Writing in a Shadow Decade

Writing about the future is writing in the shadows of monuments that haven’t yet risen. They’re the building blocks of the tenebrous virtual world you’re constructing, and when you’re writing near-future-fiction you’re more acutely aware of how these monuments shift and transform and rise and fall. You do your best to pin them down with imagination and words, but sooner or later you’ll live long enough to emerge from the shadows and see just how wrong you were.

Cold Reboot

When I started writing the Shadow Decade series with Cold Reboot in 2015 I thought I was being cynical. The world I drifted through was a dark one, full of misery and corruption and decay, but it seemed stable. Like a strong path that had such a sense of gravity to it that we couldn’t break away from it if we tried.

Then 2016 happened.

The conception I had of the future – a Clinton presidency that extended the milquetoast neoconservativism of the Obama administration, increasing corporate power, the inevitable economic disruption caused by the 3D printing revolution and inadequate government response to a shifting climate – seemed plausible. I figured that after eight more years of Democratic disappointment engagement would fall off and the country would elect a Rubio or a Cruz in 2024. That’s the future I wrote – perfectly cyberpunk, mildly dystopian, and gravely plausible.

Well.

I tell myself that nobody could have predicted President Trump. Not me. Not Clinton. Not Trump himself, the look on his face after his win was proof enough of that. But it doesn’t matter, I was stuck with one book set in a universe that no longer had a probability greater than zero, and I was midway through the second. I tell myself that there was no way I could have known that I should have been writing apocalyptic fiction.

Those things are true. They are also irrelevant. We’re in the situation we’re in, and my books are in the situation they’re in.

So I took another year with Network Protocol, changed a few things, details, and tried to envision what a few years of Trump might do to the world. Chasing shadows again, looking for patterns, trying to extrapolate. It’s something I’m good at by virtue of being human – we’re designed to make sense of disparate data. Sometimes we get a bit overzealous looking for connections, but I think that I was able to mold Network Protocol into something that made a little sense.

It’s a personal story, after all, about Erica. Not the world.

I got some parts right. But other things, developments in the last year alone… I’d written about the conflict between climate refugees and natives to their host countries, but couldn’t foresee the rapid return of ultra-nationalistic fascism. I knew the environment was going to shit, but didn’t predict that the true point-of-no-return was going to be 2028.

Things got worse faster. I never realized that I was an optimist.

So now I’m here, on October 31st, 2018, ready to start writing Open Proxy on November 1st for National Novel Writing Month, and I can see the shadows cast by future events. I don’t know what they mean, and can only really guess based on the shapes they make falling over the artifacts of the present. I’m set to refine and revisit a future ten years hence, and I can only pray that I’m getting it all wrong again.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

The LARPening: A Tabletop Game About Live Action Roleplaying

In the LARPening you play a LARPer who LARPS.  LARPening is not itself a LARP, but a tabletop roleplaying game. You can probably make a LARP version of the LARPening but this is not recommended.

Equipment: You need tokens to represent Clove Cigarettes, which represent attention span (and probably Clove Cigarettes), and Spotlight Tokens, which represent engagement. A six-sided die.

Character Creation

In the LARPening one player plays the GM and the others are Players. The game cannot begin until one person agrees to be GM, so whine and cajole each other until someone accepts that responsibility. Alternatively, let the player who is most in love with telling an epic story be the GM.

Players: The goal of the Players is to accrue as much Spotlight Time as possible before they run out of Clove Cigarettes and get too bored to continue. Each player starts with five Cloves, and can wheedle Influence to bum additional Cloves off of your fellow players.

Each player has to come up with a LARPsona, the character they’ll be playing during the game’s event. This is a short paragraph written on an index card placed in front of the player or pinned to their lapel, describing how awesome their character is. No one is compelled to read the other players’ cards.

GM: The GM’s goal is to get the other players to interact with the beautiful story they’ve crafted. They can use Spotlight Time as an incentive. The GM may or may not have Clove Cigarettes, but their consumption is irrelevant. The GM’s work is not done until all of the Players have gotten bored and gone home.

The GM comes up with a story scenario for the Players to interact with. This can be planned out or extemporaneous.

Play

To begin with the GM describes the initial scenario to the Players, the only limit being their imagination. The GM is free to imply whatever situation within the context of the LARP itself that they choose, including the fictitious events of the last LARP the group played.

Preening: The Players then describe their characters’ arrival, who dropped them off, what costumes or other props they’ve brought with them for the game, and how cool they are. Everyone votes on who the coolest player is by giving that person one of their Clove Cigarettes. You can absolutely vote for yourself.

