6/10: Field Work

Go to Google and search “It’s been a while since I’ve posted,” in quotation marks, and you’ll get 83,000 hits.  Change the “I’ve” to an “I” and you’ll get a further 116,000.  I wonder if there’s an average lifespan of a blog.  A chart of average initial furious productivity and gradual disinterest until after a while all you see are few “It’s been a while” posts and then nothing for years.  The blog just sitting there waiting to be updated, the reader left hanging.  

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Aside from a couple cheap update posts I haven’t put any new fiction up since April 5.  What have I been doing that time?  Little of consequence to warrant such laziness.  I have, however, completed my 6th short story, which I present here.  So, woot. 

I’ve been working on this for a great deal longer than I should have, and much, much longer than one would  rightfully assume after reading it.  The truth is, I kind of fucking hate it.  It started out as a Flash Fiction Friday and suddenly it was 2,000 words and I had no idea what it was about.  What was supposed to be a 750 word piece about graduate students in a semi-rebuilt post-apocalyptic society tranquilizing and tagging the survivors who roam the wastelands ballooned into something larger. The problem was, I didn’t feel like it had the plot to warrant its newfound length. I put it down for a few weeks, intending to write other things, but found that I couldn’t do anything else until I got this fucking out of the way. So I eventually went back and hammered it out.  It ended up clocking in at around 4,600 words, which unexpectedly made it short story 6/10 on my journey.  So, silver linings. God gives you lemons, you find a new god. I still think this not enough butter spread on too much bread, and in a few months I’ll probably return to it and try to fix it.  Until then, I’m just happy to have it out of the way. 

I’m okay with writing things I don’t like. Things that suck. The great thing about any craft is you learn from making sucky things and what make later sucks just a little less. I think maybe this story has too much show instead of tell.  I don’t know. Tell me if you figure it out.

As always, what I’m doing here:  I read somewhere that every writer has ten bad short stories them before they write a good one.  This is slightly more optimistic than Ray Bradbury, who said, ““Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” Challenge accepted, Ray.

So, I dug out the four short stories I’d already written and threw them up here, warts and all.  I also post flash fiction here, but don’t count anything less than 1,500 words toward my 10 story total.  This is number 6.  It’s my least favorite story, and I’m not usually in the habit of handing out warnings. If you’re still reading, and plan to read a little further, feedback is always more than welcome.  

Field Work

Credit: Wikipedia

Ko now greeted the warming months with anxiety.  Not because of the oppressive heat that meant the band would have to spend mid-day in the shade — the day was longer so they could hunt longer, too.  And not because it would be months before they’d see rains again — any halfway competent hunter among them could find water when he really needed.

He was worried about the Visitors.

Two years in a row they’d come. Hiding in something terrible, something that reflected the sun and hurt to look at. When they came, the Visitors would chase his band.  His band would run and some would escape.  But not all.  The Visitors were fast and the things they sat on were indescribable in his vocabulary. They would take some of his band and shoot them with small arrows and when they woke up again they’d remember nothing. Not even being shot.  Certainly not being hauled into the Visitors’ home and cursed with their magics.

Ko looked to the East, his lithe and lean figure backlit by a setting sun.  The mountains on the horizon blazed orange at their peaks in the summer sunset. They always came from the east.

A crunch of footsteps behind and Ig was there.  Ig held an armful of wooden spikes, sharpened on both ends.  Ko tested a few for strength.  Good girl.  He motioned toward the others, digging in the dusklight. Ig ran to join them. The large hole was most of a man deep and fully four men wide.  Ig passed the bundle down into hole and jumped in after and set to work driving the stakes into the ground.  Ko turned back to the mountains. The east, the east. They always came from the east. And they’d keep coming, just as long as his band kept running.  He knew that.

Time to stop running. Start fighting.

###

The Journalist was new. He’d never left the city.  His only knowledge of the arid expanse of rock and scrub that stretched a thousand kilometers up and down the coast and inland away from the city and the sea came from primary school.  A vague knowledge plant and animal species, of radiation levels and scant annual precipitation. He rarely even bothered the trip to the outer rings to look it. Now, he stood at a window and looked out at the segmented trailer, flat topped with solar panels and fronted by a large, sleek engine. The mobile research biology lab. Everyone called it the Marble. Beyond that, only sand and ruins.

The loading dock was one of three on the northern stretch of the city’s outer wall ring. Inside was a few dozen square kilometers of the only civilization any of them knew.  He walked to the other side of the hallway and looked out over the northern greenhouse district.  Every square meter planned and sculpted and accounted for, so entirely unlike the world he was about to enter.

The Marble was backed up to a loading dock and he also watched a trio of graduate students checking a long line of crates against the list on a tablet and wheeling them through and into the vehicle. He pinged their bios to read on the videofeed.

Jeen, Brill and Minny. Graduate assistants in the biology department at the University. Jeen the oldest at 18 and evidently team leader. She had a shock of short orange hair and one side of her head was shaved.

Minny was a tall, gangly boy with an Adam’s apple for the ages. Brill was short and well built. The Journalist noted they were, oddly, brothers.

Minny grabbed the end of a blue power cable from a case and held it up. “Is the right MP cable, Jeen?”

Jeen didn’t look up. “Check the other end. If it’s threaded it’s the right cable.”

Minny rooted around for a minute. “I don’t see the other end, Jeen.”

She looked up for the first time. “I’m pretty sure if you just follow the bastard you’ll get to the other end, Minny.” She noticed the Journalist looking at her, flashed him a smirk.

“Two of modern science’s finest minds right here.”

“Found it!” Minny held up the threaded end of the cable.

“Imagine that.” Jeen said sardonically. “Two ends after all.”

The Journalist thought she was pretty, and blushed. A journalist’s training always left them rather awkward in every day interaction. They observed, recorded and interviewed. Small talk was typically a weak point.

