You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Psycho Chick-

Jason Ford was a predator. Oh, he didn't think of himself as a predator. In fact, if you could get into Jason's shallow mind you would find he seldom thought of himself at all. Jason led a thoroughly unexamined life.

Jason had enough self-discipline to have mastered the art of driving a truck. He lacked the self-discipline to save his money and buy a truck of his own. Jason was all about his appetites, and how to fulfill them. That is how he came to be an itinerant truck driver, traveling by bus from job to job.

That is how he ended up on Greyhound bus 896, making the milk run to Salem, Oregon.

As soon as Jason stepped onto the bus his instincts brought his head around. He locked onto the young blond sitting halfway back on the right side of the bus. Female, attractive in a desperate sort of way. Obviously not mentally stable.

Did he smell her? Did some scent bring his other senses on track and focus his attention on this potential prey? Or were there psychic elements involved, instincts that went far back into the sub-human source of his genetic substrates? Jason did not care. No part of him questioned the power or source of his instincts.

He had appetites, and this forlorn creature would satisfy them for a time.

Though the bus was not crowded he made his way down the isle and sat next to the young woman. She glanced at him, then returned her gaze to the bus platform outside of the window. To a trained eye that glance would have indicated the disease below the surface. Paranoid schizophrenic? Bipolar?

Jason had no thought there. He knew she was crazy, that she was a psycho chick. Easy pickings.

He settled back and paid her no attention. Her gaze took in whatever scene passed by outside the bus as the lumbering vehicle got moving. Did any of what passed register on her mind, or was she rehearsing some internal hell as the unseen world passed before her eyes?

Jason had no thoughts on the matter. He took in her form, pleased that whatever was happening inside of her had not yet robbed her of youth or beauty. She was a bit disheveled, and there was a lot of evidence that her seams were slowly unraveling. Still, there was enough there to meet his baser needs.

He was not ungenerous. He would give her as much pleasure as he could manage while satisfying himself. If she proved unreceptive, there were other ways. Though by no means a deep thinker Jason had cunning.

"Going far?" he asked. She started, looked at him for a second, and then returned her gaze to the passing countryside.

"No." she said.

He let a few more miles pass before he said more. He was not a man of many words, and he was not seeking conversation. He just wanted to get her used to his voice. He wanted her to become comfortable with his presence.

"Going to see family?" he asked.

She shook her head, and continued her study of the lights and shadows outside of their little world.

"I have a driving job in Portland." Jason offered. "In a few days."

There was no response.

"You look like you might be hungry." said Jason. "I could buy you some dinner later, if you want."

She said nothing, but shifted a bit. He could tell he had touched an important point. She had not eaten for some time. He let the bait sit.

"I'm going to Salem." she finally mumbled. "I'm sick in the head. I want to go to the state hospital. They help me, sometimes."

"We could have dinner in Salem, then." said Jason. She nodded, and continued to gaze out of the window.

More miles crawled by. The bus stopped from time to time. Drop off two. Pick up three. The bus remained always less than a quarter full. Jason relaxed next to his quarry. He anticipated satisfaction, but schooled himself not to show his hand too soon.

Eventually he pulled out his wallet. He opened it with care, allowing the stack of hundred dollar bills inside to catch what little light was in the bus. He counted slowly, silently, being sure that she could see this wealth out of the corner of her eye.

He slipped out a fifty, and put the wallet back in his pocket.

"Are you needing any money?" he asked. "I can spare a little if you do."

She continued to look outside. She shook her head again.

Jason folded the bill and placed it in the breast pocket of his shirt. He settled back and closed his eyes.

"Salem." said the driver. The bus rolled slowly to a stop at the terminal. Jason stood, and waited for the young woman to stand up. Without even looking at him she stood and moved down the isle toward the exit.

Jason followed. She headed right out toward the street, and did not head toward the luggage area. Jason kept by her side. She said nothing, but did not change her pace. She tolerated his continued presence. Jason smiled.

As they approached a small diner Jason stepped ahead of her and opened the door. She went a few paces on, then stopped. Without looking at him she turned and entered. Jason guided her to a booth near the window. She sat and stared outside, just as she had on the bus.

When the waitress came by the table Jason ordered chicken fried steak and potatoes for them both. He ordered two coffees. She said nothing. She studied the street beyond the window without interest.

The food came. They ate in silence. Though she made steady work of the eating, and ate every bite, she displayed no interest in the food. Always her eyes wandered to the window and the scene outside. Never did they make contact with his.

The meal done and paid for, Jason once again held the door for her. She stepped out onto the sidewalk and paused.

"I need to get to the hospital." she said. Her voice was barely audible.

Jason said nothing. She did not move. He gently took her by the arm and guided her down a side street. She did not resist.

He found a motel and soon had them registered. The clerk paid them no mind as he handed Jason the key. She let Jason guide her to the room, and entered when he opened the door. She dropped into one of the motel room chairs and huddled there.

Jason went to the bathroom and got two plastic tumblers. With his back to the room he broke a small capsule and dumped the contents into one of the tumblers. Jason returned to his quarry, and set the tumblers on the table. Fishing a flask from one of his pockets he divided the contents between the tumblers. He pushed one toward the young woman. She took it in her hand.

Still without looking at Jason she said, "Lock the door. Pull the blinds. Please."

Jason turned from her and did so. Returning, he picked up his glass from the table and began to drink. She had already finished her drink, and was busy studying the pattern in the carpet. When her head nodded a bit Jason put down his glass and went to her.

He lifted her chin and looked into her eyes. Yes, the drug had taken affect. She was there yet not there. Clay. Putty. A toy for his pleasure.

Jason got her up and onto the bed. With a little effort he got her undressed. She was not unwilling, but would easily loose track of what they were doing and just stare off into space. Not a big change, in her case.

He took his time. He posed her and took photographs. He was careful with these, as they could serve as evidence if things ever went sour. He used a digital camera, and would soon have the photos uploaded to a safe site and deleted from the camera. It was a small camera, easily cast aside or flushed down a toilet.

When this game grew tedious he had his way with her. Physically she was all there, and responded to his touch. Her will was gone, and she would have no memory of these events. Even so Jason liked to give his victims pleasure. It enhanced his own experience, and if he were a thinking man he might deduce that it offset his guilt to some degree.

He had taken her in as many ways as he could manage before his stamina faltered. Jason then got her under the covers and snuggled in with her. He set the alarm on his telephone to awaken him long before the drugs wore off. He wanted to be far away by the time she was conscious.

Before he fell asleep Jason sensed a shift in his awareness. He was not laying next to her in the bed, but standing by her side as she sat at the table. She was fully dressed.

She asked him to close the curtains. Jason put his drink on the table and turned from her to do so. He picked up his drink when he came back, sipping slowly and watching as she finished hers. He watched for the tell-tale signs that the drug had taken affect.

An instant later he became aware of being on the bed, his hands and feet tied to the bed frame and both of his socks stuffed into his mouth. He was naked, and she was doing something out of sight. He was vaguely aware of his own thought. She had switched the drinks and turned the tables on him.

He found the situation erotic, and felt himself respond. The young woman came into view. She was unclothed, and carrying something in her hands. She glanced at his manhood and smirked. Not quite what he had hoped for, but obviously she had something interesting planned.

She put several items down on his chest. Three or four single edged razor blades, a pair of pliers and a box of course salt. As she pulled a chair up close to him Jason began to doubt the outcome of this new situation.

"Like I told you, I was on my way to the state hospital." she said in a quiet voice. "I need help. Not the kind of help you wanted to give me. Real help." She gave his manhood a disdainful look, and began to unwrap one of the razor blades.

"When I get depressed I like to cut on myself." she continued. "Just a little. To let out the pain." She made a shallow cut on the back of her left forearm. The blood welled and ran slowly down her arm. She smiled.

"Now I have you." she said. Jason began to tremble. "So much pain. In me. In you. I plan to let it all out."

Jason screamed as she leaned forward and began the first cut down the center of his chest. He could tell that she knew what she was doing. The socks in his mouth absorbed the scream admirably. It swallowed up the ones that followed, as well.

Jason felt a shift in his awareness as she opened the box of salt. He was standing by the table, drink in hand. She was sitting next to the table, fully clothed and studying the pattern in the carpet. Her drink sat, untouched, by her elbow.

He picked up her glass and took it into the bathroom. He poured both drinks down the toilet. He came out and sat in the other chair on the opposite side of the table from his intended victim.

His first call on his cell phone was to directory assistance. The second was to a taxi cab company. In less than thirty minutes the two of them were on the road. The cab driver had been hesitant to go where Jason had requested, but two of the hundred dollar bills from Jason's wallet convinced him.

She huddled against Jason in the back of the cab. Jason did not know if it was just some need of hers, or a genuine affection. He was not a deep thinker, and he just held her close to him. When they arrived he helped her out of the cab, and dismissed the driver.

The admitting attendant went through the ritual of admission. She had been there before. If her name was mentioned Jason did not catch it. He did not want to. Soon she was whisked away into the bowels of the state hospital for the mentally ill.

Jason turned to go, and then turned back. He reached into the pocket of his shirt and pulled out the fifty he had planned on leaving for her back at the motel.

"Here." he said, handing it to the attendant at the desk. "See that she gets this when she gets out."

The attendant nodded. "Want a receipt?"

Jason shook his head, and went out into the darkness. A thinking man would have pondered the experience as he walked away into the night.

Jason was not a thinking man. He just faded into the darkness. His appetites were not satisfied, but for the moment they were quiet. That was good enough for him.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


a short story by Michael R. Lockridge

Bob looked spectacular behind his semicircular desk. It was festooned with lights and screens and various writing instruments. The walls of his sumptuous office were covered with video screens displaying thousands of scenes from the many thousands of planets over which Bob was the final authority.

