Spell/Sword Released.

Print Version
Kindle Version – 2.99

Spell/Sword is now available in print and e-book exclusively on Amazon.com.  Follow the image above to order. I’m linking the digital version first because:

  • Duh. Cheaper.
  • Amazon Prime members can borrow and read it for free.
  • Anyone can sample the first couple of chapters using the ‘Look Inside’ feature.
  • It’s the future!

If this is your first time visiting the site, please poke around. Plenty of my various ramblings in the archives, and several examples of my fiction through the Short Stories and Scenes/Microfiction links above.  I know you’re taking a chance on me — thank you for even considering it.

More information about Spell/Sword itself is available on the [Buy the Book] button above.

Paperback Version
Paperback Version – 9.99

Spell/Sword Critical Reception

Four men sat at a table, rectangular with knife-blade edges. Steam filled the air, blasts of heat and cold.

Sean Andrew Murray - Artist
Sean Andrew Murray – Artist

They each wore floor-length white robes with deep cowls. Runes shone on the edge of each cowl with a fiendish light. Their names were known to each other, their proper names, the names that the world spoke in tones of fire and glory. But when they met here for their Conclave of Secrets and Power they took great care to use their Names of Secrets and Power.

“Where is he?” the One Called Wizzle said.

“Late. As usual,” the One Called [(4x) + 17.3y] sighed.

“I’m sure he will be among us at the proper time. When the moon and the wind and the turning of this fragile earth sing together in perfect harmony,” said the One Called Jambalaya, in between noisy bites of a pine cone.

Wizzle and [(4x) + 17.3y] rolled their eyes. Jambalaya was something of a wood nymph, only occasionally interfacing properly with reality. The fourth man said nothing, but continued to scribble frantic notes on a stack of napkins in front of him.

“How’s that coming, Fardancer?” Wizzle asked.

The One Called Fardancer hissed and wrapped his free arm around the napkins.

“Okay, then.” Wizzle stroked his beard in consternation.

A moment of quiet floated across the table, sickly and ominous like a vomiting ghost. The only sounds were the crunch of Jambalaya finishing his pine cone, Fardancer scribbling and muttering, and the other two men adjusting their cowls to better disguise their features.

“Okay. I can’t wait any longer, we’re just going to get started.” Wizzle oriented his beard at the other three in turn. “Does anyone have a problem with that?”

“But the winds, the winds are not yet proper! Our art will be forever marred and turn the gyre—”

“Can it, Jambalaya.” [(4x) + 17.3y] crossed his arms.

“I think we all know why we’re here,” the beard continued. “A new power has arisen in the South, a troublesome upstart.  His followers are legion and the blasphemy that he spews grows and grows with each passing hour. It is a dark fungus, a creeping creep of untold crep. If we are not careful than it will spread beyond our ability to stamp out, much like the the weeds that grow in my garden. Oh, did I show you the picture of me and my son in the garden? Oh man, he did this ridiculous thing with some dandelions, you guys are going to love it.”

Wizzle pawed at his robes, searching for his phone. [(4x) + 17.3y] leaned across the table and shook the bearded man’s shoulders kindly but firmly.

“Please stay focused, my friend.” [(4x) + 17.3y] straightened his glasses. “We do not have time for one of your famous digressions.”

“You’re one to talk.” Wizzle retorted. “How about you explain to me how water flows downhill for thirty more pages?”

“That’s not germane. And a misrepresentation. The water flows uphill in my world due to the reversed polarities of gravity on fluid. It’s why it was so important that my Aquaemancelers could make the water flow downhill, as was prophesied in the 12,785th year of the Jtang Dynasty. Maybe if —”

“Oh god, you’re about to get out a chart, aren’t you?”

[(4x) + 17.3y] folded his hands neatly on the table. “I…might have a few charts in my robes, yes.”

Wizzle pressed the heels of his hands into his forehead and groaned.

“Maybe…” [(4x) + 17.3y] continued. “Maybe when you’ve written more than two books, you’ll learn to appreciate the efficacy of a well-made chart.”

“Excuse me?!?” Wizzle’s head popped up.

“Don’t you see, my friends?” Jambalaya cried, brushing pine cone debris off his black robes. “It’s this new book. This Spell/Sword! It’s tearing us apart!”

Wizzle and [(4x) + 17.3y] stared hard at Jambalaya.

“Weren’t you wearing white robes…before?” the glasses-wearing man tried to appear polite.

“Oh. Yes. That happens.” Jambalaya managed to look slightly embarrassed.

“Jambalaya is right.” Somber Wizzle rapped his knuckles on the rectangular table. “I don’t know why, but somehow this silly little book, this freaking Spell/Sword is tearing at the very fabric of–”

“You boys need a refill?” The waitress leaned over the cramped table with a coffee pot.

The white-robed men blinked at her for a moment. Her brown and white apron was freshly pressed, her gray hair tightly wound in a neat oval. The Waffle House was empty except for the four of them, their thick girth and arcane robes crammed into a corner booth.

