February 9, 2012 — 1,319 words
By Letitia Coyne
The market for ebooks has exploded and a mass of buyers rush daily through the crush of sellers, deafened by the hawkers’ cries: half-price, today only, excerpts available here, read my reviews, buy one get one free. I’m expecting to see sets of free steak knives or bonus four-chapter-podcast-ring-tones any day now.
There is a quieter way for readers to find an author whose work they enjoy, and they can steer miles clear of the corporate giants who seem to hog most of the limelight. Oddly enough, it is one of the first avenues independent authors once used to attract an audience and it’s still there and it’s still just as effective.
Of course I’m referring to the free ebook directories.
Once upon a time, when I still engaged in the ‘discussion’ of ebooks versus real books and whether or not a book was real if it didn’t have pages, one of the loudest arguments in favour of B&M bookstores with print books on shelves was, ‘I love to browse’. The ebook directories offer you the chance, dear reader, to browse to your heart’s content. And for authors, unlike certain corporate giants, there is no exclusivity with the free ebook directories. You work is there for readers to discover, to read, to pass on to friends. They are, very much, the libraries of our digital universe. And your work can be displayed in various formats to audiences drawn from every continent and most demographics, without cost to you.
Sadly, because some corporate giants have offered a vague whiff of parfum de chance, many authors have decided to opt for exclusivity, banking on a single big market bringing them [and a billion ectypes] wealth and success. And good luck to them, I say. Roll those dice; someone has to win. But there are many free directories, non-exclusive, and each with its own audience. I thought I’d show you around some of my favourites.
First, probably the biggest listing with the widest range you could imagine is Free Online Novels. The list of titles is vast but there is no detailed blurb for each story. You can browse via the basic genre listings or chance a discovery based on a more surrealist category - like Explorer of Dusty Bookshelves, Obsessive Coffee Drinker, or Friend of Simone de Beauvoir. While I’m doing nothing, saying nothing, making no ingenious merchandise, renouncing special offers and, in fact, while I’m making no effort of any kind, thousands of readers a month find my free novels through this one directory.
Another I have a great fondness for is bibliotastic. Not only does James provide access to free books in html, pdf, epub, and prc, he also maintains a wonderful host of reviewing editors. Readers, too, are encouraged to leave their comments and reviews. Once again, without effort I meet around two hundred and fifty new readers a month for the one title I have listed there. I recently spoke to an author who has been a long time fan of bibliotastic, publishing 3 of his 8 of his novels through the site. Having developed a devoted following, he now works directly from his own website - no spamming everyone he knows, no constant progress updates, no need for the things that make knowing fellow authors a royal pain in the nether regions. If he makes it they will come. And they do.
I also love the team at obooko. Once again, this is a directory whose sole aim is to bring the work of authors before an audience. Initially pdf only and directed primarily toward populations where print books were either unavailable or too expensive, obooko has begun converting all their titles, so they are also available now in mobi and epub. There is a star rating system for readers and a private comment function direct to authors.
A newer, and very wide ranging service tapping into the huge and ravenous markets throughout Asia, is Get Free eBooks. I have had, at times, a thousand new readers a week referred by this one directory.
In the webserial forums and amid the numerous discussion sites for DIY ebook authors, there is a constant babble about how to bring new readers to an author’s site. How do I advertise? Where should I pay to place my ads? What is the best way to grab the attention of readers? The focus is constantly on how to drag readers from their unfocussed browsing and bind and gag them on my site. So much time and effort is spent on perfecting my site. my illustrations, my layout, my honeytrap. It is all important, of course, but let me suggest going out to where the readers are. Instead of focusing on how to get readers to come to you and to read your serial or your novel, why not consider taking your book and placing it out on the shelves where the readers are already gathered.
Give something away. Rather than list your completed story arcs on your webserial page under ‘what has gone before….’ why not assemble a .doc or pdf and submit it. The editors at bibliotastic and obooko will do the crunching for you.
If you only have one book and it’s taken you twelve years to write and now you are studying the best of the “Thirty Things Successful Authors Do Every Day to Sell Their Book” range of ‘how to’ manuals, then this isn’t for you. But if you have some work to share: a collection of shorts, a novella you always liked but never could quite fit in anywhere on your website, a novel you wrote but just can’t seem to market; this could be the solution for you.
Readers do not only comb Amazon looking for inspiration. Many readers will look for a name. If they find and enjoy the novel you wrote and gave away freely on bibliotastic, they will look for other titles you have available. If your work is good, they are happy to pay.
