in his own fluids. “Grendieg is out of town, Kemmim has a previous gig booked and Zyvire? I hear he’s doing the dinner theater circuit.”

“Dinner theater? You’re kidding me?” A deep and full throated guffaw bellowed from the dragon’s belly pushed clouds of soot through his snout.

“Look,” said Edgar. “I’ve been from one end of the Kingdom to the other. I’ve sent my fastest riders to the ends of the Earth to seek a challenger for this thing, and I’m coming up really short.”

“Well, the times are changing, Edgar. Nobody is interested in Knights and Dragons and Damsels anymore. These days, they’re all about Giants and Gollums and majestic sea creatures that live in a kingdom no one has ever seen.”

“Atlantis? I’ve heard the tales.”

“Yeah, spoiler alert, it wasn’t as great as people say. Kind of glad it sunk.”

Edgar adjusted himself and tried again. “Percy, I realize that this might not be worth it for you. I get that you’ve been the best monster you could. You’ve vanquished knights, hoarded loot, and terrorized farmers with the best of them. Your name is still on the lips of many and there are still those who live in fear of your return.”

“As it should be,” Percy said. “It’s not easy being the stuff of nightmares. It’s nothing but work work work, ‘Rawwr, I’m kidnapping your princess! Rawwr, I’m eatin’ all your livestock’ it’s tiring. I’m done Edgar. The show’s over. My days of terrorizing the land is behind me, and now I can finally enjoy the fruits of my labor.”

“But it’s just for one day,” Edgar pleaded. “One day of destroying property, swooping in on unsuspecting peasants, brooding atop battlements, the whole deal. Just one day, and you can go back to rolling around in your gold.”

Percy just smiled his fiendishly crafted grin. “I. Am. Re. Tired. I am not in the mood to be the foil in some fantasy concocted by some bored king who needs to justify their sovereignty. I’m sorry Edgar, I really am. Please send my regards to your Lord…Lord… what’s his name?”

“William.”
“Right. Please send my regards to y… wait, did you say ‘William’?”
“Yes.”
Percy rose from his chin slightly. The name igniting his memory. “THE William? William The Just? William, the conqueror of Eden? THAT William?”
“The same. And Adelline will be there. So will Gregory.”
“The Damsel and the Sorceror.” said Percy, his memory giddily stretching back to his youth. “They’re getting the band back together. What’s the occasion?”

“It’s William’s birthday. This will be his seventy-fifth winter. He’s been in failing health recently. He won’t be long for this world, and he knows it.”

Percy’s eyes widened. An old comrade is dying.

“He’s been conducting private meetings lately about one last, glorious battle. Like the old times. But, if you’re not interested, I’ll guess I’ll try Thermador. He’s not as menacing, but dragons are hard to come by these days. Thanks for your time, Percy.” He mounted his steed and turned slowly to leave. He was about to reach the mouth of the cave when a curtain of fire rained down from above and blocked his path.

A voice that mocks the clap of thunder shook the walls of the cave. “TINY HUMAN WHO DARES ENTER MY DOMAIN AND BEFOUL IT WITH ITS STENCH, YOUR KINGDOM SHALL SUFFER DEARLY AS I DELIGHT IN PEELING THE FLESH FROM YOUR KING’S BONES IN FRONT OF HIS PEOPLE! EXPECT FIRE TO CONSUME YOUR FIELDS ON…um… when will it be again?”

“Thursday,” said Edgar.

“Right. EXPECT FIRE TO CONSUME YOUR FIELDS ON THURSDAY! WOMEN AND CHILDREN WILL NOT BE SPARED! YOUR SOULS WILL BE MINE TO CONSUME… oh, before I forget, should I bring something?”

“William is a big fan of chicken wings.”

“Oh, neat,” said Percy. “YOUR SOULS WILL BE MINE TO CONSUME LIKE HUGE PLATES OF CHICKEN WINGS…WITH…BLEU CHEESE DRESSING…I’M PRESUMING!”

Edgar smiled through a face full of ash. “Thank you, Percy.”

“Oh,” said Percy. “The pleasure is all mine.”
“See you next Thursday.”
“I can’t wait,” Percy chuckled. “Until that time, FEAR ME!”

