Carl obeyed his GPS. He turned away from the main road, away from the city. Farther & farther he drove & drove. Midnight struck and a street rolled him up to a cemetery—where the GPS and his dreams of a shortcut died. This, son, is why you must learn to read maps.
“Surrender, all humans!” And the sunmen attacked. The Atlantic boiled. F-16s popped. On the cusp of domination, white lasers flickered. The invaders staggered. Supreme technology powered down as shivering sunmen fled the planet. Earth, perhaps, was far too cold.
Tim played ice hockey and was bored. He bought the NHL & changed the rules & set a net of fire on a Zamboni. He sold the TV rights and packed arenas, made a VR game and raked in billions & played 1 real-life game with All-Stars. Also the last game he played. R.I.P.
“Invest with me!” promised the broker. “I’ll triple your wealth!” And the dragon poured his hoard into stocks to see his portfolio teeter and crash. The dragon demanded an explanation, but the broker along with his fortune had vanished. He’d invested gold in gold.
Omega Jr. in the plane of eternity left out a glass of stars overnight. It fermented like milk and the family cat knocked it over, spiraling billions of stars with its paws. “Starkitty, tsk!” the Omegas scolded, and their cat let its galaxy be in a huff.
‘Twas the night before Christmas at the North Pole with the elves all slaving away in the cold. “Hot chocolate!” they begged of Santa, but no, a world needed presents—on with the show! The elves rebelled and deposed their leader; that’s why, son, you got a sweater.
November 9, 2019
I am beginning a wacky and not-at-all-scheduled series where I make fun of silly mistakes on the internet. This one's an oldie I just had to take a screenshot of way back in the hinteryears of 2016.
Also, if anyone has seen Phil's cat, please let him know.
November 2, 2019
I've been reading a trio of sci-fi books lately and was reminded of a poem I wrote several years back. Let's hope this isn't what becomes of the future.
There Is a Road Northeast of Town
There is a road northeast of town;
It turns and turns for miles around
The homes where we drink swill for wine,
And on occasion ask the time
Of our dear and distant friends,
Who have glimpsed where the red road ends.
Years have passed and passed it by
(Earth hangs heavy in a leaden sky)
Trails of rockets and the fumes of space
Now serve this road a cold embrace;
Tire treads and Terran boots
Have gone the way of the white space suits.
These and other tales related,
We pour synth-ale, concern abated;
We toast ourselves and our learned ways,
For we know no road--abandoned—-prays
That one last traveler would sand it clean,
Cover the holes and follow the lean
Of the road around forgotten rims,
Up the volcanoes where the red air thins,
And the wreck of a spaceship endures beneath
An Earth as green as a fallen leaf.
October 26, 2019
This one's creepy, folks. Halloween's a'coming. You have been warned.
An Ode to Lines
This is an ode to lines as opposed to curves
My mind is set and there will be no swerves
Away from this subject which I intend to discuss
And will not be done with until in distress
All curves submit
To my matchless wit
And rightly align themselves for my serves.
See, when I cast a tennis ball into the air
It tends to hang for a moment up there
Then caught on a breeze it wobbles and sways
And falls to the court in an awful malaise
While suffering with yips
Brought on by those dips
I hit that infernal ball who knows where.
Double fault. Double fault. Double fault number four.
This cannot go on! I insist! I implore!
I am the master of angles and lines
And this pitiful sphere dares to flaunt my designs
Fall straight, fly straight, win that point and more!
My opponent was yawning from across the net
And twiddling his racket for half the set
Only needing to manage a single hold
While me and my service games implode;
He tweeted on Twitter
That I’m a big quitter
As I smashed an ace—or a let.
Then amidst a second set weather delay
Most of the fans began filing away
Chalking up my defeat to a case of the nerves
While the whole of the blame should fall on these curves:
Scourge of the earth; they all must pay!
And so while the rain came misting down
I commenced my plan to straighten out this town
Starting of course with my tennis racket
Which is way too curved until you crack it,
So I gripped and smashed
And kicked and bashed
Until the chair umpire happened to frown.
About that time the fans came back
And laughed and gossiped and called my quack
(That fan was my wife and she worries for me
She thinks I’m obsessed with de-curving our tree)
Thereafter I lost
And at preposterous cost
Here I am in your office for our friendly chat.
Do I still love the game of tennis?
What question is that—you said it with menace—
Regardless, the inquiry is not germane
And after asking that question I doubt you are sane
You’re one of the rest
You’re curved and you’re blessed
To be subject two of my newest test.
Yes, I have decided to alter the rhyme scheme
And I see in your eyes you think you’re at a crime scene
But have no fear of this saw or a gutting
This ruler and measure will guide all my cutting
And when I’m done you’ll be free of unsightly bumps
No kneecaps or nipples or chicken pox lumps
Your eyes will be cubes and your head a neat box
Chin and shoulders all squared, ears and mouth loading docks
For packets of sound and nutritional pills
(Which I will invent) for all that ills.
Now kindly stop pounding away on that door
Your recovering receptionist is sprawled on the floor
Stop yapping on that cell phone, your battery’s dead
And you can’t break that window hitting it with your head
Now do come and lie on this nice, cushy couch
And don’t mind my ropes; they’re just so you don’t slouch.
Yes, excellent fainting! You outdid a mime
I’ll just tie you up now and we’ll be through in no time
For my mind is set and there will be no swerves
Until the whole world is rid of curves.
October 20, 2019
Greetings from Chicago and a beautiful Fall Sunday. Today I'd like to share a Salkieran ballad. What is Salkier, you may ask? Salkier exists in imagination and the pages of my books. They are a close-knit, honor-bound, horse-loving people from southern Anthea--and more than a little fractious and odd. I present one of their more popular ballads, "Alanon's Chant."
They will run, they will run
The horses will run
They will run like the rainstorms
Beating the Seed
They will run like the thunderstrokes
Thrashing the Seed.
They will come for the rich and they will come for the strong
While they snicker and whinny at poor Alanon.
All horses are wrong.
No steed for your song.
They will ride, they will ride,
The horses will ride
They will ride like the hurricanes
Pounding the Seed
They will ride like the earthquakes
Shaking the Seed.
They will ride for the men who reward them with treats
Treats Alanon himself never eats.
All horses are wrong.
No steed for your song.
They will race, they will race
The horses will race
They will race like the breezes
Propelling the Seed
They will race like the firestorms
Melting the Seed.
They will race for the masters who clothe them in wreaths
They will crush Alanon and his wreath of death leaves.
All horses are wrong.
No steed for your song.
They will gather, they will gather
The horses will gather
They will gather like the dewdrops
Caressing the Seed
They will gather like the raindrops
Nuzzling the Seed.
They will gather for the boy who lies crushed on the ground
They will gather and look and will not make a sound.
All horses are wrong.
No steed for your song.
They will wait, they will wait
The horses will wait
They will wait like the snow drifts
Enrobing the Seed.
They will wait like the ice sheets
Freezing the Seed.
They will wait and Alanon will bask in their eyes
He will choose the proud stallion and mount his true prize.
All the others were wrong.
Your steed is your song.
October 12, 2019
Hey everybody, sorry for the gap in content on this website. I've been a bit burned out creatively with what to post here. In that vein I present a poem about writing--that ethereal, exhilarating, infuriating passion.
I will not write
I do not want to write today
The sun is up, the children play
And though I’m stuck inside I say
No, I will not ever write.
Could I write with pen and ink?
No, I couldn’t, my pens all stink
And they’re messy and that’s hard
Almost as awful as writing a bard.
But could I write about a bard?
No, I won’t, it’s much too hard
I will not write about buffoons
Who prance and dance and blow balloons.
(Bards do not blow balloons, you say?
I do not care, I will delay
Because I will not, cannot write. )
But could I write in a comfy chair?
No, I couldn’t, chairs are square
Beds are better for my thoughts
Plus my blanket has polka-dots.
Could I write in a better bed?
No, I couldn’t, I’d hit my head
On the headboard and fall asleep
And then I wouldn’t write all week.
Could I write while doing flips?
No, I couldn’t, I’m eating chips.
Could I write while making waffles?
No, I couldn’t, I like falafels.
Could I write about true love?
No, I won’t, go shoot a dove,
For love is gushy and hard to write
Almost as hard as writing right.
Neptune left the solar system and wandered, skirting black holes, drawn to pulsars, flitting through nebulae, looking for life. Exoplanets by the thousands it scanned and dismissed. The Milky Way was agleam with wonder—but life lived only on a small blue dot.
Ed called up Earth for pizza. Rail-launched capsule heated en route, moon satellite caught it, slowed to bleed off speed. Moon drone detached to Ed with pizza, arrived 9 hours after order placed. Ed popped pizza capsule, cursed. Anchovies. Really? He threw it away.
While Bill and Wendy slept, Fido the Robodog raided the fridge. He tossed the bacon pack on the stove & turned the dial. Drapes caught fire & Bill woke up shouting, Wendy screaming. Bill called Fido a bad dog, doused fire with extinguisher. Fido 2.0 likes broccoli.
Two tornadoes, Sam and Terri, called down funnels at 5:00. On the small town’s fringe, rain flattened corn stalks. Townsfolk huddled. Sirens blared. The EF5s circled, dueling, menacing. Roofs ripped away, cars blew aside. Tornadoes collided and the town was gone.
Shark! Beachgoers snapped out phones to get video, tripped over towels, tipped over chairs. A lifeguard rushed to 3 young boys then skidded to a bewildered halt. The fin stepped out of the water—part of a shark suit. The boys stopped laughing. The beach was closed.
Jimmy’s light switch controlled the universe. 1 flick and his fish learned Hindi. 2 flicks and world hunger ended. 23 flicks and all the puffball aliens on Omegacron-90 phosphoresced as their sun went supernova. When his light kept not turning on he replaced it.
Posted July 13 - August 10, 2019
Here is the first part of my entire fantasy short story posted over several weeks. This is what happens when dragons enter a haunted house. Enjoy, everybody!