I’ve only listed four sites that I have a personal affection for here, but there are many, many more. If you are concerned about someone taking off with your work, I guess I should point out there are sites - Pinoy Exchange for example, who offer my free books and others - “BUY 1 take 3 EBOOKS!!! (twilight, h.potter, s.kinsella, a.chrstie, jrr tolkien, etc)” and I suppose your reaction to that depends how rabid you are over piracy. Also, Amazon Drippler did – past tense-- advertise a set of 10 free historical novels for the kindle2 which included two of my titles. Also, the bit torrents do pick them up quickly. But if you are giving away a title, exposure is gained everywhere that title goes, and your name is right there on the cover bringing readers who enjoy your work back to you for the next installment.
The big money is now able to redirect even free content by making vague promises to authors who live in hope of wild, wild riches, and the day might soon come when there are no more free independent directories. They will go as the libraries are going and the world will be a little poorer.
Until that happens, why not dig out a good yarn you have gathering dust, or the one that sits four links down on the ‘other’ tab on your website and package it up for free distribution. You might be surprised just how much attention you can get.
February 9, 2012 — 282 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Tic scratched his forehead. "That's your clue? You're heading to Haddock because your dad said he 'had ocular issues'? Doesn't that seem like a bit of a stretch?"
"It was obviously intentional!" said Milly.
"Another question: I thought you said they disappeared 15 years ago, but in the message they said 14."
"It must've taken them a long time to get their message sent after they recorded it. They're obviously being watched really closely."
"Uh huh. Sure. Don't you think this whole thing's just a bit too fishy? What does your grandfather think about all this?"
Milly avoided Tic's eyes.
"He does know, doesn't he?"
"He never would have let me go!" Milly blurted out. "He gave up on my parents a long time ago."
"Great," said Tic. "You ran away? He probably thinks you've been kidnapped or something!"
"No, I left him a note saying I'd enrolled myself in a super private rehab facility," said Milly. "He's always been paranoid that I was going to get myself addicted to something or other. I bet he's sitting at home right now writing his 'I Told You So' speech."
Tic sighed. "You have to realize how crazy this all sounds from my perspective. I can't afford to get myself caught up in any more trouble. I've already got some pretty unhappy clients breathing down my neck, and don't remind me about the loan payments..." He watched for her reaction.
At his mention of loans, she looked up at him with big, innocent eyes and bit her lip. "I... What if I could help solve your money problem?"
And there it was. The hook was in.
February 8, 2012 — 1,776 words
By Greg X. Graves
"Ninety-nine!" Hank grunted. He had snapped the metal plate that served as a bench from the wall and laid it across his back. His two cellmates sat on either end to provide weight as he did pushups.
"I said, you're free to go," the sheriff's deputy said, holding open the door to the jail cell.
"What's wrong with your client?" The deputy turned to Hiram, who was grinning.
"You must be new to the county." Hiram patted the deputy on the shoulder
The inmates-slash-freeweights slipped off the ends of the bench and struggled to lift it off of Hank's back.
"Thanks for the assistance, gentlemen." He followed Hiram out of the cell block while the deputy helped the two men replace the bench. "I always said that you were the best lawyer in the country."
"You've given me lots of practice. And you may want to hold onto your praise until after you hear the number of zeroes that I had to write for your bail. And that was only after hours of arguing with Judge Spiknid and a half dozen calls to the attorney general."
Hiram led them out into the parking lot. Night had fallen. Hank's motorcycle gleamed in the sterile glare of the mercury vapor security lights.
"That won't be an issue. Can we settle your payment tomorrow? I need to have a beer and a shower."
"Absolutely. I'm heading out to my girlfriend's place tonight, I'll see you in the morning."
Hank's motorcycle growled when he stepped on its kick starter. Moments later he was on the expressway, letting the rhythmic pulse of the streetlamps hypnotize him as he sailed down the deserted concrete. A few ramps and backroads later he pulled into his shed.
He walked up the dusty lane to his house, went inside, and tripped over an overturned vase. Walking carefully, he hit a light switch and found that the house was a mess. It looked like somebody had told a bear that a jar of honey had been hidden in one of the couches, tables or shelves before setting it loose.
The innards of an easy chair spilled out across a rug and mingled with a stack of books that had been riffled through and discarded. The bookshelves themselves had been ripped away from the walls with a crowbar that lay very neatly placed on one of the kitchen counters. Hank wrapped a napkin around his hand before he picked it up to examine it. No fingerprints marred the steel.
He left his doors unlocked. There wouldn't be any signs of a break-in. With a shrug he relegated the investigation until tomorrow. He went to the fridge. To his relief, the vandals hadn't disturbed his six-pack of Rockjaw Breweries Aqua Regia Triple IPA. He cracked one open, selected the seat with the most stuffing left in it, sat down and finally closed his eyes. The stress of the day flowed out of him like polyester filling out ripped damask.