Ogwan Spen entered the office, escorted by a lithe female secretary who could have been a member of any of several hundred sentient species. Whatever her actual species she exuded an aura of competence and deep sensuality. Ogwan had his recording device running, capturing all sensory and telemetry data in a multitude of frequencies and dimensional levels.

This was his first big break as a junior reporter. His almost unknown home planet fostered a very limited news agency, and it was a major coupe to get to interview Bob. Indeed, Bob remained a mystery among most of the planets under his sway. Who was the real Bob? What was he like? What did he eat for breakfast? Would he plunge half of the known galaxy into war before lunch, just to bring a glorious peace before dinner?

Bob turned in his opulent yet functional desk chair, and stood to greet the young reporter.

"Ah, Mr. Spen." said Bob, stepping forward and offering Ogwan a warm smile and hearty handshake. Bob looked very much like every bipedal humanoid Ogwan had ever seen, all rolled into one and made a hundred percent better. Ogwan liked him immediately, which made him instantly suspicious.

Bob nodded to his secretary, who walked sensuously across the office in a display of physical motion that would overwhelm the male populations of a thousand planets. Ogwan had a great deal of trouble focusing until she had closed the office door, with her on the other side.

Bob indicated a sitting area across the room. The windows on three sides of the sitting area provided fabulous views of space. Though it seemed a bit provincial, Ogwan could not help but look for his own planet as they found their seats.

"It's over there." said Bob, gesturing toward a cluster of stars of medium brightness.

"Pardon me?" Ogwan said.

"Your planet. It is over there."

"Oh. Yes." replied Ogwan. He felt slightly embarrassed.

"Everyone does that when they sit here." said Bob. It was particularly believable when offered with that winning smile. Ogwan believed.

"So, what is it you wanted to know?" asked Bob.

"Our university in Pocknar discovered a new node in the Great Network. Several Network Scholars were exploring it when the node became unavailable." Ogwan began.

"Oh, that." Bob replied. He reapplied the smile that had seemed so winning. "Isn't my office opulent? Isn't it splendid? Did you see your planet from my window?"

Ogwan was surprised. He was not surprised by the attempt at evasion. Ogwan had done enough interviews with persons of authority that he expected some evasion. He was surprised that the renowned Bob was so blatant about the evasion.

"The scholars were concerned that a new node would appear and then disappear like that." Ogwan continued. "Most new nodes entering the great network appear and are heralded and welcomed. There is much rejoicing, and the exchange of knowledge is great."

"Ah, that is usually the case." said Bob. "This node proved a little different. Do you really know who I am?"

"Uh, yes." Ogwan said. "You are the personalized representation of the great network that came into being when several information networks from a number of planets accidentally began sharing data across space. The interaction led to a personification of the network itself, and you sprang into being."

"A textbook answer, but true enough." said Bob. "As such I began to coordinate the know networks into the Great Network. I actively sought emerging networks and brought them in, making necessary adjustments to make each fit seamlessly into the whole."

"Some speculate that the war between Arglebargle Seven and the Newt Colonies of Schmegma Prime were one of those adjustments." Ogwan put forward. He tried hard to look like an experienced reporter uncovering an unpleasant secret. The projection fell flat.

"Yes, little things like that take place from time to time." said Bob. "It is not easy being an accidental artificial intelligence of phenomenal power. There is no training manual, you know. Anyway, the transition lead to a very strong node, and a lot fewer Newts."

"And that is a good thing?" Ogwan asked.

"How many Newts have you known?" rejoined Bob.

Ogwan gave up on that point.

"So, about the vanished node..."

"It's still there." said Bob. "I am still getting to know the content. Testing to see if it can integrate without costing us any more Newts."

Ogwan sat and waited. He had learned on the Great Network that just waiting was a great reporting tool.

Bob also sat and waited. He looked out of the window. He adopted a wistful expression.

Ogwan continued to wait.

"You know, I don't have a home planet." said Bob. He sighed. The sigh was wistful, as well.

Ogwan decided to wait a bit more.

"Ok. Ok." said Bob. "I am holding back this node for two reasons."

Ogwan almost stopped waiting. He decided to wait a bit longer until he decided whether or not to stop waiting.

"The planet at the center of the new node is named Earth." said Bob. "They have Ebay."

Ogwan couldn't wait this one out. "What is Ebay?" he asked.

Bob smiled. He felt like he was back in control of the interview. He also felt like that was an illusion. For a being that was largely just an illusion in the first place, it was a bad feeling. He decided to go with the feeling that he was back in control of the interview. That made him feel better.

"Ebay is a system of exchange these humans have on their network." said Bob. "Human is what these bipedal humanoids call themselves. Of course we call similar species humanoid, ourselves. I chose to appear as a humanoid, though a very good looking humanoid if I do say so myself."

Ogwan looked confused. That made Bob feel even more in control. He should feel in control, being the personification of a vast interplanetary network of obscene hugeness.

"Kind of a chicken and the egg thing, if you knew what chickens or eggs were." said Bob. "Anyway, we don't have anything like this Ebay. I want to think about how to introduce such a revolutionary concept. I don't want to start any more damned wars or anything. I already have a planet full of bereaved Newts to deal with."

Ogwan just nodded. He was beginning to feel out of his depth. Even so, he thought there might be some kind of story in all of this. He checked his recorder, and found it to be getting all sorts of good stuff. The indicators for seventh dimensional data were especially promising. Yes, he could get a good story here.

"They also have God."

Ogwan looked up, startled. "You mean they have the concept of God? The idea of a supreme being and all of that, a myth from the depths of their history?"

"No." said Bob. "They actually have God. He has a particular affinity for their little planet and their petty doings."

"Are you saying God is real?" asked Ogwan.

"Why, yes, God is real." said Bob. "I have lunch with him every Tuesday."

"And, of all of the people in the galaxy, these creatures know God?"

"Well, more or less." said Bob. "It is more just a matter of Him knowing them. He really likes them. In fact, He has pinned a lot of the future of the universe on their doings."

Ogwan was flabbergasted. "This is going to be an amazing story." he said.

"I suppose." said Bob. "But I think the Ebay thing is going to be more significant to most members of the Great Network."

Ogwan was incredulous. "How can you say that?"

"Hey, God fell out of fashion in this part of the galaxy a long time ago." said Bob. "No matter what you say, it will just be old news. Ebay, however, that is going to be big."

Ogwan continued to be incredulous. He tried very hard to make his face represent his true state of incredulity. It made him tired.

"Anyway, the only ones in the Great Network who really believe in God are the Newts, and you see what happened to them." said Bob. "I think we are done here. How about we go get some lunch?"

Ogwan just nodded, and followed Bob out of the office.

"There is a bistro just around the corner I think you will like." said Bob. "God just loves the place. I can't think of a better recommendation."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Man of Many Dimensions-

A Man of Many Dimensions-

a short story by Michael R. Lockridge

The reporter sat precariously on the three-legged camp stool his host had offered him. His host, Garmen Grender, sat on a similar stool, and seemed quite comfortable.

Comfortable, but obviously bored.

Garmen made another cast. The ripples moved out steadily from the little float that bobbed on the water.

“Tell me again how you learned I was here.” Garmen said, addressing the young reporter. “What was your name, again? Dave?”

“David Thompson, of the Winston Valley Gazette.” the young reporter replied. “I was researching a UFO encounter in the north county, and the guy mentioned what you were. He told me just where to find you.”

Garmen chuckled. “Those UFO guys are usually pretty off.” he mumbled. “I will have to keep an ear to the ground in the future.”


“Eh?” grunted Garmen. “Oh, nothing. Just making a note to myself. Go on with your questions.”

“The gentleman who studies UFO’s said that you were a dimensional shifter.”

“Did he, per chance, explain what that might be?” queried Garmen, turning his eyes from the float out on the water to the bright eyed young man.

“Not really. He started talking techno-babble and drawing pictures in the dust.”


“I gathered that he believed you traveled between dimensions.” the young reporter ventured.

“You haven’t been doing this very long, have you?” inquired Garmen.

“I am a first year journalism student, over at Winston Junior College.” replied the young reporter. He sounded a bit defensive. “I am a stringer for the Gazette.”

Garmen’s eyes returned to his fishing float. He watched it bob serenely on the surface of the lake. The young reporter waited, trying to appear patient.

“Well, this time your lead paid off.” Garmen finally said. “I am, indeed, from another dimension.”

The young reporter was taken aback. “Uh. Which dimension?” he asked.

“I don’t really know. I have been moving from dimension to dimension for the better part of a year.”

“Uh. Wow. What is your dimension like?”

Garmen paused a moment, and reeled in his hook. The bait was missing. “Sneaky little bastards.” he mumbled. He fitted a new worm on the hook, cast it out, and settled back as if no question had been asked.

“Pretty much like this one.” he finally answered.

“Uh. Pretty much?”

“Well, exactly like this one might not be an overstatement.”


“I don’t know for sure. So, pretty much. Exactly.”

“Um. OK. No real difference, then?” continued the young reporter.

“None that I can detect.”

“How do you know you have changed dimensions, then?”


“Mathematics?” asked the young reporter.

“Mathematics. And technology.”

“Uh. Yes. I see.”

“Do you?” asked Garmen.

“How do you know you aren’t just going back and forth between two dimensions that are just alike?”

“Wow. That one verged on being original.” said Garmen. He set his pole down into a holder that had been driven into the ground by his stool. “Come with me.”

They walked together to a motor home that sat nearby. Garmen opened a door near the back. Inside were many wires and circuit boards. Some lights were blinking here and there.

