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.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Woodcarver and the Minotaur King-

Geppetto stood nervously by the door to his shop, watching the King's man search the premises. Most people had little trouble with the King's regulations. Growers of pumpkins and brewers of beer were no threat to the King. Carpenters were watched closely, but not as closely as Geppetto. A carver of wood must watch his every cut and chip to keep his own head.

Sweat glistened on the upper arm of his visitor, who was searching thoroughly through every cabinet and bin. The tattooed image of a Minotaur glistened on the man's bicep. The only image of the King permitted in the kingdom. Conrad, the Minotaur King. A burly man, the King, but more than that. The King was a real Minotaur. His bull head was enormous, and his long horns sharp. He had the temperament of a bull, but for all of that was cunning and wise.

"Stephen, you search every week." ventured Geppetto. He had grown up with Stephen Smith, the third son of the town blacksmith. The man was alone this evening, and Geppetto risked talking to his childhood friend. "You know I make only toys and a few useful household tools. See, I have nothing with which to make a wooden man. Nothing so large as could not be fitted into the hand of a child."

His gruff visitor glanced at a small bench at the back of the shop. "You have enough of those, Geppetto." he said, waving a hand at the carved figures littering the work bench. "True, they are small. Still, the King fears only one thing. The telling of the wandering witch woman, declaring that he would be conquered by an army of wooden men."

"Those are but toys, Stephen." said Geppetto. "I make a lot of them because a toy army cannot be but one figure. I sell them by the half dozen or dozen. I keep them small like that to appeal to children, and to keep the order of the King. I make them of scrap from other work, and whittle them late in the evenings as I watch the stars appear."

"I know, my friend." said Stephen. "And I still consider you my friend, even though the King frowns on his men fraternizing with the people. Were I not the third son, and a burden to my family, I would not have taken this job. There is only so much smith work available in the region, and I had to do something."

"I understand, Stephen." said Geppetto. In the presence of other soldiers the man was quite gruff. It was expected, and Geppetto did not mind. "Come. Let us go get something to drink at the inn."

"I would like to, Geppetto, but I cannot be seen with you." said his visitor. "It looks fine here. Keep to the rules, my friend." With that the King's man let himself out through the heavy door to the shop. Geppetto watched through the window as his old friend made his way down the street and out of sight. When he felt himself safe he closed the curtain and barred the door.

He went to the bench at the back of the room and lined up the six finished soldiers. He made sure their paint was dry, and checked once again for any defects. The only thing missing was a bit of wood bored from the chest of each little man. That would be corrected, soon. From a box beneath the work bench he withdrew several little spikes of wood. Geppetto handled them respectfully.

Into the waiting hole in the chest of each wooden soldier he pressed one of the precious little spikes. They had been formed with care, and pressed neatly into place. Each soldier was returned to his place in line once the final bit of the making was finished. Geppetto sat back and watched them, knowing what would happen.

Each of the soldiers began to tremble, then convulse like little men suffering from some kind of seizure. They writhed on the bench for several minutes, and looked pitiful in their struggles. Eventually each one of them lay still. A few more minutes passed before they one by one got up and stood again in line.

"Welcome, my little wooden friends." said Geppetto in a quiet voice. "I have placed a bit of wood from the magic tree into each of your hearts. Wood given me by the dryad, the Blue Lady. She called me one night while I sought good wood in the forest. She called me when the light of the first star of the night touched the tree that was her home.

"She told me that Conrad the Minotaur King was an evil spirit, given flesh through the vile practices of his mother and her people." continued Geppetto. His little audience stood gazing at him. "He has troubled the good spirits of the woods, and they are being driven out. He must die, my little wooden soldiers. Go, join your brothers in the Cave of the Minotaur. Stay hidden, and stay safe. His annual sacrifice is only three months away. He will have to visit his cave again on that day, and be alone to offer the required blood of a virgin. There should be enough of you, by then."

The little soldiers climbed down from the work bench and made their way to the back of the house. A cat's door allowed them to exit, and soon Geppetto was alone. He took down his precious wormwood cup, another gift of the Blue Lady, and filled it with rich wine from a dusty bottle. He took a sip, and then another. Then he got out a fresh piece of wood and began to whittle yet another soldier.

