June 24, 2012 — 1,136 words
For the record, death isn't so bad.
Dying, on the other hand, hurts like a son-of-a-bitch.
So you understand, I hope, that I am appropriately pissed at the fellow who strung out the dying part for me.
Hello, my name is Mary, and I was murdered.
Now, the murder part doesn't bother me. Honest. I mean, it's not like I was doing anything important beforehand. The part that bothers me is that if you're going to mug someone, have the decency to do the job properly. It's common courtesy.
But no. I got someone who thinks being polite is passé. First, the jerkass shoots me in the stomach (FYI: hurts like a son-of-a-bitch). Then he just runs away. The nerve! What, was my knock off purse not worth the effort? I had, like, twenty bucks in there.
As my wonderful and loving mother was so fond of saying, it seems that my fuck-up field extends to everyone around me. Which includes muggers, apparently.
Afterwards, do you know how long it took me to finally die? ...Well I don't either, but it felt like weeks. Which is long enough for me to be sufficiently furious to seek revenge BEYOND DEATH!
That's how these things work, right? You get sent back to get revenge, or absolution, or something. Kill your killer, forgive yourself, sleep with your still-living spouse through a medium, or whatnot. Then bam! Afterlife with an open bar.
So I have unfinished business. Cool. Let's go finish that, because being a ghost is neat but it's not something I want to do forever.
Why, you ask? Well for example: ghosts can't drink. Or hold a shot glass. True fact. And on a related note: I have no idea how I can see things, and it bothers me. I mean, vision requires light to strike your eyes and then get interpreted by the brain. From what I can tell light passes clean through me, therefore striking nothing, therefore I shouldn't be able to see.
...I'm going to stop thinking about that and just blame it on spectral wizardry. Yeah. Back to vengeance.
Now, I'm not a detective. I've watched more CSI than is probably healthy, but that doesn't help. I don't know how to track people, and I don't know how to find clues. So I'm just kind of... roaming. Constantly. I mean, even a terrible mugger-wannabe must have some kind of haunt (heh), right? I've gotta run into him sometime.
In the two weeks I've been floating about like a hobo, the streets have never been this crowded. I don't think I could pick out a face in this pulsing mass of the living, but I might as well get a better view. I have no idea how I can levitate, but seriously, it's still as awesome now as it was when I first figured it out.
At about three stories up, I catch a glimpse of something moving on a roof nearby. It's a shape, kind of wuzzy. Looks like a dude.
And in that instant, I knew it was the dude I was looking for. I can't tell you why, but I just knew. Magic ghost powers, I guess.
In an instant I'm in front of him. Bastard's standing on the edge of a tenement roof. There was a lot of light and noise coming from the street, but sound doesn't travel very well in ghost-land. Everything's all muted. Like listening through a bunch of cotton on the bottom of the ocean. So I couldn't make out exactly what all the ruckus was about. Not that I cared, of course.
The guy was just standing there, swaying one the breeze, half-empty bottle of tequila in hand. He waved the bottle around. Clear liquid dripped off his face and ran in rivulets under his eyes - he'd obviously poured tequila onto his face in a mockery at my inability to drink and feel said drink on my skin (not that I'd ever waste perfectly good booze in that manner).
Killing me improperly is one thing. But mocking me afterwards? That's just a new low. I can't look at him in the face anymore, so I swoop around behind. Goodness, he's awfully close to that edge. I'd hate for something to--
Damn. Forgot that being immaterial means I can't push people. I will NOT let this opportunity slide by!
Now he's yelling something at the lights and sounds on the street, waving his hands around (Spilling!) and making awfully familiar gun gestures with his free hand. He\'s gloating. I\'m going to kill him so much.
The lights and sounds yell something back, and it strikes me as probably being important, but I'll be the first to admit that I'm pretty much blind with rage at this point.
The jerkass (I'm not even going to call him a man anymore) goes quiet. He hiccups (a last laugh) and drops the bottle - spilling! If I still had knuckle-bones, I'd crack them.
Slowly, much too slowly, the jerkass turns around. His head is down and he looks tired - exhausted from all the attention. He takes a step forward, towards me, and looks up.
I feel myself solidify - odd sensation, kinda tingly. Our eyes meet. I give him a sweet smile.
He chokes, forcing words through cracked lips. "I'm s--"
Death isn't so bad. It's the dying that sucks. It may not have been a bullet wound to the gut, but I have to say: the look of utter, abject shock as he stumbled off the roof was SO worth it. I bet that fall felt like weeks.
All in all, I feel pretty accomplished. I mean, mission: complete. Revenge: taken. Dish served: cold.