“No, thank you, Glenda.” Wizzle managed.

The other three men shook their heads as well, and Glenda smiled and floated away.

“Why do we meet here, anyway?” [(4x) + 17.3y] complained. “None of us even live in this state.”

“Don’t you see. That is the thing. The very thing.” Jambalaya smiled, one tear rolling down his cheek. “Only outside of ourselves can we see ourselves.”

“Time for me to talk.” Fardancer interrupted, displaying his stack of ink-daubed napkins with pride. “I’ve prepared a solid list of reasons why Spell/Sword sucks. As soon as I post this online, the world will know that it sucks, and we can go back to our lives without a further thought.”

“Uh…arr. I’m not sure it’s quite that straightforward, Far–” Wizzle began.

“RESPECT THE LIST.” Fardancer slammed the napkins down on the table, neatly overturning the sugar dispenser. “Okay. Verbal List Power Activatus!

1. No one’s ever heard of it, so it can’t be very important. Only things that people have heard of are worth discussing. I’ve talked to all the very important people I know on Twitter, and none of them have heard of it, so it’s nonsensical to keep discussing it.

2. Even if it was important, it’s different and weird and silly. All of us have worked very hard to earn a little respect and credibility for genre fiction. To have this weird kid come along and try to make what we write about silly again undoes years of work. I like getting paid for my work, and I can’t keep getting serious-work money if all of a sudden people think we’re silly again.

3. Wil Wheaton said he thought it sucked.

4. Spell/Sword can eat my poop.

5. And by my poop, I mean the poop that comes out of my butt.

6. And by my butt, I mean —

“That’s enough, Fardancer!” [(4x) + 17.3y] waved both hands. “I think we get the gist.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Wizzle patted the napkins respectfully. “All good here.”

“Well,  I’ll go ahead and put this up on my blog, that ought to take care of things.” Fardancer pulled a smartphone, two tablets, a Chromebook, a Macbook Air, a TRS-80, and an abacus out from under his robe in quick succession.

“I like to write on oak leaves.” Jambalaya said, lost in dreams. “Oak leaves, just as they turn scarlet. I write with a grasshopper’s leg dipped in some Faerie Inkque that my beloved brought me from—”

The newly black-cloaked man’s words were cut off  by hellfire engine roar. A massive black motorcycle tore into the Waffle House parking lot, chrome and leather and a Valkyrie’s virginity.

“He’s here.” Wizzle said.

The motorcycle pulled into a spot and then hopped up on the sidewalk. The front tire crashed into red-flecked newsbox. Bent metal and flying newsprint filled the air. The rider got off the bike, and stalked in through the glass door entrance. He wore a sailor’s cap, and his white robe thrown around his shoulders like a cocksure cape. In his hands he carried a massive two-handed hammer, something that would be more appropriate at Medieval Times than Home Depot.

“Darklorrr.” [(4x) + 17.3y] said nervously.

“Coffee!” the One Called Darklorr bellowed as he stumped over to corner booth. “And four waffles on top of five other waffles. No syrup, just bring me some melted butter and three mugs filled with chili.”

Darklorr tossed his hammer onto the table and surveyed the other four men with a paternal eye. “I know I’m late. Deal with it.”

“We were just talking about Spell/Sword, Darklorr.” Wizzle gingerly pushed the hammer off the hem of his white sleeve. “And how we needed to handle it.”

“Handle it? Spell/Sword? HAR.” Darklorr laughed, pushing his sailor’s cap back. “Listen close, boys. I already know how to handle this. I’ll do what I always do with things that people love.”

The four others leaned in close with expectant horror.

“Kill it.” Darklorr smirked.

He picked his hammer back up and leaned it on his shoulder with a cavalier air. Then he started to laugh. The other four men looked at each other uncertainly, then echoed his laughter with their own.

[(4x) + 17.3y] quickly scribbled something on a spare napkin, and slid it across the table to Wizzle.

OR GO ON A TWO MONTH PIZZA TOUR, it read.

Wizzle shrugged in response, but continued to echo Darklorr’s amusement.

The Conclave of Secrets and Power had convened. They had made their decision.

Spell/Sword didn’t stand a chance.

[Just me throwing some eggs at some author’s that I respect, admire, and envy. I’ll send a free Spell/Sword button to the first five people who can name all five.]

Book Feels

spellinside

It’s still very surreal to have the proof of the book here. That this thing that’s lived in my head for years is now a physical object. That I can reach into my bag and pull it out and touch it. That it can prop open a door, hold down the corner of a picnic blanket, serve as a completely ineffective projectile weapon.

I took some quick pictures to share on the Facebook Page [What? You haven’t liked Spell/Sword on Facebook? NAUGHTY.] Like a proud papa I want to make sure anyone who follows the blog gets to see them as well.

Such a tall genre-busting fantasy novel!
Such a tall genre-busting fantasy novel!

