Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Theme Story - A Night Out

He didn’t feel pain. That caught him by surprise.

“Let’s party downtown tonight!” Barry almost bounced on his toes. He had always been one for exuberance. Dave liked to tease him about it, drawing comparisons between his actions and those of a 13-year-old girl. “It’ll be off the hook! C’mon, I got us the hookup at Club 7”

“I don’t know, Barry.” Dave frowned. “What’s so great about a nightclub?”

“The chicks, Dave. You won’t believe what they wear.”

As the knife pierced his stomach, all he really felt was an icy shock, a hint of much more horrible pain to come but for the moment his body had taken over, adrenalin pumping as he tried to get away. Of course, being held from behind as he was, he had nothing to do but scream in frustration and rage at his tormentors.

“Isn’t this awesome?” Barry shouted over the music.

“What?” Dave leaned closer to him.

“I said, isn’t this awesome?”

“I guess so. My chest cage is rattling!”

“I know, the bass line is sick!”

Dave shook his head. “I’m gonna go get a drink.”

The knife pierced his skin again. This time, the shock wasn’t as forgiving. He grunted as he felt the knife piercing his lung, coughing as the torn muscles struggled to bring in the life-giving air he so desperately needed.

“Hey baby, you havin’ a good time tonight?”

Dave looked over at the owner of the voice. A tall brunette stared back at him. Her hair fell in cascading curls, framing a face that had to be slathered in makeup for the effect to come off as well as it did. She wore a blue dress that seemed little more than a pillowcase – bare shoulders and arms, with encased breasts protruding enticingly between them. The dress came just barely over the hips, long expanses of leg flesh flashing beneath. She oozed sex, and Dave swallowed.

“It’s going ok, I guess.” He’d never been very good at talking to women.

It came again and again. Each thrust of the knife accompanied by a growing sense of pain. No longer a cold shock, each wound was a white-hot searing sore, leaking vital fluids and draining the life force from his body.

“So you want to get out of here, lover?”

Dave was stumbling – he’d had a few too many. “Uhh, yeah, sure. That sounds great!”

“Great! I have a few friends here, mind if I gather them up? We can all leave together.”

The word ‘friend’ tickled at Dave’s consciousness. “I, uh, I…”

The woman leaned close, her breath hot on his ear as she whispered. “Trust me, we’ll make it worth your time. My friends can be very… grateful.” She licked his ear, nibbling on the earlobe before backing away. He felt her hand lower, too, exploring in a very familiar way. The entire sequence got Dave’s blood flowing.

“Ok, let’s go.”

He could feel the slick wetness as his wounds wept, tears of cardinal saturating his clothing. He was free now, no longer restrained as his captors took off down the street, but he had no energy left. His energy was also leaking through the gaping rents in his skin, his organs shutting down as the amount of damage registered.

“Yeah! Hit him again!”

Her right hand collided with his face, and Dave fell. He looked around him, but he was surrounded by painted toenails and spiked heels. He tried to fight his way to his feet, but the blows continued to rain down, keeping him near the ground despite his best effort.

He sputtered, trying to get a word out, an apology, something to stop the beating, but every time he tried to speak another kick took the wind from him. He coughed and sputtered, seeing red spots on the ground before him and realizing his nose was broken.

“Pick him up, ladies.”

Two pairs of hands roughly grabbed him by the arms and pulled him up. His shoulders screamed in protest, but after the beating he wasn’t able to do much more than sag weakly between the two women holding him. One of them fished his wallet out of his back pocket and tossed it to the woman in the blue dress. In the evening light he saw the marks interrupting the expanse of skin – the strange marks inside her elbows spoke of some kind of addiction.

“$200, not too bad. This should do quite nicely.” Laughing, she kicked Dave in the crotch. He tried to double over, to curl into a ball around the pain, but the women holding his arms wouldn’t let him.

That was when he saw the knife the woman took from her purse.