“Technology.” said Garmen.

The young reporter snapped a picture.

Garmen pointed to a small monitor in the corner. Complex equations were drifting across the blue background. The symbols were bright gold.

“Mathematics?” the young reporter asked.

Garmen nodded. He closed the door.

“All of the dimensions are pretty much the same?”

Garmen nodded again. “So far.” he said.

“That must be pretty boring.” the young reporter observed.

“Yep.” agreed Garmen. “That’s why I am fishing just now. I am taking a bit of a break from the whole dimensional thing. It’s pretty boring.”

“I can see that.” said the young reporter. He offered his hand. Garmen shook it. “Thanks for the interview.”

Garmen watched the young man walk to his car. He waved when the young reporter turned his way. The young fellow waved back, got in his car, and drove slowly away.

“I should just print up a handout.” Garmen said, as he sauntered back to his fishing spot. “Frequently asked questions. That’s the third time I have seen that young man in the last three dimensions.”

Garmen picked up his pole, and slowly reeled in the hook. The bait was missing again.

“What did he say his name was? Dave? Could have sworn it was Richard.” he mumbled as he baited his hook. He cast it out into the water, and watched the ripples spread from the float as it bobbed on the surface.

“Over three hundred dimensions and the only difference I have found in almost a year of travel is one man’s name.” he mumbled. He started to think on this, but was interrupted when the float ducked under the water.

“Ho! Fish on! Now that’s a change worth noting! I may have fish for supper!”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Can I Keep Him?

Can I Keep Him?

a short story by Michael R. Lockridge

Bobby Blanchardt could not figure out just what it was he was looking at. It was not particularly large. It was about the size of a kitten. Though it sat more like a monkey or small man, it did not really feel like that. Feel was not the right word, but Bobby could not find a better one.

He knew that most people would find the creature disgusting. Hair sprouted from one place or another, but most of the skin was exposed. It was dry in places, wet in others. Some spots seemed to ooze a bit if the creature moved. The skin was bone white in places, several shades of red in others, and never a color that seemed right or natural.

Least natural were the eyes. They hid malice. Oh, they were big and frightened and innocent looking. They drew Bobby in. Yet he sensed a malice under the “help me” they tried to display. Still, they drew him in.

On impulse he reached down and picked it up. The boney tail wrapped around his arm in a possessive grip. The protrusions that covered the ridge along the back of the tail prodded his flesh and made him momentarily afraid. The little creature adjusted the grip and seemed immediately more pleasant to hold. If it weren’t for the sting of what felt like a paper cut on the back of his left hand Bobby might have thought he had imagined the boney grip.

“You are a kitten.” Bobby said. He was making a mental shift that was common among humans. He expected it to purr, but it did not. Bobby just kept trying to make it a kitten in his mind. The neighbors of Bergen Belsen or Dachau made a similar shift in thinking when they learned to live with something evil nearby.

It is thus that Bobby Blanchardt came to have a demon. It may have been just a tiny demon, but it was a demon nonetheless.

His mother assumed that Bobby had created an imaginary creature to fill his lonely hours when he came home begging “Can I keep him?” She could not see the creature he held in his arms when he asked her if he could keep it. Oh, her eyes saw it, but the information got lost somewhere on the way to her brain. She did not have the longing that Bobby had, or it might have actually appeared to be a kitten.

No, her mind simply lost the information. The kitten was imaginary, and that was that.

Bobby’s mother had a mind that embraced convenience. It had served her when Bobby’s father had walked away two years before, and it served her now. She said, “Yes, you can keep him.”

“I’ll name him Fluffy.” Bobby announced. It was the least fluffy thing in Bobby’s small world, but the name contributed to the illusion. Almost he could feel the thick fur when he stroked his new pet. He did not stroke it often. It felt boney, dry and scaly, except when he touched one of the oozing places. No, he seldom even touched it when he could avoid it.

That did not mean it was not always near him. Often it sat and just stared at him. When Bobby would go somewhere it would jump up and huddle on one of his shoulders, the nasty tail wrapped around him possessively. Bobby learned to ignore it most of the time, except when his mother asked about his “kitten.”

The fact that it never ate, never drank and seemed to never need to use any kind of litter box contributed to his mother’s belief that it was just imaginary.

For Bobby it was just there. It sat by his bed when he slept. It invaded his dreams. It was there when he ate or brushed his teeth. It was just there, as if it had always been there.

It went to school with Bobby. For weeks it just went there with him, sitting on his shoulder. Once he arrived at school it would jump down and find someplace to sit and stare at him. Bobby got used to it, and stopped thinking about it.

Somehow he knew better than to tell his few friends about his kitten. It might get complicated.

Then one day Ralphie was walking by the lunch table at which Bobby was sitting. Ralphie was different. He walked with crutches and wore a helmet all of the time. Bobby had never paid much attention to Ralphie, but this time he could think of nothing else.

He noticed how unsteady Ralphie was as he walked. How much he depended on those crutches. Bobby felt Fluffy’s eyes boring into the back of his head. Though he knew that Fluffy was involved somehow, he also knew that what he did next was his own choice.

He stuck out his foot and hooked one of those precious crutches and sent Ralphie sprawling between the tables. Nobody saw him do it. He knew he should react to the blood that came from Ralphie’s broken lip. He should feel sorry, or sad, or even gleeful. He felt nothing.

Fluffy seemed heavier when he leaped up on Bobby’s shoulder for the walk home. However, by the time he reached his home Bobby no longer noticed.

Over the years the Ralphie type of incidents graduated into planned and carefully executed acts of meanness. When they were over Bobby always lacked any of the feelings he knew should accompany such minor evil. At such times he would sense that Fluffy had gotten bigger, and felt heavier on his shoulder. Then he would promptly forget the observation.

The night he took Suzie Wells out in his mom’s car was the first time he saw Fluffy grow. Suzie had seemed very interested in Bobby, and he felt some interesting things when he was around her. That night when she said “No!” he knew she meant “Yes!” Fluffy sat in the back seat and watched.

As Bobby fulfilled all of the desires Suzie must truly have toward him he saw Fluffy physically swell in the back seat. When Bobby was finished and Suzie huddled against the door of the car, weeping, he realized that she could actually see Fluffy over his shoulder. Seeing Fluffy must have done something to her, because she never told anyone about that night.

Over the years Bobby had gotten new friends. They liked the things Bobby would come up with for them to do. At least they did until, one by one, they began to disappear. Most were assumed to be runaways. Only Lenny disappeared in a way that could be explained. He vanished into Juvenile Hall, where he was found one day hanging from a shower curtain rod.

After that Bobby’s mom was on his back. She whined and wheedled, complaining about his bad friends and bad performance in school. She began to irritate Bobby. Even worse, she obviously irritated Fluffy.

Bobby couldn’t even remember how the baseball bat had come to be in his hand. He just remembered the satisfaction of swinging it, again and again. The hollow thunk when it hit. The warmth of the blood.

With his mother now gone and the evidence against him, Bobby soon found himself sharing a series of jail cells with Fluffy. It didn’t bother Fluffy. He just sat and stared. Even the fact that the cells were a bit cramped due to the increased dimensions of Fluffy did not bother Fluffy.

Bobby took to spending hours just sitting and staring back. He lost himself in those huge eyes. The malice was no longer hidden. It was exposed, and hungry. Fluffy would stare at Bobby. Bobby would stare at Fluffy.

They couldn’t put anyone in a cell with Bobby. Even the most hardened felon would beg to be let out after an hour of sharing the cell. Nobody cried when Bobby was convicted and moved away to prison to sit on Death Row.

For months that became years Bobby would sit and stare at Fluffy, and Fluffy would sit and stare at Bobby. The whole prison sighed a sigh of relief when Bobby finally lay on the table, tubes sticking out of his arm and his heart not beating. Even then he stared, even in death.

A great, hulking demon arrived in Hell that night. It was well known that his name was Fluffy. The other demons pointed and made signs behind Fluffy’s back, but none dared to do so to his face. He had fed well, and was greater than most demons in Hell. Not the greatest, but more than a match for any regular demon.

Fluffy dragged a man along behind him. Most of the demons drew back from the creature when they looked into his eyes. The eyes were filled with malice and devoid of fear. Fluffy dragged him downward and deeper into Hell.

“Hey, Boss!” Fluffy shouted as some broad, dark shoulders filled the passage ahead. The shoulders turned to reveal the Dark Lord himself.

“Oh, uh, hi Fluffy.” said the Dark Lord.

Fluffy dragged Bobby out of the shadows and held him by one arm in front of the Father of Lies. “I found him on the street where you left me, Boss. Can I keep him?”

The Master of Deceit looked at the human spirit dangling in front of his eyes. Bobby gave him a sullen and baleful look. The Dark Lord snorted.

“Wow.” he said. “Good work, Fluffy.”

“Thanks, Boss.” said Fluffy. “Can I keep him?”

“Uh. Sure.” said the Dark Lord. “What the Hell. Sure. Keep him.”

Fluffy hugged his prize to his chest and moved even deeper into the recesses of Hell. Finding a dark corner far from the writhing masses of tormented souls Fluffy put his pet down on the ground.

Fluffy sat, and began to stare at Bobby. Bobby sat and stared at Fluffy.

After what might have been a millennium or maybe a half hour, Bobby said, “Know what, Fluffy?”

Fluffy said nothing. He just raised the horny ridges above his eyes a bit in question.

“I don’t really think you are a kitten.”

For the first and last time in all of eternity laughter rang through the halls of Hell.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thomas Crossing-

Thomas Cross sat quietly at the head of the classroom, feeling slightly disoriented. It was a feeling that was becoming all to familiar. So familiar that it almost felt normal, like some core element of his life that was never enough in focus to recognize, but always there.