The book it’s standing on is the new Lemony Snicket book, and it’s super awesome by the way. It was just a convenient stand, my book is not trying to establish any sort of dominance in the pack.

Mobile Suite pilots are my core demographic.
Mobile Suit pilots are my core demographic.

People have asked me how I feel — and as usual I don’t have a ready answer. Proud? Yes. Excited? Yes? Terrified? More than a little.

So close to the finish line. One last pass through the proof to catch any errors or formatting issues — and to have a crisis of faith on the quality of innumerable facets of the narrative. After that, just a few more days and the release date will be set.

A Succinct List of Why the Spell/Sword Cover is Awesome.

Cover Design/Layout: margaretpoplin.comIllustration:poopbird.com
Cover Design/Layout: margaretpoplin.com
Illustration:poopbird.com

1. Mentions witches.

2. Has a sword on it.

3. Look at those crazy numbers! What’s that all about?

4. Well designed shoes.

5. Legible.

6. I mean, for real..those numbers! They are so interesting and strange. I’ll be the author is pretty cool. And handsome.

7. That girl looks pretty mean. I’ll bet she’s a badass.

8. What’s up with that kid’s hair? Ha ha ha…I mean, really.

9. Where can I get some of those shoes?

10. Ten reasons seems pretty arbitrary.

11. Why not eleven?

12. Seriously, kid. Get a comb.

13.  It’s not hip. It’s not cool. It’s not edgy or geek chic or expansive. It would look completely out of place next to a Wheel of Time cover, a Game of Thrones cover, and the Name of the Wind cover. It would look completely out of place on the Fantasy shelf at Barnes & Noble. And that’s the point.

14. It’s simple. It’s clean. It’s dorky. It delights me that people who read the paper version will be slightly embarrassed to have people see the cover. It raises a giant Nerd Flag and waves it for all the world to see.

15. Wait. What’s the weird little symbol on the spine? Mysterious.

16. It’s distinct, it’s different, it’s memorable.

17. Kind of like that kid’s hair.

18. For better or worse the cover is exactly what I want. It’s exactly what you’ll find inside. A weird, off-kilter world just shy of a cartoon fever dream. Things are silly, things are odd, things are real. Silly things matter even though they shouldn’t.

19. Oh, hey! It’s got witches in it.

 

Spell/Sword Inspiration

Aragorn.
Aragorn.

“Why’d you write the book?”

“Huhn?” I said, cornflakes falling from my surprised mouth.

“The book. Spell/Sword. Why did you write it? What inspired you?”

“Uhhhh.” The spoon hovered over the bowl. “Look, my cereal is getting soggy and you know I am borderline neurotic about that, so…”

“Fine. I was only showing a little interest in your work, a little curiosity if you will. Thanks for responding so elegantly.”

My mouth was already full of more cereal, so it took a moment for me to respond. I munched furiously and swallowed, pointing accusingly with the spoon — then took another bite. My hatred of soggy cereal is a cruel mistress.

“You’ve never cared before! Why the interrogation all of a sudden?” I demanded through half a mouthful of cornflakes.

[It actually sounded more like “Myouff nevarr cared befoo! Ay the inrerroration paul of a suddeth?”]

The orange cat flicked its tail and said nothing. I hate it when he’s like this. Aragorn is more sphinx than

Aragorn.
Aragorn.

housecat, a grand old lion and shaman of the Cat Tribe — but he can be a proper bastard when the mood strikes him. Like most cats.

“Hey…look. I’m sorry.” I took one last quick bite of pre-soggy cornflakes. “It’s just a big question.”

Aragorn eyed me, green eyes level.

I wiped some milk off my chin. “It is!”

The orange cat sighed. “You don’t have an answer, do you? People like to know where books come from, what motivated the author, the journey from idea to page to finished product. You should have a short, easily-digestible sound bite prepared for this question. Don’t you know anything about marketing? Prospective customers want an easy hook when purchasing from an artist online. Young Genius, Aged Artist Returning to the Craft, Nerd Royalty, Passionate Young Woman/Man, Social Justice Crusader, Super Cool Hipster, Erotic Smut-Peddlar. Pick an easy bucket and climb up in there, silly human. You should really have all this figured out—you are self-publishing after all.”

“But the answer isn’t short or easily digestible. It’s not even coherent.” I protested. “And that is some seriously cynical e-marketing advice, Aragorn.”

“I’m a cat. We take in cynicism with our mother’s milk.”

“How does it taste?” My eyes dipped of their own volition towards the mostly empty cereal bowl in my hands.

Aragorn flicked his tail again and turned to leave.

“Wait, wait! I just don’t have an easy answer. I’m not one of those people who knew from age 9 that their dream was to write. You know? Study hard, build their craft, working slowly and inexorably towards their heart’s goal? And I’m not one of those people who were just minding their own business when a lightning bolt flash-seared their pants to the chair, and they immediately started writing a Profound Work. I mean there was some of both of that, but it all kind of happened in fits and starts — and mostly by accident.”