Something cold pressed against his throat. It was on the outside, and it wasn't chilled Aqua Regia. Hank was used to knives being held to his throat, whether it was by Nazi assassins or by mobsters or by special operatives sent from tin pot dicatorships. The knife would have to wait until he finished his mouthful of beer, anyway. Refreshed, Hank opened his eyes.
"Nice job breaking in to an unlocked house!" Hank planted his feet on the floor and kicked the chair backwards. He felt the satisfying lurch of it slamming into the groin of whomever held the knife. Tucking his chin in, he let the inertia of the chair catapult him into a roll. He came up and already had a haymaker on its way to his opponent's jaw.
Zelphia Dipthong stood before him, knife at her side, eyes open in horror at the ham hock about to make her dentist very rich.
Even Hank had a hard time fighting the inertia of his fist but he strained to throw it wide at the last minute. Unfortunately, on its way back, it had a friend. Zelphia slammed the palm of one hand into his cheek.
"Tell me where they are!"
"Where what are?" Hank asked, dodging her follow-up knife slash.
"The recipes! For your Brewery!" Zelphia plunged the knife into the chair next to Hank, but only because Hank did a very sultry move with his hips to get them out of the way.
"If you kill me then I can't tell you!"
Hank exploited the brain lock to transition into a physical joint lock. He wrapped Zelphia's arms up into a pretzel and smashed her knife hand into the counter until the weapon clattered to the floor.
"Ow! I wasn't going to kill you!"
"Don't stab something that you don't intend to kill!"
"Let me go!"
"Will you promise that you won't stab me if I let you go?
"I can't stab you now, anyway!"
"Shake on it?"
"Will you shake on it?"
"You've got my arms all bound up."
Hank shifted the pretzel until her hand was out. He slipped his palm against hers.
"Shake on it if you mean it."
Wincing, Zelphia did. Hank immediately let go.
"Ow!" Zelphia said, grabbing her knee.
"I won't clobber you only because you pledged not to stab me."
"It doesn't matter if you do or not. You'd only be clobbering a corpse." Zelphia collapsed into a chair. A polyester cloud of stuffing blew up behind her. Hank thought she looked like an angel. A deadly, sneaky thief angel.
"I'm not going to kill you."
"It's not you that I'm worried about," Zelphia said. Hank noticed the hunted look in her eyes. He'd fought hundreds of opponents but had only seen that look in one type of combatant.
"Who sent you?"
"Nobody," Zelphia said, too quickly.
"You're a worse liar than you are a thief."
"I'm not a thief!" Zelphia let her anger bubble to the surface to obfuscate any possible reflection. "I'm a burglar, and a damn good one. That's the problem."
"That I caught you."
"Egotistical much? Not you. I'm assuming that, if I wasn't now the walking dead, you'd just make me pick up cans next to the side of the road or talk to at-risk youth about my crimes. But don't worry about scheduling any of that goody two-shoes crap. I won't live long enough to make it."
The hair on the back of Hank's neck stood to attention. He kicked Zelphia's chair. It jumped sideways by two inches.
As Zelphia opened her mouth to complain, a small dart appeared in the antimacassar two inches to the left of her jugular vein. Hank reached towards the stove behind him and slammed his hand down on the handle of a dirty pan. It rocketed into the air. The quiet "ting" of a dart breaking against the cast iron was followed by an equally quiet "shit."
Hank was out the door before the pan smashed into the floor. The assailant was fast. He was already back in his car and tearing off down the lane. Hank could catch him on his motorcycle but he couldn't be sure that was the only killer on the ranch. He went back inside.
"I've saved your life three times tonight. Once by kicking your chair, once by throwing a pan, and once by sparing your face from my right cross. Stop staring off into space and being sad and all this enigmatic bullshit. Tell me the truth. Why are you such a terrible lawyer?"
"Because I'm not a lawyer at all. Dr. X found this Josh Spurlock character as cover."
"So you collaborated with that crooked judge to get me thrown in the slammer."
"I never saw that judge before. Dr. X had assured me that I would only have to play a lawyer and that he would take care of the rest."
"Who wants you dead?"
"Dr. X. I've never met him, but it turns out that the last half-dozen jobs that I've done were for him. Do you remember the news story about the famous Humping Stones of Indonesia a few months ago?"
"I helped rescue them – and the archaeologists - from the dictator that invaded the dig site because he wanted the stones for his bathroom"
"And do you remember how somebody stole the Humping Stones from the Guggenheim?"
"Nobody could figure out how the thief got past all of the security!"
"That's because they aren't me. I can only assume that the Humping Stones are sitting on one of Dr. X's shelves. But he didn't really care about the Humping Stones, or the painting 'Venus on Wash Day' or that priceless set of knee socks that supposedly belonged to Shakespeare. He only cared to build enough evidence against me to blackmail me into doing his dirty work."