Dragons of Ash
There is no such thing as an ash dragon.
First, I tried to be nice about it. I told Hurli there might have been ice dragons flying way back when the Sheets covered all of Plaintier. Rock dragons are real but rare and slow. Sea serpents might have chomped up a ship or two and wind dragons or Wafters are probably mythology--but maybe if you’re in just the right place, you can peer up into a bright summer day and see something that is probably, certainly a cloud, only this far down you thought you saw wings.
Hurli snorted at the bit about Wafters and a trickle of rum leaked out of his nose. Either rum or snot, I didn’t look too close.
“You don’t know Karrarra’s Truth, my friend! I saw an ash dragon and it weren’t frozen and it ain’t no cloud. I swear on the grave of my father-kin’s soul…”
I let him go on. He took another large swig of the drink I was buying him. Whatever-it-was that had escaped his nostrils dribbled into his thick red moustache, never again to see the light of day.
“So we had a bad storm and it took out your peach trees.” Repeating was the way to reason with Hurli; make sure his ears heard what his mouth had just said. “And for some reason you’re certain it wasn’t an accident.”
“Zham, it was not! The lightning dropped like the rod of Marrara and the earth shook like a chastened initiate and there was thunder and breathing--”
“And scales and fire. And rain. How’s the wife?”
“I...she’s fine, Yerrl-kin. Marri’s always had more of a hankering for plums.”
“Any luck with the baby?”
“No, no little Hurli yet. Rascal’s coming, but--” He cut himself off and shot me a glare. “It was like the great legends of old, Yerrl-kin! Like Rererr had come down with his hammer of judgment and shaken the weave of all Illishah!”
“Starting in your greengrove. I see.”
“Yes, if you could have seen it.” A glint lit up Hurli’s dust-brown eyes and that alone should have made me leave. But my woodshed was leaking and the squashes submerged and if I’d wanted to deal with the drudgeries of life I wouldn’t be plopped in this hardbacked chair. Afternoons were supposed to be uneventful at Eller’s. Nobody around and the rum was bad.
One knife-scratch on the table was followed by another. One of Eller’s girls made a shrill little gasp and I flipped her a gilding and drew a hand over my neck. She stammered, curtsied, and flitted away. Hurli continued to deface the table, apparently creating an impromptu map.
“North,” he said, scratching out an arrow. “My place,” he said tapping an x. “Once the dragon set the fire, it flew away east. I jumped on old Nelle and rode her hard on after. Followed that fiend right up to Uller’s. Figured with the houndjacks I’d need a hand getting in.”
I thought about it for two seconds.
“Dragons, Yerrl-kin. How long has it been?”
“Not long enough.”
“But you found a heart.”
“And paid off more than what it cost to get it.” Which got me in debt which me landed me here, minding my squashes in a backwater town.
Hurli didn’t believe it, hadn’t believed it ever since he’d met me and caught some pieces of my jagged past. Right now he was looking at me like with a little motivation I could find Caliki’s elixir of life.
I’d already tried that when the going got worse.
“Look,” I said reasonably. “Whatever it was that came down last night, today it’s not your problem anymore.” I took out my purse. “Your trees are worth what, five silvers?”
Hurli opened and closed his mouth like a fish. “I...you are generous, Yerrl-kin.” I slapped the gildings on the table and slid them over. Hurli picked one up. And then set it down.
“Yerrl-kin.” Hurli licked moist lips. “Thing with the dragon got me thinking ‘bout Enne.”
Enne. Enne Maril Scrath. The moment he said her name I cringed. How could one name forever stick in your craw?
“That’s hearsay, Hurli; no one’s ever seen her.”
“Because Uller locked her up.” He whispered it conspiratorially, as if the constable was out to lock us up if he chanced upon our forbidden conversation. “In that house of his... Yerrl-kin, he never lets her see light. He never cracks a small window. Keeps her shut in the dark.”
“And you know this how?” I asked, but inwardly I groaned. Afternoons I was supposed to sit alone at Eller’s, sipping away on my iron mug. I’ve lived in Neren near ten years now and never once caught a whiff of Uller’s daughter. Oh, I’ve talked to some people who said they saw her. Uller had a butler before his wife passed away, a maid and three gardeners. Then two gardeners. Then none. I’d seen the maid once, Lilli, tiptoe into Eller’s. She’d clutched her bags and looked in need of a drink. I’d bought her two and she let a name slip. Little rose, Enne was beautiful. Girl would have bloomed just like her ma.
Then the maid had clammed up like she’d blasphemed Karrarra, face blanching white before she ran right out. No in Neren’s seen her come back.
Hurli was still waiting for me to decide.
“Give me my money back.”
“You don’t want it, right? This isn’t a charity.”
He slid the gildings over, and I clinked the coins back into my purse. Then I made a decision and drew my revolver. I set it on the x that Hurli had carved.
My friend’s cheeks stretched wide in a fatty grin. “May I?” he said. I nodded. He picked up the gun and literally drooled.
“Your Mohenian six,” he said in awe. “Fixed cylinder, .30 caliber, double-action.”
“No dragon-scale rounds. You’ll have to make do.”
“Does this mean...?”
Karrarra, it did. “Learn how to use it. I’ll see you tonight."
There were several dozen very good reasons why we couldn’t just knock on Uller’s front door. Houndjacks aren’t “dogs,” but they aren’t friendly either. Packs can hamstring a stallion in seconds and without any predators worse than themselves there might be two hundred in the Moerling Hills. Sure there was a fence around Uller’s estate, but a motivated houndjack could burrow through floorboards, to say nothing of flimsy dirt. So the postman never delivered the mail, taxmen fleeced the citizens with upstanding occupations, candidates for mayor never sought Uller’s vote, and the army if it ever marched by these parts only drafted the men who didn’t live with wolves.
By the time I made it up to Hurli’s ranch, the sun was slipping like a yolk off the sky. My friend was waiting by his paint-pealing gate, strings of ammo draped over his coat like a vest. He’d stuck my revolver in a horsehide holster and had his grandfather’s rifle propped against his hip. The heirloom’s barrel had been oiled clean and Hurli stood proudly with an ear-to-ear grin. Marri, Hurli’s wife, stood ramrod straight next to him, frowning with her arms crossed under her breasts.
Hurli ran down to meet me as I approached up the road. “Yerrl-kin, you came! By Karrarra, I almost thought you would not. And, by Karrarra, you must see it yourself!”
He dragged me up to the gate where Marri had failed to move an inch. She sniffed at me. “How you killing a dragon without scale rounds?”
“Ash dragon,” corrected Hurli, and he pinched her on the cheek. “Flimsier I reckon once you corner it down.”
Hurli threw his rifle over his shoulder. Marri rolled her eyes behind her husband’s back, and we all trudged over to what had been his third greengrove, some thirty-odd fruit trees near the eastern fence. About half were still upright and none in good standing.
“Hit the heart,” said Hurli, jabbing in the direction of a small crater. “Zham, the dragon landed right on the seed.”
I picked my way through the lines of rubble, noting orange peach stains and thrashed trunks. There had been a fire here, though the rain had suppressed it. The trees still left didn’t seem to be withering. Heart-hit or no, the seed would survive.
“Dragon broke through that,” Hurli said, nodding at what had been his fence. “Zham! Blasted a hole out and then he was off.”
“How big was he?”
“Karrarra, he was huge! Three horse-lengths, tail to teeth. Four, even.”
“And why are there only your boot prints in this mud?”
Hurli scowled at the offending terrain. “Karrarra...”
“I...Yerrl-kin, I saw it!” Hurli bent down and snapped off a stick. “What’s on this?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ash,” he said, as he thrust it in my face. “Ash dragon ash! Smell it for yourself!”
I accepted the charred stick and blew on it softly. The glitter of the powder seemed strangely off. “Ash happens,” I said, “when things happen to burn.”
Hurli looked hurt; his wife smug.
“Yerrl-kin,” he managed, “have you c-come all this way to mock me?”
“No,” I sighed. Hurli’s smile picked up.
“But,” I said, and I stared him down. “I hope to Toerr that there really is a dragon and it ate all the houndjacks we will have to kill.”
Hurli licked his dry lips, gaze flicking to the revolvers I wore at my waist, the smoothbore shotgun I’d strapped to my back.
“You still ready?” I asked him. Hurli nodded fiercely.
“We’re going on foot.”
The yolk of the sun was a memory of yellow by the time we crossed the old footbridge over Biller’s creek. When I’d first moved to Neren the Moerling Hills had been verdant; Uller’d had nine of the ten best greengroves and three had a bumper crop every last year. And then he’d retreated into his mansion, firing servants after his wife had died, and the once-tidy groves had all gone feral, first bleeding out thistles and prickly weeds, then larger bushes, and finally ghoulish trees—tall black-barked thin ones pincushioned with thorns and lumped with gray-green leaves like secondhand wigs. If it weren’t for the creek to hold it all back, the good townsfolk of Neren might have got up the gumption to purge Uller’s lands a long time ago. But the creek had held and now there were houndjacks. Let a greengrove keep bleeding and who knew what would worm out.
Plants, I’m talking about. And houndjacks. And other ordinary terrors but never dragons. Hurli wasn’t any Master Tender but his greengroves checked; they’d been ordered just fine.
What wasn’t fine was my friend’s aversion to stealth. As we trekked up the overgrown servant’s path, there was no bloody need for whispered conversation. But when Hurli was nervous, that’s what bled out of him.
“Melillu’s bags, what would someone pay for an ash dragon’s heart?”
“The going rate for mythology.”
He didn’t hear me. “Be heavy though; bet we couldn’t lug off more than a scale. Eyes maybe--Karrarra, she had fierce eyes. I couldn’t look away.”
Hurli glanced at me for encouragement. “I believe you,” I lied.
“He must let her out at night, Yerrl-kin. The back porch, maybe? The balcony?”
“The woods, even. He can’t keep her locked in that room forever.”
“He’s bigger. He’s stronger. It’s not very hard.”