After the initial preening is complete, the GM describes something that changes the status quo of the first scene. This can be anything – an NPC arrives, a bomb goes off, or someone discovers a delightful riddle.

Scenes: Each scene operates the same way. The GM offers Spotlight Time to one of the players, possibly the one they think is coolest, or their significant other, or whoever they think will perform best in the scene. That player gets a Spotlight Token. Other players can attempt to steal the spotlight (and the Spotlight Token) by upstaging the GM’s chosen player; this is accomplished through Posturing. The winner gets the Spotlight Token.

Posturing

When two Players interact it’s a form of social maneuvering often disguised as friendship. The Players can act this out if they’d like, but it comes down to a die roll. If the player (not the LARPsona) is wearing a costume or has another prop, give them a +1 to the roll. If they speak with an accent – appropriate to the character or not – give them a +1 to the roll. High roll wins. The loser of the roll misses the next scene sulking and must consume a Clove Cigarette. If they have any Spotlight Tokens, they can return one to the GM instead of smoking a Clove.

After the scene is resolved, giving one player a Spotlight Token, players have the chance to Posture for social dominance. This follows the same general rules, with the exception of there being no reward for it. Only the penalty for failure.

When any Posturing has been resolved, the GM describes the next scene, and the process begins anew.

End of the Game

As Players run out of Clove Cigarettes they get bored and leave. When only the GM and one Player remains, the game is over. The player with the most Spotlight Tokens had the most fun, and is the winner. GM satisfaction is measured by how many scenes were played through before the Players lost interest. There is no comparison between Spotlight Time and the abstract of GM satisfaction. The GM cannot win.

 

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Midwestern Requiem S1 Penumbra 1-5

Saira jogged down the dirt path through the Giant City State Park, feet hitting the ground in time with the instrumental track playing through her headphones, eyes fixed on the trees ahead, hair safely concealed within her sport hijab. She loved running in the forest, alone, even if she could only find time for twenty minutes a day during the commute back from classes. For those twenty minutes she existed alone in the world, just her feet, the hard-packed trail, and the music.

Being able to empty her mind and become that perfect biological machine was the closest thing to freedom she knew. It was the closest to being free that there was. No thoughts, no insecurities, no student debt, no family, no worries for the future. Nothing but limbs and lungs and breath and speed.

What she treasured most, of course, was the isolation. These runs were really the only time she was ever alone. Even in the room she was renting, basically the entire second floor loft in the house in Murphysboro, she could keenly feel the presence of the Gunthers just down the stairs in the living room below, could hear them at all hours through the heating vents. They respected her privacy, sure, but she didn’t even really have a door at the top of the stairs, just a privacy curtain. Even if they weren’t in the room, they were always there.

And then there was the bus to Carbondale, ten minutes of crowded commuting broken only by her daily stop here on the way back. Admittedly it was only eight miles back, but she didn’t really like running along the highway. There’d been… incidents… in the past, people shouting or even throwing things at the girl on the shoulder.

Carbondale, home to Southern Illinois University, was more cosmopolitan and she didn’t feel so out of place, but she didn’t have any more time to herself, rushing from class to class. She’d definitely overloaded her first semester there, a mistake she didn’t intend to repeat… as long as she managed to finish out the year.

Soon, too, winter would be upon them. She was looking forward to it – winters could get cold in Sindh, but it never really snowed. Not like the pictures she’d seen of the Midwest, anyway.

The tempo of the track Saira’d been listening to changed to something stronger, faster, harder, and she effortlessly shifted from a jog to a run, strides lengthening, footfalls landing harder. Her arms pumped as she pushed her body as hard as she could for the next thirty seconds, relishing the heat that rose in the muscles of her legs and chest as she did so.

Just as the music shifted back to its slower tempo and she slowed to a jog, movement in the underbrush caught her attention. She slowed to a stop, heart pounding from the run, music in her ears urging her to run on.

There, between the leaves, a bit of fur, a pair of eyes… a cat. Staring back at her. It held her gaze for a moment then moved on, disappearing back into the green.

It made sense, Saira thought, for a feral cat to survive in this kind of environment, with plenty of food to eat and trees to climb.

Then she saw the second, a short distance away, and movement heralding more. Many more. An entire colony, moving through the woods. There’d been a colony of feral cats near her home in Karachi, but she’d never seen them act with any kind of directed intent. Each hunted on its own, roamed on its own, but here, these animals were stalking almost like a pack.

They crossed the path ahead of her, almost a dozen felines moving purposefully through the forest. Saira felt paralyzed, unable to move, barely able to breathe for fear that the colony turn its attention towards her, struck with the certainty that if they did she would become their prey. It was only after the last had disappeared into the woods that she felt her strength returning.