Heartbeat slowing, he lay himself down to die.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Theme Story - The Dig

Barry swung the pickaxe again, sweat dripping down his brow. He’d been at it for five hours now and had fallen into a rhythm. Heft, swing, wipe, heft, swing, wipe. He wiped the sweat from his brow and, hefting the pickaxe for another go, swung again. He anticipated the impact, the jarring of his muscles that invariably occurred as he broke another small piece of rock, but there was really no way to acclimate to the harsh stop, the painful ringing of metal on granite.

Heft, swing, wipe, heft, swing, wipe…. Barry was thankful for the exercise he was getting. As an archeology doctoral student he found himself spending far too long in dusty, moldy libraries, and so when the opportunity to assist with the dig came up he jumped at it. Three days of sunburn and omnipresent granite dust later, he was starting to regret his decision.

Heft, swing, wipe, heft, swing, crunch. The difference in the sound is what caught Barry at first. He looked down at his pickaxe, now buried to the shaft in the granite. I must have found a hole! Barry thought excitedly. Holes meant pits, and pits meant artifacts. Sometimes it was just a clay storage pot, other times it was the lid to an ancient, decrepit wooden chest. Barry was still pondering his good fortune when he heard a loud crack, feeling the ground shift beneath him. Profanity formed on his tongue, but the ground gave way before he could shout. Barry bounced back and forth among falling chunks of rock, feeling the air rush around him before suddenly landing hard on his back. Just as he prepared to get himself to his feet, a large chunk of rock collided with his skull and turned the world black.

Barry awoke a moment later, the sun still streaming in from the hole he had made. He saw a few faces gaping in at him, but didn’t spare them a second thought as his eyes caught the gilded edge of the surface he had crashed through. In what little light was available he could see glittering specs spaced oddly along the ceiling, in shapes that felt somehow familiar. He reached for his Maglite and shined it at the ceiling around him. That’s the big dipper! And Orion! This is a star map! It must be thousands of years old…

Looking back at the hole, he saw the gaping faces of his colleagues, expressions unchanged. Annoyed that they hadn’t yet offered to help, Barry shouted at them. “Don’t worry guys, I’m all right, really. Just took a nasty bump to the head. Might have a concussion, lingering brain damage. Thanks for asking!” He looked back at the ceiling, marveling at the detail before continuing. “Guys, you aren’t going to believe what I’ve found. It’s like they’ve mapped out the sky in diamonds!” He looked back up at his colleagues, heads framed by the Saharan sunlight. “Jerry? Matt? What’s with you guys? Isn’t this amazing?”

One of the two jumped, shaking his head. “It is! It’s very amazing! It’s just that…”

Barry caught the trailing end “…. Just that what, Jerry?”

Jerry cleared his throat. “Well, it must be a couple thousand years old, at least.”

Barry scoffed. “Well yeah, we weren’t exactly headed to IKEA on this dig.”

Jerry nodded. “Yeah, I know. But you are standing in North America.

“North America?!” Barry finally cast his flashlight at the floor. Underneath the rubble from his fall, he could clearly make out the Appalachians, in stunning relief against the eastern coastline. The features rose majestically out of the floor, as if he could reach down and pluck up a single mountain. Behind him rose the Rockies, framing the Great Plains. There were even depressions for the great lakes! All around him, everywhere Barry shone his light, he revealed more and more of a world map with stunning detail – a world map that shouldn’t have existed, and certainly not in northern Africa. A world map of astounding accuracy, nearly two thousand years before Columbus decided to try his luck.

Barry’s mouth hung open in silence as he tried to take it all in. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

An update - Of Progress and Performance

So for those of you who don't know me very well, I've only been taking my writing seriously for about 8 months now. Prior to June of last year, I hadn't done any serious writing of any kind since the philosophy papers I wrote in college. Of course I have not published anything yet, so I can't really be considered a "professional writer" or anything along those lines, but the point that since that time I've written close to 100,000 words in various formats should not be ignored.