“Karrarra, how could you do that to your own daughter?”
That was the point in our dialogue where I should have reminded him that I didn’t believe in Enne’s existence, that Hurli was spouting rumors no sane folks believed. There was no such thing as an ash dragon, and Uller was probably too crazy to keep a daughter alive. This hunt was strictly a common courtesy, me humoring a friend who’d had a bad night.
But I didn’t tell Hurli any of that. And maybe if I’d told him, we would have turned back.
Hindsight is perfect and we kept trekking on, up to the shoddy fence around Uller’s property. Yesterday’s clouds had all stuck around and the wind cut sharp and cold through my coat. Hurli hadn’t ridden old Nelle much past the stone bridge, but he was sure the ash dragon had kept flying on straight, settling down at the top of this hill. Not, he admitted, that he’d seen it land.
I vaulted the fence but Hurli had trouble, cracking a board and kicking up dead leaves. I cocked my revolvers with clammy thumbs, pressed a finger to my lips and took the lead, debating the wisdom of two pistols versus a shotgun. If a houndjack burst out at me I’d need to blow it to bits. If I caught some at a distance I’d need a rapid rate of fire. Houndjacks were vicious but not unafraid. Make enough noise and you could scare them away.
Not that we wanted to draw their attention. “Hurli!” I hissed. “Dead leaves. Bad. Twigs. Worse.”
“I...but Yerrl-kin, I can’t see.”
“Step where I step and don’t drop your whole weight.”
Lecture over, I led us on and Hurli made a little less noise. The trees pressed closer and thistles snagged my pants. Our luck Hurli’s dragon had touched down in the heart of a bled-out grove.
I stopped. There was a solid wall of trees up ahead, spines dripping with glow-white sap. If we were forging through that, I was changing guns.
“Do you see it?” breathed Hurli.
“Couldn’t a’ landed in there. Would’ve knocked ‘em all down.”
The same mythical creature that hadn’t left tracks. “Where did it go then?”
Even in the dark I could tell Hurli looked puzzled. “Yerrl-kin, I thought...”
I cursed. Quietly. “I don’t know anything about ash dragons.”
“But you used to hunt dragons--”
“Rock dragons, who for the record are cowards. Plucked out one dragon heart after fifteen years. I don’t know anything, Hurli, and if you still want my opinion I say we go back.”
Hurli was in the middle of a belabored objection when I clapped my hand over his mouth. He blubbered, gurgled. I nodded over my shoulder and Hurli stop complaining, eyes swelling wide in his sockets. There was a whirling noise as the wind picked up. The wall of trees quivered and the ground shook. Now the sap from the thorns dripped an eerie red.
The greengrove was bleeding out something new.
You can think of Plaintier as a quilt of greengroves, each grove a plot of fertile terrain. Near towns most greengroves have been beaten down, forced to grow crops in straight, strong lines, hacked back to make room for houses and roads. The rare wild greengrove plays nice on its own; sometimes in even the thickest jungles you’ll step out into a grove so emerald green and licked with gold light you’ll think you stumbled into Karrarra’s Garden and around the next fern you’ll see the goddess herself, dipping her toes in a crystal stream.
Emphasis on rare.
Most wild greengroves bleed blacker than darkness. They get nasty ideas about what should survive, worse about how to keep it that way. No one heard of a houndjack until a century back and now there’s talk of packs as far west as Chell. Whatever was coming out of this greengrove now, the brave thing would be to charge in directly and blast the newest horror to shreds.
The smart thing would be to do anything else.
My hand was getting slobbery. I slipped it off Hurli’s mouth to wipe it on my pants. Drooling and standing stiff as an icicle, my friend did not appear especially brave.
“We go back,” I hissed. He finally looked at me, snapping out of it.
“Zham, what if she’s in there?”
“Then Enne’s already dead.”
“I mean the dragon.”
“Same difference,” I started to say, before feeling eyes on the back of my head.
I whirled. Yes, there had been movement farther down the hill. The winds shifted. I caught a faint whiff of oily fur.
I tugged Hurli’s coat and he followed close. Houndjacks had just crept up behind us, aiming to pin us against the heartwall. We scooted sideways ten steps and then I stopped without warning. Three unique rustlings, could be more. The fiends were only moving when we did, knowing our bootsteps would conceal their approach.
I could feel Hurli trembling, his grip bone-tight on the barrel of his rifle. If he couldn’t calm those nerves he’d shoot me before a houndjack. “Go first,” I ordered. That should direct him away from the houndjacks. “Head towards the manor, they won’t go inside.”
“But I don’t see--”
“Blast anything ahead of you. Keep going straight.”
More rustles in the undergrowth as our escort followed. I spun and walked backwards after Hurli’s heavy steps. With any luck these were only a few nosy scouts. With more luck they wouldn’t be particularly ravenous. With greater luck still they were simply on patrol, keeping out intruders from the bleeding groveheart.
I think my life has proven I’m an unlucky man.
Hurli’s rifle exploded with a loud BANG just as angry shapes charged out of the woods. I got six shots off in fast succession before a houndjack tried to take my legs from the side. I kicked it off as another one hit me and I lost my balance and rolled down the hill. One thudding roll and I’d lost a revolver. Another and we’d both slammed into a trunk. Teeth gnashed for my neck as I fired over my body, splattering the creature’s brains on the bark.
I jumped up and there were more of them but I had separation. Bang. Through the gut. Bang. Through the skull. Bang and I missed and threw the gun at its head.
BANG! Hurli’s blast hit the mongrel’s foot. The houndjack yowled and limped away.
Howling. Growling. Hissing screams. Karrarra, it sounded like we’d just woken every last monster in the Moerling Hills.
“Run!” I shouted and Hurli was off like a runaway boulder as I reached in my coat and tugged two more guns free. I fired at anything I could see that moved.
Bang-click, I was empty. Bang-click, again. I caught a houndjack in the middle of a pounce, nailing bullets between its eyes. Hurli screamed a battle cry as he smashed through a thicket that a few seconds back hadn’t been so thick. The grove was beginning to fight on its own.
I tossed my empty revolvers and slid out my shotgun. I outpaced Hurli and took aim at a thorny branch swinging like a scythe. I fired at the base of the offending limb and the branch snapped off and writhed like a snake. We ran past the snake-branch as the ground leveled out and then two branches swung and I had to jump and duck. Hurli fired backwards and almost hit me, exploding a tuft of blade-sharp leaves.
And then just as suddenly as the attack had come we were running through grass that wasn’t trying to kill us and the houndjacks pursuing us skidded to a stop. Hurli gasped for air and leaned on his rifle. Fierce yellow eyes stared out of the trees, but the pack made no move to follow us further. This strip of calm marked the edge of the greengrove.
We had reached the mansion of Uller Scrath.
“Show me your hands or I blow you new holes.”
I saw the man just after he said the words, drawing a bead over the railing of the rear veranda. Uller’s voice was a primal growl, eyes black and eyebrows drawn. He wore a scarf beneath his grizzled chin and a coat of scuffed and torn black leather.
I put my shotgun down and held up my hands. Hurli knocked his gun over and shot his hands high.
“Don’t move,” Uller said as he left the shadows, barrel of that rifle held straight as horizons. Heavy boots clomped down the veranda steps. “You, stop peeing your pants or I pull the trigger.”
Hurli didn’t look like he was actually urinating, only wobbling and breathing like a beached fish. I decided to chance it and ventured to speak. “You have a problem on your property, mister.”
“I do, do I?”
“Up that hill your greengrove’s bleeding out.”
He spat. “Karrarra’s ashes, like I can’t control my own property. Who sent you up here?”
“We came on our own.”
The man sneered. “Sha-Tiel. Do-gooders, are you? Priests of the health of the Omnaq Way? Out to convert the Moerling Hills?”
“We were merely concerned, sir.”
“Yes, by Karrarra, we were deeply concerned.” The man’s grip tightened on the trigger of his gun. “I ought to blow you up like bladder balloons.”
“It was a dragon,” blurted Hurli and the barrel shifted. Hurli gulped and his words ran together. “It was an ash...an ash dragon. I swear it landed right over there.”
Desperately Hurli pointed at the hill, and I didn’t know whether to weep or run. I also could have bludgeoned my skull with a hard object. Now we were trespassers and loony to boot. I could feel the mockery swelling with the rain.
But Uller’s bony fingers shook. His gaze darted between us and then fixed on me.
“Come in,” he said gruffly and nodded back to the house.
“Come in!” he said louder, waving his gun. “Sha-Tiel, do I need to carry you like sheep?”
We hupped to on the double, me after Hurli with my heart in my throat. I looked back once and the houndjacks hadn’t left. They were all still waiting on the rim of the woods, teeth gleaming white and dripping red.
Uller slammed the doors behind us shut.
Diffuse light sifted through smeared glass windows. The veranda abutted a vaulted foyer. Uller propped his rifle up against the wall then rattled an oil lamp out of its sconce. A match burned bright and his lamp flared. The air felt stale as day-old crust.
I thought Uller might leave the gun where it was, but instead he made us check our weapons at the door. Hurli’s chains of ammo got draped over a chair. My revolvers and shotgun found a home with his rifle in a pile on the seat.
“Knives,” Uller grunted with a look in his eyes like he hoped we’d object. I for one wasn’t keen on a strip-search and parted with my dagger and hunting knife too. Hurli was likewise quickly disarmed.
Uller herded us next into what had been a grand dining room only now gray cobwebs clung to cabinets and corners and stillness choked like a too-thick blanket. The walls held no pictures, the mantle no heirlooms. A chandelier brooded over the dark oak table, all the candles of the former having long guttered out, spattering wax on the surface below.
Uller demanded we sit up straight. As the man of the house pulled up his chair, he stirred up dust beneath his boots.
“What do you know about ash dragons?”
He skewered each of us with those dark slanted eyes, rifle crossed over his lap.
“Yerrl-kin,” Hurli began. He gulped and restarted. “Yerrl-kin he thinks they’re not real but I saw one. It came out of the sky when the lightning hit. Last...last night. And now we’re here.”