The orange cat looked over his shoulder with faint interest, halting his exit. I put the cereal bowl with the small residue of milk at the bottom to buy myself a little more time to prevaricate. Aragorn approached the offering, keeping his green eyes on me.

“I mean, sure. I’ve been a reader basically my whole life. I was reading my mom’s books when I was 10, way before I was ready for them. Dune, Sword of Shannara, everything I could get my hands on. And fantasy was always the thing that fascinated me. All through middle school and high school, just burning my way through every piece of genre fiction that the library and my meager funds could provide. Eddings, Tolkien, Williams – anything, everything! And maybe in some sort of vague, half-hearted way I noodled around with the thought of becoming a writer some day.”

Aragorn’s tongue rasped away at the milk in the bottom of the bowl in the sudden quiet as I took a breath.

“But never seriously, never with any drive. Sure, I wrote a few scenes and skits and short stories through high school and college, but it never even occurred to me to think of myself as a writer. Maybe because the people in my Creative Writing class who did were insufferable ponce-wicks — but also because me and the Future are always on our first date. I like her, things seem to be going more or less well, but I don’t know her at all.”

“Hmph.” Aragorn chuckled into the milk. “So, how did you accidentally write a book?”

"Stupid human."
“Stupid human.”

“Well, not really by accident. Okay — this is long and involved, let me give you the short-short version. A couple of years ago, I started running a Pathfinder campaign…”

“What?”

“You know, Pathfinder? It’s a lot like Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s more similar to 3.5 than that awful, awful 4th edition.”

The orange cat simply blinked and went back to cleaning the cereal bowl.

“Okay. You don’t care about that. Uh…okay, me and some friends started writing a story together online. We mainly did it to avoid boredom at our respective jobs, but it quickly turned into something very expansive and involved. Like, over the two years we wrote over a million words for this story.”

“Is that a lot?”

Cats. They just refuse to be impressed.

“Yes. It’s a lot, Aragorn. And in the middle of all that I developed a whole world, hundreds of characters, super involved multi-layered plots and history and backstory and..you see where this is going? I suddenly had the Stupid Epiphany: This is how novelists work. They start, and they don’t stop — then at some point they have enough words to call it a novel.”

“That is stupid.” Aragorn said.

“So, in the midst of this vague idea, I met a guy at DragonCon named Joe Peacock.”

“Is that a real person? And did you just verbally hyperlink something?”

“Yes and yes. He gave this awesome presentation on Akira–”

“Okay, stop that. Stop linking things in the middle of our conversation, it’s just rude.” The orange cat’s tail lashed with agitation.

“Sorry. Anyway, I was looking on his blog and I stumbled across this massive article he wrote about Self-

Artsy shot.
Artsy shot.

Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing. It was really cut and dried, step by step instructions. It reduced the process to something concrete — something that I could actually see myself doing. Combined with my Stupid Epiphany it got me to open up a Google Doc and type ‘Chapter One’. I’ve never started a novel because I was absolutely sure I would never finish — and if I did nothing would come of it. Now I felt like neither of those were excuse enough anymore.”

“So,” the orange cat mused. “You wrote a book to prove that you could write a book? That’s it?”

” Partly, I guess. That got me through the first chapter, but after that it was about telling the story.”

“The story?” Aragorn curled up into a more comfortable position. ” What’s your book about?”

“Oh god. Well…” I picked up the immaculately scoured cereal bowl and dropped it in the sink. “How long do you have for this?”

[To be continued…maybe? 

Take a minute and ‘Like’ our page on Facebook, that way you can enjoy my randomness at more regular intervals.]

Help Wanted: Glassroots

Help me help you help ME.

As long as I’m the one on the net gain side of this Help Chain at the end of the day.

Daniele Buetti - Artist
Daniele Buetti – Artist

I’m taking my first scary steps into self-promotion.  The book should be ready to publish at the end of the month, so it’s time to put my Serious Pants on. I’ve set up a fan page on Facebook, I’m going to be modifying this site to be a little more buyer-friendly, and I’m steeling myself for a long, loooong process of asking for people’s help.

Because that’s what I’m going to need. I’m self-publishing — and as much of a bully as I am, and as much of a  shameless snake-oil huckster I am– I can only move so many of these books by myself. I need my friends, I need my acquaintances  I need total strangers.

So please — help.  All I want is for people to read it.  Buy it, sure — but more importantly read. Click the ‘Like’ Box, share posts across your laptops and phones and iPads and Nintendo 3DSs.

Glassroots is the term I’m putting forward for this process. I’m sure that someone somewhere already came up with this term, but it sounded pretty clever to me as I was staring into space in the shower last night.