I suppose I never really explained the purpose of this blog. My original goal was to simply offer up stories I've been writing as a form of entertainment to the reader, as well as - gasp - do some advertising and lay the foundations for any future books I may publish. Most of my posts, accordingly, are short stories I've written and progress reports. I may branch out as time goes on (actually, there's no "may" about it given how much time I spend reading other blogs like that of Chuck Wendig (

This post is definitely in the "progress report" category.

Today, my first book - Marvelous - was accepted into the second round of Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award competition.

To say I'm happy would be an understatement. I wrote Marvelous on a whim, in 30 days, because my sister (Jennifer Young, a fantastic writer) challenged me to a word duel. I won, but that's beside the point. My first real effort (minus some intense editing and headaches) was selected as part of the top 20% of all entrants. It's empowering and exciting, as well as terrifying all at the same time. The first round was on my blurb. The next, though, is on my writing.

Anyway, on a different note, I hit 26k words on Majestic this morning. The story is humming along, and I'm getting to a phase where I'm finding it a bit of a challenge to focus on the writing. The same thing happened to me with Marvelous the first time around. I'm pushing through, but my pace has definitely decreased from the 4k words per day I was putting up last week. Of course, the fact that I'm working extra hours at work may play into that.

Anyway, the quick summary: It's all good here, for now!

Theme Story - Tales from the End

            Rob sat silently, his digital avatar waiting behind a corridor bulkhead. He knew the respawn point was just past the next bend, and he had spent many an hour in this exact spot just waiting for that digital flicker, that small group of pixels changing color to indicate another victim falling into his trap. They respawned without any weapons or armor, only the pathetic default loadout – pistol with 19-bullet clip, hunting knife, and a daunting task ahead of them. The small triangle area on the screen flickered, heralding the death of another sucker. Rob popped out from his hiding place, unloading just enough bullets to take out his victim with a head shot, then popped back into the corner smug in his accomplishment. The screams of frustration over the headset were sweet music to his ears.

            Rob had been playing Halo in all of its myriad iterations for up to twenty hours a week over the past three years. He had fallen deeply into the basking glow of accomplishment he gained from every kill, every triumph over another human being, though it had cost him his wife, his job, and eventually his independence as he was forced to move back in with his parents. He rarely left his digital world, now. Nothing else mattered, the sirens song of prepubescent screams of anguish and frustration his lullaby every night and his alarm every day.

            So deeply focused he was that he didn’t notice the abnormal brightness out the basement window. The glow started as soft amber, yet quickly grew in intensity to a scorching white that seared the eyes. Absorbed in the screen in front of him, the flames of the world dying didn’t infringe upon his game-induced trance until the window exploded inwards, flying shards slicing his body as the searing heat invaded the room. He had only a moment to ponder a life wasted before the pain took his consciousness, eclipsing his sanity as his body boiled away.

            “But you know I love you!”

            “Yes, Scott, I know you do, it’s just…”

            “Well then what’s the big deal?”

            Hayley fell silent, not knowing exactly how to respond. She really liked Scott – she had known that from their first date – but she wasn’t sure she was ready for this next step. She pulled her sweater closer against the wind as she looked up at him, seated next to her on the blanket, the fire crackling enchantingly in front of them. His eyes drew her in, as always – not quite green, not quite amber, sometimes flashing with emotion. A zest for life, flickering deep inside – it was something you couldn’t hide. She thought she fell deeper for him every time she saw those eyes. Of course his well-toned frame and athletic build didn’t hurt too much. She smiled shyly at him, taking a breath to steady herself. “I just… I wanted to save myself, you know?”

            Scott scoffed. “Aww, c’mon, you’re not pulling that religious crap on me, are you?”

            “No, it’s not that.” Hayley fell silent again, organizing her thoughts. “I just, you know, want it to be special.”

            “Ok, tell you what,” Scott sighed. “Let’s just relax here, and see where things go.”

            Hayley smiled, her face brightening. “I’d like that very much.”