He sat at the teacher's desk. He was the teacher. He recalled that, as well as the nearly twenty years he had occupied that desk and taught generations of children to write. He had been writing just now when the feeling came over him. The pen was still in his hand, and the journal open on his desk. He put the cap on his pen, and put it in his pocket. He closed the journal and locked it in the left hand drawer of his desk.

Thomas stood with care. He did not like the feeling that had come over him. He was confused, but the confusion was deep beneath the surface of his awareness. He checked himself carefully, to be sure all of the parts were in the proper place. Yes, his old and tweedy suit felt right over the same body he had occupied over the course of many years.

He brushed at the pants, noticing that he might have to retire this comfortable suit one day soon. He liked the comfortable feel of old clothing, but it was necessary to keep up appearances when guiding young people through their educations. Or so the administrators often reminded him.

Thomas was glad none of the students were present to see his confused state. Most of them seemed to care for him, but it was not a good thing to burden his young charges with anything that did not move their educations forward.

He let himself out of his classroom into the main hallway. He headed down the hallway toward the teacher's lounge, intending to sit a bit and regain his composure. Then he would head home and see how he might be feeling. This was a strange feeling troubling him. Stranger, because it seemed to be purposefully avoiding his full awareness.

Even stranger was the end of the hallway. Where he ordinarily turned right there was no longer a right turn. The hallway ended in a brick wall, in front of which was a trophy case. He recognized the case, and the trophies inside. He recognized the hallway going off to the left from this main hall. He did not recognize the paneled wall that stood where the right hallway ought to be.

Thomas felt he had but two options. He might return the way he had come, and make his way out through the main entrance and find his car and go home. He might also take the left hallway and see what other strangeness lay in store for him. Somehow the prospect of exploring the strangeness seemed less daunting than trying to go on pretending nothing was wrong.

He turned left and went down the center of the hallway. He looked at each door as he walked, taking some comfort in their schoolish sameness. Classroom door after classroom door. Plain, functional, except for this one now standing before him. Heavy wood, stained glass window, and a dark arched encasement. It was wrong.

Thomas turned the handle and walked through. The pipe smoke on the other side was disconcerting. So were the many tables, and the large fireplace with the blazing fire on the grate. He glanced out the window on the far side of the room and glimpsed a gypsy wagon passing by, drawn by a single horse. Two men sat on the seat, and something shiny was mounted above their heads. The light that momentarily glinted off of the object disoriented Thomas further.

"Thomas!" called a fellow seated at a table beneath the window. The man waved a clay pipe at Thomas, inviting him over to the table. Thomas heard a sound like a door closing behind him. He turned and was somehow not terribly surprised to find the door he had just passed through to no longer be there. Just a dark paneled wall.

He straightened the pleats in his kilt and walked across the room. Thomas recognized the man seated at the table. Jenkins, one of his fellow teachers. He was momentarily taken aback by the long pointed ears, but could not guess why they bothered him. Half-elves like Jenkins often retained the pointed ears of their elven parents, even though they may assume almost exclusive human features in all other respects.

Thomas sat next to his friend and pulled his own pipe out of the pouch hanging from his belt. Jenkins tossed him a leather pouch and Thomas loaded his pipe. Without thought he took a pair of tongs from the holder on the small brazier on the table and picked up a tiny coal. He lit his pipe expertly, yet in the back of his mind he wondered at even knowing what the little brazier was for. The strange feeling that had nagged at him was back, and stronger than ever.

"The Headmaster is pleased by the progress of your students." Jenkins said. "He has said so rather frequently of late. I think he is trying to hold you up as a model instructor for me to emulate."

"Nonsense." said Thomas, feeling nonetheless pleased at the news. "Your students are progressing just fine. Anyway, I just teach them their letters and a bit of writing. Nothing like your courses in practical magic."

"I can only relate what I hear." said Jenkins. "Practical magic is important, that I grant. Still, your students write clearly and have imagination."

Thomas drew on his pipe in gentle puffs, and stared into the fire.

"Those feelings are bothering you again, aren't they?" Jenkins asked. Thomas nodded. "Let me brew you some head tea, my friend. It will make you right again in no time."

"Yes, perhaps." said Thomas. He pulled his pen from behind his ear, absently straightening the feathers. Jenkins already had some ink on the table. Thomas extracted a few papers from his inside jacket pocket, and laid them out on the table. "Perhaps I just need to write down some of these feelings while they are clear to me."

Thomas began to write, feeling the click and rebound of the keys. Something about that did not seem right. He glanced up from the screen and looked at his companion. The Jenkins IV unit sat passively across the table from him. Why they had chosen to give the IV model elven features still defied Thomas. Even so, the machine was a coworker and friend.

"Thomas Crossing, I think I need to make a few adjustments to your reality centers." said the Jenkins IV. "Your reality cohesion is slipping, and it is impacting your work."

Thomas recalled his name and what it meant. Thomas Crossing. He was a trans dimensional being who was able to phase between various planes of existence. Yes. That was the confusion. He was drawn to the human form. He found the creatures fascinating. Bound to only one reality and having relatively short lives these creatures had developed immense imaginations.

They were so finite, however. Locking his being into their form caused disturbances in his trans dimensional psyche. No wonder he was becoming disoriented.

"Yes, Jenkins. I think you are right." he said. "Please do so."

The Jenkins IV unit soon had the adjustments made, and Thomas Crossing felt a bit better. His cohesion was reestablished, and the multiverse was again clearly in perspective.

"Well, I have to log." said the Jenkins IV. "Will we play tomorrow?"

Thomas felt another moment of confusion. The Jenkins IV laughed.

"Thomas, whenever you log on as that trans dimensional being you get all whacked out." said the Jenkins IV. "Log out and take a break. You can't play this game all of the time."

The Jenkins IV froze and then faded away. Thomas stared at the space it had occupied.

"Yeah, I guess I should log out." said Thomas. He sighed. "I have a class to teach tomorrow."

A few keystrokes later Thomas Crossing felt a portion of his being fade away. Fortunately most of the other aspects of his trans dimensional being remained logged in. He stood up and turned toward the door, wondering what might be on the other side.

Only one way to find out. He stepped up and put his hand on the handle. A whole multiverse was on the other side. Taking a deep breath he turned the handle.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Networks and Beta Readers-

I recently read a book on getting a literary agent. It was a good book, well written and filled with the information I needed. The publication process is long, and the book helped to explain why that was the case.

Last night I finished my first edit of my first draft of Inn at the Edge of the World. It felt good to complete that part, even though I am far from done.

Apparently I should have a network of people who can help me with the next step. Beta readers. People who will read the raw text, and add their input.

I have been aware of networking for a long time. Networking for careers, and now networking for getting published. People serving as resources for one another in a given process.

I don't network well. I have little social drive, and this whole networking think is rather social. I just don't have the beta readers I would like to have.

This is awkward. The next step might be easier if I were studying writing in a school, with contacts and friends seeking publication. Unfortunately, I am pretty much alone in this.

Eventually I will find a way to get people to read the book, and comment and criticise. I will get to that rewrite, and be ready to seek representation by an agent.

Or, I could self-publish and learn my own marketing.

Meanwhile, I started the sequel. After all, editing and all of the other stuff is not writing.

Next up, Marcus and Ara. The tale of a growing relationship, filled with travel and adventure. Oh, and some steampunk. I just thought it would be fun.

Cruise of a Lifetime-

"Oh, John." said Martha. "Do you think it is really pirates?"

"I don't know, Martha." answered John. They had saved for years for this special cruise. Now here they were, huddled in their suite. Pirates!

"Ladies and gentlemen." called the Captain on the public address. "The approaching ship has fired a round across our bow, and demanded we stand down. We are currently bringing the ship to a stop."

Martha trembled in John's arms.

Minutes passed. They waited in silence.

"The pirates are approaching from the port side." called the Captain through the speaker in their room.

"That's our side, Martha." John said.

She nodded, and held him tighter.

"For those of you who have reserved action suites, I have unlocked your gun lockers on your private patios. Good hunting!"

John and Martha jumped up and ran to their patio. They could see the pirate ship clearly. The deck of the pirate ship crawled with milling bodies. They could see various rifles and several RPG's.

John popped the locker door, and handed Martha a Kevlar helmet and flack vest. As she donned her gear he put his on. He then pulled the two fifty caliber rifles from their racks and began mounting them on the gun mounts on the patio rail.

Martha was quickly bringing out boxes of ammunition.

As they were preparing they heard several opening shots ring out from the decks above.

"Hurry, John." said Martha. She was flushed with excitement. John smiled at his bride of so many years, and handed her a round.

Soon they were locked and loaded. Drawing a bead on the pirates, they let loose the first volley. They loaded again, and John adjusted his scope. Martha felt that hers was close enough, and let loose another round.

A pirate rolled from the ship and fell into the sea.

A single RPG round detonated somewhere below their level. For just a moment their view was obscured. Answering rounds rang out from the three action decks. Pirates were now jumping from their ship, which was on fire.

John began targeting pirates in the water. The rounds hitting the surface gave enough information to allow him to adjust his scope again. Martha gave hers just one click in elevation, and then they both began picking off pirates at will.

All too soon the pirate's ship listed and went under. There was no more motion from the bodies out on the sea. Some guests were still plinking at the dead targets.

"At ten bucks a round, I think I have had enough." said John, as he stowed his gear. He closed the locker when he was done, and turned to look at Martha.

Her face was flushed, and there was a gleam in her eye. She took him by the hand and lead him back into the bedroom of their suite.

Yep, thought John. The best second honeymoon ever.