Mental Transcript: …………chess pieces..cheese pieces…they should make cheese chess pieces…mmmm, gouda…gotta work my way up the internet ladder with the book, sort of like a grassroots political campaign…what’s a cool internet word for that…is there a cool internet word for that…? ….grassroots, grassroots, grassroots….glassroots? yeah! phones are made of glass and laptops are made of glass, well not really it’s some sort of space age polymer, but it sure sounds like a cool word that people should say…i’m awesome….like gouda…

It’s interesting putting myself in the role of the supplicant — or the traveling minstrel. Going from internet hovel to digital inn, singing for my supper. I’ll try not to annoy you people too much.

You Can Call Me Isaac V

Two days of air and fire.

Hermes and Black Mask danced in the shadows of the city. Cat and mouse and dagger and cloak — a secret duel hidden from the eyes of the mortals below.

The green-masked man ran faster and faster. He found new clothes, he ate food from dumpsters and the bottom of diner tables, he slept not at all. The field kept him up, kept him alert, burned the bacteria from the garbage he pushed into his mouth. Never a moment to stop, to breathe. Out of every shadow stepped Black Mask giggling. From under park benches, seeping through storm drains, out of every closet the violin laughter.  They clashed again and again – a hail of cutlery flung from a diner kitchen, an empty dumpster dropped from a midmorning sky,  two off-duty policemen opened fire – their eyes dead and blank under Black Mask’s grip.

Hermes phased through a wall to avoid the forks and knives. He caught the dumpster and hurled it back into the heavens. His hands blurred as he snagged the bullets from the air and tossed them aside.

And he loved it.

The field was like a drug.  It burned in his veins, it sang in his temples. The restraint he had held himself to back in the old days was gone, he was a god and couldn’t let himself stop. Partly because Black Mask would kill him if he let the field fall, but mostly because it felt too damn good.

Hermes became stronger, he became faster. The skill of his younger days fell into his hands like a ripe apple. He caught his reflection in a storefront window and laughed at the fat flesh still spilling over the top of his pants.  He was ready. Ready to stop running.

2008030157900301He chose an abandoned airstrip on the fringe of Dulles International. It was the perfect battleground. No civilians, zero cover,  few spare objects that could be turned into weapons. Hermes stood at parade rest and waited. It was 0400 and the day’s heat was already beginning to gather.

Black Mask did not disappoint. A howl of wind and he was there.

“Tired of being the rabbit, Captain Whitaker?” he called, two dozen yards across the tarmac.

“Tired of you…Dionysus.”

“Oh you remembered! The god of revels, the god of wine, the god of madness.” Dionysus hugged himself tightly with elation.

“You killed that boy. Why?” Hermes demanded.

“He was such a complainer, a whiner, a problem. We performed the Pantheon process in secret to several of the Marines there, he was the only one that responded,” the black mask waggled in exaggerated disappointment. “I’m sure you remember that the process leaves the subject physically weak and impaired for several weeks to months afterwards. Poor lad was getting bullied by his unit because he couldn’t run fast enough, or keep up with the drills. He started writing tear-stained letters to his family, the Corps, his Congressman. Entirely too much noise, too much attention being called. Guantanamo Bay has been the …shall we say, retirement home?…for Project Pantheon for quite some time now.  Zero Exposure, you remember. We couldn’t risk any bright young men like Jack Ross putting the pieces together. The opportunity presented itself, two members of his unit were ‘educating’ him with cord and duct tape, and I just reached in his chest and stopped his heart. A little bird’s heart in my hand. Squish.”

Dionysus clenched his gloved hand to demonstrate.

Hermes moved, the green field humming. A half-moment of distraction was all he had needed as a younger man, he prayed that was all he needed now.

The black mask moved in slow motion. Hermes could see his old comrade’s eyes widen with surprise. They widened even more as his hand plunged into Dionysus’ chest.

“Like this?” Hermes growled. “Squish.”

The black mask was still, then tilted back. Gales of laughter erupted and Dionysus shook with glee. The shadow outline of his form began to break up and splinter, like a pile of leaves in a wind. The black pieces blew away in the hot wind before dawn, and Hermes was alone on the tarmac.

Hermes looked down at his empty hand. “Dionysus, god of theater.”

The black masked man wasn’t here. He’d never been here. Not on the airfield, not in the streets of the city, not even in the back of his car. He’d reached into Hermes’ mind from somewhere far away, and played him like a puppet on the stage.

But why? What was the point? The horizon began to glow slightly with the onset of dawn, but brought no answers.

Hermes knew where to find some. He knew who to ask.

—-

Thursday at 0600, he stowed away on a transport heading for Cuba. He watched his men, Kaffee and Weinberg board the plane before slipping into the storage are in the belly of the craft. What would they think if they knew that their commander was not a dozen feet away, curled inside a metal cargo space munching on a few bags of beef jerky?

The Marines stationed at Guantanamo Bay are fanatical about their service at the forward area — vigilance, training and Gitmo_Aerialdiligence are expected and rigorously enforced. Hermes slipped past them like they were statues. He found a position on top of a guard tower, and crouched like a gargoyle – reaching out through the field to find what he was seeking. A large energy spike, somewhere underground, beneath the Guantanamo installation.