Saira moved ahead slowly, not jogging, not even brisk, eyes on the bushes to the side of the trail, half-expecting them to leap out and ambush her. It was an odd thing, being afraid of a cat, but in those numbers they could do some real damage to her.

What odd behavior. She pulled the earbuds out from under her hijab, letting them dangle out of her running jacket’s collar against her chest, and slipped a hand up to mute the phone strapped to her bicep so that she could hear any noises the creatures might be making. Each step she took was careful, trying to minimize her own sounds.

She let out a long breath after passing the bushes the cats had disappeared into and took up jogging again, earphones jumping against her with each step, trying to puzzle out the animals’ strange behavior. She’d loop around back to the parking lot and wait for the bus home… there really wasn’t any chance of returning to the empty focus she’d come to enjoy.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Midwestern Requiem S1 Penumbra 1-4

Katherine emerged from the den, copies of the ritual in hand, one for each of the women who’d forgotten to print up and bring their own despite having been reminded in emails the night before. She handed one to Sharon and put the other in front of where Amy would be sitting. The third, her original, she set in the music stand she’d be reading from.“Okay, I’ve highlighted your lines in pink, Sharon, and yours in Green, Amy. Mine are blue.”

“Will this work with only three people?” Sharon asked.

Amy circled around the other women, brandishing a bundle of burning sage leaves, its smoky aroma filling the room. “Three is actually better than five. It’s a stronger number.”

“How?” Sharon asked.

“It’s just magically more powerful.” Amy drew the sage up and down in front of and behind Sharon.

“Good things happen in threes, right?”

“I’ve read that.” Katherine had actually done quite a bit of research since welcoming Amy and her faith into the Book Club. It was a bit of a rabbit hole, actually — there was a lot more to this whole ‘paganism’ thing than she’d thought. “And we don’t need their negative attitudes anyway.”

Amy put the smoldering remains of the sage into an ash tray and picked up her copy of the ritual. “This isn’t the prayer I sent you.”

“It’s still in there,” Katherine said. “I just spruced up the opening and closing.”

“What was wrong with my opening?” Amy sounded hurt.

“Nothing,” Katherine tapped the page with her finger. “I used most of what you sent me, see? But I was thinking after we spoke yesterday that Southern Illinois is called Little Egypt, right?”

“Right?” Amy put a hand on her hip.

“So I looked around online for something a little more… Egyptian. I found a bunch of Facebook groups, and they were able to point me to some PDFs, so I added a little bit of what I found.” In truth Katherine felt that Amy lacked the imagination and ambition to really look for anything beyond the most basic rituals, but she’d never in a million years tell the girl. And really, that’s what Amy was — a girl. Barely in her twenties. A baby, really.

“You can’t just bolt random parts from different rituals together,” Amy protested.

“We took Ronnie to the Field Museum up in Chicago when she was little, and she really loved the mummies and stuff,” Sharon said. “I think she’d like that.”

“Okay,” Amy said. “That’s what’s important. This is for you, Sharon.”

“Thank you,” Sharon said. “Can we get started?”

Katherine checked her phone. “Okay, we have an hour before Jayden gets home, that should be plenty of time.” She navigated through her mp3s until she found the one with the drums she’d liked, then set it alongside her paper on the music stand.

“Did you bring the chalice?” Amy asked, stooping to pet Mr. Sprinkles as the calico rubbed against her ankles.

Sharon nodded, pulling a small copper bowl out of her purse. “This belonged to Luis’s abuela. She was a bruja.” The Spanish words were spoken with an exaggerated accent, Sharon’s attempt to mimic her husband’s pronunciation.

“Do you want to ask her for help with the ritual?” Amy asked.

“Can we do that?” Sharon asked.

“Of course!” Amy smiled.

“Okay. Her name was Vallia.”

Amy closed her eyes and spoke as if reciting. “Vallia Lopez…”

“Yes, she was a Lopez,” Sharon said.

“…blood of Sharon’s blood, come down from above, wish your great-granddaughter well with the ringing of this bell.” Amy picked up a small bell from the table and gave it three twitches. “Grace us with your wisdom in finding our lost lamb.”

“Did you make that up yourself?” Katherine asked.

Amy nodded.

“Can I move on to the ritual?”

“Yeah, that was it. Can you feel Vallia’s presence?” Amy asked.

Sharon closed her eyes briefly. “I think so.”

“Join hands.” Katherine held her left out to Amy, her right to Sharon. Her voice rose as she read from the ritual she’d found.