Score: Mary one, Jerkass... also one, but a lesser one. So I still win.
Now all that's left is the sweet, sweet reward of the afterlife (fingers crossed for an open bar).
Some of the light and sound on the street has gone somewhere else. Looking down, there's still a lot of people, though. That Jerkass had a hell of a crowd.
...Okay, I'm starting to get nervous. This is how these things work, right? Unfinished business, solve it, everybody learns a lesson, credits roll. Right? There's no way I could mess this up.
The light and sound on the street has stopped. Everybody\'s gone on their way. Afterlife any time now.
Any time now.
... Ah, fuck.
Well, I guess I should go say hello to mother.
* * *
Alex is a trained screenwriter (for all the good that does him) busy delving into the deep dark world of game writing and broadcast animation, while practicing web development as a means not to starve to death. For some reason, he's also working in prose.
June 23, 2012 — 672 words
Drawn by pulsing music and darting lights, Meg enters the nightclub. Scanning the patrons for a possible 'decent male', she weaves her way through the mass of gyrating bodies, to the bar.
Her regular scotch and coke fails to even touch the sides, so Meg orders a double and throws it down. Full of Dutch courage, she moves out onto the dance floor. She follows a pattern that has become habit over the past few months.
A potential partner smiles at her. In response Meg smiles and a warmth flares, from the scotch or the male she cares not which. A compulsory number of dances must follow, as dictated by the unwritten 'Dating Game Handbook'. A few more drinks, pleasantries and necessities are exchanged, then Meg and her male leave.
Meg's two-door sports car impresses, she feels a hollow sense of pride; something in her life is worth a second glance. Small talk fills the void during the car ride home. As expected, coffee is offered, accepted and quickly dispensed with. They move to the bedroom.
Even in the feeble moonlight, Meg knows her body is a pleasing sight. Released from its designer label constraints, her muscular body reflects the many surfing hours that have carved her shape. The belly button ring excites the male; confidently he pulls her onto the bed. Afterwards, he plays gently with her long bleached blond hair. Wrapped in his arms, Meg fades off to sleep.
Morning brings the uncomfortable awkwardness of the ‘Oh my goodness, what have I done?’ syndrome. Excuses are made, the male leaves, promises of phone calls falling on disbelieving ears. It is a promise heard so many times before, a hollow, empty promise.
A teeshirt covering her nakedness, Meg drifts out onto the veranda. Coffee clenched in a shaky fist, she slumps on the steps, head bowed. Her only true friend greets her, wet tongue licking her face, wagging tail causing grief to the dying potplants nearby.
Shifting her coffee, Meg hugs Sabre, tears falling onto his golden fur. Pleading with the dog, begging for a reason as to why, at thirty-three, she is still all alone, she expects no answer and indeed none is forthcoming. Meg knows she is not unattractive; her surfing has tanned her body and shaped her physique. Her job pays well and a midwife is an acceptable position to hold. Thinking back to her last boyfriend, Meg analyses again what went wrong.
Her hours of work chased him off, three years ago. He could not accept the draining night duty and the insomnia that haunted her sleeping hours. She remembered how he left on a morning such as this, with the same, empty promise of a phone call.
Once again Sabre had been left to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess. Meg knew that many people saw Sabre as a child replacement, and maybe he was, but he had never hurt her. Ever.
Suddenly he deserts her, racing to the fence to challenge a young family walking past. Meg bites her lips to stop from weeping, feeling in her heart that she will never push a pram or have a child throw its sticky arms around her neck and cover her in sloppy kisses.
No man will make her a wife or a mother. She will wear no wedding ring from a husband, nor a vegemite kiss from a baby.
Twisting her small gold ring around her finger, Meg desperately wants her Mum. To be rocked like a baby, to feel gentle hands stroking her hair, whispering words of comfort; Meg wants her mother’s uncompromising love.
Sabre returns, his doggy duty done. Subtlety not his strong point, he drops his feed dish at Meg's feet.
‘Hungry hey? Come on then.’
Climbing to her feet, coffee cup in one hand, feed dish in the other, Meg hears the phone begin to ring. Her heart races, her cheeks pink with excitement. Maybe it is him after all, just maybe.
And she hurries on indoors.
June 23, 2012 — 305 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Mr. Dunter stared steely-eyed at Tic. "If this thing goes off at even ten percent power, it'll zap my entire headquarters into sludge. I'm not losing the largest action figure collection in the solar system this easily! If there's even a tiny chance of saving my collection, I want in."
"I don't trust you, Dunter," said Tic, "but I don't see anyone else volunteering..."