Geppetto sat and drank and whittled for quite some time. He heard a sound behind him, but did not turn around. He continued to whittle. Gentle hands settled on his shoulders. He glanced at one, so pale and tinged with a blue light. Geppetto took up his cup and drank again.

"They are almost ready, your little warriors." said a soft voice. "You do good work, Geppetto. Your deeds will be remembered for many generations, once the Minotaur King is dead."

Geppetto drank again. The faint bitterness of the wormwood complemented the wine. Where had the vintage come from? He could not remember.

"Come, Geppetto." said the soft voice. "Dryads have special rewards to offer their servants. Come."

Geppetto smiled, and set aside his cup.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Another Day at the Office-

Thomas Whitman Moore stretched in his lounge chair and reached for his coffee. He savored the aroma for a moment and then took a sip. Excellent! The sun was just peeking above the wooded hills in the distance, lighting the broad valley below his deck. The sky was mostly clear, and a fabulous shade of blue. Though he had his newspaper folded on the table beside him, Thomas elected not to read.

"News of war on such a fine morning would just put me off of my stride." he said to himself. Stretching again he stood from the lounge and took his cup into his house. It was not overly spacious, but he didn't mind. His was a single life. His work was challenging, even demanding. It involved most of his being when he was working. It also involved a lot of people working under stress. He enjoyed his little home in this quiet valley, far from the office.

"Time to shower." he said out loud. He often spoke out loud here in his own space. And why not? He dropped off the cup in the dish washer and headed into the bathroom. Again not wanting to spoil his mood with news of war, he elected to not even turn on the radio he kept in the bathroom. He focused on shaving and showering and attending to a few other personal matters.

Soon, in his warm robe, he made his way into the bedroom to change. He opened the closet and removed the clothing for the day. Though many different suits and quite a variety of casual outfits hung within, Tom took down the familiar uniform of the office. It was required, dressing like everyone else. With a sigh he donned the simple and rather uninteresting costume.

It was time. He took one last look at the lovely day developing outside of his window, sighed, and headed for the front door. His front door was of oak, a wood polished to a deep shine and displaying the depth of the natural wood growth. It was one of his favorite design features on his home. It had cost him a lot of time and a bit of money, but it was worth it.

Opening the door he stepped out into a hallway. It was wide and tall, and sadly utilitarian. The door across the hall opened just as he was locking his own. He looked that way and observed a dark cavern within. Deep in the dark recesses he could see raging flames of a sullen red cast. Out of the shadows stepped a creature at least nine feet tall, with dark red skin, tight over formidable muscles. The creature had two huge legs, four massive arms and a head that looked to be simultaneously insectile and reptilian.

Tom waved and said, "Morning, Joe." The creature closed the door to his own living space and turned to Tom.

"Morning, Tom." it said. Tom knew the creature was not named 'Joe,' but had chosen the name since nobody he associated with could pronounce his real name. "I really do plan to have you over for dinner, soon."

"I would like that." said Tom. "I just think the temperatures are a bit extreme in your environment for me."

Joe made a sound that was intended to represent laughter. It missed by a large degree, but was a valiant attempt. "I could always reduce the temperature, Tom. The flames are largely illusion. I would, however, have to contain my skin-cleaning symbioses. I am afraid they would scour the flesh from your bones. That would make for a less than pleasant evening."

"Well, let's head for work." said Tom. "I didn't bother with the news this morning. Just not in the mood. How about you."

"Just a quick briefing from the computer." said Joe as the two began walking down the hallway. "Pacification of the primary continent and major island chains is going well. Still a bit of resistance. We have a bit of work to do today, I am afraid."

They reached the lift and stepped inside. "Gunnery deck seven." Tom said. The lift began to move.

"Another day at the office, eh, Joe?" said Tom as the lift halted and the doors opened on the gunnery station. The planet lay below them, filling the view plates and dominating space on their side of the ship. They walked to their respective stations and prepared to begin the day's work.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Malcolm Jacobs could not remember how he had gotten here, wherever here might be. He looked around, and was not much informed by his surroundings. It seemed to be an alley way. Pretty clean. Just the back side of some buildings. An opening with a restroom sign above. Some guy in a white uniform sweeping up a bit of litter into one of those dust-pan-on-a-stick things. Some foot traffic on a street nearby.