The dragon spent the rest of the day on his mountain of gold, clutching an old tapestry and dreaming of times long gone.

 

©2018 AA Payson

My Response to Charlie Hoover’s Geek Question of the Day: Unicorn Wine

Author’s Note:

For those of you who are on g+, you should check out Charlie Hoover’s Geek Question of the Day. I’m a newcomer into his circle, and yet I always find something that inspires. Full disclosure, this is the shortest of three projects I’m working on that are inspired by his posts.

The other two will be released soon. Hopefully.

Here is one his more recent posts…

GQOTD

My contribution might be a little clunky, but I consciously decided to keep it as a draft. It’s all in fun, and it’s good to practice.

Also, I might be coming down with a cold, and this is what’s been fueling me for most of the day.

Also, scary writing isn’t in my wheelhouse, although I would like to try my hand at it some more. This is my gentle way of saying, “Prepare to be underwhelmed.”

Anyway, Happy Halloween. Thank you for reading. Hope you enjoy it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pass out somewhere. 

 

 

“Hurmph…what is it, Kevin?” Said my half-sleeping wife from the other end of the bed. The noise was enough to rouse me completely. The absence of a body next to her was barely enough to rouse her.

“I thought I heard something,” I said. “I thought the wind was bringing that branch closer to the window.” It was a clear and quiet night and the branch in question was no closer now than it has been for years.

“It’s probably nothing, hon. Come back to bed.” Susan’s voice muffled by her down pillow.

“In a second, Sue. Let me go check out the rest of the house.” My eyes are still blurry, my robe and slippers were a challenge to put on and all I want to do is go back to sleep. It was an option I greatly considered were it not for that clink clink clink of something hard tapping against glass.

The first stop was Abby’s room. It was a lazy five steps down the hall. I quietly open her door to see her night light burning bright in the corner of her room, her head still on her pillow. I check under the bed to make sure that the cat hadn’t found something she’d like to play with, but no sign of her fuzzy tail tonight. I kiss my daughter’s cheek and close the door behind me. I found it a little unusual for the cat not to be up here with one of us and it concerned me for a moment. It was a concern that quickly evaporated when a strong, sulfuric odor reached my nose. “Oh,” I said fanning the air from my face. “That’s where she is.” Clink clink clink went the sound again, rhythmic and deliberate. I went downstairs to investigate.

The front door was locked when I reached it. It’s on rare occasion that we go to bed and we wake up the next morning and find the front door still unlocked. Sometimes, you pass out in your chair. Sometimes, you’re just too damn lazy to care. These days, I make an effort to make sure we are indeed safe from harm. Clink clink clink. Louder this time. Behind me.

I spun around to see a pair of glowing eyes burning a hole in my soul. “CRAP!” I gasped. “Mittens. Geez, girl. You have to remember to bury your poop.” The sulfur smell became stronger as I descended the stairs, I can only presume that it was my cat letting everyone else in the house know who’s really in charge here. I glanced at her litter box further along the wall, but there were no discernible lumps resting on top of the sand. The awful smell wasn’t hers.

“Mewor?” she said as she leapt from the credenza to the floor. Her tail was straight out as she tread carefully into the darkened hallway and lept onto a darkened countertop in the darkened kitchen. “Mewor,” was her follow up statement. It was lower this time and louder. The type reserved big dogs or unwanted guests. She senses danger.

“What is it, girl?” I call out into the void.

The lights in the kitchen turn on by themselves. She sits and stares at me wide-eyed at the end of the counter.

The stench gets stronger with every step I take toward the kitchen.

Clink clink clink

For a moment, I wished that it was something else.

Clink clink clink

Think about rotting garbage. You forgot to put chicken in the refrigerator. Anything.

Clink clink clink

I think of anything else other than that night 20 years ago. But, you know the harder you try and wish something away, the closer it sticks to you.

Clink clink clink

Mittens casts her gaze over her fuzzy shoulder, as if introducing me to my guest. She and I know that he needs no introduction. The stench radiates from his flesh like Georgia pavement in July. Long, black nails clink clink clink on a leaden crystal goblet in relative indifference while a pair of burning, yellow eyes that are known for spawning nightmares rest with lids at half mast. He is bored, and his presence makes me impatient. He catches my gaze, and presents the bottle that his other clawed hand has been clutching.