"My ranch isn't dirty."
Zelphia surveyed the destroyed furniture, ruined books and the flecks of bacon grease all over the ceiling, walls and floor – added to the syrupy yellow poison leaking out of the broken darts.
"Until you arrived," Hank said, crossing his arms.
"Dr. X wants the Rockjaw Brewery recipes. And now that his assassin has seen me talking to you I can't even ask you nicely for them. Dr. X would kill me on the spot if I show up. And he has enough proof of my criminal activities to put me away for life. The life of the Sun, to be precise."
"I always ask myself," Hank said, "'what would Hank Rockjaw do?' And Hank Rockjaw always helps a damsel in distress, even if she is a thief. Have you ever killed a man?"
"No. I keep my profession peaceful, unless you count tranquilizer blowdarts."
"What kind of man would I be if I measured you on tranquilizer blowdarts? I'd be condemning all ninjas. Are you a fascist?"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Everything. Are you a fascist?"
"That's what I thought. My facist sense wasn't tingling. Besides, it would be pretty hard to goose-step your way into an art gallery with sound-triggered alarms."
February 8, 2012 — 327 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
"Your parents sent you a message?" said Tic.
Milly said, "Here, why don't I show you." She fished her PAI out of her pocket, navigated into the Holograph app, and thumbed the play button.
An image sprung up in the air, showing two middle-aged people—a man and a woman—with thin, grimy faces, wearing protective rubber suits and holding orange hard hats under their arms. They were standing in front of a backdrop of pipes, gauges, and steam.
"Hello, Mildykins," said the woman, just loud enough to be heard over the loud, low hum of background noise.
"How's my Little Dred Riding Hood?" said the man, with a touch of a smile.
"We miss you so much," continued the woman. "We've thought about you every single day for the past 14 years..."
Something clanged off camera. Both figures looked up nervously.
"We need your help, Mildred," said the man, quickly. "We're..."
A voice called out, "Oi, what's going on over there?"
The man swiftly reached for the camera and slipped it into his pocket. The holograph went dark, but the sound continued, somewhat muffled. Heavy footsteps approached.
"You two aren't allowed to talk unsupervised," said the unseen voice.
The woman said, "Sorry, Mr. Yoqir. We just bumped into each other... I'm on my way to the lab."
"And I had ocular issues," said the man, loudly. "Y'know, with my goggles."
"Yeah, sure," said Mr. Yoqir. "Back to work!"
There was some scratchy audio, and then Milly's PAI indicated the end of the message.
"Those were my parents," said Milly. "That's why I'm going to Haddock."
"...I'm not sure I see the connection," said Tic.
"Didn't you hear? My dad said he 'HAD OCular' issues. Haddock. It was a clue!"
February 7, 2012 — 306 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Tic's mind was swimming laps in a hot tub while he swivelled agitatedly in his captain's chair. Money. She'd said there was money. But how much was her grandfather actually worth? How much access did she have to those funds? And how could Tic get his hands on some?
He let Pelly handle the back-and-forth with Space Traffic Control. The launch went relatively smoothly, which is to say that the trip through the atmosphere was bone-jarringly, jaw-rattlingly, rib-crushingly unpleasant, but at least there hadn't been any problems with the paperwork.
When they were safely in orbit Tic engaged the autograv system, set the Origami Engine to spool up, then unclipped himself and floated back to the passenger cabin to check on Milly. She was just dropping a barf bag into a disposal tube.
"Here," said Tic, opening a minifridge in the corner and mixing the ingredients of a few bottles. "Have a Saucy Wench. It'll help."
"A... Never mind what it's called, just drink it."
"Er... Thanks," she said, taking the proffered glass. "Why does every part of space travel have to be so unpleasant?"
"You get used to it," said Tic.
Milly took a swig, swished it around in her mouth for a second, then dove into her cabin's en-suite bathroom and spat it out into the sink. "Ow! My mouth is burning!"
"Doesn't taste like puke now, though, does it?"
"I think it seared the nerves off my tastebuds!"
"Can't deny that it's effective!" said Tic. "So... You say your parents have been missing for how money—I mean, how many—years now?"
"And after all that time, what makes you think they're on Haddock?"
"Because," said Milly, examining her tongue tenderly, "about a week ago they sent me a message."
February 7, 2012 — 899 words
By Terra Whiteman
1889 Labs is proud to welcome Tim Sevenhuysen into the family.
Tim debuted with his new series "Losing Freight", an interactive serial that allows readers to determine certain elements of the story's progression each week via a poll. But what kind of welcome would it be without a proper hazing?