Outside, a figure slid down an access ladder from the upper level of the engine. He recognized Professor Brien. Expert in exocity species. He’d made great advances in studying the scattered, primitive inhabitants of the vast, empty plains that surrounded the City.

Once inside he saw the Journalist and his face lit bright.

“So, a new Journalist!” He strode over and clapped the Journalist on either shoulder.

“New a new yes” the Journalist replied. “Six months recording, now.”

Professor Brien was tall and broad, with an enormous blonde beard. He had a look of permanent sunburn. He wore a white one piece work suit of loose fit, open in the front. He clasped the Journalist’s shoulder in a worryingly personal and firm way.

“Well welcome, Journalist. We do great work out there. I’m happy for the recoding.”

The Professor’s gaze turned to the tech on the Journalist’s temple. “Live feed?” He asked.

“Video, audio, bio. Environmental readings.”

The professor whistled. “The City will lose the live feed about 300 clicks out.  You’ll have to settle for recording.”

“Radiation?”

“That and remoteness. No infrastructure out there, not much of anything out there.”

The journalist nodded.  Jeen called out from behind them with a question for the Professor and with a nod he took his leave.  The journalist turned his gaze to cracked, arid expanse, so entirely different from the world his ancestors had carved out of the coast over three centuries ago.  They’d come from out there. Ruined the world and ran in desperation to the coast and now 12 generations later they were finally getting back out there.

“Journalist!” The Professor called out. “We’re almost packed! Time to go!”

“Pause feed.” the Journalist said.

###

Ko cut Ig from Nala, her mother.

Two days of labor and then she wouldn’t wake up again.  So he took the black obsidian knife his father gave him and made the cuts he has seen once before. Ko brought Ig from the wound himself and when Nala’s heart stopped he prepared her and fed her to their pack dogs himself, too. As band leader he had to do all of these things and show no fear about it.  He lead them south in the cooling months that year, feeding their pack dogs strips of his her flesh and all the time as hard and unchanging as the stones beneath their feet. But sometimes, during the new moon, he goes off alone and draws the obsidian blade across his chest so the blood flows and he weeps and rages at the stars.

###

The Journalist made his way amidship.  The Marble three autonomous units.  The engine contained sleeping bunks, restrooms and an array of scientific equipment for measuring radiation, moisture, temperature and communicating with field teams.  The long cylindrical center module was storage.  And the tail car was largely empty save for two hydrogen-powered off-road vehicles and medical station.  All were topped by solar panels. At full charge the Marble could make 30 kilometers per day.

He crossed between the first and second modules through dust-choked open air.  He could taste it.

Jeen, Brill and Minny were opening the large, squat crates he’d seen loaded back the city.  Jeen seemed to direct most multi-person tasks. Jyin, the fourth student on the professor’s team, spent most of her time in the workshop working on various  equipment. Brill and Minny, as far as he could tell, were considered to be particularly adept at picking up things and putting them down somewhere else.

“Hey, Journalist,” Jeen said. “Wanna see something cool?”

He switched to his live video feed and sent a backup to the mainframe.  Not quite a hundred miles out from the City the latent radiation was already interfering with his connection.  The feed was static-y and distorted.  Jeen bent over and pressed her thumb onto a scanner and the crate popped open with a hiss.

It was full of deer.  At least, they appeared to be deer.  They were packed neatly on their sides, 50 to a case.  Brill and Minny started to take vitals.

“They’ve been altered for survival in the desert,” she said. “We’ve found bones indicating an incredible amount of pre-burn biodiversity.  We’re working toward rebuilding that.”

“Altered in what ways? Pretend I don’t know anything about biology.”

“Do you know anything about biology?”

“No.”

“Good thing, because I’m a shit actress.They don’t need much water, and they dissipate heat very well.”

The Journalist scanned their bodies. Enormous ears, long, thin legs. An impressive achievement in breeding and bioengineering.The ship suddenly air-braked and the Journalist had to steady against a pylon and shot a quizzical look at Jeen.

“We have to drop them well outside of the Nomads’ territory. Any food we’ve tried to give them goes uneaten. Any game they see us release is killed and left to rot.”

On the ground, the Journalist watched Brill and Minny wake the skinny things one by one with a jet injector.  Some sort of stimulant, presumably.  After a few minutes getting their bearings they they loped off into the scrub and brush.

They’d set down on the remains of a road. Patches of black asphalt in stretched in a line across the savanna. Not a single road any more but an impression of one. A spotted pattern. Bristlecone pines and creosote, intermingled with the ashpalt patches, stretched away as far as he could see. As always, he directed his headgear through a series of subtle eye twitches to take temperature, humidity and radiation readings.

The video feed was getting worse. The Journalist decided to stop streaming live.

###

It was the day the sun rose along the notch.  They did not make the notch. The notch had been there when they arrived and so too the tall smooth stone with the hole in the top.  Ko stood at the end of the notch, nude and cold in the pre-dawn desert morning.  He waited for the sun to rise and find the hole and find him as well.  This was the day that the sun and night held equal say over them. Tomorrow the sun would have its way, and the heat.  They always made it this far north by this day.

Ko saw his eyelids turn pink and red, felt the warmth on his face.  Spoke to his father in silence and heard the crunch of feet as the circle around him shifted back and forth.

###

The Journalist turned his gaze in a slow sweep across the great brown waste passing beneath them.  Sometimes they passed the ruins of cities. Foundations, mostly. Squat squares in the dust. Sometimes twisted stumps of girders like the worst teeth. There were millions here, once.

Nice shot for a voiceover, later.

“Tell me about your box, Professor.”

Professor Brien motioned to Jyin, who retrieved a heavy looking case from the cargo strapped against the side of the hull. Her straight black hair hung like a cloak around the case as she unfastened it. Inside was a silver rectangle, plain except for a speaker. The Marble’s cab was pleasantly spacious. A bank of controls at the front occupied Jeen. The professor sat in the other driver’s seat and the rest of them perched on a low bench that wrapped half around the rear of the cab. There were windows on all sides, giving the cab a cupola feel.