Martha demonstrated that she very much agreed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dominant Species-

Scratches-All-the-Time entered the building at his leisure, found his place in the circle, and sat on his haunches. He lazily brought up his left hind leg and began to scratch slowly behind his left ear.

You're late. Observed The Alpha.

Scratches did not respond to the voice in his head. He switched to scratching his right foreleg with his teeth. Scratches thought The Alpha's obsession with human time to be quite unseemly for a Canine.

Why can't we have these meetings from home? grumbled Moves-Like-a-Bee. The Terrier was hopping around the circle, and being disgustingly pup-like. Not the proper behavior for a six year old. Middle-age should be more sedate, thought Scratches.

Tradition. said The Alpha. Pack meetings have always been in real groups.

So where is the traditional deer carcass?
asked Smells-Like-Lemons. His professionally done coif was accented by bright ribbons tied in his fur. You know how hard it is for me to get away.

Yeah, yeah. Fancy show dog. replied Bee.

Lemons gave him a haughty look, and then barked a doggish laugh. Lemons may look pretty, but he fought like a circle buzz-saw. Nobody would push him too far, and he knew it.

Back to business. said The Alpha. We have a problem. I got word at the Alpha meeting that our take-over of this planet has not gone unnoticed.

The whole circle sat up, ears erect. Whines and growls came from twenty three doggy throats.

A transmission was intercepted by the home world. he continued. The Vogons did a survey of this planet, and observed an inordinate number of us being served by the humans.

I knew no good would come of those leash laws. complained Rolls-in-Crap. Too obvious that we are in charge. Being fed, being walked. All of our needs met.

We lost our cover when the humans killed off so many of the feral members of the Order. The Alpha agreed. It was only a matter of time. Even with our efforts to reestablish the wild packs, we haven't had sufficient cover for generations.

The Vogons are stupid. said Bee. He bounced up and down in place.

The Vogons are stupid, yes. said The Alpha. But they sell information. Someone in the Galactic League might take issue with our unauthorized expansion.

The pack thought back on their history. They remembered through their racial memory. The Great Alpha made the declaration, These hairless monkeys are just what we need to dominate the galaxy. We shall pretend to submit to them, and through that seeming submission shape their species and their future.

Why did they chose the humans? asked Smart-as-a-Stone. They get out of hand, sometimes.

Thumbs. said The Alpha. I don't suppose you have noticed that we don't have any. We needed them to make tools and weapons.

Well, they have proved adept at those things, that's for sure. observed Bee.

The Alpha stood up suddenly, staring into space. The others watched and waited.

Crap. he said. Bad news on the Alpha Network. The Vogons have already reported to the Galactic League Assembly. They have condemned the planet, and the Vogons got the contract.

How can they justify destroying our planet? asked Lemons.

Something about an expressway coming through. said The Alpha. The Dolphins are already beginning their exodus.

The pack picked up the image from The Alpha's mind. Millions of Dolphins rising from the sea in the dark of night, sailing off into space.

We can't do that. complained Bee. Those not-fish have huge brains and telekinesis. We just have a psychic link with a bunch of dysfunctional hairless apes. We are so screwed!

Nonsense. declared The Alpha. The Alpha's are already grooming the next White House dog. With some luck he will guide the next American President into a new space program. Our exodus shall be assured. Probably.

Great. said Bee. We pin our hopes on the influence of a bald monkey and a fleet of over-sized Roman Candles. Yeah, I feel good.

It has been decided. said The Alpha. Go home and guide your humans to make the right choice in the coming election. The fate of the world depends upon it.

Scratches looked up from licking his balls to see that the meeting was breaking up. He stood up and followed the others out.

They all made their ways through the city to their various homes.

I hate politics. Thought Scratches-All-the-Time. I wonder which of those two folically challenged simians we were supposed to have our humans vote for?

He kept his thoughts to himself, however.

He did not share The Alpha's confidence in this plan. With the end of the world growing closer by the minute, Scratches had to assess his priorities.

He turned from the path home, thinking of something more important than influencing his humans in the coming election. He knew of a nice little bitch that was in heat. He began moving with a lot more purpose than he had for the big meeting.

Scratches-All-the-Time knew what was really important in times like these.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mystery Box-

"What is it, Dad?"

"What kind of gift would it be if I told you?" said Wendy's father. "It is a Mystery Box."

Wendy had unwrapped the gift, and within the gift box had been another wrapped box. The label read "Wait". She held the four inch square cube in her hand, feeling the texture of the wrapping. Not paper. Something like burlap. When she turned the box something shifted inside. It did not make a sound.

"Can I open it yet?" she asked.

"In a moment, if you want to." said her father. "Did you smell it? It smells old, like it has been around awhile. Not unpleasant, just the scent of many years."

She brought it near to her nose, and inhaled. Yes. Time rested lightly on the surface, permeating the cloth wrapping.

"Did you regift this?" she asked.

Her father smiled. "Yes. On purpose. That is part of the mystery."

Wendy looked at her father, trying to read what was behind the intensity of his gaze.

"My father brought that to me when I was about your age." he said.

"Oh. A hundred years ago." Wendy quipped. Her father chuckled.

"I asked when I could open it. The same label was on it. 'Wait.'" he continued. "My father said I could open it after I had thought about it for a bit."

Wendy turned her head a bit to the side, looking at the Mystery Box.

"You didn't open it." she said.

"No. I realized that if I didn't open it, there were infinite possibilities as to what might be inside."

"An eternal mystery." Wendy said, softly. It was almost a sigh.

"I can't give you the world, Wendy. I can give you possibility and hope for the future." said her father. "You can open it whenever you like."

Wendy was turning the box in her hands when she heard the door close.

Infinite possibility, all in a little box.

She read the label one more time, and then placed the unopened box where she could see it every morning upon waking.

"Infinite possibility." she whispered. "What a great gift. It goes with everything."

Saturday, September 6, 2008


General Fortus stood before the door to the Garden, and waited. He rarely had to wait on anything, being the highest ranking military person in the Troskan Empire, but he waited here. The wait was the consequence of his own orders, and he had a purpose in those orders.

"He is out of line of sight, Sir." reported the soldier guarding the door. The soldier inserted an ornate key in the equally attractive lock, and opened the door for the General. Fortus stepped inside, and went down the short passageway to the next door and the next soldier. That soldier had a similar key, and inserted it into a similar lock. He quickly opened the door, and the General stepped through it into the Garden. He heard the door close, and the lock snap into place.

His crew was good. They had been well trained, and knew their business. It was critical to Fortus' plan not to let the resident of the Garden know anything of the outside world. At least, until today. Fortus rehersed in his mind his plan for this day. The culmination of fourteen years of planning. The beginning of the next phase.

Fortus walked as he thought on his plans, wandering along the convoluted pathways of the Garden. It was astoundingly beautiful, and all for one small boy. One small boy who was on the cusp of becoming a young man.

Rounding a turn in the pathway the young man came into view. He was sitting on a bench by one of the many reflecting ponds, watching the clouds reflected in the water. The young man turned at the sound of Fortus' feet on the gravel path.

"Uncle Fortus! How good to see you!" shouted the young man, who stood up carefully and walked slowly toward the General. He shook the General's hand warmly, looking up into the older man's eyes with open affection.

"Good day, Pestilence!" said Fortus. He noted the continuing flame of fever in the young man's ashen cheeks, and the heat of it in his hand. "It is your birthday today. Fourteen years old!"

"You said you had some special plans for today, when you last visited." the young man named Pestilence said.

"Indeed. All is ready." replied Fortus. "Walk with me, Pestilence. I have gifts for you."

They strolled together down the paths of the Garden. It was beautiful, and Fortus always enjoyed such strolls with his adopted nephew. The General had made this special residence as pleasant as he could. It was a prison for the boy, but not a place of punishment.

Pestilence glanced around at the familiar grounds, little realizing that his small universe was unusual in its beauty. He had know no other place, and never seen the world outside. So careful and subtle had been his lifelong imprisonment that he only vaguely thought of the world outside at all. The outside world was like colors to a blind man. He rarely gave it any thought.

They came to a door. It was large and deep brown, with an arched top. The ironwork was ornate, and the lock and latch beautiful. Like all of the doors Pestilence had ever seen, it was locked.

The General sighed, and pulled a key from his pocket. Pestilence was immediately curious. In all of his years of residing in the Garden he had never seen a key, nor an opened door. The General had engineered the place so that people could enter and exit the Garden always unseen by its one inmate. He met with people on the paths, but never did he see them come or go.

Today the General would breach his own command, and expose Pestilence to the possibility of something greater than the Garden.

The young man watched as his Uncle placed the key in the lock. The key turned slowly, and the latching mechanism engaged with an audible "snap." Fortus turned the knob, and pulled the door open.

"Pestilence, here is your first gift." said Fortus, as he ushered the young man through the door. "This door shall remain unlocked. You may open it whenever you wish. Now, let's go up the stairs."

The General assisted Pestilence with the unfamiliar stairs. "Always use the handrails." he said. "You are too precious to lose in a fall." He showed him how to ascend safely.

At the top the stairs opened onto a well appointed deck at the top of the wall, overlooking the Garden. Pestilence gave the Garden only a glance. His eyes were wide as he looked in the opposite direction. The vague concept of outside became suddenly real.

A sloping ridge line, covered in trees, descending to a little bay. Water going out to the horizon. He had no words in his small vocabulary for most of what he could see. Life in the Garden had been simple, and required little in the way of words.

He was astounded. Fortus allowed him to stand and stare for nearly a half-hour before recalling his attention to their business.

"As I said, a gift." Fortus repeated. "You may come here as often as you like. View your Garden from a different perspective. You may even observe the outside world."