He shook his head and looked around again.

"You alright, buddy?" said the guy in the white uniform. A janitor or something.

"I think so." said Malcolm. "How did I get here?"

"Same way most people do." said the janitor. "What do you remember?"

"Driving late at night. Headlights. Blurring."

"Yep. Heard that one a million times." said the janitor. "Actually, a million two hundred and seventeen, counting you. I do this a lot."

Malcolm looked more closely at the man. Just a guy. Janitor. "What's this that you do?" he asked.

"Greet new arrivals." said the janitor. "I'm Amos. The prophet Amos, to be exact. I wrote one of the books of the Bible. Did you read it, by any chance? The Book of Amos, Old Testament?"

"Not that I recall." said Malcolm. "I mostly read the New Testament. Not as often as I felt I should have, but I was kind of busy."

"Figures." said Amos with a sigh. "Doesn't matter that much, I guess. You got here. That's what is important."

"Where is here?"

"Oh, yeah." said Amos. "This is Heaven. You died. Traffic accident. Driving tired is dangerous, you know."

"Apparently so." said Malcolm, looking around again. "It doesn't look like Heaven."

"Been here before, have you?" asked Amos, smiling.

"Well, no." admitted Malcolm. "But you know. Pearly gates, streets of gold."

"Oh, we got those." said Amos. "Different section. It was a very popular arrival point for the Victorians. No, the Boss likes to ease some of the post-moderns into the program. I use this alley, since I do a lot of my work in this area."

"The prophet Amos. Janitor?" asked Malcolm.

"What can I say? I like to keep the place clean." said Amos. "Come on, let me show you around."

He guided Malcolm out of the alley into a busy street. It looked a lot like most streets Malcolm had seen before on Earth. He mentioned that as Amos got him seated in a little utility vehicle parked near the alley.

"Well, people bring bits of their old lives with them when they come to Heaven." said Amos. "Some people feel especially comfortable in this section. They spend a lot of time here. A lot of time. Eternity and all of that."

Quite a few questions came to Malcolm's mind, but they got all bunched up and he decided to just wait and see what Amos had to show him. They drove down the street and turned left. Malcolm noticed a large hotel complex on the right and commented on it. "Looks restful."

"Yes, it is quite restful." said Amos. "That section is reserved for the folks that believed in the doctrine of the Sleep of the Dead. They believed that they would remain asleep in the grave until Christ's return. That's not the actual case, but the Boss had that place set up to receive them. They snooze away, awaiting the trumpet and all of that."

They turned down another road and Malcolm could see the streets of gold to his left. The Pearly Gates were just down at the end. There were quite a few people wandering around the street, admiring the gems and the glitter of the gold. "Victorians and some of the folk that got all into bling and such." said Amos, driving on by.

They drove past a huge theater. "That looks like an IMAX theater." said Malcolm.

"Yep. Story of Creation playing twenty four hours a day." said Amos. "Funny. Nobody got it right, so the Boss put that up to save time explaining. There is a coffee house around the corner where a lot of people gather to discuss the movie and their own theories they had while on Earth. Fun place, but I prefer it in small doses."

They rolled on down a road that led to what looked like Beverley Hills only far better. Mansions, huge mansions, stood by the thousands along tree lined roads running off into the distance. The architecture ran the gamut of styles. It was magnificent and overwhelming.

"Lot's of people expected those." said Amos. "The Boss actually meant 'rooms,' as in places to stay and do things, but the whole mansion as an edifice caught on and got so lodged in the minds of millions that the Boss ran with it. Of course, He foreknew all of that, but we don't want to open that particular can of worms right now. There's another coffee house dedicated to that whole 'predestination' thing."

"Quite a few coffee houses here, I suppose?" asked Malcolm, thinking about the vast history of religious and philosophical discussion that attended human culture on Earth.