“Mother of the Gods, the One, the Only,
Mistress of the sands,Wrathful and Beloved,
Daughter of the Sun with flame and fury,
Flashing from the prow upon your prey;
Safe we are with Your protection,
Safe we pass where your fires glow.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Katherine could see that Mr. Sprinkles had stopped grooming herself and had sat up to attention, almost as if watching the ritual. How funny. The other women had grown silent and still, closing their eyes even though she hadn’t asked them to. Good for them, getting into the spirit of things.

“We cower in darkness until your light appears,
Sending us comfort from your Silent Throne,
Beloved Bast, banish our fears,
Trampling down all evil and strife.”

The air had grown as still and silent as Sharon and Amy, and suddenly Katherine’s skin felt very tight. She felt lightheaded, almost dreamy, and the words were spilling from her mouth almost as if of their own accord, as if someone else was inside her chest chanting them up her throat.

“Mother of the Gods, the Great, the Beloved,
Winged and Mighty, unto You we call,
Naming You the Comforter, the Ruler,
Bast, beloved, Mother of us all,
We beg you for your aid in our time of sorrow,
Find our lost child—”

There was a sudden flash as the candles on the table flared up, their flames far more intense than what the wicks were capable of, carrying with them a burst of an exotic floral scent.

Katherine heard — though perhaps ‘heard’ wasn’t the right word for it — a low woman’s voice chanting in a language she didn’t understand or recognize. Still, she knew, just knew, that it was asking her a question, and while she didn’t know what it was, she knew the answer.

“Yes.” She spoke in three voices, Amy and Sharon slurring the world along with her. Neither woman really seemed aware of what was going on, but for some reason Katherine didn’t find any of it alarming.

Something moved behind her… she couldn’t turn and look, but it’d been there, a presence, since the second verse of her ritual. Whatever it was, was silent and moved with such speed that the candles on the coffee table were extinguished, taking with them the trance-like state.

Sharon’s eyes were wide and frightened. “What… what was that?”

“I don’t know!” Amy seemed on the verge of tears.

Sharon turned towards Katherine. “What did you do?”

Katherine’s mouth opened and closed, but she couldn’t make the words. She couldn’t speak… she felt so small, so insignificant in that moment, having just touched, just brushed against… whatever that was. At that moment, Katherine didn’t know if she’d ever speak again.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Midwestern Requiem S1 Penumbra 1-3

Jayden sat under the maple tree with Logan and Pete during recess, as was customary, idly picking up seeds and rubbing the fibrous matter between his fingertips. Logan was stripping them down to crush the waxy green centers between his fingertips, and Pete was idly flinging them into the air to send them helicoptering away. None of the three spoke, but all watched the domed jungle gym where the girls were perching and hanging like a murder of crows, Veronica conspicuous in her absence.

Pete flung the last seed pod up into the air, looked around to assess that there weren’t any left within comfortable arms’ reach, then tilted his head and squinted at Logan. “Did you see it happen?”

Logan looked up, lips drawn tight.

Jayden dropped his seed. “What?”

“Ronnie. Did you see her disappear?”

Jayden picked the seed up, staring at it, the pattern of veins in its leafy blade. “We were all looking up at the eclipse.”

“With those glasses.” Logan framed his fingers around his eyes. “The cardboard ones.”

Pete nodded and looked back towards the girls. Even with his glasses he couldn’t read their expressions, but they looked more somber than usual. “Didn’t hear anything either?”

“Nope.” Jayden poked at the grass in front of him. “I was standing right next to her. Totality only took a few minutes, but when we looked around again… she was gone.”

“Crap,” Pete said.

“Yeah,” Logan said.

“What do you think happened to her?” Pete asked.

“Hailey and Isabelle are coming over,” Logan said, voice low.

Pete took his glasses off and put them in his pocket. Jayden had noticed that he always did that when talking to girls… maybe because he thought he looked better without them. Jayden didn’t feel up to making fun of him for it. Not today.

Isabelle Lu led the way, Hailey following, to stand somewhat awkwardly alongside to the tree.

“Hey.”

“Hey.” Jayden noticed that she had her hair down, for once.

“Hey,” Pete chimed in a second later, sitting up straighter, probably to appear taller.

Logan said nothing, squinting up at the girls against the sun behind them.

“Did you…” Isabelle started. “Has your dad said anything about what happened?”

“No.” Jayden shook his head. “Well, they’re talking to Mr. Burroughs. Getting a statement?”Hailey’s eyes widened. “Is he a suspect?”

“He was right there with us the whole time,” Logan said.

“Yeah, no, he didn’t do anything,” Jayden said. “At least, I don’t think so. But you know, they have to make sure.”

“Yeah.” Isabelle sank to sit alongside the tree, legs curled up beneath her. “Right.”