A few more precious seconds ticked off the NCVD's clock. Then Dr. Fester threw his chalk on the floor and padded over to one of the valves.
"Doc..." said Tic, but Fester just cackled ruefully, then, seemingly as an afterthought, took something from his pocket and tossed it to Tic. It was a thumb drive.
"Pelly," said Fester simply.
Before Tic could ask for clarification, Mr. Cogs burst into the chamber. "Everyone else is almost clear!" he said. "What's the holdup?"
"We're out of time, folks," said Tic. "Either Dunter stays here, or..."
"No way," said Mr. Leon. "He'll sabotage our efforts out of spite. You're a villain, Dunter, through and through. I don't trust you one bit."
"I'll stay!" said Cogs. "What do you need me to do?"
Tic blinked in surprise. "Uh, just so you know, your odds of getting out of here aren't—"
"Are you going to do it, then?" said Cogs. "Get going! Jeffries and the rest are topside already, waiting for evac. But be careful, Bolter: I feel like the curator brought us here for reasons of his own."
Tic shook the Entulovian's hand. "You're a good man, Cogs." He blasted through Dunter's chains and gently broke apart Milly's tearful hug with her parents. "They're going to make it out," he assured her, knowing how transparent the lie was.
Then he, Milly, Overard, and Dunter headed for the exit.
June 22, 2012 — 304 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Dr. Fester was banging on a keyboard as Tic and his entourage entered the NCVD chamber. Fester loosed black cackle. "Won't work! But I predicted it!"
Mr. Leon pulled Dr. Fester away from the keyboard. "Sorry, Doc. I wish that had worked."
Tic took charge. "Anyone who thinks they can shut this thing down, get to it. Otherwise, clear out! The exit tunnel should be open by now."
Most of the scientists took off, leaving only the Leons, Dr. Fester, Tic, Milly, and Overard, with Dunter still chained to the railing.
Mrs. Leon said, "I don't suppose there are any yetis around."
"Actually," said Tic, "there's one clearing the exit."
"Just one? Not good enough. Two would do it."
"There's also a dead one..." offered Tic.
"Dead yetis can't swallow."
"Yetis have incredible neutralizing mouth and stomach linings. See these two nozzles? This is where the corrosive vapour will come out. Two yetis could safely gulp the stuff all down, if they swallowed fast enough, but with just one, the spray from the other nozzle will disintegrate him in seconds."
Tic's heart sank. He'd watched that second yeti die at his feet...
The NCVD control console beeped another refusal. "It's locked tight!" said Mr. Leon.
"Come on," urged Tic. "There has to be something you can do."
"Our only hope is to limit the damage," said Mr. Leon. "There are four valves in here. If we wait for the firing mechanism to kick in, then immediately start cranking all four valves... Well, it'll probably still go off, but the effect should be much smaller."
"But the risk to whoever stays behind..." said Mrs. Leon.
"I know." Mr. Leon sighed. "Any volunteers? Millions of lives are at stake!"
Mr. Dunter raised his head. "I'll do it."
June 21, 2012 — 1,144 words
By Letitia Coyne
On May 9th, 2012, at Accredited Online Colleges someone without a byline to credit blogged about the 9 Signs Self-Publishing Is out of Control.
Do you groan when you hear that? I did. Then I groaned again when I read the opening gambit:
“To paraphrase the immortal words of Truman Capote, there’s a difference between writing and typing. And, to put it gently, we can say with a good amount of confidence that most self-published books were typed, not written …. Until recently, the publishing industry had been our sea wall, protecting us from a tidal wave of boring life stories and dreadful novels. But now, the ease of self-publishing threatens to drown us all in mediocrity. Here are nine signs the situation is out of control.”
The nine signs were:
Yes, so it’s all malarkey and you have the link there if you want to go and read it for yourself.
Who cares if there are millions of books to choose from? No one. Those who want their filtering done for them can still go to their local bookstore and find a bit of what they fancy carefully filed under headings they understand. Others can find enough of what they want everywhere.
The only point that I found interesting was the idea that many pundits – [One author is quoted who does not believe that the one Guardian article published was correct, but noted that there had been some discussion on Goodreads about the possibility] think the self-publishing bubble might be about to burst.
First, I think, there has to be some major money invested and made for any kind of major bubble bursting catastrophe, and I don’t think that has happened to any great degree. Mostly, people have invested small amounts of their own capital in their own work and either done well enough to be encouraged further, or given up and gone to bed. I have written before about my concern over vanity presses ripping people off, but there will always be wolves.