“This is box 3,” Jyin said. “The first three they destroyed. This is very slim, easier to conceal.”  She swiped her hand along the edge and the box shimmered and was suddenly the same shade of brown as the Earth outside.

“This speaks with them?”

“That’s the plan, eventually,” the Professor said. “We’ve gathered quite a bit of their language from the previous boxes.”

The journalist stood and approached the box. He instructed his mounted camera to pull backup photos from the video. “And you understand th — shit!” The cab lurched violently to the side, sending him tumbling into the professor’s lap.

“Whup!” Brien yelled, catching him.

“Sorry, dude,” Jeen said. “Hit a bump.”

“I noticed that,” the Journalist said, pushing himself back up with a grunt.

Jeen pointed up and behind her without looking. “Best to use those handy dandy railings that we’ve installed, oh, everywhere you can possibly walk.”

The journalist nodded. “Duly noted, Jeen. Now. The box. Can you understand their speech yet?”

“Well no, of course not. We can’t risk bringing one back to the City, and the one we brought on board our ship turned so insanely violent we had to release him or he was going to injure himself.”

“So what does it do?”

At this the professor produced a remote control . “We know certain words associated with certain events. Food, mating, fighting. We assume food is also associated with contentment, with satiety.”

The professor pressed a button and a trilogy of words emerged from the speaker. The Journalist couldn’t understand any of them but had a feeling was listening to a kind of pidgin. One of the words had a harsh glottal stop and a guttural sound. Another was tonal and ethereal.

“These mean food?” The Journalist asked.

“As near as we can tell, these have to do with food, yes. We hope to play this and a few others for them and see gauge their reaction tomorrow.”

Jyin spoke up.  “You’ll want a good view for the video, trust me.”

“What of the previous try?”

The professor sighed. “It went poorly.  We waited until they were gathered around and turned it on.  At the first word they smashed it to pieces with stones.”

“And what’s changing now?” The Journalist asked.

“Well, the idea is that they’re learning.”

###

Ko and Ig lay flat on their stomachs. Ko inhaled deeply. The earth this far north smelled nice to him. It always had. If he had the word in his mind he would have called savory. He noticed Ig was doing the same and smiled. Ig. Ig. He was six hands this year. Middle aged and the unquestioned leader of his band.

She had borne him one hand of children. Only Ig survived. Ig, as strong as him.

They heard the sharp crack of the zik, a hollowed out log struck with a stick and they were both up and running, Ig half a second faster than her father.

They cut down the washout at a dead sprint. His band were all great runners. They could run down prey for an entire day, just waiting for it to drop dead from exhaustion. He willed himself to move fast. Ig kept pace, her long lean legs moving light and beautiful.

Another crack from the zik and they pulled up. Ig a few steps ahead still. Good girl.

Ko looked back and saw a dozen dark brown figures holding their spears high. Ig threw both fists in the air and the band’s cheer songs reached him clear even through the wind.

That night the band prayed long. They made three holes each a hundred paces apart and placed an ancestor’s tooth apiece in them. Ang’s teeth, they decided. The last one of the band the Visitors to fall under the Visitor’s sleeping spell.

Ko told Ang’s story. How they all cried and said goodbye to Ang from a distance. How they thanked him for being a great hunter. And, finally, how Ig took her first kill by sending a spear into Ang’s chest so he the sleeping spell wouldn’t infect them.

One tooth apiece in each hole and now they stood in Ang’s mouth. They’d be safe here, waiting for the Visitors.

###

The Journalist was born to be. Everything must be recorded, they told him, and recorded themselves telling him that. At three he kept a food diary, as practice. Breakfast. 200 millilitre protein shake.  Lunch. Seaweed and pine nuts. Dinner. Curried grasshoppers. The Journalist was the 10th. His mothers and father were the Journalist, too. He recorded their deaths. Recorded everything because someone else had lost it. His ancestors had done something broke the world and the city was the only place putting it back. His family had recorded this for ten generations so no one would ever forget just how hard it was.

Now, for the first time, he was recording people not from the city. The past six days since entering the nomads’ presumed migration corridor they’d been up at dawn, scanning the landscape. Finally, last night, they’d seen fires in the distance.

Now, he adjusted his gear, focusing the camera on the line of brown figures sprinting at an impressive pace down the washout 200 meters distant.  They were long, lean things. Built for extended running. An electric shiver shot up his spine. His heart raced.

“They’re beautiful, Jyin.”

“Yeah, pretty damn awesome, huh?”

His video feed stabilized and pulled a photo.

“Coloration identical to the landscape. Likely soil applied to the skin as camouflage.”

He thought about that a moment.

“No previous mention of camouflage among the bands. Indicates tactical thinking abilities.”

He lost them behind a ridge. The Journalist switched the comm in-ship and brought up Jyin. He was on the ground but she would have a better view 20 feet up in the driver’s seat.

“Jyin. Can you see them?”

A moment’s silence. “Negative. Nothing. Just dirt and Jeen’s dust.”

“What about your radio tags?”

“Still negative there, too. This must be a different band than the one we tagged last year.”

He scanned the area again.  The dust was a problem.  Jeen and the Professor were making toward the washout in one cart, Brill and Minny behind.  One driver, one gunner.  He could see Minny on the turret, face obscured by goggles and a breathing mask. The barrel of his tranquilizer gun.  And their tires throwing up plumes of dust behind them that made it impossible to record anything.

“I’m coming up.”

###

Ko watched the two approach, considered the fearful noise, the dust they threw up.  One could never hunt in such things.  Any game would scatter long before one drew near.  Any game except his band.  Ko looked to his right and caught Ig’s gaze.  Ig held up the black obsidian knife.  Ig’s now.  And as he was looking on his daughter with perfect admiration and pride the first of the two awful things ramped over the lip of the washout and landed right between them.