            She snuggled in closer to Scott, putting her head on his shoulder as his arm wrapped around her. She felt comforted in his embrace, as if the world around just didn’t matter anymore. She inhaled his scent, mingling with the crackling woodsmoke from their small fire, and felt her heart beat just a little faster. Hayley looked up at Scott, and their eyes locked. She felt his arm tightened as he pulled her close, their mouths meeting in the firelight. His other hand stroked her back, gently running up and down her shirt as their tongues intertwined. She felt herself melting, like she always did, falling passive in his embrace. Scott continued his stroking, though he had moved his hand lower now. He gently caressed her hips as his hand moved farther, touching upon the bare skin of her legs. His touch sent shivers throughout her body, her blood now pounding in her ears, a rushing sensation filling her as a wind blowing across the plains of her soul. She moaned slightly against his mouth as his hand continued to explore.

            She felt like she was flowing, her body heating hotter than she had ever felt, as though a bright light was cascading across her. She felt Scott pull away suddenly, but the heat didn’t leave her body – in fact, it intensified from a gentle warmth to a scorching July afternoon. Her eyes flew open, and she barely had time to scream before the rolling wall of fire enveloped the pair.

            James stared wearily at his computer monitor. He’d been regretting committing to Christmas Eve for delivery ever since he set the timeline. He’d known it was unrealistic, that he’d have trouble getting a hold of the vendors this close to the holidays. Hell, they’re probably on vacation the entire month of December, he mused, fucking UK and their twelve-million-days-off a year. Sighing over his optimism, he dove back into work. Nothing for it this time but to take my punishment and not make silly promises in the future. It was already late, and he was looking at a Saturday filled with arbitrary code for an insipid service his bosses thought would further their bottom line ever-so-slightly.

            He’d sent the request fifteen times now, and their servers completely had failed to respond. There was no obvious error on his end, and the code he was running had worked without fail not even twenty minutes ago. There was no response, no error, just a timeout exception. Their website was no help, either – it simply returned a “page not found” error. It was as if someone had flipped a switch and taken away all of his chances at productivity. James pondered sending their support an email, but he knew he’d be facing a two-day wait on any response.

            James growled in frustration. He’d taken this job with the promise of rewards given for effort put forth. Then they’d put him on this Money Center project. Poor documentation, services that just don’t work, support that was lackadaisical at best, James saw his chances at promotion dwindling with each day of delay. That was why he had committed to the hard date – he had been promised a promotion evaluation three months in, but with five months looming on the horizon he was quickly growing desperate.

            He was shocked out of his reverie by a cool liquid filling his lap. He looked down in surprise to see that his pop had spilled, the can tipping completely over. Oddly enough, the liquid all flowed directly towards him. He marveled at this before he realized his chair was sliding backwards. He looked around in a panic, but it wasn’t until he stared out the window at the tilting buildings, the ethereal glow coming from everywhere and nowhere, that he started to realize what was going on. The building began to shake and rattle as the pitch slowly increased. Jacob rose in alarm, and promptly fell backwards into his chair as the angle of the floor increased markedly. Gravity became a force to be fought as he tried to get to his feet, but a particularly strong rumble threw him back as the glow coming in the windows increased, searing his eyes, blinding him to the desk that had detached and come tumbling down upon him. He had only a moment to scream before he was knocked unconscious.

            “Well, that was a pretty good movie, don’t you think?”

            “Eh, it was ok.”

            Travis sighed. “You mean you didn’t like it?”

            Beth just stared straight ahead. “No, it was good.”

That flat voice, no joy or emotion in it at all, grated against Travis. He knew Beth was going through some dark times, that he was supposed to be a supportive husband, but it was just so hard lately. The depression had changed her completely. Where before she had been vibrant and vivacious, approaching each day with a  smile and energy, lately she’d been lethargic, indecisive, and irritable. Travis knew it was the medication – the Singulair fucking with her brain chemistry – but he knew that the depression was also better than the alternative. Taking a deep breath, he decided to change the subject.

“So, looking forward to the holiday?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

Travis clamped down on his frustration. “I think it’s gonna be great. I mean, we haven’t seen your brother in years. Remember that time, in Terra Haute, at the Denny’s?” Travis laughed despite himself. “I didn’t realize you could get kicked out of those places!”