So I forced Tim at gunpoint to do an interview, which was pretty difficult considering he lives in Canada. Good thing I'm so skilled at teleportation. Trufax.
Well, without any further delay, meet Tim Sevenhuysen!
TW: It's pretty exciting to have a new face around 1889 Labs. How has your experience been so far?
TS: It's great to be part of the team! I've really enjoyed getting some glimpses of the inner workings of 1889's creative group, and I'm excited to see all of the fun new stuff that's going to be coming out in the future.
TW: Tell us a little about yourself, Tim. How did you come about this gig? What have you written in the past? What do you do in your spare time?
TS: I live in Victoria, BC, with my 7-month-pregnant wife. I met MCM here in Victoria a couple of years ago at a local "tweet-up" (remember when those were a thing?) and somehow got wrangled into being the "antagonist" for his book Fission Chips. My job was to throw him curve-balls every now and then by deciding what the villain's next move would be.
MCM has contributed a couple of stories to my 50-word story site too, and we've kept in touch a bit. When he put out a call for some "crazy writers" to take on a new 1889 project I put my hat in the ring and he picked me to work on the first "Flashback" project, which led me to start working on Losing Freight.
As an author, I'm best known for my 50-word stories. I've written almost three years' worth of them (that's 600+, but who's counting?). In my spare time I tweet a lot (@TimSevenhuysen), obsess over my Google Analytics stats, and watch hockey.
TW: Losing Freight is 1889 Labs' very first interactive serial. Can you tell the readers about it? Have you been enjoying it?
TS: Losing Freight is the first example of a concept that MCM came up with called the "Flashback," where one page of the story is posted each weekday and there's a poll attached that influences the next day's page.
Working on this project has been a lot of fun so far. It's very different from anything I've ever written before. Incorporating feedback from the readers after every single posted page means I have to take a whole new approach to my writing process. I can't just let the story go where I want it to go: I have to write every single page in an open-ended kind of way, to allow the readers to have as much influence on what happens as possible.
I'm still getting the hang of it, to be honest. I can say for sure that the next few weeks of the story are going to get a lot more interactive, because I'm starting to wrap my head around how to best utilize the polls. Over the next couple of weeks I'm planning to really start pushing the pace of the story, so I hope everyone's ready to keep up with the action!
TW: Who are some authors that inspire you?
TS: I've been a reader ever since... Well, ever since I first learned to read, I guess. Some of the authors who have inspired or influenced me the most are JRR Tolkien, Victor Hugo, Orson Scott Card, Douglas Adams, and Jonathan Swift, but I could easily extend that list with dozens more names.
TW: Do you have any other current projects that you're working on? Any future projects?
TS: I write a lot of short stories right now. I've challenged myself to self-publish a new short story every week of 2012, and I'm releasing those through my blog. I also have another web fiction project called Special People which is about everyday people with unique powers and abilities. That one updates with two chapters each week.
When I'm able to find the time, I have a half-written novel that I intend to complete this year, and a couple of other ideas for novels and novellas that I'd like to explore. So many ideas, so little time!
I'd like to thank Tim for both his time and not calling the police on me for shoving a gun in his face! Be sure to check out Losing Freight, featured on 1889 from February to March!
February 6, 2012 — 1,346 words
By Greg X. Graves
"And that's when I popped him in the mouth!" Hank said to the people in the courtroom. They laughed. Hank had arrived early with his gardener/lawyer, Hiram Hogginsox.
"Nicely done," the bailiff said. He went take his post near the door to the judge's chambers.
"You can't lose," said Estelle.
"That's up to Hiram!" Hank clapped him on the back.
"You got yourself into this with punching, we'll get you out of this with punching," Hiram said, shuffling some papers.
"There's not a jury in the state that would convict you. Mr. Spurlock had quite the villainous operation. Denying water to the local villagers in exchange for what amounts to indentured servitude? You may have solved the problem in an unorthodox manner but I doubt that anybody will hold that against you."
"That's why you're the best."
The doors to the courtroom swung open. A man in a wheelchair appeared, pushed by Zelphia Dipthong. She didn't look well, as if she hadn't slept at all last night; her hair was rumpled and she wore the same outfit that Hank had seen her in yesterday.
She still shone by comparison to the man. Josh Spurlock had both legs sticking out in front of him like plaster-encased battering rams. One of his arms was also in a cast. Purple ringed both eyes. His lips swelled like a water balloon about to burst.
Zelphia didn't acknowledge Hank. She pushed Josh into position next to the plaintiff's table, took a seat, and began to shuffle papers with shaky hands. Hank wondered if her anxiety was courtroom nerves or something else.
The door to the judge's chambers opened.