##

There was no one there.  Professor Brien ran the wipers and cleared the screen.  The washout was empty save for scrub and dead timber.

“Jeen! Do you see anything?”

“Nothing from here, Professor” She moved her goggles up to her forehead and raised her binoculars.

“Damnit, they must have doubled back. I swear they’re getting smarter!” He sounded excited.

Jeen clicked over to the open comm.  “Brill, Minny, circle wide. They doubled back.  Jyin, you reading?”

“Jyin here.”

“You see anything on your scopes?”

“Nothing. Journalist is up here too.  He’s got nothing.”

Her suit was stifling.  Sweat trickled down her face, into her eyes, stinging.  She raised her visor and wiped it away.

“Professor, is it just me, or are they getting smarter?”

Brien grinned and gripped his steering wheel, bounced up and down in his seat.

“I sure as hell hope so.”

And from her vantage point atop the ATV Jeen saw two things, simultaneously.  The ground in front of the vehicle shifted, in one smooth motion, and then there was a man standing in a low crouch.  She’d never seen anyone move so fast.  She didn’t even have time to call out to the Professor before Ko had thrown a spear directly at her chest.

Searing pain and loss of breath, and her vision went black a moment.  Jeen noticed she was curled up in the bottom of her cupola, gasping.  A pair of hands grabbed her and pulled her up, and she saw they were connected to the Professor.  He pressed his hand along her chestplate.

“All-damn-days that guy was fast!”  Brien said.  She vaguely heart Jyin’s voice on the com but couldn’t make it out.

“No, we’re fine, Jyin,” he said, and now spoke to Jeen. “But if that had been a foot higher you’d be dead. Keep your damn visor down, kiddo.”

Jeen coughed.  “Sorry, stupid, sorry.”  Of course the spear had been no match for her body armor.  Her face wouldn’t have fared so well.

“Where’d he go?”

The Professor threw a thumb over his shoulder.  “They. A smaller one hit my windshield with another spear, then took off north.”

Jeen lowered her visor. “Let’s go then.”

###

Ko did not expect that. He couldn’t even really process it.  Less than 20 strides away.  He had felled men at three times that distance.  And yet, his spear had bounced right off of the outsider’s chest.  The thought spurred him, and he ran faster.  Ig was keeping pace just to his right.  They ran free and naturally, long thin legs pounding toe-first into the cracked soil.  No matter.  It was up to the others now.

Behind him, he heard the roar of the Visitors, closing.

###

Standing at the open left engine hatch, the Journalist lost the the two ATVs in the clouds of dust as the pair chased down their attackers.  He could hear Jeen barking orders on the com.

“Brill, back on us!  You’re too far out!”

“Negative, chief.  We…drove into a hole.” Minny’s voice.

Silence, for a moment.

“You drove in a hole!?”

“Uh, yeah.”

From the rising dust the journalist could follow Jeen’s ATV. Her voice followed the rhythm of the bumps they hit. “Were you … chasing … something shiny … when you drove into the hole, Minny?”

“No, we didn’t even see the damn thing. All covered in brush. Like it was camouflaged.”

The Journalist stiffined. “Minny. Journalist here.”

Jeen responded. “Getting a good … show … up there, J-man?”

“Can’t see a thing, Jeen. Listen. I need Minny to mark that hole so I can scan it later.”

“Roger. Need to wench ourselves out first.”

The professor’s voice cut in. “Dead ahead, Jeen!”

“Make it fast, Minny!”

The journalist climbed down the front module access ladder and hesitated a moment before dropping down onto the first patch of natural Earth in his entire life.  It felt adventurous.  He dropped to a knee grabbed a handful of sandy soil, let it run through his fingers.

Jyin’s voice on com.  “Journalist. I’m in the ATV hold. Where are you?”

“Already outside.”

“Dork.  Come around back and I’ll pick you up.”

The Journalist turned and faced the ATVs, still obscured by the dust clouds in their wake.  They’d ambushed the tag teams.  This was unprecedented.

He switched to infrared, hoping to catch something through the haze.

“Shit.” He said aloud.

“What?” Jyin’s voice came over.  “We’re good to go back here.”

“No we’re not.”

“What?”

“We’re not going anywhere, Jyin,” the Journalist said.

“Why not?”

“Because we’re surrounded.”

In his viewscreen the Journalist could make out a dozen bodies lying prone in the scrub. Bright red and white against the Earth beneath.  As if on queue, they rose, and started to advance.

“The fuck you mean, surrounded?” Jyin yelled, and in the hold made her way to the port.  Her next words caught in her throat.  The Journalist was facing a line of a dozen armed nomads. They all had spears and were covered in pigment the exact color of the soil. The MARBL had driven right up to them and never even noticed.

Jyin barked over the com. “Professor! Get back here! The journalist is outside and there are runners here!”

The Journalist was calm.  He switched back a regular video setting and scanned the advancing line of men.  No use running, he guessed.  Even if he could make it, he’d be betraying the job.  The Journalist recorded and that was it.

A strongly built woman with hair in long thick tendrils made a strange, quick movement and then the Journalist was on his back.

He didn’t remember lying down, so that was strange.

The Journalist lifted his head and saw the smooth shaft of the spear in his stomach, saw the strips of hide and beads hanging from the grip mid-shaft.  He moved his head back and forth along the line of them, recording everything.  The Journalist noticed that his head was too heavy to lift now, so he laid it back and closed his eyes.  He noticed that the stomach made his stomach feel bad, but it didn’t seem to hurt as much something so big seemed like it should.

He didn’t feel the need to open them again, even as the high pitched engines of the ATV grew to fill the air. Instead he thought about how hard it was to put this all back. How everyone should know that. And he kept thinking that until the sharp pops of the tranq guns faded into the thick thrum of his own heartbeat, which then faded into nothing at all.