Hailey sat next to her, turning to Logan. “Your mom say anything about how Mrs. Lopez is doing?”

He shook his head. “Not to me, but I heard her tell dad that she’s a wreck.”

“Mom was saying they were going to do something for her at the book club,” Jayden said.

“Yeah, my mom was pissed about that,” Isabelle said. “Technically I’m not allowed to talk to you anymore.”

“Technically?” Jayden asked.

“Technically she can’t do anything to stop me,” Isabelle said. “I can talk to whoever I want. What’s she going to do? Ground me from church?”

“You’re grounded from everywhere else,” Hailey said.

Isabelle snorted. “Whatever.”

“It’s a free country,” Pete said.

“I hope she’s okay,” Hailey said.

“She is,” Logan said. “Ronnie’s badass.”

“What if someone took her?” Hailey asked. “Kidnapped her?”

“She’s too fast for that,” Logan said, putting an arm around her shoulder. “No way anyone could catch her.”

“Where’s Connor?” Isabelle asked.

Jayden nodded off across the schoolyard towards where a group of kids were gathered. “Playing soccer.”

“How can he play sports when his cousin is missing like this?” Pete asked.

“That’s just how he’s dealing with it,” Isabelle said. “Some people just try and keep busy so they don’t have to, like, think about it. I might skip practice, though.”

“Yeah,” Jayden said. “Sorry our crazy moms don’t want us hanging out anymore.”

“Screw them,” Isabelle said. “You want to meet up at Dairy Queen after school? Mom will think I’m at practice.”

“Yeah, until the school calls home to see where you are.” Jayden’s serious face was ruined by the smile playing at the corner of his lip.

“I don’t care,” Isabelle tossed her hair back. “But I really need to just hang out with you guys, if you’re in.”

“I’m in!” Pete said, almost too quickly.

“Me too,” Hailey said.

“Yeah, okay,” Logan stood up, brushing bits of maple seed from his shorts.

“Alright.” Jayden didn’t really feel like hanging out, or ice cream, or really much of anything other than going home and laying in the dark and worrying about Ronnie. Was she okay? Alive? Dead? He was right there. Right next to her. He… the way he felt, he was always super-aware of exactly where she was and what she was doing when they were in the same room, like he had a special radar dedicated exclusively to tracking her. Except for this one time, when he was staring at that damn eclipse, the one time it mattered, and now he’d lost her. Forever.

But that didn’t really matter, did it? The others were hurting, too. Isabelle had been her best friend. And going out together for ice cream… well, if it made other people feel better than it made him feel worse, then that was a good trade off, right?

Isabelle grinned.

Right.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Midwestern Requiem S1 Penumbra 1-2

Cops made Eric nervous, even though it’d been decades since he’d broken the law. Days if you counted pot, which Eric didn’t. Sheriff Martinez and Deputy Anderson were pretty laid back about that stuff, though, as long as you didn’t make it obvious. Still, cops were cops, and the station’s interview room wasn’t very inviting. Everything was too… squared away. Too orderly. The natural world left comfortable room for chaos, as Eric would tell the kids, so order at this level was unnatural.

“You want something to drink, Mr. Burroughs?” Sheriff Martinez was the sort of small and scrappy woman that you just knew could fuck you up if she had to. “Coffee, water, soda?”

Deputy Anderson, sitting next to her and across the too-rectangular table from Eric, had been one of his students thirty years ago, but he hadn’t left that strong of an impression after three decades. In Eric’s world he was just “Jayden’s dad.” One of the parents. And now, one of the cops.

“Water’s good.” Eric licked his lips, feeling very exposed, very shabby in his ill-fitting dress shirt and slacks. It was more formal than what he’d teach class in – T-shirts and jeans put the kids at ease – but this was the kind of thing you dressed up for.

He wondered if he should have shaved.

Deputy Anderson left to get Eric his drink, and the Sheriff leaned in. “How are you holding up, Mr. Burroughs?”

“Okay,” he said. “Just, you know. I feel terrible.”

She slid a hand across the table, not quite touching his arm, but over the center. “Relax. We’re not… we don’t think you did anything. We just need a statement.”

“Yeah, I know.” Her words didn’t bring him any relief. “Those kids were my responsibility, and…”
Deputy Anderson returned with his water, putting the bottle on the table between them.

Eric took the bottle but didn’t open it, turning it over in his hands. “How’s Sharon doing?”

“Katherine says she’s still pretty broken up, as you can imagine,” Deputy Anderson said. “Nobody’s blaming you, Mr. Burroughs.”

Eric shook his head. That wasn’t entirely accurate, unless he himself didn’t count. And maybe he shouldn’t.

“Let’s get started.” Sheriff Martinez set her phone up in a little tripod on the table, facing Eric. “Sheriff Felicia Martinez and Deputy Bill Anderson interviewing Mr. Eric Burroughs, Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017. 5:18 pm. Mr. Burroughs, you have been appraised of your rights to representation and have waived said right, correct?”

“Correct,” Eric said.

“And you are aware of your rights against self-incrimination?” she continued.

“Yes.”

Sheriff Martinez sat back. “Why don’t you start at the beginning. Tell it however feels best, and we’ll ask questions as we need to.”

“Okay, well.” Eric stared at the camera’s lens. “Last week we had the students in the Astronomy Club—”

“Last week of August 10th through 15th?” Deputy Anderson interrupted.

“Yeah, I think so.” Eric paused. “Yes. On Monday, the 11th, we sent the kids in the Astronomy Club home with permission slips to go see the eclipse down in Giant City State Park.”

“Why there?” Sheriff Martinez asked.

“It offered one of the best views of the eclipse at the point of maximum totality.” Talking about his area of expertise put Eric at ease. A little. “That’s when the sun is entirely covered by the moon. Makes it more special for the kids.”

“And which kids are these?” Martinez asked.

“The missing girl, uh, Veronica Lopez. Deputy Anderson’s son Jayden. Logan Morris, Hailey Kemp, Hugo Silva, Isabelle Lu, and… Connor Shea.”

“That’s it?” the sheriff asked.

“Just those seven, yeah.”

“So, on the 21st, you took them out of class—”

“No, the school had the 21st off,” Deputy Anderson interjected.

“Why?” Sheriff Martinez asked.

“The eclipse.” Bill answered.

“Really?” she asked.

“Yeah.” He nodded.

The sheriff turned back to Eric. “Okay, so how’d you get everybody there, down to the park?”

“The school let us use one of the shuttle busses,” Eric said. “I picked the kids up from the school parking lot—”

“We dropped Jayden off there,” Bill added.

“Did all the parents drop their kids off?” the sheriff asked.

“Katherine did. So did Sharon,” Eric said.

“Katherine. Bill’s wife, Katherine,” the sheriff clarified. “Katherine Anderson.”

“Yeah, sorry.” Eric looked into the camera. “Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Lopez, Mr. Silva, Mrs. Lu. Hailey and Connor just biked over.”

“And you drove them over from the school.” She said, as much a confirmation as anything else.

“Yeah. Down to Giant City State Park.”

“That’s a half-hour drive? 45 minutes?” she asked.

“Usually, yeah, but with all the tourists…” Eric trailed off.

“Oh, right,” Sheriff Martinez said.

The teacher stopped playing with his water bottle, putting it on the table. “Took us about an hour, but we had time.”

“Did you stop along the way?” the sheriff asked.

Eric scratched his beard. “We stopped for snacks at the Circle-K near the reservoir.”

“Where’d you park?” she asked.

“They had it set up so you could drive on through the grass and park in a clearing with a good view of the sky.”

“’They’ meaning the park district?” Sheriff Martinez asked.

“Yeah. They were all set up for the crowds.”

“How crowded was it?” Bill asked.

“Oh man,” Eric said. “Thousands of people, probably. Not just from Carbondale and Murphysboro — the kids were playing the license plate game on the way down. People from all over the Midwest, from the Southeast. Some as far as Florida.”

“Sounds like a big deal,” Deputy Anderson said.

“Total eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime event.” Sheriff Martinez leaned back in her chair with a grin.

“Twice in a lifetime.” Eric held up two fingers.

“Twice?”

“Yeah,” Eric leaned forward. “We’re getting another one in 2024. And it’ll cross over the park in the same place, only going the other way.” He crossed his forearms into an ‘X’ to illustrate.

“Huh,” Deputy Anderson said.

“Now that’s what makes it special,” Eric said.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Midwestern Requiem S1 Penumbra 1-1

The Murphysboro Ladies’ Book Club had become a coven so gradually that at first nobody had noticed.

Holly Lu was not having it. “This is beyond the pale, Katherine. Even for you.” Her eyes darted to the dribbly candles, colorful crystals, and reed-woven designs that now decorated the Andersons’ living room, purse clutched tightly in her hands.

Katherine looked up from the ritual notes she’d printed up, surprise melting to irritation, and gave a meaningful nod towards the kitchen. She could just hear Amy’s soft voice contrasting with the rise and fall of Sharon’s rapid babble, though she couldn’t make out what the pair were saying.

“I swear, this is just too much.” Holly looked pointedly at Susan, who’d only half taken off her coat.

Susan’s smile wavered, and she slipped her coat back up onto her shoulder. “It is a bit much, Kathy.”

Katherine’s eyes dropped back down to the page she was reading. “There’s no call to be so close-minded, Holly.” Her voice was carefully level.

“Close-minded?” Holly didn’t take the hint. “Katherine, I have been very very patient with the new girl and her… her eccentricities. She’s young. Finding herself. Experimenting. That I can understand, that I can tolerate. But this… pagan rituals?”

Mr. Sprinkles, the Anderson family’s six-year-old calico, watched the interplay with disinterest, sitting on the sofa with one leg raised high as she groomed herself.

“It does seem a bit… unchristian,” Susan said, though it came out as more of a question.

“The new girl’s name is Amy and she’s been a member of the Book Club for seven months.” Katherine’s gaze held Holly’s over the edge of the print-out. “I’m getting tired of explaining to you that we’re a nondenominational organization. You’re allowed to say your Baptist prayers at Christmas and Easter, Amy planned the Samhain party for Halloween.” She was careful to pronounce the unfamiliar holiday correctly, sow-in not sam-hane. “It’s the same thing.”

“It is most certainly not the same thing!” Holly’s face was reddening. “And it isn’t just the party. The prayer before Imbolc? The ritual to ask the gods for help passing her phlebotomy exam? It’s heathen!”

“Wiccan. Heathen is something else.” Katherine was fairly sure.

“Listen to you! You’re a good Catholic, Katherine. What would Father Paterson say if he knew how much you’d taken to Amy Forrester and her, her ways?”

“Oh, Amy and her ways.” Katherine didn’t exactly raise her voice, but it did gain an edge. “I swear, you’re going to give yourself a stroke if you don’t unclench that jaw, Holly.”

“Well.” Holly tucked her purse under her arm. “I can see that you’re too far gone down the devil’s path for reason. I wish you well with your… your Blasphemy Club, Katherine.” She strode to the door.

Susan followed, looking back and forth between Holly and Katherine with little darting glances.

Katherine followed them to the door. “You’re leaving? Now? Right when Sharon needs us?”

Holly opened the door and paused, halfway out. “You’re the one who needs help, Katherine. And I only hope that Jesus’s light can help you crawl out of this dark pit you’ve thrown yourself into. Come along, Susan.”

Katherine put an arm out to bar the shorter woman’s way. “You too Susan? Come on, you loved reading Practical Magic.”

Susan gave a half smile and ducked under Katherine’s arm. “I’m sorry, I have to go.” She slipped out the door.

“Well, shit.” Katherine slowly closed the door, honestly taken aback at how quickly things had gotten out of hand. Holly had always been a bit zealous in her Christianity, and out of all the book club members the most likely to challenge Katherine’s authority on minor matters. And Susan… well, Susan was a wildcard, the sort of woman who’d follow the loudest voice, and this time that’d been Holly. Disappointing, really, but not terribly surprising.

Maybe Holly had a point. Maybe Katherine had gone too far in trying to accommodate Amy and her unusual beliefs. Maybe it was a step too far in choosing paganism as the Book Club’s theme for the year, letting Amy choose books tied to her faith, going so far as to head out to that little antique shop out in De Soto to get the curios to decorate her living room to fit that theme. Maybe she was endangering her immortal soul, trafficking with witchcraft.

But so what? Holly was a busybody that the club was better off without, and Katherine wasn’t the sort of woman who did anything by half-measures. And Susan… well, they were still on the school’s bake sale committee together, so Katherine would have ample opportunity to win her back. And if not? No big loss. Susan’s lemon bars never came out right, anyway.

Amy poked her head out of the kitchen. “Is everything okay? We thought we heard shouting.”

Katherine returned to the coffee table, shooing away Mr. Sprinkles and straightening the candlestick she’d knocked over. “Holly and Susan have elected not to participate in today’s ritual.”

“Oh.” Amy watched the cat scamper off out of the room. “It’s for the best. Their energy wasn’t really conducive to the work we’re going to be doing.”

“No.” Katherine put her laptop on top of the table, scrolling through her bookmarks to find the ritual she’d found earlier. “It wasn’t. How’s Sharon?”

“Better. As well as can be expected. Should I get the sage?”

“Yes.” Katherine straightened one of the sofa cushions. “You do that.”

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
Superheroes are a cop

Revolutionary Heroes: Superheroes are a cop

Superheroes are reactionary. Not all of them, of course, there are no absolutes, but by and large mainstream “classic” comic book superheroes are reactionary and they serve a reactionary purpose. I’m not talking “modern politics pejorative reactionary,” but reactionary in the sense that they seek a return to the status quo.