He slipped into a side door of a small building used to store medical supplies. The hidden door was easy enough to locate, and pry open. Hermes walked  down empty halls filled with abandoned equipment and broken glass. At last he found what he sought. A large metal door, the edges sealed. A palpable cold radiated from the metal, and his hand stuck to handle as he turned it.

A naked corpse was laid in the center of the freezer, on top of a couple of crates. The man was young. Couldn’t be older than 20. Shame.

Hermes laid his hand on the corpses head and whispered. “I am Hermes, the god of the crossroads. The messenger. The messenger.”

The messenger between the mortal world and the world of spirit. The world of the dead.

The human body is a sack of water. A sack of water that is animated by electrical impulses. If one has the way of it — the will, the training. One can replicate these electrical impulses in dead tissue. One can speak to the dead.

The green field hummed and Hermes groaned with exertion. His vision blurred, but then snapped to when Santiago’s eyes opened.

“Where am I” he said.

“Not important.” Hermes replied.

This was an extremely strenuous task, and the dead were always foggy. It was best to get the intelligence you needed as quickly and swiftly as possible.

“Do I get to go home?” Santiago asked, his voice cracked and sere.

“Yes. Yes, Santiago, you get to go home.” Hermes felt his eyes began to burn. “You had a dream. A dream about a man in a black mask.”

“Yes. I remember. He scares me.”

“I know. He can’t hurt you anymore. I need you to remember the dream. Did you ever see his face?”

“He’s laughing.” Santiago whispered. “He keeps calling me rabbit bait. But the rabbit is terrifying. He looks like a wolf with rabbit ears, and a green mask.”

Bait for me. “Don’t look at the rabbit, Santiago. The black mask. Can you see his face? Show me. Show me, please. And then you can go home.”

Santiago did. The face, clear as a painting in the dead man’s mind. Different then Hermes remembered, he’d had plastic surgery to hide his age and prominent features. He was here, on this base, hidden in plain sight.

“Thank you, Listener…Santiago. Now, it’s time to go home.” Hermes let the green field relax and the dead tissue went cold.

—-

A short-statured man sat at a desk in the command center of Guantanamo Bay. He was the base commander’s aide and Lt. Col. Nathan Jessup kept him busy sending communication to the Pentagon and administering the day to day duties of the forward base and detainment center. He knew everything that happened on the base one way or the other, and was able to quietly adjust certain orders to suit his true position, his true mission.

A man wearing a green mask walked into the office. “Hello, Tom.” he said.

Tom looked up from the stack of papers and smiled. “Hello, Hermes. You found me. Even quicker than I expected. Bravo,00000462_ac_0001 sir. I was worried when this all began, but you’ve snapped back into shape in a remarkable fashion. You may even wear off that gut in a few weeks if you keep the pace up.”

“Why, Dionysus. Why all of this?” Hermes stood at parade rest in front of the desk.

“Why for you!” Tom said with mock surprise. ” It is time to gather the sons of Project Pantheon again and begin our great work. The Marines here have been a total disappointment, they don’t have any of the old fire that our unit had. I need you, you and the others that remain. I activated you first, because you are the messenger. You can bear my commands even faster than my Remote Psychic Link. Save me weeks of time.”

“What if I say no?”

Tom laughed. “Say no? That’s ridiculous, Hermes. I can see it in your eye. You’re tired of being a fat old man shuffling paper. You want the field, you want the power. I have given it to you — we can tear across this world like the gods that we are. Think of it, Hermes! Kings and presidents kneeling at our feet. Countries toppled at a whim. Wars orchestrated to the tune of our psychic symphony. It’s why we were made, it’s what we are. As it was in the age gone by, let it be again here and now. We are gods, Hermes, gods!”

“I’m a soldier, Tom. Not a god.” He pulled his green mask free and tossed it on the desk. “And you can call me Isaac.”

Tom started to laugh, and then choke. The canister of gas that Isaac had hidden inside of his mask spewed forth a nearly invisible stream of poison. Isaac adjusted the straps of his stripped down gas mask and watched as his old comrade began  to turn red, then purple. Dionysus’  psychic field flickered on reflexively, but the damage had been done. The bag of water was punctured.

Isaac waited several minutes after Dionysus stopped moving. He carefully tucked the poison canister in his pocket and opened a window so the cyanide gas could dissippate. He laid two fingers against the dead man’s throat and made absolutely certain his heart had stopped.  He considered breaking the man’s neck just to be sure, but his iron training still  held him. Zero Exposure. Better if it looks like a plain old heart incident. Just like poor Santiago. I hope they do a better job of sweeping this one under the rug.

Isaac looked down at himself, at the dozen or more small scrapes and bruises he’d gathered in the past few days. He knew the moment he let the field drop, he’d be nearly incapacitated by pain. Not yet, Isaac. Got to get back to DC first, then to the nearest hospital.