###

A few hours later Professor Brien watched Brill and Minny load the vacuum-sealed body of the journalist into one of the deer-crates.  Jyin was watching the footage on a pad.

“We’ve got good speech here, professor. They talked for a full minute before you scattered them.”

“He knew better than to go out there without a suit. Shit.”

“He got excited,” Jyin said.  “He was young.”

Jeen was in near the rear of the hold, two of the band unconscious at her feet.  She readied a small gun and put it to the back of their necks.  It injected a small radio chip that would hopefully ping the monitoring stations they’d set up on the way back.

Professor Brien walked over and grabbed one by the ankles.  Jeen helped haul the woman down the rear ramp and place her on the ground.  This was the one that had killed the Journalist.  Jeen had hit her on the run with a tranq dart. He guessed she must be someone of importance to the band, if she’d taken the kill.

“Hopefully we’ll get some good migratory data from the tags this time, Jeen.”

“Yeah.”

“I can’t believe they laid a trap for us. The faculty wouldn’t believe it if the Journalist hadn’t been here.”

Jeen looked out over the savannah, the sky a sumptuous, thick red.

“They really are getting smarter, Professor.”

###

The Visitors the next morning. The heavy drumbeat thrum of their beast faded first as the band stood alert, watching. They craned their heads and listened until even Ko, tallest and best-sighted, lost it in the distance.That night the band made fires and debated over the lives of the newly stricken, Ban and Aa’ly. After some debate Ko decided to leave them at a nearby Oasis for one moon.  If he came back and found them in good health then they could rejoin the band.  In case the magic took them, he left an obsidian blade in their care.

This was an era in which the world was full of magic and monsters.  Such was simply fact.  Spirits lived with the band, though they were rarely seen.  Some were benevolent.  Others mischievous.  Some were simply evil.  They told stories in flickering firelight in the cold desert nights.  Refined their myths and gave the world meaning.

Years later Ig would tell her band the story of facing down hunting party of strange silver beings during the Summer When the Deer Came Back. She told it with her father’s knife in one hand and his heart in a pouch in the other. It was an important story, as any story about conquering the world must be.

“Permission” in 365 Tommorrows, “Leviathans” accepted by Nebula Rift, plus: mystery acceptance!

downloadWell, this is weird.  This whole project was envisioned as a path to publication.  Write ten stories, get better at it, start submitting in earnest. This week I jumped the gun a little bit by getting a story published online and two others accepted for publication!  One I can’t officially mention yet, I think, because it’s not technically official.  Soon.

First, my flash fiction piece “Permission” was run in 365 Tommorrows on April 8.  While I don’t know if this is technically a “publication” in the strictest sense of the word, as it’s a collaborative online project and not as much a magazine, I’m still giddy. You have to submit and get accepted to have a story featured there. Fuck it. I’m taking this.

Second, I got word this morning that my story “The Leviathans” was accepted by Nebula Rift! Woot. Nebula Rift is a paid publication, and does so in a novel way.  Rather than per word they pay lifetime royalties from online magazine sales.  The money isn’t important to me here, as you can’t make a living writing short stories. I think the standard “professional” pay rate is 6 cents per word, which means that “The Leviathans,” which took me two weeks to write if memory serves, would pay 300 bucks before taxes at the professional per-word rate.  More, it’s about the validation.  If someone thinks they can sell what I’ve written then I must be doing something minor-ly right.

Third, I got another flash fiction piece tentatively accepted but it’s not official yet so forget what you read here.  

Oh, I also got a speculative fiction poem, “Fertility,” accepted by Apex Magazine last week.  So it’s actually four in two weeks.  I fully expect a bus to hit me on the way home from work tonight.

Anyway, I didn’t post a flash fiction Friday, and I really fucking need to.  Getting some sort of validation was a great motivator. Also I really need to start reading more, religiously, but that’s for another post.

Flash Fiction Friday: Graduate Studies

I’ve often thought about what I would personally do in the event of the apocalypse.  Everyone does.  I think most people believe they’ll be fine.  Get a gun, get a truck, get some cool Mad Max clothes.  I’m under no illusion that wouldn’t be fucked.  I have no useful skill set.  I can’t build anything, or fix anything. I’m a librarian. Without civilization to support me, my skill set is useless. 

A couple of months ago I got into argument over the internet — okay, okay over TInder — with a woman getting her PhD in English. She vehemently disagreed with me that say, the invention of a new type of more efficient solar panel was of more use than a journal article heteronormaitivity in the works of Cormac McCarthy. She also strongly objected to my saying “postmodernism is the consensus that there is no consensus.”  I stole that quote, though I don’t know from where.  Maybe I was just being a contrarian, but my in as a graduate student in and English program made me wonder if theory wasn’t sometimes, just maybe, possibly, an exercise in bullshitting.  

So I wrote a story about a college professor and a graduate assistant surviving after the apocalypse, in any way they can.  They do alright, it turns out. And, being academics, they feel the need to go into a bit more detail about their justifications.  

Graduate Studies

Within months my graduate assistant was laying in tall grasses or plundered gas-stations, watching me lie in the road and we both listened for any approaching cars.  At first we tried things the other way around – thinking a lithesome 20-something prone and helpless on the asphalt would more likely prompt a truck to cease weaving through the stripped-down wrecks and lend a hand.

However, she fairly pointed out that such an arrangement perpetuated the patriarchy through use of the damsel in distress trope.  A tidy solution was for me to play the part of the bait, thus empowering her with greater agency.  Physically, I am well suited for the part – the wounded old man on last legs.

Also, she’s a better shot.

So here I am, on my side and 63 years old, the double yellow line stretching away from my face with quite pleasing symmetry.  I’m angled slightly toward the wrecked Honda in the ditch opposite, and catch the sound of two sharp whistles and three knocks on the hood of the car.