"Please stand, the Honorable Judge Richards presiding!" the bailiff bellowed.
"The Honorable Judge Richards is indisposed," said the bespectacled wraith in the judge's robes that emerged. He floated up to his seat. "I am Judge Spiknid. And I would be pleased if you would be as observant as your intelligence allows."
Hank shot a glance over to Hiram. The latter leaned in towards Hank.
"There's no judge by that name on this circuit," he whispered. "This is irregular."
"That's right, Mr...Hogginsox. All of the other judges are occupied so I was called in as a replacement. And it isn't that irregular, which you would know if you spent half as much time practicing law as you spend spreading cow pats among Mr. Rockjaw's begonias. Please be seated."
Hank leaned over to Hiram.
"Those begonias are fucking amazing."
"Silence! A few other items of housekeeping. One is that you may note that we have no jury. I believe that the issue at hand would be too complex for a jury to understand and thus interfere with due process. Therefore, I will be adjudicating the matter. The prosecution may proceed without any more mutters, whispers or other interruptions from the defense. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, your honor," Hiram said.
"Silence! Mr. Rockjaw, you have been charged with the crime of egregious punching and I hope that you take this grave accusation with all of the weight that it should be accorded," Judge Spiknid gestured to Zelphia. "Please begin."
"Your honor, I-" Zelphia said as she knocked a glass of water over onto her notes. "Oh dear."
The bailiff pulled out a handkerchief and helped her mop up her notes.
"I'm sorry, your honor."
"That's not problem. Take your time to collect yourself."
After a few moments, the bailiff resumed his position, Zelphia cleared her throat, and began.
"My client has suffered an unimaginable amount of distress and suffering at the hands – or should I say fists – of the defendent. Not only physical damage, of which the evidence is ample, but also mental and emotional anguish that we can never measure. All we ask is that-"
Zelphia took a step badly, her ankle went out from under her, and she would have went sprawling if Hank hadn't leapt over his desk and made a dive to catch her. Her hair waved across his face. It hadn't been washed or done. It still smelled like the dust from his ranch.
"I will have you thrown in jail for the duration of this trial if you do not unhand the prosecuting attorney at once!" Judge Spiknid smashed his gavel into its sound block.
"Thanks," Zelphia said, as Hank helped her to her feet.
"Don't mention it."
Hank resumed his seat. Zelphia continued her arguments, but Hank tuned out the trial. He had more important things to think about.
Why did Zelphia seem so nervous? Last night she had been cocksure, arrogant and composed. How did she go from nearly breaking off a heel in Hank's gut with a practiced, reflexive kick to stumbling on the floor of a court room? Had the vacancy in her eyes been fatigue or regret? Something was as fishy as a crooked fishmonger.
"Mr. Rockjaw, please," Judge Spiknid said. "At least pretend that you have a chance to win this case."
Hank realized that Hiram had been poking him in the ribs to get his attention.
"Your honor, I propose that we demonstrate, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Hank could not have punched Josh Spurlock," Hiram said to the room. To Hank, he whispered: "our defense still airtight. It just depends if he gives us a fair shake."
"I expect that it'll be as fair of a shake as an earthquake occuring the same weekend that a convention of card architects is in town."
After a brief flurry, a boxing dummy was wheeled into the room. Its foam face grimaced at Hank.
"Your honor, the defense would first like to congratulate the special effects makeup artist who did the plaintiff's injuries. They appear quite realistic. Unfortunately, time has made a fool of him, as the events in question happened over two months ago. The casts would be long gone and his face would be healed. Oh, I'm sorry. Unless you were born like that."
"Objection! Relevance!" Zelphia said.
"None at all," Judge Spiknid said. "Move on, Mr. Hogginsox."
"Here we have a boxing dummy. The dummy sits on a stand that mimics the weight and height, exactly, of the plaintiff. I would like to call my first and only witness, Hank Rockjaw. Hank, if you would please come here."
Hank stood up and approached Hiram and the boxing dummy.
"If you could, would you mind socking this dummy in the jaw?"
"Yes, right now. You don't have to punch it hard, just enough to let it know that it should be glad that it doesn't have nerve endings."
Hank's right hand suddenly shot out and collided against the dummy's face with a bang that made everybody jump. The dummy disconnected from its stand. It sailed through the air, straight at the plaintiff's wheelchair. Luckily for Josh Spurlock, he was able to stand up and jump out of the way of the missile while the dummy crashed into his empty seat.
"The defense rests its case."
The doors to the court room flew open. A dozen worried bailiffs entered the room.
"We thought we heard a gunshot."
"No, just a straight shot to a foam jaw," Hiram said.