What I do think will happen, and has perhaps begun, is reality will inevitably set in. For most authors, even under the guidance of traditional publishing, there was never a lot of money to be made. This argument has been yelled loudly, and for years, by many of us inside and outside the digital box. It didn’t stop people trying their luck fifty years ago and it didn’t stop the rush this time.
Because some of the big names made a good living, the self-publishing revolution had a bit of the goldrush sort of feel to it for many self-publishing starters. It is still rushing now, but we might well be riding the peak and I think that dream, like all goldrushes, is passing now and leaving some a bit broke and others a bit disheartened.
But for authors who wanted to write the book they wrote, and to tell the story they told, it was well worth the effort. Storytelling is about telling stories, and too many bloggers would like it to be about capital gain. Writers who only want to make money either will or won’t, depending on how determined they are and how good they are at marketing. Bad books sell well in the traditional world; the same is true in self-publishing. Good self-published books without the drive behind them and the sales pitch will languish; the same is true in the traditional world.
The only thing that might remain forever changed is the number of authors who put their work out on the shelves. Whether for sale or for free, there will likely always be many more books to choose from now. I will not buy the mantra that quantity always means poor quality. It has become harder to find the best – or at least that which best suits each individual - for many readers.
And that is another necessary change I think is coming now, and will increase in momentum - the ways we find to direct traffic and advertising so the right readers get to the right books. I am at last - at last, let me hear an hallelujah!! – hearing people everywhere demanding that their friends stop spamming. It is finally being recognized that the idea of putting yourself front and centre and yelling in the face of every passer by does not endear you to readers.
I am waiting to see which processes prove to have remained stable as the great wash rushes by.
Readers do need help to find good books. Humans generally do not thrive on overwhelming choice, and I’m guessing that abhorrence of a vacuum will ensure that whatever the need here is, it will be met. We will work out the best ways to join reader and writer in the vastness of the web.
Sadly, the one thing that does not seem to have changed yet is the idea of intellectual snobbery. If you cannot find yourself a good book to read, anywhere, and are being drowned in out-of-control mediocrity, you might want to look at your own search skills. Maybe do an accredited course.
June 21, 2012 — 165 words
Well then. MERGE has come to an end.
It's been a crazy ride, full of tension and drama way outside the page, but we made it through in one piece. Well, at least some of us. Kit has a bionic arm now. It's pink and sassy.
Anyway, more to the point: if you've been waiting to dive deep into MERGE until it was done... well, it's done. You can download the entire series (including all the bonus stories, and especially including the epic finale) from Amazon RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND.
And I think you may recall that one of you lucky ducks was going to win an iPad, yes? Well we now know who that is... it's Monica Y! Congrats Monica! Also winning ebooks and gift cards are Najela and Flord! WOOHOO!
There's lots more fun to come (not MERGE-related), so stay tuned to 1889.ca for even more insanity, and possibly a rabid chicken.
June 21, 2012 — 305 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Leaving Dr. Fester behind to do... whatever kind of crazy math that was, Tic followed Overard to yet another chamber. This one housed a series of furnished cells which contained more than a dozen prisoners, all of whom leapt to their feet as Tic and Overard entered.
Milly was among them. "You're back!" she said. "What had happened to you?"
"No time for explanations," said Overard. "Tic, use this key in the slot on the far wall." Overard took a similar key to the other end of the cells, where there was a similar locking mechanism. "I watched the guards do this. We have to go at the same time. Ready? One, two, three..."
Both men turned their keys, and the cell doors swung open. The prisoners swarmed out, cheering, and Milly flung her arms around Overard's neck.
"No time to celebrate!" shouted Tic. "That acid bomb thing is counting down!"
The prisoners gasped. "What!?" cried one, a man who looked vaguely familiar... Milly's father, Tic realized. "Someone triggered the NCVD? We've got to shut it down!"
"Dr. Fester's working on that," said Tic, ushering everyone into the tunnel.
"Fester?" said Mr. Leon as they jogged along. "His methods won't work—they made us rewrite the algorithm after he got taken off the project. It's completely unpredictable now."
"I'm still having a hard time accepting that you all helped Dunter and Libden build this thing!" said Tic. "Why didn't you sabotage it?"
"Tic, please..." said Milly.
"We couldn't," explained Mr. Leon. "We were only doing the creative side of the project. They had their own engineers verifying our equations, and they punished us for every 'mistake'."
"Still, there must be some kind of back door to disable it, right?" said Tic.
"Maybe," said Mr. Leon. "We'll soon find out."
June 20, 2012 — 305 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
"Dunter?" said Tic. "What's he doing here?"
"Forget him," said Overard, running past. "Milly's through this way!"