Two travelers on foot.  So many more travel by foot these days.  The thing they always left out of movies about living after the Apocalypse is that gasoline has a short shelf life.  There’s no point in siphoning from wrecked vehicles any more – the gas in their tanks no longer works in an engine.

The crest of the hill we’re below is a mile off, so I keep a close eye on my watch, waiting for ten minutes to pass. I wonder why they’re travelling.  There are settlements, of course.  Survival encampments. It can be hard to catch on there, though.  You need a joe-job skill set.  Carpenters or mechanics or nurses.  None of them seemed to have much use for a tenured faculty member and author of two well-reviewed books of post-colonial readings of 20th century American western writers. They were happy to take on my young graduate assistant, of course, but Sam’s still working on her thesis and wouldn’t leave me.

There are only three types of people you find travelling the roads these days. The first are the safest – they’re out scavenging for supplies for a camp.  The second are unpredictable.  They’ve been turned away from a camp, or fled when their camp was overrun by bandits. They’re looking for a home.

Then there’s the third kind. Then there’s us.

Five minutes gone.  They’ll be wondering if I’m alive or not.  She hasn’t hit the clicker so I know they’re not visibly armed. By that I mean, not currently carrying weapons.

After we were turned away from the third camp we realized the horrible truth of this world. That academic labor had become devalued.  That, given the choice, survivors would rather satisfy base needs than learn how to think.  We realized we had a sacred duty to preserve our accumulated knowledge for the next world.  I took the first kill, bludgeoning a traveler to death with a hammer.  We had no skill in butchering, then.

So the swirling dust and ash of blackened cities yields to our daily miles.  We camp in the cabs of empty semi-trailer trucks. At night we hold poetry readings by caustic orange flare light. And of course we write mostly in regard to the terrible irony and our human condition, and leave our poems and essays wrapped triple in plastic, high in dry places, so the next world would know.

Ten minutes gone. I raise myself half onto my left arm and collapse again.  My backpack is nearby, contents scattered and picked through. A victim of bandits who somehow survived.

I hear one of them, a man. “He’s alive!” and a minute later footsteps at a trot.

He stops short and calls out.  About 50 yards off, by the sound of it.

“You okay?” He calls out.

I don’t respond. Lay limp.  Too weak to move. Nonthreatening.

“Hey!”

This time I stir, just a little.

A few minutes pass and I hear footsteps again.  The wind picks up a bit. The sun is nice on my face, warm in this still-chilly early April.

He’s very near me now, behind and approaching. Sam hasn’t fired yet.  Is the man’s companion covering him? That’s smart.

A hand on my shoulder. The crunch of heavy boots.

“Hey. Can hear m–” His voice is cut off by the crack of the AR-15. He slumps across me. In a moment Sam is across the ditch and beside me on one knee. Firing position.  After a minute she lowers her rifle and shoves the body of the man aside and I can sit up.

“What happened?” I ask.

“The other was a young African American,” Sam says. “Maybe 15.”

“Ah.” We’ve had several long discussions about the merits of sparing people of color. On one hand, it reeks of the White Man’s Burden.  On the other, to kill him would have perpetuated racial exploitation.  We’ve written several essays on the matter along the road, left them triple sealed in freezer bags and duct tape.

We drag the body off the road and Sam sets about him with her Ka-bar while I go through his backpack. I admire her skill and speed. Singular focus and intention.  Our morning yoga practice has done wonders for her presence in the moment.

She’s changed so dramatically. I remember once, at the beginning, she had doubts.

“Is our knowledge really worth it?” She asked. “Are we doing this for the next world, or for ourselves?”

“Ah, “ I said, peeling a strip from the thigh of the mechanic we’d killed the week before. “This meat will only nourish our bellies. But our poetry? That will nourish the world’s soul.”

Flash Fiction Friday: Cargo

Today, I became entranced by this painting by Yuri Swedoff (http://instagram.com/yurishwedoff):

yuri-shwedoff-white-castle-3-for-internet

I’m regular on reddit.com/r/imaginarywastelands, basically post-apocalyptic abandoned porn for the DeviantArt crowd, and in the year or so I’ve been lurking there this is best thing I’ve seen.  I don’t recall seeing Yuri’s work on that subreddit before but I hope he keeps contributing. Just gorgeous. 

I also watched this video:

So I put them together.  Wrote a short piece about people trying to make sense of the fantastic after the Fall. I’m not sure how well it works. I’m trying to describe things from the point of view of a person who doesn’t understand what he’s seeing, but it was a fun exercise. I realize that short story really doesn’t work very well if you have to include an introduction.  Maybe it works well enough on its own, though. I’d like some feedback on this one, if you’d be so kind.

Cargo

Dottie-Going-There is making the connection, out there every morning by dawn at the work line and Teacher sees that of course, knows she’s the best student he’s got. She gets the posture right, just like the Teaching Book tells them, teeth and all, smiling. Dottie-Going-There moves her long, thin fingers about the buttons, over the new paint on the rows of the buttons, red and white pigments like the Leaving Thing in the book, when it sat on the pillar of smoke and took the Old Ones with it.

Dottie-Going-There is first out and pretty soon Teacher hears the crunch of feet on gravel and two skinny figures crossing now, over the cleared lot from Aytch Kew. That’s Jon By Fire and his brother Simon Tell ‘Em. Teacher smiles a gap-tooth smile but he’s gotta be hard on them.

“All this day sleep, you two! Maybe you make the connection by dreamin’ now, yeah? Yeah.”

“Just hadda go make do wit’ it” Jon By Fire yells out and they both speed up to a trot, the thick black rubber on their feet, cut right from the burn rings and strapped on with rope, making a loud slap slap slap that bounces all ‘round the walls of buildings.

They shuffle by and over to the button books by Dottie-Going-There, who never looked up, never stopped smiling, kept her fingers making out the right rhythm, do-dat do-dat do-do-do-dat. Good girl.