"But don't go anywhere." Judge Spiknid banged his gavel. "Hank Rockjaw, I find you guilty of the crime of egregious punching, and I also find you guilty of contempt of court. Sentencing will be tomorrow. You will be held without bail for the night."
Judge Spiknid stood up, bared his teeth at the room, and floated away into his chamber.
As soon as Hiram could pick his jaw up off the floor, he turned to Hank. "I'm not going back home until it's with you. And not just because you're my ride." He stuffed his papers into his briefcase and rushed out of the court room.
The bailiff walked up to Hank and sheepishly put him in handcuffs. As he led Hank towards the courthouse jail, he shook his head.
"Personally," the bailiff said, "I think that's enough bullshit to keep your begonias healthy for the next decade."
February 4, 2012 — 282 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Tic chuckled at the dramatic look on Milly's face. "A quest, eh? What kind of a quest? Self-discovery? Exploration? A treasure hunt?"
Milly said, "I'm searching for my parents."
"Why? What happened to them?"
"Abandoned you?" said Tic. "Sounds familiar. Mine left when I was six."
Milly's over-expressive face wrinkled up in sympathy. "That's so sad!"
"No big deal," said Tic. "I get enough 'mothering' from Pelly, really."
"But you still won't eat your broccoli!" sighed Pelly.
"Learn to cook and I might," retorted Tic. "Anyways, I know it may sound cynical, but I wouldn't get my hopes up too high about a warm and fuzzy reunion, if I were you."
"My parents didn't abandon me," said Milly. "They went missing fifteen years ago while working on an off-planet contract for my grandfather's space-time engineering company."
"Just 'went missing,' eh?" said Tic, dryly. "Who told you that?"
"And you think that's more plausible than them running off on you?"
Milly pouted. "Grandfather wouldn't lie to me."
Pelly announced, "We've received clearance to launch."
"Good. Let's get out of here." Tic thumbed the door control for the rear access to the hold and the hatches swung shut. "So, if your parents really 'disappeared,' I assume there was some kind of police investigation."
"There was, but they gave up after six months. Grandfather hired private investigators after that, but they spent all their time coming up with new ways to get their hands on his money."
"Money?" Here was something that piqued Tic's interest.
"I'm going to go strap in for launch," said Milly, heading into her cabin.
"Wait!" said Tic. "Money?"
February 3, 2012 — 1,190 words
By Greg X. Graves
After he finished unloading the truck, Hank followed the police to the station to give his statement. He'd had to follow closely behind the squad car with his bitchin' hog, as quite a crowd had gathered to crane their necks and build rumors.
By the time that Hank swung the nose of his bitchin' hog onto the dirt lane that led to his ranch, the February sun had long fallen beneath the horizon. The chill of the nocturnal New Mexican desert poked its fingers into Hank's leather jacket. The motorcycle's rear light left a blood-red tail slinking through the cloud of dust kicked up by the wheels.
The only light on the property came from the groundskeeper's cabin.
Now that he came closer, he could also see a tiny floating ember of a cigarette glowing at lip-height on his porch. Hank pretended not to notice and let his motorcycle idle him by the interloper on his way into the shed. Once there, he quickly cut the engine to his motorcycle, removed his helmet, and leapt into the shadows.
He could see the entrance from his vantage point behind a rack of gardening tools at the back of the shed. Anybody entering would be backlit in the frame of the doorway. He selected his weapon from the rack in front of him and waited.
"Hello?" said a voice.
A silhouette entered the frame.
And what a silhouette, Hank thought. The woman – and Hank was sure that it was a woman – had a perfect hourglass silhouette. She wore a tailored jacket and a tight, professional skirt that led down to a set of legs that reached all the way to the floor. Tiny triangles of light shone from beneath her high heels.
Still, he knew to be careful. A beautiful body could be covered in guns. Or knives. Or the keys to a padlock, which doesn't sound so bad unless the padlock belongs to the gates of an alligator pen and you're on the inside. That had been painful.
Hank pulled a small flashlight off of his belt and flashed it in the woman's face while charging forward with his weapon.
"Who the hell are youuuuuooohhhh," Hank said, catching a foot in his stomach. The heel nestled into his belly button like a bear digging a hibernation den. From experience he knew what brand. Those were some Michael Hisenburgs. You could tell by the distance from the heel to the toe, and the offset from the centerline. This woman made quite a lot of money to afford designer shoes.
Hank let himself fall, then rolled to the side as the other heel stomped to the ground where his face had been only moments before. He hadn't let go of his weapon. He jammed the rake into the dirt and climbed up the handle. By pivoting on the ball of his foot he was able to swing it in a long, hissing arc.
The rake caught the woman square in the back and sent her tumbling forward uncontrollably – but only for a moment. With a powerful thrust she propelled herself into a roll, followed by a flip, followed by a perfect landing on her high heels. Hank was impressed.