The old soldier found himself grinning as he tugged at his waistband. “I’ve lost a few pounds at least. This beats the shit out of jogging.”

Isaac slid his mask into the wide pocket of his BDU, and leaped out the window.

bar-11

An attractive young woman sat alone at the bar, her hands idly twirling a cocktail straw as she stared into her glass.

Isaac slid onto the seat next to her, careful to keep his sling from jostling her. “Commander — I hear you won your case?”

“Captain…Isaac?” she replied in surprise. “Yes, yes we did. Lt. Kaffee and Sam and I. What…what happened to you?”

“Car wreck. Dumb luck.” he said philosophically. “Got quite a bump on the noggin, I was out for days. Sorry I missed the trial.”

“That’s okay. Must have been quite a car wreck.” she said, looking over the arm sling and the visible bandages on his hands and neckline.

“Hell of a thing. Buy an old soldier a drink?”

“Sure.” she smiled. “What’ll you have?”

“Nothing green, other than that — lady’s privilege. Where are Weinberg and Kaffee? Why are you celebrating alone?”

“Eh. Sam went to see his kid, and Danny…well, I’m not really sure what that one is all about. He had some work he wanted to do.” she shrugged, and signaled to the bartender. ” You in a hurry, should I get you something light?”

“Commander, I have nowhere I’d rather be.” Isaac leaned his uninjured arm on the bar. “Nowhere at all.”

“Good.” she smiled. “And remember, I said you could call me Joanne.”

[The final installment of my fanfiction covering the adventures of my character in A Few Good Men, Isaac Whitaker. Thanks to the cast and crew of Town & Gown’s production for inspiring and enjoying it. ]

A Mobius Story

[A story for my friend, Cord. May it prove a distraction.]

The gauntlets were too big.

“Trouble, Half-Man?” the snake-eyed woman cooed, her fingers curled around his shoulders.

“Nope…nothing…no problem!” Mobius stammered his small hands almost rattling inside the pitted blue-steel gauntlets.

Mobius was small statured, a halfling in the common parlance. His grandmother always said that the proper name for his race was ‘Kender’, but his mother and father always gave such sharp looks of disapproval when she had used the word that Mobius dared not.  From his boots to the tip of his wild hair he was only three and a half feet tall. This put his head just below the breasts of the snake-eyed woman who stood behind him. When she exhaled, they dipped ever so slightly, brushing the sides of his head — causing pronounced eye dilation and small puffs of smoke to erupt from his ears and from somewhere just south of his belt buckle.

Femme Mage by Georgios Dimitriou
Femme Mage by Georgios Dimitriou

“You promised me that you could get us in, thief. You promised me that locks would fall open when you whistled ‘Valleydown,Susannah. That you could smell traps, hear ambush, see the gleam of gold through a mile of dark catacomb,” Varatene’s hands moved from his shoulders to his bare neck. “You promised me.”

The touch was silk, but Mobius heard the jagged, bloody steel in her words.

“I got it, Vara. I got it…just …just need a minute,”the halfling said with desperate cheer.

The thief and the snake-eyed lady stood in a circular room, golden blocks of rough-hewn sandstone. Stairs led downward to the Temple of Silent Flames and hundreds of Sarmadi acolytes of Nasirah. Mobius and Varatene had taken advantage of the holy festival in the city beyond for this night’s endeavour.

Most of the acolytes were busy in the city, leaving only a small guard inside the temple. Easy enough for a halfling of Mobius’ talents to move from shadow to shadow, evading the sparse patrols. He had taken great care to wait until the last possible second to scoot around each patrol, finding the most elaborate way to remain hidden.  Handstands, last minute flips behind columns and tall urns, a long swing on a crisp white banner over the heads of two guards with axes. He had ended each escape with a surreptitious glance at his lithe partner, Varatene.  He was showing off as hard as he possibly could, it would have been a waste of energy if his efforts were not being suitably enjoyed.

She smiled at him once or twice, but focused mainly on remaining unseen herself. Kissing each shadow, an alluring absence.

The top of the tower was just as she had described. A massive door fashioned from marble and steel – a glorious sun.  A stone column, top sheared off to make a simple table was in the center of the room. A pair of gauntlets riveted to the top of the table were the only other feature of the room.

Mobius had inspected the door with every ounce of unruly skill he possessed. He was convinced that the only way to open the door was with the gauntlets, somehow they were the locking mechanism. Cunning pressure plates were installed at the pad of each finger, just the right amount of pressure was required.

But the gauntlets were too big for his hands.

Even if my hands were the right size — I’d have to know the exact weight of each finger. This thing’s probably set for a very specific pair of hands, whoever runs this place probably.  Mobius spread his fingers as wide as he could, but still could only manage to cover three plates in each gauntlet.

“I hear someone.” Her lips were at his ear. “Two pair of leather sandals and the butt of two long-axes hitting the stone floor. Guards, soon, here.”

“….what?” the thief managed. “Oh! Guards. Yeah, guards are bad.”

He could feel her lips bend in a thin smile. “Do you find me distracting, thief?”

“A…a bit? But in a really, really, really good way.”

“Ah, but you must focus, Sir Mobius. The boots are coming closer, and the long-axes with them. We are cornered here and will not last long against the acolytes of Nasirah, Goddess of Law and Fire. You must open the door now. Now, Mobius.” Varatene delicately began to bite down on the lobe of his right ear.

“Grrruhh?” Mobius said.

The snake-eyed lady pulled back and whispered again. ” Open the door, thief. And I will ravish you. I will show you pleasure that will be spoken of in hushed, reverent tones as a holy sacrament of lust. I will leave you a shattered husk, stumbling and blinking through all the remaining years of your life as a man long blind who first sees the sunrise.”

“I will do that thing. I WILL DO THAT THING.” Mobius declared, and immediately brought his head down as hard as he could on the stone slab in front of him.

Zac Gorman - Lost [in the] Woods
Zac Gorman – Lost [in the] Woods
Mobius’ grandmother had always said that he was a little ‘touched’. That he had something in his blood, a little touch of the old magic. It was mostly useless, he had decided as a kid. Sometimes he could guess what color underwear his cousin was wearing without looking, sometimes he could throw a rock in the dark and hit a passing bat dead between the eyes, sometimes the wind would blow just a little when he wiggled both pinkies.

But sometimes, when he really needed it, his touch would help him. Mostly in dreams, but sometimes he could see over the horizon — in the fields of the world, and in the folds of time.

And he needed this. Bad.

The pain in his temple was sharp and his head rang with pain. But he saw it. Like a mummer’s show through a fog, a man in long white robes painted with a red and gold flame entered the room, and placed his hands in the blue-steel gauntlets. Mobius could see each of the mans fingers inside the gauntlet as they pressed down on the pads.

Still in the fog, he reached up and took Varatene’s hands. He slid them into the gauntlets, and laid his smaller hands carefully on top of hers. The woman’s hands were fine, but large enough for the purpose.

The tramp of the boots, the thump of the long-axe handle.

Mobius looked up, as he gently guided Varatene’s fingers with his own. Her eyes, flat and empty looked back. “You…you wanna…make out a little?” he said shyly.

Their hands moved slowly into place, as he guided the pressure needed — the dream-fog fading in his brain. There was a sharp click and the sun door slowly began to slide open.

Varatene smiled and pecked his brow. “Later, thief.”

She spun away, pulling him behind her. In two breaths they were through the sun door and Mobius pulled a nearby lever. The door quietly began to shut again.

The halfling started to shrug out of his vest, his hands going to his belt buckle.

“What are you doing?” Varatene hissed.

“Uh. You know? The lust thing? The thing you just said, back in there.” Mobius nodded his head towards the gauntlet room as it disappeared behind the closing door.

“Now?” the woman said with exasperation. “Right now?”

The halfling’s pants hit the ground.

“That never happened, Mobe. It never ever did.”

“Yeah it did, JJ! Gods honest truth, it totally happened.”

“She did you right there, on a pile of gold and jewels?”

“Well, there wasn’t a whole lot of gold, some weird thing about the Sarmadi — they think gold is evil or something. But there was a hell of a lot of opals and rubies. And a big pile of silk, where we Did the Deed. Twi…Three times,yeah. Three times!”

“That don’t make no sense, Mobe.  And you know it!”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“You think I’m stupid, or something? How did you start this stupid story? Huh?”

“Oh. Well.”

“HAR. I gotcha. I’ll bet her gauntlet was…”

“Shut up!”

“HHAH HHAH!”

“Shut your fat face!”

“HHAH HHA—hey, why is it windy in here all of a sudden?”

Jan Ditlev Christensen
Jan Ditlev Christensen

Puppet Monologue #3

Sock Puppet: 

I am a sock puppet. A puppet made of sock. I am a sock puppet. A puppet made of sock. I am a sock puppet. A puppet made of sock. A puppet sock am I. Am sock I puppet made?

Made I sock? Puppet am I?

Am I?

Puppet! Sock?

Sock made I? I made sock?

A made sock. A made puppet.sockpuppet_2328709b

Of sock am I? Of puppet am I made?

Puppet of sock made I of sock sock made puppet of I. I am a sock puppet. I am a sock puppet. A puppet made…of sock?

Puppet? Sock!

Sock! Sock! SOCK! SOOOOOOOOCK!

Puppet?

Puppet made sock made puppet made sock made sock made puppet made puppet sock made sock sock made puppet puppet puppet puppet.

I am a puppet sock. A sock made of puppet. I am a puppet sock. A sock made of puppet.

I am I. I am made. I made I.

I am.

I am.

I am.

I am I.

I am. A sock puppet. A puppet. Made of sock.