‘Course, that bit wasn’t in the book. Teacher just figures if the Old Ones are gonna take the connection they might like a nice rhythm, that way they’ll know it’s real people sending it out. Jon By Fire and Simon Tell ‘Em take their spots by Dottie-Going-There, put on the connection hats all the Old Ones in the book had, the one big circle over the ear and the long curve around the mouth and start out the rhythm, start smiling, start making the connection, too.

“That’s good now!” Teacher says, and gives Jon by Fire’s head a good rub and heads off to Aytch Kew to make his prayers.

Most of the buildings they can’t go in, most are falling in on themselves and all the bad sharp things he’s seen take people when they get cut, the wound turning hot and red and the black spreading up the veins until they get so hot it’s like they’re fire and then they die and don’t come back. In Aytch Kew he’s up to the roof, still a good roof, still keeps the rain out, and he strikes flint in some dried grass and brings the fire. Then Teacher puts the fire in one of the burn rings and steps back, watches the fire catch and move around the lip, the thick black smoke rising up and high.

He strips off his robes and stands bare chested except his medallion. A plastic rectangle on some ribbon that belonged to an Old One, left behind for him, for whoever figured out where they all went, making him Teacher. He was Jimminy Two when he found it but now he’s Teacher. He looks at the card, the marks on it like the marks on the buttons in the button books and the Teaching Book. Teacher knows there’s gotta be meaning there but it doesn’t bug him much that he doesn’t know what it is. They’ll find out when they make the connection and go there, go high high, go to the moon, yes.

The card’s got a face of an Old One smiling at Teacher, the same smile they all got in the Teaching Book all the time, letting you know how happy they are that Teacher’s making it all right again. His gaze turns back to the thick black smoke, tall now, spitting out of the burning ring, the fire setting the ring free and sending it high high. It was the smoke that did it. He worked it out, and he was just young when he did it.

Jimminy on the Road loved the Teaching Book, right when he found it he loved it, and hid it so no one could burn it like they burned the others. They could start fires with something else, damn them, this was special. And in the book the Old Ones had big long lines of black windows like the button books have, but their black windows had all sorts of marks on them, too. And they’re all smiling and then the Silver Men, waving out to Jimminy Two from the book and walking into the big Leaving Thing, the red and white thing like nothing he’s ever see or gonna see. Wings like a bird and a huge red barrel on its belly. The Leaving Thing, the biggest and best thing the Old Ones ever made, bigger and better than the huge skeletal buildings he sees on the horizon, all falling in and the sun behind them making them look pure black.

Jimminy was 10 when he was looking at the book and the Leaving Thing on the page, sitting on the column of pure white smoke. He was looking at it by the light of a burning ring and saw how fire turned the ring into smoke and the smoke went high high. He knew he had to make his own place like the Old Ones had. Convince anyone he could that they had to hit the button books they found sometimes, smile like the Old Ones smiled and let the Silver Men up on the moon they were still here. That some of the people got forgot when they left in the Leaving Thing. Let ‘em know that and they’ll come back.

It took him a fair bit of trying but he got others to believe.
Showed off the smoke from the burning ring and showed them the Teaching Book and the white smoke and most of them just laughed. Then one day he was walking on and out of a settlement and looking for the next one and Dottie-Going-There came running up after him and she believed.

That was five years ago. He’s got better than 20 now, the New Ones. He sees more coming out now, across the big square, walking out from Aytch Kew. They sit down at their button books and make the rhythm, make the connection. A few others are painting their very own Leaving Thing, mocked up from barrels and boards and bird wings and glass.

Teacher throws his head back and his arms out now. Yellin’ like hell.

“You see us yet? You far away but you see us yet? You gonna hear us soon! Come on back now!”

And down in the big square two of the New Ones, working on the new Leaving Thing, make out the four most important marks in white paint. The marks on all the signs and medallions and all over the Teaching Book over and over.

NASA, they write. N-A-S-A, over and over, giving it the right touch, cause the Old Ones are gonna see ‘em soon and they wanna look good when that day comes.

NASA. He holds the image in his mind and holds his arms out and damnit when they make the connection that’s gonna be the first marks he wants to know, and the Old Ones will teach him. Teach the teacher, yes.

Flash Fiction Friday: Permission

So, I’m hoping this becomes a thing.  I really like the idea of sf flash fiction.  Science fiction flash fiction.  That’s too many fictions.  Science flash fiction works well enough, I suppose. Anyway, I have far more ideas for moments than I have ideas for stories.  Sometimes it’s just a conversation, like today’s piece.  Sometimes it’s a neat bit of technology I hear about listening to Science Friday or a situation I imagine while doing my endless fucking stair climb.  Whatever it is, I think flash fiction is a great way to develop one’s self as a genre writer.  A way to go inhabit a world for a few hundred or so words.  I think flash fiction might actually be the future of SF in a way. Short little jolts of speculation shot out to smartphones and tablets.  As long as our attention spans.  Speculative fiction in the era of tweets, updates and vines.  

I’m not counting this toward my ten story goal.  Anything less than 1,500 words is flash fiction, and I’m also not doing the .5 story thing anymore.  If I’m going to write ten short stories I’m going to write ten proper short stories.  Flash fiction Friday will be more of a writing exercise than anything else.  Of course, I’ll still submit every one to Daily Science Fiction and 365 Tomorrows, so as to share my weekly genius with the masses. So, here’s my first Flash Fiction Friday piece.  Woot.

Image Credit: NASA

Permission

Stella was watching the blue plastic ice cube fall from her hand to the glass at quarter-G, about 2.25 meters per second. D-deck in the outer rings had the most gravity.  And the emergency hatches on d-deck, recessed a further 5 feet out, actually delivered a little more than quarter G.  Sometimes she laid flat on her back there, tried feeling the extra ounces she weighed.

A shadow fell across the glass on the floor in front of her. She looked up and saw Andrew peeking over the side of the hatch wall.

“Why are you drinking alone in an emergency hatch?” He asked.