"For sure." said Amos. "Of course if you are a serious scholar there is the Celestial Library. That's it down there. The big building made of crystal and other stuff. Shiny stuff. Lots of stone and wood and other materials, finely crafted by the best hands throughout history. Lot's of love in that building. I go there a lot. I even do some lectures now and then. That, and a lot of dusting."

"If it's Heaven why is there any dust?"

"Some people enjoy cleaning. Enough people cleaning so that the dust doesn't bother anyone who doesn't like it." said Amos.

He pulled the little vehicle over to the side of the road, in front of a pleasant looking structure. "Here you go, Malcolm. Orientation center. I would love to stay and chat, but I have a concert I want to attend." He offered his hand and Malcolm shook it.

"Will I see you again?" asked Malcolm.

"Sure. As often as you like." said Amos. "They will explain how, inside. Don't worry about the forms. You only have to fill those out if you like that kind of thing. Gotta go, kid. See you around!"

He pulled away into the light traffic. Malcolm looked around. All sorts of buildings, but it didn't seem crowded. Lots of people, too, but again no hurrying and no real crowds. A great many groups here and there, laughing and talking and often singing. The place seemed to go on forever.

He turned toward the open door of the orientation center. The bunched up questions in his mind began to fall in line. There would be time to answer them all, Malcolm realized.

Plenty of time for everything.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Knowledge Shall Make You Free-

Robert Daily sat in the crowded assembly room. Everyone had gotten their uniforms, found their assigned bunks, and now were assembled to be addressed by the administration. This was a supposedly alternative jail for non-violent offenders. Chronic misdemeanants. Naughty boys.

The man who stood at the podium did not look particularly impressive. When he began to speak Robert was not compelled to alter that first impression. By the second word the man was already boring. That boredom is what caused Robert to drop out of high school and led to his current lifestyle of periodic incarceration.

"Gentlemen, if you would please quiet down." said the unimpressive man in the cheap suit. "Really. Please. I guess that is good enough. Welcome to the Big Mesa Institute for Alternative Incarceration. This won't take long, if you would all just quiet down."

The man waited a moment. When it was obvious that he wouldn't go on and get this over with the noisy idiots in the back finally fell silent. "Thank you." said the man. "This is an educational institution, gentlemen. An experiment. You were flown here on helicopters for a reason. There is no road in or out of this place. Indeed, we are surrounded by cliffs on all sides."

A screen lowered from the ceiling, and an image formed on the screen. A view from the air. Sure enough, the institute was built on a mesa surrounded by drops of hundreds of feet. The nearest adjacent mesa was quite a ways away. Much more than just a jump.

"I will be leaving, soon." said the unimpressive man. "I am the only official remaining on the mesa. Everyone else is gone. Oh, except for my helicopter crew."

Two men stepped out through a door behind the unimpressive man. They had automatic weapons. Pretty mean weapons from Robert's perspective. The man behind the podium became a lot more impressive, all of a sudden.

"You have a lot of building materials here." said the rather impressive man. "And computers. Also, limited Internet access. Educational materials have been bookmarked on your computers to aid you in learning. You see, repeated incarcerations have been linked to a lack of education. We are providing you the resources to educate yourselves, and the motivation to do so.

"Food and water will be air-dropped to you every week. For six months that volume of food and water will be constant. After that it will begin to diminish. We call this 'motivation.' Engineers have determined that we have provided you with the things you will need to safely get off of this mesa. Should you manage to get off of the mesa and return to society, you will be free. No further obligation to serve time. Your records will be clean.

"Unlike the maximum security desert prison that is patterned something like this one, we won't be flying gun ships around and shooting anything that tries to escape. We want you to escape. Of course, you will have to learn some skills in order to do so. We have given you the tools. The rest is up to you."

With that he turned and walked out through the door behind him. The men with guns followed him, and closed the door. The crowd of young men stood in stunned silence.

Robert started to look around. "I think I need a study partner." he muttered. "Preferably a really big study partner." Suddenly an education seemed like a very valuable commodity. A commodity in uncomfortably short supply. School had seemed like prison. Now prison had become a school.

He was pleased that at least he had learned enough in school to recognize irony.