My parental/oceanic abomination horror story “The Swell” is out over at Trigger Warning Short Fiction with Pictures. Check it out!
This tale about the fall of an undead wizard, told in his own words, was my first foray into fantasy, originally published in last year’s “Ancient Enemies” monster anthology. If you like grimdarks, not-so-sympathetic villains, or fringe characters in general, check it out. Cover art by the incredible Laura Hollingsworth.
Quick update to let you all know that LURK is out on audiobook, exclusively for Audible! I’ve been an Audible fanboy for years, probably since within about a month of when they launched, so this is pretty exciting for me personally. The audiobook is read by the incredible Kevin Meyer.
Stay scared, creeps.
This is the Berlin I remember
A glowing winter flame
Where open hands and steaming wine
Lay stones upon old pain.
When I think of Berlin,
There’s only one that I recall
Not the one of sorrow and blood
But the light that’s growing tall.
Don’t send them empty platitudes
Or Facebook prayers or snark;
Instead become that winter flame
That banishes the dark.
So it looks like Corruption is getting a delay, for a few reasons. I was originally planning to release the book in January, but now it appears I need to push it back a few weeks or even months. The main reason is plot rewrites. I’m also going a different direction with the cover than I initially thought, and am hiring a professional to do the artwork instead of using the ugly clip art version I created in GIMP. My cousin Laura Hollingsworth, who did the beautiful cover artwork for my upcoming novella The Lich (below), is now doing the artwork for Corruption, too. She’s good, right?
As for those plot issues I mentioned…
After a long conversation with my dad last night, a big chunk of which was spent talking about his feedback on the book, I’ve realized that something I have feared about the story all along was definitely not just in my head. There are some serious pacing issues in the first 30% of Corruption. My first full crack at an epic, complex fantasy with three different, nested plotlines was bound to have some significant issues. In this case, it is too much setup in the beginning of the story.
There is a big chunk at the start of Corruption where the characters are meeting, Dan is settling into his new life in Eastern Europe, and things are falling into place for the events in the second half of the book, when shit really begins to hit the fan… I think everything after this period of buildup is awesome, but, as my dad pointed out, too much setup means a slow beginning, which could end up causing readers to put the book down before it ever really begins.
Duh. I should’ve known this. I kind of did, but I needed to hear it from someone else. And this is why beta readers are important, people. Art can’t be created by committee, true; but it also can’t be created alone. You always need people you trust to give you a second opinion. Always. Nothing is ever perfect on the first go. There are always going to be some changes.
So, how am I going to attack this problem?
My strategy is twofold. I am introducing a new POV character to breakup the monotony of the opening of the book. This POV character is actually my favorite character in the book, but his action was mostly off-screen until the climax of the story. A Clare Quilty type, if you will. Now, he is getting his own chapters-short and to the point-which will bridge two of the three nested stories that make up Corruption and hopefully give its first act some much-needed gas.
This may not be a perfect solution, but other than adding foreshadowing to some of the dialog, which I am also doing, I’m not sure how to go about it without a total rewrite, which I’m not willing to do. I like the first act of the book a lot, and don’t want to throw it out. It does what it needs to do, it’s just a bit slow. I already like the pacing better with the added chapters, and plan on finishing my first pass of rewrites by the end of this week.
Beta readers, let me know if you want the update.
If I’ve learned anything from writing it is that, like any discipline, it is a mirror for life itself. You make mistakes, you learn, you adapt, and overcome. If you fuck up, you take the positive, leave the negative, and try your best to use that experience to grow. Doing the opposite will never get you where you want to be. It is also monumentally important to let others in on the things that are important to you, to take help and wisdom from others and give it when you can. It is a much longer and harder road when you try to go alone.
This letter is for the girl in the blue dress. You know who you are and that I’ve wanted to contact you. My name is Rider. My handle on the BrickLog is RK466. You can contact me at #1107381980085.
However, since I know this letter will have far more readers than just you, the following is for all those who are not the girl in the blue dress. Blue, you can skip to the end.
Everyone else, I want to tell you a story. It’s about love, and longing, and the childish games Watchers play—at least one in particular—in the service of those first two things. I’m hoping my story will convince you to help me with something, because I desperately need your aid.
The first time I saw her was in Pompeii. She was walking towards me, up the sloping street, wearing a blue dress. She carried a basket of olives on her hip, which was swaying, her eyes locked on the mountain behind us. When she noticed me noticing her, she recognized me instantly as a Watcher, like herself, and asked me: “Are you enjoying the show?”
I said “Yes”.
“Me too,” she said with a smile. “This one’s my favorite.”
That city in its prime is more beautiful than you can imagine without seeing it firsthand. It’s an old Schwarbrick (sorry, Schwarzschild-Kubrick Show, if that wasn’t clear), so the ticket only costs a few dozen seconds. The streets are vigorous, still brimming with life, hundreds of people all passing along their kinetic energy in a crashing, haphazard fashion. And when the mountain finally blows, and the jet black streams darken the sky in an instant and that sound—oh God, that terrible sound—penetrates you so deep it could bury you, you know why we do this, why those few dozen seconds of our lives are nothing for the joy of witnessing a Schwarbrick like this.