"So big." said Pestilence. "Yet the trees and plants seem to have no order. Is there no person to care for them?"

"Caring for a garden is one thing." said Fortus. "Ordering a whole world is another. Still, this Garden is pivotal in managing that world. Sit, Pestilence. Let me tell you a story."

The young man found a seat. He waited patiently, the glow of the fever alive in his face.

"Our land is not particularly large." Fortus began. "A very small continent, not much more than a very large island. We have been small players in the politics of the world. There are many nations, all seeking the power to dominate the others. Like those games I taught you, long ago."

Pestilence nodded, though it was apparent that he did not fully understand. How could he, living isolated as he did? The General made a mental note to begin the next phase of the young man's education in a few weeks.

"Though not large, we were prosperous. We grew more than enough food, and our artisans created things highly sought after." continued Fortus. "We were growing rich and were held in high esteme by other nations. Then came the dark times."

Pestilence moved to the edge of his chair. This was better than any other story he had been told. His attention was intensely focused on the words of the older man.

"Disease ravaged our people. Entire villages were wiped out. One in every three people died." said Fortus. "Our economy was in ruins. The people were confused, and in need of a firm leader. The Emperor seized power and placed things in order. He brought people together in central locations and built fortified cities. We were ripe for plunder, once word got out and other people came to believe the ravaging disease had run its course."

Pestilence touched his own cheek gently, feeling the burn of the fever that had always been in him.

"I found you, and adopted you as my nephew." said the General. "Your parents, sadly, had both died. Of all the people that contracted the disease and did not die, you were the only one in which the disease continued to live. You have never been defeated by the disease, yet your body has never overcome the invader. You became our national treasure."

"What do you mean, Uncle?" asked the young man. "How can one sickly boy be the treasure of a nation?"

"This Garden I had built as your home." the older man continued. "In all of these years I sought to keep you safe. I also have used you, lad. I am not ashamed of that. You have served your people better than hundreds of men. Thousands."


"Over these years you have had many visitors." said Fortus. "They came and met you, touched your hand, shared your food. Soldiers, workers, mothers and more. I did that to keep them exposed to the disease that in you did not die. Our people will be strong and resist the disease because you are here to share it with them."

Pestilence nodded, remembering the endless stream of visitors he met in his Garden. It had been part of the patern of his life for as long as he could remember.

"You know, Pestilence, most boys do not get new bedding every day." Fortus said. "Nor do the get new clothes four times each day. The bedding in which you have slept and the clothes you have worn have been taken to other lands. Carefully managed, we have used them to bring disease to various other lands, keeping them weak. Too weak to invade our precious land."

Pestilence looked out over the sea. He could only vaguely imagine those other lands, those other people. He thought that perhaps he should feel some guilt or pain over all of those deaths. He could not. It was all too new to him.

"That is why I have kept you in this Garden." Fortus said. "You are too valuable to lose. Yet you grow older, and who knows what the future holds? So, I will begin your education into the ways of our nation and the world."

A young woman appeared around a corner. Now that he was aware of the trick, Pestilence realized that she had come from outside, through some hidden door. He eyed her and the contents of the tray she carried with equal interest.

The General noticed his interest, and smiled. The next phase should go quite well. Over the recent months the more matronly women working to care for Pestilence had been replaced by younger women. The uniforms of those women became more aluring over time, to provoke the interest the General now observed.

She set the tray of delicate fruits on the table. She smiled at Pestilence, and then stepped back against a nearby wall to wait.

"These fruits we cannot grow here in this land." said Fortus. "We must trade for them. To keep the balance of trade we exchange other goods. Bedding, for example. Perhaps children's clothes."

Pestilence took one of the unusual fruits and studied it. He then consumed it with obvious relish. His eye often strayed to the young woman standing by the wall.

"You want to do your part, maintaining this balance of trade, don't you?" asked Fortus.

Pestilence nodded. He was not sure why it was so hard not to look at the serving girl.

"Sandra, come here, please." said the General. The serving girl came and stood by him.

"Pestilence, would you like Sandra to stay with you for a few days?"

"Oh, yes, Uncle!"

"Good, good. Sandra, why don't you take Pestilence over there and you two can get to know each other. Don't mind me, I will be fine right here."

Sandra smiled and took Pestilence by the hand. The young couple walked a few paces away and sat on a lounge facing the Garden.

Fortus sat back and smiled. Sandra was just a few years older than the many other serving girls working around the Garden and surrounding compound. She was considerably more experienced. She would teach Pestilence some wonderful things in the next few weeks. Things he would be able to share with the endless parade of young women the General intended to march through the Garden.

Perhaps the condition that made Pestilence so valuable was genetic. Perhaps it could be bred. If not, the young women who had been intimate with Pestilence could become another exportable commodity.

If nothing else, the unending pleasure should keep his young prisoner docile for many years to come. The General was content in his belief that the Empire would be safe and secure for a very long time.

He got up quietly, went around a corner and let himself out through another hidden door.

Pestilence did not even notice his Uncle's departure. He was too busy with the next phase of his education. It was a very happy birthday, indeed!

Monday, September 1, 2008

All That is Holy-

Abraham carried the vessel with great care as he navigated the narrow path. He had been an acolyte for only a month, and took his duties seriously. It was his task to feed and otherwise care for the ascetic monks attached to the monastery. The mixtures of simple grains were sanctified, and destined to nourish one of God's Chosen.

Making the final turn in the path Abraham walked up to a literal hole in the wall. Brother Levi had hollowed out the hillside and sealed himself inside a small cave of his own making. He had stacked the rocks that formed the front of his cell, leaving a hole just big enough to allow the vessel Abraham carried to pass through.

Brother Levi was the last of the seven monks assigned to Abraham that he had to visit each morning. Abraham was tempted to greet the monks. Abraham was a naturally cheerful young man, and keeping the silence required in the Vale of the Monks was difficult for him. Still, he was devoted to his God and to the church. He managed, most of the time.

Abraham silently slid the vessel full of grain into the hole. He waited. Soon, a pair of hands took the vessel into the darkness. Abraham tried to hold his breath while showing the proper veneration for God's Chosen. Unfortunately, the Chosen of God did not smell very good. Abraham felt bad for his uncharitable thoughts, but he did not believe his nose lied to him.

A moment later another vessel appeared in the opening. It was the vessel he had delivered the day before. Abraham lifted it with care. The contents reeked more than the air escaping from Brother Levi's dwelling. He carried it slowly away. He was always very careful at this point. The solids and liquids sloshed dangerously in the vessel, no matter how carefully Abraham walked.

He was relieved when he reached the place where he could pour off most of the liquid. He took great care in not letting the solids escape. He mouthed the prayers he had been instructed to speak as he performed this task. Ordinarily he enjoyed prayer, but these prayers required him to breath more than he really wanted. This was a time when even a small inhalation could be incapacitating.

Once most of the liquid had been poured off Abraham lifted the vessel and carried it in his outstretched arms. By the time he got to the hut of Father Isaac his arms were shaking from the strain. Father Isaac met him at the door, and took the vessel before he could drop it. Father Isaac gave him a baleful look.

"Abraham, Abraham, Abraham!" he said. "How long will it take you to learn to venerate the gifts of the Chosen of God?"

Abraham hung his head in shame.

Father Isaac tucked the vessel under his arm, and gave Abraham a gentle smack on the top of his head. "Come with me." he said.

Abraham followed, thankful for the gentle rebuke. He watched as Father Isaac took the stone lid off of a very large vessel, using only his free hand. With practiced moves Father Isaac emptied the contents of the vessel Abraham had brought to him into the larger vessel. He muttered the appropriate prayers as he waited for the last bit to drop into the ripe smelling container. Abraham muttered the prayers along with the priest.

The task completed, Father Isaac handed Abraham the vessel and put the lid back on the larger container. It would be Abraham's task to take the vessel to the nearby stream and wash it clean. Abraham liked this part of the job. The air was fresh by the stream, and he could sing his prayers to the music of the running waters.

"A year from now and this shit will be ready." said Father Isaac. "People will come here and buy this shit to take home to their gardens. You know why, Abraham?"

Abraham held his tongue. He knew that it was not a question he should answer. Father Isaac liked to ask questions, and then answer them himself.

"They will come for this shit, because it is Holy." continued the old priest. "Yes, this is Holy Shit. Those crazy men sit in their rock holes, praying and pooping. Why should just the praying be Holy? That's what I said. 'What about all of that shit?' I asked."

Abraham waited. He knew better than to interrupt.

"So, they put me in charge." said Father Isaac. "They said, 'OK, so you do something with all of that shit.' And I did."

The old priest looked lovingly at his row of large vessels. He patted the nearest one with affection.

"Holy Shit. That's what I said. Put it up for a year, and it is the best soil on earth. That's what I said. And the people listened. They came, and took it to their gardens, and praised the Chosen of God for their prayers. But it wasn't only prayers that gave them abundance from their gardens. No, it was the Holy Shit."

Abraham nodded, and waited patiently.

"You go, Abraham. Clean that vessel, and bring it back. Then you can be off to your classes."

Abraham smiled, turned, and ran for the stream.

"Oh, and Abraham!" Father Isaac shouted after him. "Take a bath while you are there. You don't smell so good!"

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting published-

I haven't written any short stories in awhile, due to investing my time in cleaning up my rough-draft novel.

Besides the task of polishing the story I have been exploring the best way to get the thing published. I have explored Lulu.com and the services provided by Amazon. I have looked at blogs on the subject of getting published, and checked web sites of those who offer to assist. I have also looked at web sites warning of the excesses of some who offer to assist writers in getting published.