Beth smiled – the first she’d smiled all day. “Yeah, that was pretty fun.”

            Travis saw an opening. “And the time we went go-karting? I still can’t help but laugh at the looks on those teenager’s faces.”

            Beth smiled wider, her face brightening a bit. “I know! Mary was so convinced that you’d cheated. I didn’t think they even had a black flag on the go-kart track!”

            Travis laughed aloud, reaching up to adjust his mirror. He didn’t notice anything at first, but a glimmer in the rearview caught the corner of his eye. His eyes flicked back to the mirror, and he immediately slammed on his brakes.

            Beth screamed a the sudden motion, then immediately started shouting. “What the hell, Travis! What the fuck are you thinking? We could have been killed!” Travis didn’t hear her, though, his eyes glued to the mirror. He didn’t feel his jaw slackening, nor see the worry come over Beth’s face. “Travis? What’s wrong?”

            The light around them increased quickly, the sudden change in intensity blinding them. They felt the car lift, and an explosion sent pieces of molten metal directly through both of their bodies. Travis didn’t feel the pain he expected, simply the sense of loss as he realized he would never see Beth happy again.

            “Gentlemen, thank you for coming.”

Adam walked back and forth, nervous energy causing him to pace in front of the lectern. The twelve other men in the room seemed attentive, waiting in silence  for the start of the festivities.

Adam took a deep breath, then continued. “As you are all aware, we’re in the middle of an oil crisis the likes of which the world has never seen. With fossil fuels dwindling, we have no choice but to seek alternative sources of energy to drive our society.

“Gentlemen, I have found that alternative source.”

Murmurs filled the crowd as the audience expressed their astonishment at the claim. Adam smiled to himself, nervousness dissipating as he continued. “You see, we were approaching the problem from the wrong angle. We were burning combustible materials with little, if any, chance of being able to replenish them. We continually looked for ways to find new consumables to produce our energy. What if…” Adam paused for effect at this point. “What if the answer was in the very air we breathe? What if it has been staring us in the faces all along?”

With a flourish, Adam whisked the cloth off of the lumpy device on the table. What remained was not anything impressive – wires and screws popping out at odd angles, tubes oriented like spokes around a clear area in the middle. “This, is an Argon-Neon laser, with several power modifications. With this, we can create a localized temperature high-point hot enough to burn the Nitrogen in our very atmosphere.” Adam smiled with triumph. “In essence, we will solve our energy problems by creating a new source out of thin air!”

Applause burst out of the gathered audience members, and Adam basked in the momentary glory as he waited for it to die down. He walked around behind the machine, and picked up a small controller. Wires came out of the box in a jumble, connecting to various locations on the machine. Adam looked back at the audience. “So, how about a demonstration?”

Adam pressed a button, and bright light filled the room. Bright beams of energy, visible through reflections off dustmites in the air, met in a glowing ball of flame at the center of the hub. This ball roiled slowly, floating in the air like a marble coated in liquid flame. The applause was almost thunderous this time, at least inside Adam’s head. He closed his eyes, basking in the heat.

As such, he didn’t notice the spark of a circuit board failing. One of the beams flickered, then grew vastly in intensity. The flames spread quickly as the very atmosphere ignited, the fire flowing in every direction at once. Adam had barely a second to realize what had happened, though humanity would have at most two hours remaining to find out.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Majestic Progress Report - Day 8


I suspect that will be a while.

21,117 words. In 8 days.

Yeah, the day isn't over yet, and that's only about 3,000 words per day (or it will be after my commute home tonight), but I feel like I've been making good progress. I've hit my stride on a couple of story devices I was worried about, and I am sure that I have enough material to hit my goal of 60,000 words by the end of the month. 

Hell, if things keep up like this I should have an entire week free at the end!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Theme Story - When the Smoke Cleared

After the smoke cleared, the jungle gym was empty. Michael looked around, but there was no sign of the diminutive black-clad forms. He looked to his left and his right, at the fallen bodies of his colleagues, and wondered just what had happened. And how he had survived.