"I can only assume that you're Hank Rockjaw." She held a knife in one hand.
"The woman who is going to sue you for assault and battery."
"You can't sue me for assault. I didn't threaten you with violence. I just attacked you. Believe me, I should know. You'll face a counter suit."
"Criminal negligence. Did you arrive here in the daylight?"
"And you noticed the pines on my property."
"I couldn't miss them."
"They're part of our national forest system. If you start a fire you're wide open to criminal charges. And that is one smoking hot outfit."
The woman rolled her eyes and relaxed.
"Your reputation precedes you, Hank. Zelphia Dipthong, attorney at law." She extended her hand.
Hank shook it.
"Pleased to meet you, Zelphia. If you've been waiting here since the sun went down you must be parched. Will you have a drink with me?"
Hank led the way into his house. It looked like an ancient, well-kept ski lodge, made out of piles of logs. The ceilings soared. The floors creaked. The granite kitchen countertops shone. Soon the logs in the fireplace crackled.
Hank picked a bottle of wine out of his wine pantry.
"May I have a glass of water, please?"
"Of course." Hank gave her a glass of water. He dug the cork out of the wine bottle with a thumb and drained half of it in one, long chug.
When he looked down, Zelphia had placed an envelope on the counter. He picked it up and read the contents.
"You're serving me?"
"The trial starts tomorrow?"
"That ain't right. I've been sued many times and I'm supposed to have more notice."
"I tried to bring it to you this afternoon but you seemed very busy. I came here but a man told me that you volunteering at the liquor store."
"Hiram. My gardener."
"So I went down there but you seemed busy committing assault."
"Battery. I battered him. Nobody messes with a man's beer."
"Yes, right. You battered him."
Hank scowled at the letter.
"It also says that a certain Zelphia Dipthong is representing the plaintiff." He looked up. "Can a prosecuting attorney serve the summons?"
"Yes. I simply couldn't wait any longer to meet the man who caused the judicial system to create the charge of 'egregious punching' for my client."
"And what's your client's name?"
"Save it for your defense."
"That bastard exploited a bunch of villagers in the Sonoran desert and forced them to work at his shoe factory because he'd bought up all the water rights. You know those fancy high heels? They were made at that factory by a bunch of poor Mexican villagers." Hank chugged the rest of his wine.
"What a heartwarming story. And then how did you resolve the problem?"
"To make a long story short, the sister of a friend of mine lived in that village and had just been fired for writing a letter to her brother describing the horrible working conditions."
"Yes, that's how you found out. But how did you resolve the problem?"
"I tried to buy the factory. I've done it before. Josh wouldn't sell. Asshole! So I did what any right-minded person would do: my friend and I drove for three days, found the place, found Josh, and I punched him so hard that he thought he was Frank Sinatra for three days."
"Please repeat your story tomorrow exactly as you've told me tonight." Zelphia turned to leave.
"For three days the asshole could croon."
"I'll see you tomorrow."
"One last thing before you go. Did you tell Hiram why you wanted to see me?"
"Good, because he'll have gotten my dress pants pressed."
"Is Hiram also your assistant?"
"And my attorney. He's had plenty of experience defending me in battery cases. You'll have your work cut out for you tomorrow."
February 3, 2012 — 286 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
While Milly deposited her backpack in the passenger cabin near the front of the Galactic Pelican, Tic went into the hold to inspect for any damage caused during loading. There were a handful of scuffs on the floor and one gouge in the starboard bulkhead, but the cargo itself looked okay.
"I'm all set," said Milly from the doorway.
"Great," said Tic.
"Are we ready to go, then?"
"Not yet." Tic checked the tightness of one of the straps the teamsters had used to tie down a big, bulky machine of some sort. "We have to wait for clearance to launch. Once we get that, we'll launch into orbit and start the Origami Engine up to charge for the jump."
Milly wrinkled her forehead, which made her look like an unhappy toddler. "That's a dimensional folding drive, right? Is Pelly a smooth flier?"
"I went through a dimensional fold a couple of weeks ago, and it felt like my stomach got turned inside out," said Milly.
"That's common for your first trip," said Tic. "You must not have done much travelling before, then?"
Milly shook her head. "This is the first big trip I've ever been on."
"I did something similar when I was your age," said Tic. "I took a whole month to explore the solar system I grew up in. It was pretty eye-opening. I spent four days puking my guts out in a Rixxian hostel. If a guy with three eyes offers you a free drink, take my advice: turn him down and walk away."
Milly laughed. "I will. I'm not on vacation, though."
"I'm actually on... Well, this sounds really pretentious, but it's kind of a quest."