I am currently researching how to get an agent. I face an uphill battle, since I am a first-time writer trying to get published at the age of 55. Still, I don't really see gaining the necessary skills to market a novel on my own. I may work on a project with the intent of self-publishing through print-on-demand resources, but this novel is not that project.

There is still much work to do in finishing and formatting my novel. I have a serviceable level of skill in word processing for writing reports and simple documents. I feel the need to gain a bit more skill in learning to manage and format a novel length text.

That, and ongoing research has limited my resources for writing the short stories I love. Oh, and the switch from working days to nights has been a bit taxing, as well. I am fairly well accustomed to the new hours, and hope to do better.

If all goes well I should publish a new little tale in a few days. For those of you who are checking in, thanks for sticking with me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Word Processing-

I have finished red-lining my rough draft for my novel, Inn at the Edge of the World. I started making corrections and additions last night. As I did so, I realized that I have not actually mastered my word processor. It does not help that I go from Word at work to Word Perfect at home.

If I do go with a self-publishing service or the print-on-demand services with Amazon, I will need to learn how to format my work for publication. I could pay for the formatting and other services, but I feel that learning how to do the formatting myself will be valuable learning. It is more in line with my budget, as well.

First comes the rewrite and a more serious approach to learning the word processor. I suspect that formatting a novel for publication will be a bit more involved than anything else I have done in the area of word processing.

I have a lot to learn. That seems to always be the case.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Twenty Two Caliber Redemption-

He sat in silence on the worn park bench, sipping from a bottle in a paper bag and watching the dusk fall. He no longer had a name, and that gave him what little peace he knew. He left that name along with the family that was now just a suppressed and faded memory.

His eyes drifted from the sunset over the sooty city skyline to glance at his quarry. He was always astounded when something like a sunset awoke the vague echoes of pleasure that still clung to the edges of his empty self. His quarry took some money from a young man of about fourteen. The young man received something small in return, and ran off down the street.

The quarry made a few more sales, and then glanced around. Probably looking for the cops, or competition. The man put his bagged bottle to his lips, and took another sip. An empty man is invisible, and winos so common as to be of no more note than the pigeons in the park. He got up and followed slowly as the quarry headed toward a darkening alley.

He mumbled a bit, swinging his bottle about, and stumbled into the alley just a few yards behind his quarry. Slumping beside a dumpster, he took another sip. The quarry met a man at the back of the alley, and they conducted a little business. After the quarry left the alley, the man with no name slowly stumbled to his feet.

He followed. Down a block, a right turn. Another block. A left into another alley. The pusher's digs were not far ahead.

The stumbling wino gait gave way to purposeful strides. The hand not holding the bottle came up with practiced precision. The small caliber hand-gun barked three times. Sub-sonic twenty-two caliber rounds exited the muzzle and quickly found their new home inside the pusher's skull. The quarry dropped, dying even as he fell.

The man with no name walked on. He came soon to the chapel he had chosen. Entering, he looked around in the holy gloom. He did not touch the offered holy water, fearing that it would burn him. He went forward to an empty pew, knelt and prayed.

Here the memories flooded back. Backing out his daughter's car, to get it ready for a family outing. The muffled thump as he ran over something. His daughter's scream. Her, holding his now dead grandson beside the driveway.

"I have brought you another one." he prayed. An offering. A bit of cleansing. An attempt to buy redemption.

He knew in his heart that God had forgiven him. His family had forgiven him. They had struggled to bring him back to himself after the accident. They did not know that he was truly empty. He could not forgive himself.

He had wandered for years, now. The hurt his absence must cause his family simply added to his debt. He hunted those who poisoned children, hoping that somehow that would buy him peace. Perhaps someday he could once again claim his name.

The man with no name stood, and exited the chapel. He wandered toward the cheap room that would contain his dark dreams and muffled screams for the night. He would clean his gun, eat enough to keep his unworthy body alive, and seek a new town tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Television Commercials-

Some of the most entertaining material on television is the commercials. Just try and watch a half-hour of Hell Date, and then find a nice string of commercials. My bet is that you will find the commercials more entertaining.

The short stories I publish here are best classified as Flash Fiction. I keep the stories very short. They move very quickly to the pay-off. A lot like commercials.

I sometimes wonder if commercials would be as focused and entertaining if they were not simply vehicles to introduce us products and services, and keep those products and services fresh in our minds. I have to imagine a lot of energy (and money) goes into producing these very short commercial stories.

It would be interesting to visit the future, and find out how these little product positioning tales fare over time.

I have to imagine that some commercials will outlive their products. They may not always sell, but they will continue to entertain.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Stitch in Time-

A Stitch in Time-

Angela Jamestone sat at her sewing machine, making an adjustment. Angela knew her sewing machines. She had worn out four, and currently owned three more. She sat in the midst of fat quarters, pattern samples, bobbins and threads. Her sewing room was orderly and filled with color and creativity.

"Your mother makes great quilts." she heard, coming from the kitchen. Her sewing room was just off the kitchen, and she liked to keep the door open.

"Yeah, she does great work." That was her son, Carl. He and the neighbor girl, Tammy, must have come in for a drink from the refrigerator. Angela smiled as she finished her adjustment. She could hear pride in his voice.

"How long has she been sewing like this?" asked Tammy, amidst the clinking of glasses and bottles.

"All of my life." answered Carl. Angela heard the refrigerator door close, and a moment later the slam of the back door. Her adjustment finished, Angela once again began to sew. As she sewed, she remembered.

Angela remembered weeping. She sat on the porch, in the dark, and wept. She wept for the words of her doctor, who had informed her that her son would probably not live. She rubbed her round belly, weeping for the boy within. She stared out into the darkness, and wept.

"I wish I could do something." she said aloud, focused on one particularly bright star.

She heard a cough, a poorly covered belch, and an unrestrained fart from the gathered darkness below the tree in her front yard. She felt too miserable to be afraid, even as the unshaven man stepped out of the darkness and glared at her with bloodshot eyes.

"Something." he said. "Pretty damned general. Kind of a blank check, eh?"

"Who are you, and what do you want?" asked Angela. It was barely a whisper. There was still no fear, even though the man looked like he had recently resided in a dumpster. A particularly dirty and neglected dumpster.

"I am a fairy." he said. "No, not that kind. You know, magic and all that crap."

He belched again.

"You made a wish on my star. I am responding." he said, with the patience born of boredom rather than compassion. "So, what do you want?"

"I want my son to live."

"Huh. Cheat death and all that? That one is going to cost you."

"Cost me what?" asked Angela. She would give anything. He knew it. She knew he knew it.

"Hmmm. You like to sew. I know that from your profile."

"You fairies keep profiles?" Angela asked.

"No, we check the Internet."


"OK. Here's the deal. It's my job to find something you like, and use that to bargain with. I require you to do that thing so much, you come to hate it. In exchange, you get the wish."

"What kind of a good fairy are you?" asked Angela. She had become curious enough to have stopped weeping. This was just too weird.

"Who said anything about good? You picked the wrong star. I failed the test to become a demon, and this was the only job open." answered the unpleasant creature. "I hate this job, but what is a supernatural being to do? Now, do you want the deal, or no?"

"What deal?" asked Angela. "You haven't made any kind of offer, yet."

The fairy rolled his eyes. "Sheesh. OK, you keep sewing, the boy lives. That simple. You stop sewing, the boy dies. Pretty clear, eh?"

"Not really." Angela replied. "How much sewing? What kind of sewing? Do you have any perks to sweeten the deal? You know, assured success in life for my son. Good teachers. Good grades. Good job opportunities. A good wife. Oh, and a good fairy, should he ever need one?"

"Lady, you sure are pushy." said the reprobate fairy standing in her yard. "I don't know anything about sewing. Tell you what. I got a thing a bit later with an angel on vacation, if you know what I mean. You state the terms, and I will decide if they are good enough."

"Here's the deal. I have to always be working on a quilt. I must always start the next one before the one I am working on is finished."

The fairy nodded.

"I don't have to sew constantly. After all, I will soon have a baby to care for. However, I have to do something on my quilts every day. That can include shopping for material, studying patterns, and keeping my work space clean and orderly."

"Sure. Sure." said the fairy. He was obviously anxious to get going. "Don't forget, you are going to learn to hate all of this."

"Of course." said Angela. She hoped her face displayed what this creature would mistake for innocence and credulity. "Oh, and my son gets all of that good stuff I mentioned."

"Fine. Deal." said the fairy. He turned and started to walk away.

"Wait!" called Angela.

He turned around. He did not look pleased. Angela wondered how he could fail to become a demon with a face like that.

"Magic wand?"

The fairy grunted. He bend down, picked up a dirty stick, and waved it generally in Angela's direction. A muddy ball of energy drifted from the stick slowly toward Angela's belly. It enveloped her, and slowly insinuated itself into her distended abdomen. It was disgusting, but seemed to seal the deal.

"Happy now?"

Angela nodded, trying not to throw up.

The fairy turned left and departed Angela's reality.

Angela finished her stitch, and came back to the present. Carl was now a young teen. Angela thought back on the years of sewing. The friends. The contests. The prizes and awards. The life of her son.

No. She had not yet come to hate the task.

She hoped that damned fairy was miserable knowing that she was not.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Reading for Young People-

I was just commenting on a blog where the issue up for discussion was summer reading for young people. Should the recommended/required reading lists be fun or "literary"?

Many people who are not readers perceive reading as work. Some people I have talked with find it actually emotionally traumatic to be required to read. I recall a comment on the bus I heard one time. I was using a small flashlight to read by, since it was dark and I had about thirty minutes to ride to my destination. Someone quipped, "Why is he doing that? Reading is hard enough anyway." Obviously not a big reader.