The world around him was deathly silent. For one in the afternoon, this was particularly odd. The surrounding playground was empty, the dark school building a ghoulish remnant in the distance. Checking himself quickly – he wouldn’t be the first to be done in by a minor scratch – Michael was relieved to find his skin intact. Holstering his pistol, he grabbed his fallen hat before heading back towards his car. I guess this call will need to go unsolved for now, he thought.

From a distance everything looked oddly normal, just simply waiting for the use and abuse of everyday life to return. But everyday life had changed, and Michael doubted this particular school would see a class for many years yet. The core cities were safe and clean, with life taking on a semblance of normalcy. The frontiers, though; they were a different story. Squads of assassins still roamed the countryside, faces hidden behind black masks. They could strike without warning, and often it was far too late for any response to make a difference by the time Michael heard about it. This was a unique case, though. He had actually seen them. Their tiny bodies confirmed every rumor he had heard. He did not know whose children they were, but these kids were definitely affected.

He looked over his shoulder at the bodies of his partner and their backup. He knew that they wouldn’t be there by nightfall. The virus worked quickly – regressing age, reducing body mass, reanimating dead flesh with a mechanical precision. The result had the capacity to reason, to choose for good or ill, but simply lacked the compassion and consideration that typically overrode the decision process and helped keep society moving.

Michael reached his vehicle, and slipped into the driver’s seat. Grabbing the radio, he sent off a report. “Sioux City control, this is Michael Adser. I’m leaving the grounds now. We are down three – I repeat, three. Over.”

Static crackled before a voice responded. “10-4, Michael. I’m sorry. Come on back to base for your debriefing. Over.”

“On my way. Over and out.” Michael started the engine, taking only a melancholy moment to lament the loss of his colleague and friend of ten years before shifting into drive and steering the vehicle onto the empty road. The farmland had been quiet during the best of times, now it was down-right abandoned. Only an occasional charred frame showed that people had actually lived here. People forced to torch their livelihood, simply to protect themselves from kids. Michael shook his head ruefully at the thought. To think, that the opponent would take the form of that most precious to society. The mockery it made of traditional human values had already driven many over the brink of insanity.
Lost in his reverie, Michael didn’t even see the figure in the back seat before it was too late. A hand pressed a rag over his mouth, the sweet-and-sour aroma permeating his nostrils. Using his last amount of consciousness, he steered the vehicle to a halt as he fought. There were no trees around to ram, no brick walls to use as a catalyst for Newtonian triumph, just endless cornfields that would be of no help. As he slipped into the void, he was left with a single though. Is this how I die?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Majestic - Day 3 status update!

Just in time for the Super Bowl this afternoon.

Total word count: 9,057

I'm pretty pleased with that number, for only three days worth of work. So far the story is very much in "introductory" mode. I do have a working title, which if you're playing along with our home game you'll notice is in the title of this post (as well as presented as an aside in the last post). Book one was called "Marvelous," so why can't the sequel be "Majestic"?

Finished up just around 3,000 words today. Which, surprisingly, is my average thus far. I'm trying not to get too excited - after all, I did get off to a strong start with my Camp NaNoWriMo novel before having to take a step back as life got in the way - but I have to say that I am very much on track for hitting my 60,000 word target for the month of February.

Of course I have classes that I still teach online, and a course I am designing that kicks off next week, so in 7 days my song may be a bit different. That being said, though, I think I can front-load enough of the book so that I am not killing myself come the end of the month. I want to be hale and hearty for vacation!

Friday, February 1, 2013


Stumbled across a post on Reddit looking for authors interested in doing a NaNo novel in the shortest month of the year. Being a sucker for pointless, strenuous activities with potentially great results, I of course jumped right up at the opportunity. So you saw it here, first. This month I will work on Majestic - a sequel to Marvelous - and write 60,000 words in the process. With the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in progress, and nothing happening on that front until Feb. 13, I figure I have a bit of spare time.

On the train ride this morning, I wrote 2,058. Hopefully I can keep this pace up!

Check it out below: