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.

Long Overdue

I have a confession to make.

I’ve been self-publishing ebooks for 7 years, and I only just now got a kindle.

Yeah.

I picked up a paperwhite, and it’s pretty neat. Not only is it a lot easier on the eyes than my phone was, but it automatically goes to sleep when the case is closed. Pretty nifty, if you ask me.

More importantly, it lets me read again, and I have a lot to catch up on.

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

Best Laid Plans of 2018

A new year, a new you, a new me. Here’s what I’ll be up to in 2018.

Prose

First thing I want to do is wrap up Open Proxy, third book in the Shadow Decade series. Where the series goes from here depends entirely on sales; if sales are strong, I’ve got plans for another two books in the series. If not, Erica’s story will come to a satisfactory end here, with an option to write more down the line if there’s demand for it.

Midwestern Requiem will continue, with a target of one episode every month. I’m not happy that my financial situation threw off the publishing schedule at the end of the year, but things have stabilized to a degree and I can get back to work on it. I’ve got a long and twisting storyline in mind, and if you’re one of my Patrons, you can help decide which way it goes.

I’m also going to be writing a novel to query around to agents and publishers, to dip my toes into the wild world of traditional publishing.

Games

I’ve been neglecting Taoscordian Games, the imprint under which I publish role-playing game supplements. I’ve got some ideas that’ll get that moving again, including a Galvanic Century setting book and a revision of the Hexbox sandbox hexcrawl system.

Speaking of Galvanic Century, the next book is going to be an interactive novel, though to what degree I cannot quite state. It might be written in Twine or perhaps a visual novel, depending on what art assets I can afford to commission.

Up in the air

I’d like to continue with my Twitch broadcasts, but finding the time has been problematic. I’d prefer to do it consistently or not at all.

While I enjoyed interviewing other creatives for Working Class Creatives after a year it still hasn’t really taken off. Interviewing, editing, publishing, and setting up interviews takes a lot of time and effort, and while I’ve met some really cool people through it, if nobody’s listening… it just isn’t worth my time to continue.

I’m feeling fairly disenchanted with YouTube in general, so I don’t know if I’m going to continue with my channel. Maybe I’ll just keep it around for the few times I feel like making a video, I don’t know.

My primary means of communication and interaction with my fans is going to be through my Patreon. Much of what I’ll be posting there will be public, though the fans invested enough to support me with at least a dollar a month get more from me, as is only fair.

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

2018

It’s been what, seven or eight months? Time to go into Taoscordian Games’s plan for 2018.

Hexbox

Our first project for the new year is going to be a revision of the Hexbox system. We’ve had a year to work on it, a year of errata, a year of development and exciting new ideas. It’ll still be free and more or less compatible with Ibu: The Emerald Canopy, but probably a bit heftier, with more material added to it. It remains to be seen if Ibu will get an update, but there are further books in the series planned for a 2018 release.

Galvanic Century

Later in the year we also have plans to adapt Michael Coorlim’s Galvanic Century steampunk book series into Fate-compatible setting books covering an alternate-history Edwardian era, where pseudoscience dictates reality.

Interactive Fiction

A number of solo-player interactive fiction scenarios are planned, set within the Heroic Explorations settings, allowing players to visit these stories without the need for a group or gamemaster. Adventure scenario modules for more traditional tabletop play will be developed pending demand.

And that’s it! That’s Taoscordian Games’s 2018 docket. Subject to change, of course.

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