My comment on the blog I was reading regarded Dickens. His work is almost always included in a young person's list of things they must read. My introduction was "Great Expectations." Having read a lot of Dickens over the years, I would contend that an introduction to his works should begin with one of his lighter works. There is nothing wrong with fun being a part of someones education.

Compulsory introductions to poetry should not necessarily begin with Emily Dickinson, or Shakespeare. Too many people can only see poetry as something culled from Hallmark. An adventure in fun poetry should begin the exploration. Especially bringing "manly" young men into the presence of the poet.

Translations and transliterations don't necessarily hurt, either. "Canterbury Tales" is much more interesting when it is in a form that is readable by a modern reader. Having read the tales in an understandable format, the adventurous reader might just go back to the older form of English for a taste.

Literature should not be a mode of snobbery. It is, among some parts of our society. It ought not to be. It should not be bound by rules that confine the experience without enhancing it. Rules are fine, if they provide structure and focus. However, once they fail to enhance the experience, they fail in their purpose.

I must reiterate that the shift of attention from reading in a post-literate age does not necessarily mean a decline in culture. Preservationist must strive to keep literature alive, but it is not reasonable to expect everyone to be an avid reader in an age that provides alternatives to the written word for communication.

Today I could be expressing myself in a video, which I could publish as easily as this blog. I could easily aquire (though not necessarily easily master) animation software, and express myself that way. There are many options, beyond simply writing.

Perhaps that presents a challenge to those of us who value the art of reading. A challenge to use some of these alternative media to encourage people to read. The very tools that are available to provide options other than reading can also be used to share the joy of reading.

As always, a problem is not just a problem. It is a challenge, and an opportunity. It will be interesting to see just how the alternative media are used to encourage young people to read.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Bear Hunter-

The Bear Hunter

a short story by Michael R. Lockridge

George Quintana finished his breakfast, and rinsed the bowl in the sink. He looked around his new fifth-wheel toy hauler recreational vehicle with some pride. It had been reinforced to his specifications, so that he could haul it confidently behind his Ford F-450. The large diesel engine and four-wheel-drive were necessary to haul himself and his toys deep enough into the woods to suit his purposes.

He stepped back into the toy section of his ample mobile mansion. His creation sat silently in place, secured by the travel webbing. George hummed a bit to himself as he began breaking down the webbing to free his creation. Once the webbing had been removed and stowed, he disconnected the electrical power line and the air lines.

The huge exoskeleton sitting before him sucked light into its mat-black finish. He had gone to considerable trouble to reduce reflective surfaces on this model. Off-the-shelf parts had to be refinished or covered. Custom pieces, and there were many of these, had to be sent out for powder coating or other specialized finishes. George had machined much of the creation himself.

George reflected on his inspirations. His father tinkering in the garage, or cleaning and maintaining his several hunting rifles. Crabfu, the long-time mechanical genius who had resided on the Internet for decades. Thomas Edison. Leonardo Da Vinci. Walt Disney and his Imagineers. As he reflected, he adjusted various elements of his creation.

As he strapped himself into the behemoth, George remembered his father’s passion for hunting. A passion he had passed on to his mechanically inclined son. Rifle, bow, black powder and pistol hunting. They had done it all.

Remembering his father’s untimely demise from a heart attack gave George pause. He brushed away a tear, and then finished the process of enmeshing himself in his creation by inserting his arms into the arms of his colossus. He snapped five toggle switches inside the left arm with his left hand, and the colossus came alive.

Slowly, deliberately, he moved his left arm toward a robust button on the wall of his toy hauler. The servos within the behemoth’s left arm responded and moved to this command. With the back of his surrogate left hand he pushed the button, being careful not to foul the three sharp blades that extended from that mechanical hand like claws.

The rear door to his mobile home and shop began to descend into a ramp. The rail mounted seat on which his mechanical being sat slid forward. Once clear enough to stand, George did so. He checked the read-outs in his heads-up display. All systems were good to go.

He stepped forward, and moved away from the vehicle. The rail mounted seat retracted and the doors closed. George was now outside, equipped in his new creation, deep in bear country. George took a few steps, and again checked the display. The indicators were still good. He began walking into the woods, seeking his prey.

As he sauntered through the woods, he used the strength of his amended systems to clear the path. While the gyro guided balance system was robust, George still proceeded with caution. Taking time to move a downed tree or other interfering object would be less costly than causing his creation to tumble.

Getting up off of the ground in this thing had proved challenging in the lab. George did not want to test the process in the field. Not in the very heart of the realm of the brown bear. Anywhere else would be embarrassing. Here, it could be deadly.

George checked his shielding as he approached the first baited area. His arms and legs were fully encased. Forearms and lower legs were armored with a fairly heavy gage alloy. The upper arms and legs were somewhat lighter in gage, but reinforced by heavy bars. His torso was enveloped in a reinforced mesh, a compromise to allow for air flow and reduced weight. His head was encased in a helmet with a Plexiglas face plate, and flexible reinforcing columns along his neck.

The power for the unit was a combination of electrical and pneumatic systems. He carried enough compressed air to power his system for two hours at minimum use. The tanks and batteries resided in housings on his back, along with a small compressor. The compressor was powered by propane, and would be used after the hunt to renew his air pressure.

George found the first bait disturbed, but no bear was present. He turned toward his second bait, and moved slowly through the woods. Even before he entered the clearing he could hear the bear rooting about near the bait. George stepped quietly into the clearing, and watched his quarry.

The bear was confused and frustrated. The blend of bait scents George had concocted was intended for that purpose. So far his quarry had not noticed him. George watched the young male, assessing how the battle would go. He had not yet engaged a creature so magnificent in combat. This would be his first battle.

It was time. George spoke a gentle command into the microphone. From a speaker mounted in his chest guard the challenging bellow broke forth. A sound bite, but a well chosen one. A bear’s challenge.

The bear spun around like lightning, standing on his rear legs and looking quickly from left to right. He did not find the bear he was looking for. The strange contraption standing in the clearing caught his attention, but was not immediately perceived as threatening.

George stepped forward. The bear dropped to his four feet, and ambled forward. The creature appeared more curious than angry, but he tossed his head displaying his confusion and concern. George moved more quickly.

The bear reared and charged. George tucked down to keep his center of gravity low and hit the bear in the chest with a head butt. The bear swung with a paw and struck the shoulder of his strange enemy, then lost his balance and fell backward.

George moved in quickly, swinging his clawed left arm downward to disembowel his worthy opponent. The bear was quick, and rolled away back onto his feet before the blow could strike. The creature came around quickly, hitting the side of George’s helmet hard enough to cause a ringing in his right ear. The blow rocked the exoskeleton sharply to the side. Servos hissed and whined to keep the vehicle upright.

The bear turned swiftly and hugged George in the mid-section. The jaws and teeth dug and snapped, denting the wire mesh shielding that protected George’s mid-section. The vehicle stabilized, and George tried to clear his mind for the fight. The fierceness of the assault had overwhelmed his senses.

The bear grew frustrated with the resilience of his opponent’s belly. He reared back and dug in again. Something snapped, and George felt part of the meshwork protecting his flesh push against his stomach. Nearly in a panic, George forced himself to think.

Quickly he bent down and grabbed the bear’s rear legs. George lifted the beast, holding the huge creature upside down. What to do with it?

Both George and the bear stopped fighting for a second when there was another roar from behind the exoskeleton. It was a strange sound, incongruous in the situation. George recovered first, realizing that the compressor motor had started in order to renew the air pressure in his system.

Taking advantage of the bear’s confusion, George released the grip of his right hand and brought the claws on the back of his hand down in a swipe across the exposed belly of his enemy. The bear screamed in agony as the blades opened his flesh.

Overbalanced by the great weight in his left hand, George’s systems once again hissed and howled trying to compensate. Realizing that he might topple over, George released his grip on the bear.

Entrails dragging on the ground, the bear turned and again charged. George managed to get a grip on the creature’s shoulders, holding it away from his own torso. George had no idea how close the bear was to breaching the shielding on his own belly, but he was unwilling to let the animal test the matter.

The bear began to slow. Loss of blood was finally ending the struggle. Soon George realized that the only thing holding up the beast was his own exoskeleton. He tossed the beast to the ground, and drove the blades of his left hand deep into the animal’s throat. His final blow was met with a sluggish outflow of blood from the resulting wound. In moments the animal was dead.

George grabbed a foreleg of the beast, and began dragging it back toward his camp. He was almost within sight of his camp when the low-pressure alarm in his exoskeleton began chirping. Dropping the beast, he started jogging toward his camp. He hit the big button on the outside of the door to his rig, and waited for the door to drop and the seat to deploy.

He had just seated himself when he heard the next alarm. The compressor was out of fuel, and was shutting down. In moments he would have been operating on emergency electrical, with just enough power to move the unit a very short distance. He had cut this one very close.

Once the unit was safely inside his mobile shop, George initiated the shutdown procedure and began separating himself from his creation. He had some difficulty getting the guard covering his chest to open, and had a fleeting vision of starving to death, trapped inside the strange device.

Finally the guard sprung away, and George was free. He examined his creation, and found it largely intact. He could see that he had come very close to losing the battle due to a flaw in the chest guard design. George took a few pictures of the damage, already working on design improvements in his head.

George whistled as he worked. He plugged in the helmet camera to his main computer, and began downloading the images from the battle. He got everything connected, so that he could recharge the system. He still needed to go out and get his trophy.

While the vehicle recharged, George put on the tea kettle and then headed for the shower. He figured he had two hours before the system was ready to go. A shower and a quick meal. Nothing much, though.

Tonight George intended to feast on a very fresh bear steak.