“Did you know that there are approximately three to five genuine bottles of a 1928 Mouton-Rothschild left on Earth?” His voice equal parts bombast and delectation. “It’s what they call a ‘Unicorn Wine’. More of a collector’s item than something you’d actually imbibe. It’s bouquet is complex and magical, but the taste is so bitter that it’s considered unpalatable.”

“I would consider myself more of an ‘under $10 bottle’ type of guy,” I say flippantly, letting him know that I cannot be rattled.

“Understandable,” he said. “There are days when a cheap bottle of fermented fruit champions the most expensive bottle of vinegar on the planet.” He flicked a long, black claw against his crystal goblet with just enough force that the vibration yielded an exact copy of itself. Cheap parlor tricks were beneath him, but they were useful in a pinch. “Fortunately, this is neither of them.”

“So, that isn’t an extremely rare bottle of vinegar?”

He grinned knowing that there will be an air of civility. “Nor is it a cheap bottle of Muscatel from the local 7-11. In fact, this concoction has very little to do with the fermenting process at all. I am quite fond of Philippe de Rothschild, and when he came to me, I simply had to have his distinct taste. I would sooner drink a dying whore’s piss than to pop the cork on a Unicorn Wine. So instead, with the help of dear Philippe, this, my friend, is a bottle of the genuine article distilled from nothing more than pure memory.” He slid a freshly minted goblet in front of me. “Please. Sit. Have a drink with me.”

There was no thinking straight. Reasons would have to wait, and would probably come around soon. There was no fighting, no arguing, no protesting. It simply is what it was, and the only thing to do was to roll with it. The aroma from the Bordeaux was an exquisite mystery as he poured it into my goblet. “You do remember that my debts have been cleared, right?” I asked.

“Yes, of course.”

“Which means I’m clear of reproach or retribution, right? I’m free and clear?”

“You are as pure as snow, Glen.”

“It’s Kevin now. What I’m trying to say is that I’m good. I don’t owe you anything, and you don’t owe me anything.”

“Correct.” There was something genuine about his smile. I knew that he wanted something, but it didn’t strike me as anything devious. If there was ulterior motives, they were thin and plain. Like he was trying to bum a ride somewhere.

“I see. So, since all transactions have passed, would you mind telling me how I’m ending up in my own kitchen at 2:30 on a Tuesday night having a drink that doesn’t exist with Lucifer?”

He straightened himself up, downed his wine in one lusty gulp, and set the goblet to one side. “Kevin, the news of how you bested me at my own game has been something of a legend in a few circles.”

“Really?” I smiled, wine already warming my toes. “I’m a legend?”

“Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. You are a bit of a celebrity, I’ll go that far.”

I’m already tired of his games, “So this is the part where you put a wager down, hoping to win back your pride in some rigged game that almost insures me not winning, but at the last moment, I’ll use something in my bag of tricks that will win the day with my soul intact. Is that it?”

His smile evaporated. “You know? If there’s one thing I hate more than a smart-ass, it’s being a foregone conclusion.” For being the Prince of Tricks, it seemed that he was trying very hard to present himself as legitimate. It almost appears as if he’s begging. “Yes, you’re right. I would engage you in some sort of battle for something something whatever, because that’s what I do. But, not now. Not today.”

There was a silence. He isn’t talking, which is a giveaway. This is something that needed to be handled gently.

“You’re right,” I say trying to bridge the gap. “This is an outstanding wine.”

“Indeed it is. Indeed it is.” he lifted his glass.

The crickets engage in another chorus outside.

“You seem worried. Should I be concerned?” I ask.

All pathos had left him. His expression is grave. There was something caught in his throat and the only thing that would pry it loose would be another glass. “I…uh… I’m not good at these kind of things, but…” his hand trembled as he poured. “Something’s come up, and I uh…”

“You what, Lucifer?”

“I kind of need to call in a solid.”

It was my turn to smile as the memory of 20 years ago catches up with me. The agonizing sickness I felt making the deal in the first place. The glory of besting him at his own game afterwards. All of it bubbled to the surface as I sipped.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s hear it.”