You think: This is why we watch.
The advertisements all push the war shows these days, but I prefer natural disasters. The heroics are better, more organic. If you’ve never seen one of the Natural Crisis ‘bricks, you don’t know what you’re missing. I consider myself an addict. It used to be because of my morbid fascination with all the blood, the fires and the suffering. But these days it’s because of her.
I won’t give up searching until I find her.
During every great catastrophe in human history there has always been someone standing by, laughing. And when I first laid eyes on her, loitering up the stony road in Pompeii with her basket of olives towards the place at the top of the rise where she would have the best view of Vesuvius, the vantage clearest of vineyards and tombs, I knew she was the type to laugh, not out of sadism, but because to her this really was just a show.
Then the caldera cracked and my eyes were drawn away from her to the eruption rising to cover the sky with obsidian dust, and by the time I thought to look for her again, she was gone.
The next time I saw her was in Rome. It was 217 AD. Most show-goers watch in marathons: a week in Ancient Rome, a week in China, a day or two on a certain stretch of the North Atlantic of a silent, iceberg-laden night, because buying ‘bricks in bulk is cheaper, costing only a few minutes for each show rather than the hours or days they would cost to purchase tickets for individually.
She was watching the Rome shows this week, same as me. It was the evening of the Coliseum fires.
We were both exploring the hallways outside the arena as workers prepared for a gladiatorial match that was to take place the following day. A low blanket of charcoal clouds belched murmurs of thunder through the dimming sky.
I don’t recall how many people died that night, if there was even a record. But I recall their faces well, so placid and unaware.
I found myself walking suddenly behind a woman whose stride and swaying hips seemed familiar. But I couldn’t place exactly where from.
Then I saw the blue dress; the same she was wearing in Pompeii.
She strolled casually, not making much effort to fit in, because she knew she didn’t have to. She was still carrying her basket of olives. I assumed it was her immersion prop, to make her presence in times that were not her own more convincing. Mine is a pair of rope sandals, uncomfortable as a plague, but they fit well (enough) in most historical ‘bricks.
The girl looked back at me and smiled. She had vibrant freckles, amber hair that fell in slow-moving curls, olive skin so smooth it appeared oiled under the torchlight. I knew it was her as soon as our eyes met.
She kept pace with me and eventually said, in a language distinctly not Ancient Latin: “Hey, you. Fancy seeing you here. You like this type of ‘brick, huh?”
I told her I did.
“Natural Crisis week is my all-time fave,” she said. “When you’re done here, though, you should skip the Titanic and check out the S.S. Sultana instead. It’s a much better ‘brick, and a lot less crowded.”
I saw her wink as we entered the glow under a lantern. I stopped, taking her arm gently. “You know, these are always more fun with another person. Would you like to watch this one together?” I asked her.
A sudden snap of thunder spooked a pack of hyenas in one of the cages nearby. A crowd of people gathered to watch the handler desperately trying to sing them calm again. Non volo! He cried. Non volo! Non volo, non volo—
“No,” she said over my shoulder. “Sorry, but I like to watch alone.”
When I looked again, she was gone.
We all saw the finger of lightning and heard the deafening cries. It was no surprise for me, as I knew it was coming. But when the bright flash licked down against the top of the Colosseum, and the flames budded from the wood supports and spread and scattered, it was suddenly as if the whole world had ended.
I felt a hand brush my back, soft and reassuring. A flash of blue passed my peripheral vision. But when I tried to find her, I could not.
I went to the S.S. Sultana next. I was young, could afford to shave a few more days off my life to buy another Schwarbrick ticket, and it was one I had never seen.
I stood on the main deck and brushed her shoulder with mine. She looked stunning. She wore a fur coat over her blue dress, for the night was frigid and the surface of the Mississippi caked with drifts of ice.
It’s a short show, the Sultana; only a few minutes to view. We didn’t have much time.
She smiled at me and took my arm, said, “Boom,” and pointed toward the boiler. We were knocked apart as the true sound of the explosion split the frosty night, and somewhere among the din, I heard her laughing.
“That always gets me!” She chuckled as we found each other again amid the chaotic screaming of the crowd. She propped herself steady on the rail as the deck tilted and people began jumping overboard, screaming.
“This is great!” I said, shouting over the noise. “I’ve never seen this one before!”
“I know!” she said, and grinned.
The fireball ascended above us like a beacon, and in that crimson light I saw something about her I hadn’t noticed before: she had a scar tattoo of a star under her eye that bunched up as if it was twinkling when she smiled.
“Let’s go to the Egyptian Plague,” I said.
“The Egyptian Plague!” I repeated. “Come on! It’s great!”
She left my arm, turned and made fast for her extraction line on the second deck. “I’ve gotta go,” she said.
“Wait! What’s your name?”
Then my own extraction point out of the Schwarbrick opened, and I exited back into the present, disappointed, but still flying off the feel of her touch. Many centuries in the past, the Sultana’s second deck began to sink beneath the lapping freeze of the rough-and-tumble Mississippi.