Dunter shook his head ruefully. "You might be able to get them out fast enough, but this timer isn't counting upwards! It might still be possible to disarm it, though."
"And we'd need to let you free to accomplish that, right?" sneered Overard. "Like we can't see through that ploy!"
Dunter shrugged. "I never said I could disarm it. Dr. Fester there might be able to. He helped design this monstrosity, after all."
"What?" said Tic. "Doc, is that true?"
Dr. Fester's bony shoulders drooped, and he wheezed half-heartedly.
"Gloria sure wasn't happy when he stopped cooperating!" continued Dunter. "But the Leons were still playing along, especially after Gloria told them we'd captured their daughter, so we were still able to go on without him."
"Wait, the Leons?" said Tic. "Milly's parents? They helped build this thing, too?"
"A real group effort." Dunter sighed. "I should've known this would all turn against me somehow. A word of advice, Bolter: don't fall in with villains, or soon enough you'll become one! Then they betray you and lock you to your own prototype acid bomb..."
"Tic, we're wasting time here," said Overard. "I can't work both of the lock overrides myself; it takes two people."
"He's right," said Dunter. "If you blast through this chain for me, I could help him..."
"No way," said Tic. "I don't want you running off just yet! If you play nice, maybe we'll take you with us on our way out. Mak, let's go get those people. Doc, if you think you can disarm this thing—"
Dr. Fester was already kneeling with a piece of chalk, madly scrawling formulae across the floor.
June 19, 2012 — 305 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
"Come on!" cried Overard, taking a few steps back towards the tunnel he'd come out of. "You've got to help me!"
Jeffries' eyes were open wide in shock. "Are you saying someone triggered the NCVD? How much time do we have?"
"Libden set it to 10 minutes I think," said Overard. "We can still get everyone out if we go right now, but I can't do it alone!"
"Bolter, wait," said Jeffries. "If the NCVD goes off, we've got to be in the air when it happens, or we're all dead. And Libden's the real target, anyways!"
"Milly's locked up, Tic!" said Overard. "And her parents, too, and about a dozen others."
A vision of bacon and nice, comfy swivel chairs flashed through Tic's mind. If only... No. No time for that. People were counting on him. "Lead the way, Mak," he said. "Jeffries, clear that rubble. If we aren't back in five minutes, leave without us." Tic and Overard headed for the tunnel.
A shadow caught up to Tic from behind, and he turned to see Dr. Fester following them. "You don't want to come with us, Doc," said Tic. "We may not make it out again."
"You'll need my help!" cackled the old man. "I predict it."
Overard brought them swiftly through the tunnel to another large, carved-out room, filled with wires, pipes, computer equipment, and clear vats of fluorescent green liquid, and the corpses of half a dozen of Dunter's goons. A large silver orb was suspended a few feet off the floor in the middle of the room, and a computer console in front of it was flashing a countdown: 9:08, 9:07, 9:06.
On the other side of the orb, sitting with his hands cuffed to a railing, was Mr. Dunter.
June 16, 2012 — 304 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
"Urgh..." moaned Tic, stumbling as Cogs helped him to his feet. "I've had more than enough of this kind of thing recently. How are we looking?"
Jeffries returned from his peek around the corner of the tunnel. "There's a big pile of debris under the archway. It's impassable for now. Half of our team is wounded or dead, and backup is several minutes out."
"We have to get after them!" said Tic, wobbling out into the hub room. He stepped around the fallen yeti, who looked up at him with imploring, pain-filled eyes. "Everyone who can walk: help clear a path."
Cogs said, "But what about the wounded?"
Tic grabbed a chunk of rock and pulled it off the pile. "We're losing time! We can come back for them." Reluctantly, the others joined in, and they started to make a dent in the barrier.
Tic's PAI buzzed. He answered the call on speaker. "Hello?"
"What's going on down there?" asked Haglyn.
"No sign of Dunter, but Libden's escaped up an exit tunnel."
Jeffries called, "Have the curator get the position of my handset and use that to predict where the tunnel comes out! It's pointed South-by-Southwest of our location."
"Will do," said Haglyn. "How many Liberati does she—"
"What was that!?" said Haglyn.
Tic looked back as the wounded yeti's eyes rolled into its head. He sighed. "We lost one."
"Bolter!" shouted Overard, breaking out of a tunnel into the hub room.
"And we've gained someone else, apparently. I'll call you back, Haglyn." Tic cut the call as Overard ran up to him. "Where's Milly?"
"Back this way," said Overard, pointing behind him. "You've got to help me get them all free before the Norway Corrosive Vapour Disseminator goes off!"
Tic froze. "Wait, before what!?"