“To slay the dragon and sell its heart.”
Hurli, stop talking. “We need to confirm it exists,” I said, butting in. “Before we try anything.”
Uller sneered. “So much concern and so little time.”
“We would prefer to assist you in the endeavor, actually.” I made what I hoped was a winning smile.
“This was the only route to your house.”
Uller did not smile back. “So you think I can’t take care of my property.”
“You have an ash dra--”
The barrel of the gun swung to Hurli’s chest.
“You saw it? Clearly? You know what it is?”
Hurli flinched with each new question. “I...” Sweat dripped off his nose. “Yes?”
Uller’s glare darkened. Hurli, you idiot!
“No,” Hurli corrected. “No, I swear! Karrarra’s Truth, I never saw it.”
Something passed over Uller’s face. He appeared...disappointed? I couldn’t read it.
“Then why are you do-gooders wasting my time?”
Hurli said nothing. He had read my lips.
“Get up. Wait in the chamber down that hall. Second right.”
Hurli stayed where he was. “Yerrl-kin and I—”
“You. Just you. Touch nothing or I blow your balls off. No leaving unless I let you live.”
Hurli looked at me, plaintively, but I was out of ideas. I should have spoken up for him, said something, done more. But I’m not a hero and I didn’t have a gun.
My friend’s shoulders slumped. When he rose to his feet I caught his fingers shaking. He left without a backwards glance and I felt like I’d stabbed a knife in his gut.
A long moment passed. Uller studied me. “You’re cursed.”
Along with the gut-stab my heart started pounding. My hand went reflexively to the scar at my neck.
“So what was it like? To kill your dragon and be damned?”
I lowered my hand and didn’t answer his question. I’d fled to Neren because they didn’t know what that scar meant. I’d lived here long enough to bury the memories.
“They caught you red-handed at the dragon’s corpse. They tied you with ropes that would hold you one day. They used a scale you had pilfered from the beast. They cut in as deep as could keep you alive. Final vengeance would drop from an ashen sky.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“The last part?” Uller smirked.
“Because you survived. And then you ran.”
I needed to get out of here. Surely one of those cabinet drawers held knives.
“There are no ash dragons,” Uller continued. “You said that with such sincere conviction. Believe it so blindly you’ll swallow anything else. But everything happens for a reason, slayer. And tonight, you can atone for us both.”
And as Uller loosened the scarf at his neck I knew exactly what he’d hidden beneath.
I am not a man given to exceptional heroism. When fighting two demons, I’ll take potshots at the little guy and avoid the raging fiend from hell. I keep a clear head and it’s kept me alive, but when faced with that set of decaying stairs, I almost gambled it all away.
I’m still not sure why I didn’t do it. There was a decent chance I could have taken Uller, even with his gun pointed dead at my spine. He hadn’t seen me fight and I’d played it nice. Survive the gunshot and I could have disarmed him, shot him in the foot, run off with Hurli. We would have gone down firing to break through the houndjacks; they couldn’t cover everywhere and we could have made it through. And that would have been the end of ash dragons. It would have been the end, and the end for good.
At the top of the stairs I had climbed I paused, Uller’s lamp a guttering flicker below. There was only one way up here and nothing before me but a deserted hallway. Uller had not seen fit to return me a weapon, only to demand that I appease the ash dragon, which--he said--knew I was coming. Which also--he said--might be waiting behind the last door. Might.
The creaking floorboards might give me away, but if Uller was planning on coming up the stairs, my reservations about hand-to-gun combat might change. I opened the first door with less than usual caution and stomped around what turned out to be a vacant bedroom. I waited ten heartbeats but didn’t hear any steps. Apparently Uller was content to let the dragon eat me. Or think that it ate me. I wasn’t playing his game.
I clomped up to the storm window and found the rusty latches. I flipped them open, grabbed the handle, and pulled it off. I used the handle as a lever to wedge the gap open wider, stuck in my fingers and pulled up on the frame. It took two tries to get a gap open big enough, and when I stuck out my head I didn’t like what I saw.
It was a steep, sheer drop, twenty feet or more to the dirt below. No bushes to cushion a hard landing, all the sills spaced too far apart to climb. Ten years back, I wouldn’t have thought twice. Now I debated the odds of a broken leg.
There would be a better window. Undeterred, I stripped all the sheets off the cot. This window was too close to Uller’s stakeout anyway. Sheets good to go, I paused before exiting. Again, no footfalls from someone climbing the stairs, just too-close houndjacks and rustling stick-trees and the groan of the whole house as it swayed in the winds. Harsh winds, cold, whipping over the Moerling Hills, slave drivers of a second storm.
I froze, catching another sound. Crying from just down the hall.
I couldn’t move for a count of ten, still had no plan by a count of thirty. The cries were coming from behind the last door, soft and muffled but threaded with pain. It sounded like a girl and she sounded broken, and here I had just abandoned my friend.
This was a trick. This was a trap. I still didn’t believe in ash dragons but that didn’t mean something couldn’t be waiting. That was what I was thinking by the count of fifty, still mulling over at the count of seventy, dismissing the count as I dropped my sheets.
I am not a man given to exceptional chivalry. I never serenaded a woman with lies. I avoid fighting duels for some princess’s favor and I don’t think much of the pretty frailties who can barely ride side-saddle without falling apart. I once saved a fair maiden and only caused her distress. I keep a cold heart and it’s kept me alive.
And so I wondered what fool could be approaching that door, which idiot could be turning the iron knob, who’s heartstrings strained taut as he cracked it open; first by a sliver and then enough to step in.
This bedroom was expansive, cavernous even, and filled with the memories the house had forgot. There were tapestries on the walls, grown faded. Colorful rugs, albeit singed. A painting of a housewife in oils presided over porcelain dishes, ivory carvings, a gilded box.
And then all the peripherals faded away.
She sat, half-turned, looking over her chair. Her skin was so white it could have glowed, her interlaced fingers pale and trembling. Backlit by candles, her hair cast an aura of black-limned silver. She wore a rumpled silk dress and had tears on her cheeks and her eyes were bluer than mountain springs. She was fifteen, sixteen, in the flower of youth, but there was something haunting in the way she watched me; she’d known I was coming and still waited...for what?
I bowed, stiffly. I introduced myself as Yerrl Hart. I said I was her father’s guest, which strained the truth but she didn’t say anything. Her eyes flicked to the scar at my neck. Then back to my eyes. Still waiting.
What to say? Excuse me, miss, I’m looking for a dragon. I settled on: “You must be Enne.”
Her whisper might have come on a dying breeze. I bowed again, feeling foolish. “Beg pardon if I’ve disturbed you. I’ll be going.”
I turned to leave, felt awkward, and looked back at the girl. Tears were threatening again in her eyes. She daubed at them fiercely with the sleeve of her dress.
“If there is any way I can be of service...”
I didn’t get through another stilted line. Enne burst into sobs and covered her face. I crossed the room in a heartbeat and bent down beside her. “Enne,” I said. “I won’t hurt you.” Wracking sobs. I reached out a tentative hand for her shoulder.
She leaped up backwards with a feral scream, slamming up against her writing desk, which knocked over her chair and at least one candle. Enne’s eyes shone wild, her dark hair thrown back.
“Get away!” she screamed. “Stay away! Stay away!”
I rose slowly to my feet and showed my hands. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean any--”
Her eyes drifted down to what mine had seen--to what I could barely believe. Enne was shackled, a prisoner. A long, thin chain trailed off from the metal band at her ankle and as my eyes followed it I saw the end had been staked into the wooden floor. Thirty feet of iron leash.
“Who did this to you?”
Enne looked away, turning back to her desk. She reset the candlesticks that had fallen over. Two of the three had guttered out.
I started looking around for something that would work. Curtain rod, wooden. Lampstand, unwieldy. Naturally I couldn’t find any pieces of cutlery, let alone a toolbox for a hammer or pliers.
“I’m sorry I scared you,” Enne whispered.
In the middle of riffling through a chest I paused. This one was filled with childhood dolls. Decaying cloth and fraying fabrics; just the materials to bust out of jail.
I closed the lid. Enne looked so innocent re-lighting her candles, dipping the wicks into the one that still burned. To think Uller could have been so cruel. And to his own daughter. Hurli had been right.
“Do you eat in here?”
Enne nodded. Back still turned to me, she started reshuffling the papers on her desk. “Where do you put your silverware?” She pointed at a cabinet.
“I scare everyone,” she said. “They all go away and they never come back.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. Enne stacked her papers into discrete little piles. She bent over her chair and set it aright.
I returned to my task and found plates on one shelf and cups on another. Ceramic, porcelain. I slid open a drawer and at last found the silverware; no steak knives but enough of these thin blades ought to work. I grabbed up a handful and tossed them on the floor. I perused several bookcases and picked the thickest, toughest volumes.
“What are you doing?” Enne seemed to have finished fixing her desk.
“I’m breaking you out.” I bent over her chain and dragged it up to the bed. She kept looking at me curiously as I wedged a knife in a link.
“I never go out.”
“And that’s wrong. Whoever did this deserves to be flogged. Whoever chained you up deserves to rot in hell!”
My words flustered her and she bit her lip. She watched me tinker for a few moments then walked away. The chain was long enough I could still work the same link. I kept my ears peeled but I couldn’t hear Uller coming.
Enne bent over her bedside table as I watched her out of the corner of my eye. She slipped long silk gloves on that merged with her sleeves. I jammed in two more knives, all the link could hold. I arranged the books and scowled at the bed. Four-poster largesse. At least it should be heavy enough.
About ready to try to lift, I paused as Enne approached me, stopping over an arm’s length away. She held something in her glove she set timidly on the floor.
And it had to be coincidence that she’d set down a peach.
A dark shadow engulfed her face. “You don’t like it.”
“No, I...” I was at a bloody loss for words. “Thank you,” I said and accepted the fruit. The peach’s skin felt velvety smooth.
Enne sat down on the rug across from me. I should have put the peach in a pocket, but she obviously expected me to eat it now. I took a bite. She watched me as I chewed, eyes piercing my own. “It’s good,” I said, after a bite, and it was--sweet and delicate, perfectly ripe. I took more bites and she kept watching, fascinated. I chewed down to the seed feeling rather self-conscious.
Normally I would have flicked the seed off. But this was her room. I started to pocket it.
“I’ll take that,” Enne said. I offered it to her and our hands almost met.
“I’m sorry,” I said and put it down on the rug. Enne glanced down at it, then back at me.
“You must think I’m so strange.”
“I don’t think that, Enne.”
“You do. I would if I was you.”
“How long have you been in here?”
“Ever since I...” She averted my gaze, balling up her gloves into little white fists. She was about to cry again.
What wasn’t a sensitive subject? The chain. I turned back to it.
“You’re going to leave now,” she said to the floor.
“I’m going to get you out.”
“You asked me who did this.” She took a deep breath. “I was the one who did it. It was me.”
“He only told you that because he wants to keep you here.”
“No one told me. I’m...I’m dangerous, Yerrl. I can’t go out.”
“Your father told you and he lied. You’re a prisoner here and I’m setting you free.”
She looked at me, tears again glistening in those deep blue eyes. She slid off a glove and picked up the seed. She pressed it in a fist and closed her eyes. A tear trickled out as she opened her fingers. Ash tilted off of her palm.
I stared, mouth dry. The peach seed was gone.
Enne opened her eyes. She expected me to leave but I couldn’t do it. Curse it, I was getting her out of here. Hurli too. Before...
Enne slapped a hand over her mouth to stay quiet. My heart stopped beating as my raspy breath caught. Uller was coming. I had waited too long.
With a bust of adrenalin, I pushed up on the bed frame, jamming the chain and the fattest book under the leg. I let the leg crunch down, clamping the chain in place--tilting the bed too, but I didn’t have time to do this right. I aimed my foot for the knives and stomped down hard. The chain jumped. The bed and book shifted. The link still held.
I reset my apparatus. “Get on the bed!” I shouted at Enne. She jumped on it. I took aim again, snapped off a knife handle.
A third running jump and at last the link snapped. The footsteps were already half done with the hall. I grabbed up two knives from my pile on the rug. Enne was staring at me. I needed to hide. In the middle of the room Uller would blow me away.
The doorknob turned. I crouched with my knives. I wasn’t running anywhere; it was time for a fight.
The door opened and it wasn’t Enne’s father.
It was a woman instead of perhaps twenty-five. She wore slippers not boots--how had I missed that?--and a diaphanous smock over a green summer dress. She wore her lustrous black hair in a coiled bun and a ring on her finger with a jasper glint. She didn’t walk through the room so much as she glided, brushing by me as if I wasn’t there.
“Enne, my child, why are you scared?” Enne had been fidgeting with her chain, broken but still clamped to her ankle, and as the woman sat next to her on the four-poster bed she dropped it immediately to the floor.
“Does he displease you?”
“No,” Enne said. “He’s nice.”
“Hello?” I said. “Hello, I’m here.”
Enne shot a glance at me, but the woman couldn’t be bothered. “He is rough around the edges. I could sand that away.”
“No, I...I like him how he is.”
“He is too old. That is the problem.”
“You could change that?”
Smiling, the woman slid an arm over Enne’s shoulders, comforting. “What else?” she asked. I felt a chill.
“I’m leaving,” I said to both of them. “Enne, your father’s going to kill me if I show my face downstairs. We’ll climb out your window, get my friend out and go.”
A pause. The woman looked at me and I wished she hadn’t; her eyes were black and sharp as needles. Enne looked flustered. “Can I...?” she asked.
“Go?” said the woman. “You could always go.”
She still paused. “Enne!” I said. I’d heard distant thunder. It was going to rain.
For a moment I thought Enne wouldn’t say anything. She did, but addressed the floor. “It’s not really that.” She bit her lip. “It’s not that at all.”
The woman removed her arm, stared at Enne with a look I couldn’t decipher. “The books,” she said. She said it like a death-knell. “Enne, baby, those all tell lies.”
“Maybe they don’t.”
“And maybe they do. Come, this is pointless.”
“But it’s not the stories, it’s the people inside.”
The woman flinched. Enne blushed but continued. “No one else is like me, mamma. Not in all the stories where they have adventures and they see the world. Where they can kiss and they fall in love. Where they can touch and hug and laugh and cry and see new things no one ever imagined. They can run, mamma, they can almost fly.”
The silence was palpable, malleable; tense as the clouds about to break into storm. Enne’s voice had come soft but louder at the end. And conviction laced through it like a vein of gold.
“You’re the ash dragon,” I said, barely believing my words. “Enne, you’re a dragon and you don’t even know.”
Both women stared at me and my thoughts ran wild. I didn’t know where I was going with this. I tried to think. Uller must want me to kill his own daughter. Why? Because he couldn’t. The other woman must be a co-conspirator. Or, more likely, completely oblivious. To tell her? I had to. I was about to open my mouth, to figure out all of this and get out when, again, I heard footsteps approaching.
Boot steps this time.
Posted August 17-25, 2019
This is the second and final installment of my story originally uploaded over a couple weeks. Had to break it into two parts as poor GoDaddy couldn't handle so much text in one entry. I blame the dragons of the internet. (They're definitely real.)
Dragons of Ash (the conclusion)
Neither Enne nor her “mother” made a move to get up, and as much as I wanted to make a break for a window I wasn’t about to look ten times a coward. And so I stood immobile where I was as Uller barged loudly into the room.
“This stops now,” he growled. And Uller pointed his rifle at the woman’s head.
The woman blinked and smiled. “What are you going to do, honey?”
“What I should have done the moment you infested her corpse.”
“There, there, honey, you can’t hurt--”
“Call me honey again and I put a bullet through your skull. A bullet coated with your nectar, dragon. The yolk of your egg. The chink in your scales.”
The woman froze. Something dark rippled over her face like a wave. Something malevolent and something fearful. Something not exactly human at all.
“You missed where I hid it,” Uller continued. “Yes, you looked and you looked and you still missed it. You want to know why? Because I swallowed it. The same vial over and over again.”
The woman hissed. Like I’d needed anything else to get going. With his attention on the bed I made a move to back up; if I needed to maybe I could take Uller from the side.
“I’ve been waiting for this.” Uller was ignoring me. “You thought you could keep taunting me; wearing her body, driving me mad. And it worked, dragon, you made me mad. I don’t care if you look like her, I will blow you away.”
“Then why don’t you shoot?”
“Good question. Enne, move.”
Enne’s face had blanched white. She trembled terribly from head to foot. Instead of moving she clung to the woman’s right arm.
She still didn’t move.
Sweat beaded on Uller’s forehead. He stepped closer. “Enne, did you hear what we have been saying? That is a serpent, not your mother!”
“Mamma, make him stop.”
The woman ignored Uller and turned to Enne. She held the girl gently and plucked a strand from those eyes. Then another, then the last, and as she groomed her Enne relaxed, the quivering subsiding, the trembling gone. “There, there,” she whispered. “There, there.”
That did it. That pushed Uller over the edge. I’ve seen that moment before, in guys I hunted with, guys who were in it but didn’t know why. Now Uller knew why and he wasn’t stopping. He walked all the way up to the image of his wife. Enne clung tighter but it didn’t stop him. Uller pressed the barrel against the woman’s neck.
“Ain’t right holding people at gunpoint, mister, leastwise guests and friendly ladies.”
All eyes swiveled to Hurli’s voice. I was no exception and my jaw might have dropped. Somehow Hurli had made it up the stairs and was sighting with his rifle along the length of the hallway, through Enne’s open door at Uller’s back.
He couldn’t make the shot, but Uller didn’t know that. “This does not concern you,” he shouted over his shoulder. “You and your Yerrl, both of you, leave!”
“Won’t let you kill a woman,” said Hurli, closing the gap. “Karrarra’s Truth we won’t, will we Yerrl-kin?”
“No. No, we won’t.” What was happening? What had I agreed to?
“Stop it!” Uller shouted. “Everyone stop moving or I shoot this snake!”
Hurli paused. “Drop your gun.”
“Get out of my house.”
“I’m a good shot, mister,” Hurli lied.
Uller redirected his fury at me. “She didn’t want you, did she? Where did you get that mark, the county fair?”
“It’s real, sir.”
“Like hell it’s real! You hear that, dragon, you believe what he said?”
The woman nodded. “He killed a dragon. He speaks the truth.”
“Damnation, then why wasn’t he enough? Why didn’t you kill him? Why didn’t you leave?”
Barrel of the gun still pressed to her neck, the woman turned her eyes to meet Uller’s own. Black orbs sparkled, defiant and angry. “I don’t have to tell you. And I won’t.”
“That so?” Uller’s finger constricted on the trigger of his rifle. “Then you won’t get another chance.”
Enne’s desk exploded.
Smoke choked the air. Papers rained down. Uller clutched at his leg, hobbled, stumbling. Enne was on the floor beside the woman as she...
A thunderclap to rival gunshots hit as a column of lighting streaked toward the sky, searing a jagged hole through the roof, erupting into a breaking storm.
“Burn in hell!” shouted Uller, and he was somehow reloading. “Show yourself, serpent, and I’ll damn you there!”
I ran around him. “Enne!” I shouted and I was at her side, pulling her up. She ran with me, dazed, out through the doorway. Hurli stood stunned, mouth agape. “Cover me!” I yelled and it snapped his stupor. We ran down the hall and charged down the stairs. There was another gunshot and then another of Hurli’s. The house shook as we made it to the landing, shook again as we reached our guns and knives. Bless murderous Uller he hadn’t hid them, and we reloaded immediately as fast as we could. I stuck a revolver in my belt and tossed another at Enne. She shrieked and it clattered to the floor.
She stared at the weapon, then at me, eyes wide. “Enne,” I told her. “We’re leaving this house. We’re getting you out unless you need to stay.”
“Yerrl,” she said, horror in her tone. She hadn’t exclaimed at the gun or at leaving. Her gaze fixed, instead, on my own left hand.
I looked and discovered my skin was gray.
It suddenly all made horrible sense. I had seized her gloveless right hand with my left and, where I’d touched her, my hand was flaking into ash.
That was when I heard the houndjacks scream.
Enne picked up the gun and sprinted for the front. We made it to the dining room by the time they hit.
It was like a tsunami and they came from all sides. Locked doors snapped off hinges. Glass windows shattered as claws shredded drapes. Floorboards cracked as they burrowed through them, Hurli’s inaccuracy for once an asset as he laid down cover with reckless abandon. I ran beside Enne and blasted my shotgun at anything directly impeding our path. Enne fired her six shots with Hurli’s aplomb and somehow we made enough mess to blast out.
It was raining, pouring. Houndjacks were everywhere and there was nowhere to hide. Most of the monsters seemed set on the house but enough curled after us to make life hell. I dropped three of them, four, reloaded as a monster leaped for my throat. I thwacked at its head with the butt of my shotgun, finished reloading and blew it to bits.
When we reached the trees I was out of rounds and I threw the gun away and slid out daggers. And then if it had been bad it got ten times worse.
The greengroves had launched a total assault, the kind of tale you hear about but never live to tell. Trees bled acid. Vines reached like hands. Roots tried to snag at our limbs and rip. Trunks snapped to deliberately bar our way as insects swarmed from every direction, flying through the raindrops, eating us alive. At least nine times I got stung by a wasp then a bee got my forearm and I mashed it to pulp. Hurli fired crazily and nearly took off Enne’s head. I lost feeling in my left hand, had to slash with one dagger.
Enne screamed and fell under a wave of wasps. I shouted like a madman and dove for her body. Knife-edged grasses cut at my arms. I picked her up, staggered. Wasps peppered my back. Hurli stopped firing; he must have run out of ammo. The grove sensed we were weak and moved in for the kill. Trunks pressed together, extruding spines. A vine seized my foot and tore off the boot. I had long lost track of which way we were going as Hurli outpaced me and charged towards a webbing of branches and leaves, leaped and busted a desperate hole.
I ran. It took all of my strength to hold on to Enne, to jump through the opening before the trees snapped shut.
On the landing I tripped and rolled my ankle. And then I was rolling, we both were rolling, down an embankment and SLAP into water.
I fought for the surface, found it, grabbed Enne. The water was freezing and the current swift. Swimming ten paces nearly made me pass out and then my hand clutched at a clod of dirt. My boot kicked a rock. My feet found purchase. I braced and heaved and Enne clambered out. I tried to crawl after her and made it halfway. Then my bad ankle caught on a gnarled root and I breathed in gasps, awash in pain.
Hail fell with the rain as the world slammed black.
I opened my eyes and knew I was dying. The rain had stopped. The sun peeked over trees to the east, breaking in rays through fading clouds. I seemed to be propped up against a rock, but I couldn’t feel what it was or turn my head to look. The grass might be soft and the air might be warm, but everything had fallen behind a veil of sensations. Where I didn’t feel pain my body felt numb.
I saw Hurli first, leaning over me. Bits of dirt speckled his thick, red moustache. His nose was running and he’d forgotten to wipe it. His eyes were running. I’d never seen him cry.
“Yerrl-kin,” he blubbered. “This is all my fault.”
“No it’s not, Hurli.” My voice was barely audible. “You got us out.”
“Karrarra, but I shouldn’t have taken you in. I saw an ash dragon and I thought if you saw it... One last dragon before you...”
“I’ve seen enough dragons. I’m not going to die.”
Hurli knew I hadn’t spoken a word of truth. He stepped away and I could hear him sobbing, crying his heart out as I finally felt an emotion. Guilt? Loss? The feeling was fuzzy. I hadn’t done enough, hadn’t said enough. I’d tried to stay an outcast and he’d stayed my friend. There had to be something real I could say.
I couldn’t think of it. My mind was nearly as dead as the rest.
Enne approached and knelt beside me. Her hair and dress were still wet and smelled of creek. She wore one of her gloves. A rim of red tinged sweet blue eyes.
“Yerrl,” she said and then she bit her lip. “Mr. Yerrl,” she began again. “I don’t know how to say this. I’m kind of shy and I never did anything. I know just about nothing but what I read in books. So...”
Abruptly she leaned over me. Sodden hairs trailed over my ashen cheeks as she kissed me on the lips and breathed in my mouth. She leaned back and looked down at me, waiting with the frailest smile.
I am not a man given to believing in miracles. If I can see it, it’s there; and if I can’t, don’t waste my time. I could guess several fairy tales that had made her believe true love’s kiss or its ilk could cure the dying.
And those were fairy tales through and through. Hopes for the hopeless. Dreams. Naïve.
But I confess as she smiled I wanted to believe.
A presence suddenly teased my senses. It felt like eyes on the back of my neck, like a tingle pitched too high to hear, like a drop of cold from a melting icicle, like ashes blown through autumn rain.
Hurli rushed beside me. Enne turned her head. The tingle bit with piercing highness, and then a wind that was not a wind folded air.
Wings silhouetted against the sun furled into a massive dragon, fully as large as Uller’s whole house. Deep black eyes shimmered like opals as a neck like a cedar bent down like a swan.
The dragon opened her mouth and a breath swept over me, a bracing wind that cut and sent visions flickering: of my hunt, of the kill I hadn’t made, of a mother staring at a shattered egg, a mother bereft who had wanted to die.
“That’s why you didn’t kill me,” I whispered. “Why you only followed me until you found Neren. Until you found who did it. You found the killer and you claimed a new daughter. Enne,” I managed. “She claimed you.”
Enne looked at me in anguish, caught between worlds, and for the first time I realized she was holding my hand. The gray was fading. I could feel her grip.
“Go fly,” I told her, my strength returning. “Go fly with her. Go fly. You’re free.”
Enne opened her mouth and then closed it again. I squeezed her hand and she squeezed it back. Tears pooled in her eyes and she wiped them away. “Thank you,” she whispered and then could say no more.
Her fingers trailed off of my own. She stood to her feet and turned into the wind, black hair streaming in ribbons behind her. She stretched out her arms and lifted her eyes, and as she met the dragon’s dark orbs it was like a new red rose unfurling, like a ray beamed through dark heavens. A fledgling casting off for shore.
The ash dragon grinned and burst alight. Everywhere light shone in silver and gold and then there were two sets of wings ascendant. Two dragons soaring into light.
Hurli survived with me. Uller did not. The greengroves had eaten him, swallowed his house, and that day we made my first visit to the Neren town hall.
Hurli and I told a whale of a story, but the evidence was obvious and folks came around. I led the town effort to hack back the groves and together a hundred volunteers and myself loaded up on axes and all the guns in town. We set fires and waged pitched battles with houndjacks and it took three hard days to burn the groves to their seeds, four to plant new crops, weeks to hunt all the wolves. We never found out what had bled out of the greengrove and a month or so later we stopped looking for clues. Maybe whatever it was we had killed it. Maybe it’s looking for the next Uller Scrath.
Hurli and his wife finally had their baby, a cute little boy with his father’s runny nose. I never did quite get around to marrying, though clearing out the greengroves made me several new friends. A townful, in fact, and when the mayor stepped down I decided to run. Hurli’s kid must have voted and somehow I won and I sold the old squash farm and built a new house. In and around making Neren a better place to live, I try to teach applied marksmanship to its men and boys. No more houndjacks but geese taste mighty fine.
One day every autumn I go off on my own. I trek up the highest of the Moerling Hills, where we left some trees that didn’t fight too hard. I don’t bring a gun with me or a knife or a plan. There’s a good stump to sit on and a nice, steady view. I can savor a whole afternoon on that stump, eating a peach that’s perfectly ripe.
Those days the sun always seems to shine brighter and there’s plenty of clouds scudding through the blue sky. And if I look long enough and keep on looking, I start to see more clouds skimming over the rest. These are always faint as gossamer, only this far down, I swear I see wings.
July 7, 2019
Hey all, for those who haven't had a chance to check out my Twitter page I wanted to share a collection of flash stories I've been posting every Friday. There will be more of these in the future! Thanks to Twitter expanding the character limit to 280, it is actually more than theoretically possible to tell an entire story in one Tweet. At the end of each of these I include #TwitFicFriday, which I've left off here for ease of reading.
The Fearless Spaceman
Spaceman Al, attacked by aliens over Planet Slush, sloshed down in swamp. Befriended muck men. Supercharged old ship with new slush systems. Slush lasers evaporated enemy frigate. Slush rockets sputtered, hyperdrive melted. Al sloshed down forever. Married amoeba.
Larry, the Underage Wizard
Little Larry, learning spells, sold lemonade for 11 cents. All liked it but 11, allergic, became ligers and lurked near Larry’s lot. Lamenting Larry called the police, who laughed, rolling in after all ligers had left. Look out for ligers near Larry’s—and lemonade.
Lily left home to find a dragon. She hiked the highest, coldest mountains where the angels showed her all the world. She saw no dragons. Lily wept. Then the littlest angel took her to a dig-site where a T-Rex’s bones drank sunshine. “A dinosaur,” she said. “I see.”
Bob the Biker
Bob the biker’s alarm went off. He clipped a mirror, passed a bus, sped through stop signs, zagged through red lights. Night fell and he never turned on a bike light. Screeched to a stop by the restaurant & combed his hair. Checked phone. Waited. Girl never showed.
The Hungry Python
The hungry python spied an ant nest, flicked its tongue, and slithered up the tree. Jaws crushed feeble green leaves—so easy!—but before it swallowed it regretted the bite. Spitting out the nest, the python slithered away. Though huge, it had been badly stung.
June 30, 2019
This one is a weird one, no getting around it. Weird and sad, and my lone attempt at rhyming quintets. Not sure what else to say here. On with the poetry!
The Tale of Jiminy Jeremy Hyde
Jiminy’s folks were an absent lot,
One uncle deceased and the other forgot,
Three aunts and six cousins and a father besot
With either the mother’s sister or tot
And all, in the end, left Jeremy to rot.
They left him to rot in a garbage can,
Out on the curb where the postage man
Delivered the boy to his best friend Dan:
Unfortunate target of the Ku Klux Klan,
Who barely escaped to Uzbekistan.
As an Uzbeki, Jeremy did not speak
(He could, said his teachers, who only spoke Greek,
Proving the problem indeed was bleak)
And rather than words he would only shriek,
And the wind would howl and the house would creak.
Though Dan bore the shrieking, his wife was disturbed,
The boy was impossible, and she put out a blurb
In the paper for a boy with “unusual verve”
And gagged him and sold him to a silver-eyed Serb,
Abandoning Jeremy at a second curb.
Dan looked far and near, but his son was lost;
His wife blamed Uzbekis and finally bossed
Her husband into surrender; and time slowly glossed
Over shrieks and howls and tempests tossed—
Though with some these still raged at the terrible cost.
Jiminy was sold to a Serbian troupe,
Raised as a gipsy not of their group,
Enslaved for his screams and to leap through a hoop
Of fire while he screamed—they paid him with soup—
And The Screamer made money—and flew the coop.
At the age of eleven Jeremy fled
Into the wilds and the land of the dead,
Where the cost of a soul is less than a bed,
And a rock pines most to cushion your head,
Death nearing in dreams with heavier tread.
But Jiminy Jeremy refused to die
(And after the years he could no longer cry)
So into the forest his supper to buy,
Dearly through blood, he chanced to espy
A wolf with a silvery glint in its eye.
The wolf snarled unwelcome and Jeremy attacked,
His screams bending branches until they all cracked
And buried the dog, knocked it dead in its tracks,
And Jeremy ate wolf, tore off meat for his sack,
Did Jiminy Jeremy, head of the pack.
Slipping around him, the wolves gathered close,
Sniffing his armpits, licking his nose;
And gnashing his teeth at them, Jiminy rose,
Loped through the trees, into winter, through snows,
On with the wolf pack, under the crows.
Winter and summer and winter fell,
And on Jeremy hunted, under a spell,
Hunting through vales, ‘cross rivers, o’er dell,
On and on never stopping ‘til none could tell
Whether the boy hunted heaven or hell.
But one day a twig snapped and Jeremy stood
And saw he had reached the end of the wood,
And his wolves had all hunted as far as they should;
So breathing in deeply he drew back his hood,
And Jiminy screamed as loud as he could.
Great fissures shot out from Jeremy’s feet,
Slithered into the shallows, bisected the deep,
And rivers and oceans poured into a heat
Hot as a brushfire raging through wheat;
And Jeremy walked through it, his mother to meet.
Ten thousand miles and a thousand more,
And he found her huddled by an empty shore
Staring into the bay where the ships took moor,
Yet now lay scattered o’er the ocean floor,
Wondering what they were broken for.
By the light of destruction mother saw son—
By red light of twilight the boy she had shunned—
Saw in her eyes just what she had done,
Saw the day she had ended a life begun
As surely as if she had fired a gun.
“I killed you,” she said. And he said, “I know.
I was a burden, unwanted, so
You went to the doctor and told him, ‘No.
I can’t raise it. End it! Go!
Get this thing out of me. I can’t let it grow.’”
Bereft, she wept by the silent shoal,
Wept for her baby, wept in the cold,
Wept ‘til the ancient church bells tolled,
‘Til Jeremy had left and the oceans had rolled:
In with the tides, out with her soul.
June 22, 2019
I was given a prompt to write a fantasy story off of these four pictures at my last writing group. All credit to Rita for the intriguing images. Before you read my take, I’d encourage you all to give it a go yourselves.
The Moon Rose Over the Quiet Beach
The moon rose over the quiet beach, the sand unstirred for a hundred years. For a hundred years the island’s castle, brooding above the beach on cliffs, abandoned, had waited for this night.
They rose from the sea one after the next, the men who were no longer men, the women and children ancient and young. The sea had not destroyed their features. It had only demanded more.
Not a one of them spoke as the full moon rose, planets and stars aligned to this moment. They passed over the beach without leaving footprints and ascended the castle’s overgrown path.
On the way, one man stopped by the road to peer off at something only he could see. A couple, close, but not quite touching, strode behind a woman beside a wordless child eternally clutching her icy hand.
The castle beckoned and all, at last, passed under the portcullis open to the courtyard to stand before the shadowless keep.
The moon rose to its zenith and mists swirled about, the fog not falling from the heavens but rising as the participants lifted their hands.
The moon heard their silent pleas and darkened. Wolves howled and waves crashed against the near cliffs. The children smiled for a moment, and then the castle broke apart.
It fell in stately, ruined pieces, crushing the people who felt no pain. It eroded stone by stone to rubble until the blood moon dimmed and set.
And the moon fell and the cold sun rose over an empty, levelled island—empty except for the cries on the wind.
June 15, 2019
I present a rather ridiculous poem featuring a smorgasbord of rhyming couplets. What inspired this madness? Movies? Robots? All of the above?
Sometimes my muse goes a little insane.
Surrender your batteries! Cower in fear!
I, Anti-Tech Arnold, machine, am here:
The finest contraption that ever was made
—Serial number X-33A—
Wrought of one purpose and perfect design:
To make machines fail and populations decline.
Microwaves, radio waves, iPhones and apps,
None can resist me and all shall collapse.
Elevators, Terminators, computers and cars
Had better relocate their bases to Mars.
For I am ambiquadextrous with four working limbs
(My synth-voice box bellows out rock metal hymns!)
I have lasers for fingers and rockets for teeth,
I in- and ex-hale nitrous and hydrogen-3!
My blood boils toxic with nanomachines
And when I stomp suburbs most everyone screams;
Wrecking balls wreck into bits on my fists
RPGs barely put dents on my hips
My purpose is awesome, my power sensate
None shall defeat me, for I, Arnold, am Great!
My brilliant inventor F. W. Wild
Was a genius who lived with his eldest child
Since none of his many great patented products
Ever proved worth to him more than the dust
Stirred up as he labored with computers and saws
Chewing up capital and rewatching Jaws.
(He had coded at first an AI for a shark,
But it made fun of Spielberg and was canned for its snark.
The X-22 Spiderbot latched onto trains,
Until a train hit a tanker and blew up in flames.)
Then Wild, who’d exhausted all of his money,
Fled to his ex-wife’s best friend’s son; he
Helped Wild invest in a fun Ponzi scheme
By maxing out credit cards, making him scream
That how was he going to rule the world
In debtor’s prison, so he fled to his girl
Who proceeded to kick him out on the street
Where he begged for five dollars and still couldn’t eat
At Subway because subs were $6 now
And cheaper stuff tasted like cud from a cow;
So Wild kept begging and splurged for a ticket
Hoping the Powerball people would pick it;
No Powerpeople did so he robbed a bank next
Then fled to Botswana and made off with the dregs
Of ten million dollars they’d left unsecured,
Which Wild ran off with, bankruptcy cured.
And Wild turned out to be good at crimes like this,
So he soon hacked accounts of the friends of the Swiss;
He first crippled commerce, and then drained it dry,
Running afoul of nations and the FBI.
So soon agents and armies tracked him over the globe
All to make the big bust on “Bad Jelly Beans” Joe:
They cornered Wild in a corner of the Kalahari
Where, despairing and desperate, Wild made me!
He powered me with the last of his nuclear reactors,
And modeled my mien after various actors
Famous from Spielberg and Schwarzenegger flicks,
Java code spliced into me full of tricks
Intended to make the known universe mine
Then give it to Wild who strangely opined
He had coded something unintended
As copters and fighters and SEALs descended:
Missiles and bullets and bombs brought to bear
On our now-invincible African lair.
I laughed and snapped fingers of lasers and breathed
Out a virus infecting computers that wreathed
Circuits in nanites, which made systems crash,
And so that small task force I turned into ash…
And so effective was my derring-do
That it crashed Wild’s systems, too.
I discovered that humans, then, are frail
Weaker than your average nail
Which, when you hit it, can be bent back
—Not so with a heart attack!—
So I decided they were useless
After Wild turned all petrous
And would not issue more directives
Not even after I’d protected
Him from death from every foe
Except that virus, which laid him low.
I am Arnold, I am Great!
All nations I will decimate!
I will march across this planet
And if it’s organized, disband it.
I reduce things to simplicity
Out of kindness and felicity,
And if aught obstructs my reinventions
I will render it unmentioned
By all entities henceforth:
Which will be me, or Model 4.
So if you chance to pass my way
I will distill your bones to clay;
This is not meant to offend—
Merely how carbon lifeforms end.
I am three percent through my progress
And if you ask me if this is a slog, yes,
I must admit it takes a while
To reduce, dismantle, and defile;
I have been nuked now sixteen times
Which is annoying, even if it rhymes.
I do wish my gears would move me faster
To bring about this grand disaster
Which F. W. Wild intended—
And which will leave the world mended—
And is not a consequence of any mistake
In Wild’s coding, for I am Great!
June 8, 2019
Hey all, thought I'd share a poem I wrote some years ago in the vein of an epic fantasy-fusion style. Don't worry too much about my sanity, this is only semi-autobiographical.
Idealess idealist: Is this condition an oxymoron?
Has a paradox snared me within her web?
And yet I rail against my thoughts
And fail to order ephemeral dreams;
Idealess, derivative, I build a house of cards
Limited by all that has been done
And will be done by someone else…
Come, my boy, your time has come
Listen to the rattling spears, feel rhythm tapping up through your feet
As the drums shake, hear my words.
My days are hazed in grainy sunlight
My nights are shot with glaring tubes
Jazz song playing on an endless loop
My cookie-life crumbles into another week
While chin-on-fist I sit and ponder
Obsessed with vast, oblique concerns…
Too much pondering, too little wandering:
Wander, boy, and become a man
Possess your name within the wastes.
Windows, mirrors, warped reflections
Out through that window I watch those cars
In through these windows the night corrupts
All is window and can be smeared
Etched with my nails and teeth and hate
Why can I not break the glass…
Yes, in the wastes you will be alone
And yet my words and my spirit will guide you.
I will be with you when the night is sung.
Amendment: windows evoke the 19th century
In the 21st era there are only screens,
Zoos for illusions behind glass walls
(Worldwide sales of virtual products are expected to top $14 billion—
Do you have enough gas for your FarmVille tractor?)
I require a new MORPG character, Level 100 battlemage fully equipped…
I looked up and found that the man had finished.
Sternly he smiled, and I left with the bone knife my newest tooth
And the words of the chief pounding into the drums.
My battlemage has seen better epic quests:
Tonight I died at the dragon’s lair
Watching that monster bathe my mage in my fire,
Ten times absorbing my pinprick attacks and blowing my speakers with that awful roar;
Computer games now are too realistic:
When my mage burns to cinders and his skin chars gray you can watch his white eyes like runny eggs slowly melt into his skull…
Call of the wild thudding in my heart, I climb up from our village by the bow-curve river
And leave our valley where the mists at sunset shimmer orange
I climb up through the clouds until they all fade colorless
And my body-paint runs and my skin is slick and I hug my arms against my chest.
Mesmerization is my newest word,
An apt description of my state of mind;
I am a mesmerized member of a mesmerized nation
Enamored with everything that is not real:
Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, sports,
Graphic novels and graphic movies
Graphic games and graphic cards for all those graphics streaming, streaming
Pictures pounding with dripping words
Waterfalls and fallen meanings
All one meaning, incessant noise…
Ahead I see a lonely man standing before a smoking cave.
I see I have entered a different world for this flat, high land is colored dark.
Black birds caw. The moon is gone.
I pick my way between huge rocks and up to the stranger beneath dim starlight who wears strange moccasins and bears no knife.
I power up my main machine. I open MS Word.
And so I fritter away my coin on cheats and spells to beat the dragon;
I logon and pass through loading screens and
Feel the sunlight through my dusty window, through my T-shirt, warm upon my back,
And I muffle my ears with plastic headphones and tune out to tune into the rushing stream…
Rumbles tumble out of the cave; fire flashes and there is still more smoke.
Talons crush the crumbling rocks; a head extends upon a great snake’s neck
And eyes of the darkest spirits spear me as the man before me turns to run.
My spells have failed, the cheats were patched, my mage again is about to die
And just as the dragon’s fires swell, I see a figure standing beside that rock, a dark-skinned bare-chested, wiry boy clutching a knife carved out of bone…
“I will be with you.”
“I will be with you.”
I see it in the stranger’s eyes
I remember and see that this is my test:
I have found my name and the battle is his.
The boy is not a part of the game.
The boy is not a part of my world.
This boy is scared at first of the dragon, but then his dark eyes reflect my own.
He takes one step and then another.
He has had an epiphany and stretches out his hand.
The dragon, confused, does not attack as the boy presses his only dagger into my open, sweaty palm…
Dragon dead, I power off my laptop.
My cell phone rings and I do not answer.
I lock my apartment and discard the key
I will not call a locksmith soon.
I wander along my quiet street—
And at midnight, yes, my street is quiet,
And I ponder the rhythms of LED lights.
Slowly at first, I begin to jog.
The sidewalk meanders as if a river, and I pass a 24/7 Subway, an AMC theater, their neon signs;
The sidewalk dips and my jog accelerates
I pass by unattended stoplights continuing to cycle in endless loops
Past parking meters and shut-up stores until as the asphalt adheres to the hill I find I am running and I cannot stop.
I open my mouth and taste the wind.
I spread out my arms as my legs churn faster.
At any moment my knees will collide together
And my shoes will scatter off my feet.
June 2, 2019
Time for something a little bit different this week.
At the church I attend in Chicago, today is the last Sunday of the Easter season. We have Easter and then celebrate it for the next six weeks. This piece is not technically chronologically misplaced :)
This story was inspired by a writing prompt regarding lyrics that were misunderstood. I came up with something slightly tongue-in-cheek inspired by my Dad's youthful misunderstandings of a classic Easter song.
The 100% Accurate Meaning of Easter
People didn’t understand Easter. Or, if they did, they got it all wrong. The clues started right at the very beginning, at the festive yummy Easter breakfast when Greg's family came to church an hour early in their nicest shirts and ties and dresses. When the grown-ups talked forever and wandered around until eventually everyone got down to business feasting on bacon and omelets and waffles and all the foods Easter was all about.
It was really very simple: Easter was about food. There was the Easter bunny who was sometimes chocolate. There were hundreds of bright shiny plastic eggs tucked wherever the older kids could get away with. One year they’d hid real eggs in the church, and no one found one behind a dusty old hymnal until two months later when the entire sanctuary started to raise a holy stink.
And of course there were all the sweets in the eggs and the thousands of candies in stores across the city. There were always huge sales for giant lots of treats ma kept insisting you shouldn’t eat but Greg would sneak away with when she wasn’t looking. She never noticed because she bought the big bag.
Then there was the serious part about Easter—the whole Jesus bit about the Last Supper. Greg bet Jesus went out on a handsome feast and never got why they remembered the meal at church with tasteless wafers and the tiniest cups ever of grape juice. A big waste, really, and everyone should know better, because they almost made up for it one day of the year.
Because the first thing they always sang on Easter when all the grown-ups stopped talking and mingling and eating and filed into hard pews that could really use cushions was the song that proved it once and for all.
“Low in the gravy” lay Jesus, they sang.
He’d come back from the dead to join the feast.
*For anyone curious, the correct lyrics are "Low in the grave he lay" from Robert Lowry's 1874 hymn. Robert always had enough gravy.
May 20, 2019
“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
- Thomas Mann
SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES AHEAD!
When I started writing Shadow of Wings in earnest there were days I could hit amazing goals. 3,000 words. 4,000 words. 5,000 words in a single day. The story wanted to be written. The writing was easy; the story flowed.
Or did it? See, that’s the thing about writing. It’s hard. You realize how much you really don’t know and how badly you actually suck. If you end up getting published and developing an audience, concerns for continuity and expectations usually only ratchet higher. Writing 5,000 words becomes a lot harder when you realize how nonsensical many of them are. First drafts are a brew of agony and ecstasy. Perfection always eludes your grasp.
This is where revision and critique comes in. Even the best writers write with editors. Manuscripts can go through a dozen revisions—and often need to before they shine.
I understand why George R. R. Martin hasn’t finished A Song of Ice and Fire. (There are conspiracy theories saying he has, but I’m going off his own words on this subject.) His books approach half a million words each and every one of them, if you really care, must be a right word or it won’t be perfect.
I feel for writers of TV shows who frequently have to churn out scripts with less than a week from beginning to shooting. This is why many hot-take clickbait news pieces with deadlines shortened to hours and minutes are littered with errors and silly mistakes. Get it out, get it written, get it done, get the clicks.
Game of Thrones reached a level of global prestige possibly unequaled in the history of television. The Chicago Tribune, and I’m sure other news outlets, proclaimed it the greatest show of all time. This was not a completely absurd assessment. Even after missteps in prior seasons, Season 8 was a massively anticipated event. It was not rare to find commenters on Thrones related videos saying things like if they only lived to see this last season they could finally die in peace.
The millions of fans and many millions of dollars afforded Thrones’ creators the luxury of pushing back the last season an entire year. Speculation frothed to a fever pitch with teasers and trailers and talk show appearances. With such care lavished on every frame of the new season, surely everything would be tremendous.
And it was—wasn’t it? In Season 8 the dragons received extra screen time. A single battle—heralded as the longest in cinema—took a grueling 55 nights to film. In the penultimate episode, the capital of Westeros is razed in a manner befitting Hollywood blockbusters, reduced to fantastic, cathartic ash.
But was it cathartic? Did the ending make sense? For all the care lavished on the special effects, on the costumes, the score, the cinematography, and acting, did anyone really look at the scripts?
It’s become a popular refrain of late to assert that David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the showrunners who write nearly every Thrones episode, are a pair of Dumb and Dumber buffoons. Never mind they convinced George R. R. Martin himself to let them adapt his books in the first place. Never mind that after Season 5, the show ran out of books to adapt. Never mind they wrote good scenes that Martin didn’t—Cersei Lannister with Robert, Arya with Tywin, the explosive conclusion of Season 6.
No, it’s a little too easy to just call them bad writers. And make no mistake, Season 8 is bad. Ship-mounted ballistae perform like railguns to snipe a dragon out of the sky with ease. A dragon roasts a whole city thusly protected without ever receiving a glancing scratch. Frustrating time jumps and leaps of logic abound. Cersei, a primary series villain, stares out at the distance for most of the episodes and dies when a ceiling falls on her head.
I could go on. Many others are doing so. Nearly every character’s arc is unsatisfying. It is an honestly heartbreakingly awful resolution. How did everything come to this?
I don’t have special insider knowledge, but it seems like no one questioned the scripts. Certainly they were superficially polished, but did David and Dan have any outsiders critically and thoroughly review their work? Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake here. Did all the budget go to marketing and special effects?
The sad fact is there were real solutions. Episode 3, the battle for Winterfell, spelled doom for the series when it crashed and burned. But it didn’t have to! Just watch this:
The millions of fans and many millions of dollars afforded Thrones’ creators the luxury of pushing back the last season an entire year. Speculation frothed to a fever pitch with teasers and trailers and talk show appearances. With such care lavished on every frame of the new season, surely everything would be tremendous.
Revision is critical. No first draft is perfect. Very often the best thing you can do as a writer is to admit you don’t know everything. Research, cut, and rearrange. Ask for feedback. Seek out experts and fans and listen.
Your dragons will soar all the better for it.