I didn’t see her in Egypt, nor in Babylon. I snuck up on someone I thought was her in California at Donner Lake, hiding in the snow drifts behind a thermal shield, but I was mistaken. That watcher was an older woman, brunette and irritated I’d crashed on her show. She made a joke that this was a bad time to be sneaking up on people, and that if I’d done it to the wrong party I would probably get eaten. We started talking and ended up getting along, shared a bowl of soup and watched the cannibals devour each other.
When I finally saw my girl again, it was in the Anasazi Famine of 1299. She was walking among the corpses, holding a fox skin over her nose. The sweet smell of rot lingered like an echo over that doomed city. She was wearing her blue dress. I could see it from all the way across the dust-bitten valley, like a single drop of color on a gray, apocalyptic canvas.
Neither of us spoke. She only took my hand, and we walked in silence among them, an entire civilization dead to starvation. The few Anasazi who were still alive picked through the ruins and the streets in a last desperate attempt to find food. The dead offered no complaint.
History has come to know them as The Old Ones. That is what Anasazi means, a name they surely did not call themselves. Their language is lost and cannot be learned even by the most dedicated Schwarbrick aficionados—one of the few such languages the fandom has yet to crack (I know, because aside from being a Watcher, I’m also a Cracker; meaning, I dedicate the vast majority of my free time when I’m not ‘bricking to solving the lost languages of the past we hear in the ‘bricks; it makes the experience richer).
But in their places, dead or alive they looked no older than us—smaller perhaps, rougher, harder—but no older.
I didn’t see it as a good time to ask for a second date. There would be another time, I told myself. There always is.
I now must apologize, dear reader, if I have misled you thus far. Even thinking about her makes it difficult to write. I’m writing all of this to you because I need your help. What I ask is simple: if you see her, you must show her this letter. I need to see her again.
You must give her this letter. She’ll know who I am by reading it and, I hope, will seek me out, since my efforts to find her have been haphazard at best, and most of the time, altogether fruitless.
I’m not some creep in the bushes, you see. I know my feelings are mutual, even if she does play hard-to-get. I’ve known ever since she kissed me above the flooded valleys of the Yangtze in 1931 AD, the last time I saw her.
Three million people died that year in the floods. She came to the show drunk. She sat close to me on the hillside, her arm entangled in mine and her soft head resting pleasantly on my shoulder. We both speculated on the horror of losing one’s home to the rising black waters, or one’s family, then suddenly, she kissed me.
Her lips tasted of wine and the gray, forgotten future. When she pulled back she had rain in her eyes and a smile caught between her dimples.
“I know we’re not supposed to interfere when we watch,” she said. “But haven’t you ever wanted to?”
“What’s your name?” I said.
“That would be interfering.”
She slid a finger along the top knuckle of my right hand, softly wiping away the raindrops gathered there.
“We’re not interfering at all! And who cares? You some sort of BrickLogger?”
“Loggers aren’t the only ones who care about all the innocent people who get killed when we interfere.”
“How do you know anyone does? All that’s been proven is it creates a failed timeline.”
She squeezed my hand and stood up on her heels, kissing me deeper than before. “I gotta go.”
Someone screamed on the river below, a man clinging desperately to a raft made from doors wound together with chicken wire, the pregnant black waters fighting to pull him under.
When I looked up again, she was falling back through her extraction point into her own time.
“Wait! How can I contact you?” But she wasn’t there.
And again, after our picnic at Fort Point in 1906, as we watched San Francisco collapse to the malicious arithmetic of the quakes; and the bombing of Hiroshima; and the time we stood with hands clasped tight as the women buried their children at Wounded Knee.
She’s playing games with me.
You must find her, dear reader. Whoever, whenever you are, there is a significant chance she is nearby. I know, because she told me this week is her favorite. I’ve left copies of this letter in every ‘brick currently being shown.
She isn’t hard to recognize. She wears a blue cotton dress, a simple garment that could fit easily anytime, anywhere. Sometimes she carries a basket of olives as an immersion prop. Her hair will be done up in whatever style is trendy in your time. She will be close to wherever you find this letter. She always knows where to get the best views.
In return for your help, I will help you. I know I am only a stranger to you—some words written on a piece of paper. But have you not also loved and longed for one who toyed so indecisively with your heart? Would you not do anything to secure their love, so you might be happy?
If she isn’t there, the advice I’m about to give you will still be useful. By law and the terms of the Schwarzschild-Kubrick Show user agreement, I must be purposefully vague in what I am about to say. But it is monumentally important that you listen, and listen well. Your life depends on it.
For My Blue: Call me already. I’m running out of time and can’t keep chasing you around through the ‘bricks like this. I know you’re in just as much time-debt as I am. You’re being childish by pretending to be interested; either you’re interested, or you’re not. If so, just call. I hope your answer is yes.
For everyone else: Very soon, you should put down whatever you’re doing and start to run.
*First published in Nonlocal Science Fiction, December 2015
(Want to read this story on your Kindle? Download it here)