Broken down to its basics, the prototypical superhero plotline is “right the wrongs.” Something has happened, something has changed, and we need to fix it. The costumed vigilante swings out, punches a few bad guys, undoes what they’ve done, and we’re back at square one.

Part of this is because of the narrative format Superheroes exist in; serial fiction intended to stretch out into the foreseable future, comic books or cartoons or movie series in which a succession of writers can come in and write the same character in the same setting where nothing ever changes. Hundreds of issues later, the Batman is still the Batman, and Gotham is still Gotham. Occasionally a big shake up happens that promises to Change Everything Forever, but by and large this happens because our heroes fail in their efforts to prevent the big cosmological crisis.

Step away from the narrative, and examine the fictive dream of the superhero. What they do within the context of the imaginary worlds in which they inhabit.

Our friendly neighborhood superhero is out patrolling or investigating a mystery or hanging out in their civilian guise – dwelling in the context of their personal status quo, Campell’s “ordinary world” for people who can throw cars or shoot energy blasts out of their eyes – when a thing occurs. An incident incites. Somebody does a crime, or they get attacked by an old foe, or literally anything.

Our superhero reacts. Even if they were showing some initiative to Do a Thing, this interruption or unexpected development has disrupted the status quo and forced them to react.

Again, part of this is just narrative structure, the first act turning into the second, but outside of the vantage we Dear Readers are looking through, this is the superhero life. They go looking for disruptions of the social contract, the status quo, crimes, and they react to stop them, to return us to our neutral setting. Often with raw physical violence.

Now, don’t get me wrong – much of the time they’re doing a good thing, they’re addressing an intolerable situation, but that doesn’t make it any less of a reaction. Superheroes, by and large, aren’t seeking change. They’re not trying to make something happen, though they’ll often phrase it as something like making the world a safer place, or Making Gotham Great Again, but it comes down to a maintenance of the status quo.

Even when they sympathize with their opponents, or understand the nature of change their villains are trying to bring about. The better written episodes will at least touch upon these moral quandaries and tempt their protagonists with the choice of accepting and embracing this change, or reluctantly opposing it. And in almost all cases, they’ll eventually come through their dark night of the soul on the side of maintaining order.

So. The position that Superheroes occupy within the context of their fictive environment is that of the champion of the status quo. In the rare case that some form of capital ‘E’ Establishment is the villain, it’s because the police or government or whatever have become compromised by some outside force that must be defeated, but we must always strive to keep ICE or the FBI or the Drug War intact.

If a superhero did take that devil’s bargain, if they did seek to redress the flaws in the system to the point of abolishing the system or causing major social changes, we’d call them a supervillain.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

My Laptop Died, and I Need a New One

Two years ago my laptop’s case started to crack right around the AC cord’s port. Shortly after that, it stopped running off of battery power and became, essentially, a light and underpowered desktop model. I was stuck working from home, which sucked, but I could still do my job. I finished Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken, composed the audio drama script, and went on to write both Shadow Decade books.

Why didn’t I get a new laptop? Well, this writing gig pays the bills, but it doesn’t afford me much in the way of luxury, and as long as it still ran, a new laptop was just that. Luxury.

That’s part of being poor, though. Making things last. Going without, and learning what you can’t go without.

Yesterday afternoon my laptop finally gave up, refusing to draw power from the wall. Requisat en pace, lappy.

This, of course, leaves me with quite the conundrum. I cannot write without a laptop. I cannot design games. I can’t do any of the stuff I’ve been doing for the last seven years to make money.

This is a problem.

So now I need a new laptop, don’t have the funds, and don’t have the means of earning money without one. I make ~ $100 a month through my patreon, but saving that up for a new laptop will take months, all the while my royalties slowly degrade as long as I’m not putting out new content. That’s normal and not a huge problem so long as I’m working on my next release, but saving up for a new computer will put all my releases back a few months.

Sucks, right?

So my solution is to run an IndieGoGo Campaign to raise the funds for a new laptop. I’ve written a lot of books, so that gives me a bunch of rewards to hand out for support. Take a look, maybe donate a few bucks to my laptop fund. Or if you’re unable to offer me financial assistance, it’s also a huge help if you spread the word, post about the campaign on social media, etc.

I’d really appreciate it if you’d at least take a look… I’m kinda in dire straits here.

Thanks.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

2018 Price Increases

After seven years of publishing my books, I’m going to raise my prices. I go into detail here, but long story short is that my expenses have increased, and I think my novels are worth at least $5.

It’ll probably be a week or two before I raise my prices, so if you’re on the fence about picking anything up, now’s the time.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.