“I like watching how it splashes at highest-G.”

Andrew looked around.  No one else in the deck. The floors sloping up and away a hundred yards either side.

“You’re an odd duck,” Stella.

Stella laughed. “You’ve never seen a duck.”

“Sure I have.”

“Not a real one.”

“No,” he admitted.

They were silent a minute.

“This is the closest we can ever get to being in a gravity well,” she said.

“That’s probably best,” Andrew said. “I don’t think our knees would much appreciate it if we suddenly made them carry four times as much weight.”

“Exactly.”

“Exactly what?”

Stella stirred her drink with her finger. Watched the light in the brown liquid sluggishly recover. “Our bodies,” she said. “So much taller and skinnier than our parents. There’s no place else we could live.”

“Well there’s no place else we’re gonna live, so that works out, too.”

She laid flat on her stomach and pressed her nose to the small circular porthole. All stars faint and equal, slowly arcing.

“Is it?” she said.

Andrew sighed. “You okay, Stel?”

Stella rolled over.  “They never asked us, Andy. We were born here and we’ll die here.  We’ll do the same to our kids. We won’t ask them if they want it either.”

“That’s why they call it a generational ship, Stel.”

“And it never occurred to them that that meant several generations of slaves?”

Andrew’s mouth worked a bit. Through the porthole behind her he could see the windows of Main Section, soft and blue and always. They had the illusion of rising as the ring continued its eternal 32 minute-long rotation.

“We’re not slaves, Stel.”

“We might as well be. We can’t leave.”

“People on Earth used to couldn’t leave, either.”

“Earth had a hell of a lot more room, though.”

Andrew laughed. “You’ve never seen room.”

“Exactly,” and Stella stretched long, and Andrew watched her shirt pull up over her stomach, which fell away between her hip bones.

“Besides,” he said. “You tested out engineering. I tested out sanitation. Count your blessings. In a year we finish school and you’ll be learning how to run this place. I’ll be scrubbing it.”

Stella fixed her eyes on the boy.  “It’s all the same, ship, Andy. We’re all going the same way.”

“Exactly!” Andrew slapped both hands on the rim of the hatch, and hopped upright.  “Now come on, you.  Zero-G soccer.”

She looked at him a while, backlit by the track lights. His knees the widest part of his legs, his mop of hair and high cheeks.

“No,” she said.  “I’ll stay here a while. Find me later,” and rolled back onto her stomach.

Andrew sighed. “Fine.” He turned to leave, then caught himself.

“Stel?”

“Mmm?”

“No one ever got asked. Remember that movie about the slums? People got born there, too.  They didn’t ask to be, but they were, and had to deal with it.  So we live here.  We keep this place going so in a few hundred years it gets somewhere.  Just the way it is.”

Stella lay there alone for some time, watching the lights of Main Section leave her sightline.

“Yeah,” she said aloud. “That doesn’t make it right, though.”

Turtle and Leech: 5/10

I called my last story, a quickie submitted to Daily Science Fiction, story 4.5  Anything less than 3,000 words I’m calling a partial story.  So, this is another half story – bringing me up to five.  This is something a bit different – my first completed draft of a comic book. I went through an phase of actively collecting comics starting in Spring of 2000, when Drew introduced me to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  I’d previously been really into the X-Men in junior high but fell out of it when I spent 6 months in Romania and fell behind all the books.  I still don’t know how the Age of Apocalypse ended.

Comics opened something up for me.  My first creative fires in years.  I discovered Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore. I went to Journey Comics every Saturday to bullshit with Paul and peruse books,  a ritual that included smoking and caffeinating and reading at the Sullivan Taylor Coffee House. Hanging out there lead to me to become friends with Boomer, to hanging out sometimes at the Chandler Boulevard House. To meeting Dave King and Kari and Derek and Jen. It also lead to my first abortive attempt at writing.

I bought the books Writing for Comics by Alan Moore and The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics.  Damn, I should go buy them again.  Okay, I just went and did that.  I really shouldn’t have done that.  I cannot fucking be spending money right now. They were both cheap and used though. I just cut up my debit card. I’m only spending cash from now on. Having a debit card is kind of dangerous, when you think about it. None of those little purchases seem like a lot, and before you know it you’re broke and living at the Wooden Indian on Mishawaka. Anyway, where was I?  Also, I ordered a Will Eisner’s Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics  and Making Comics on inter-library loan, which is totes free.

At the time, I decided I was going to become a famous comic book writer.  I got the books, I corresponded with comic writers, I started to formulate scripts.  As near as I can remember them:

  • A story about a shadow earth on the other side of the sun where dinosaurs evolved into sentient species because no asteroid ever hit it.  Some people can travel back and forth between the two worlds. It was terrible.
  • A 24-page story about a character named Melvin the Mayfly, which intended to do as a 24 Hour Comic. The story was that Melvin would learn of some plot to destroy the world but, being a Mayfly, only has 24 hours to save it.  Also, because he has no mouth, he can’t tell anyone.  I never made it.
  • A story called “Holding Unit,” a group of misfit space marines called upon to do a job they’re woefully unsuited for.  I actually liked this story a lot, and had a lengthy correspondence with Trey Wickwire, who at the time was formulating a military scifi series called Mamluk, and who appears to have brought it to life, though I can’t find it online anywhere. We were actually actively working ideas and I was on the verge of starting the script when I decided instead to move across the world to meet a girl I met online.  For a while that worked out: I got married. Then it didn’t: I got divorced. So it goes, so it goes.

And that was about as far as I got. I tried to find some collaborators for the awful dinosaur Earth story but there were no takers.  Then I tried to write Holding Unit but gave up before I started. Now, I’ve gotten a draft together – my first.  And, I have a collaborator!  My old friend Curtis Bisbee, who I know from days of harder living at WIU, is going to do all the artwork, and we’re thinking of releasing this in four page installments as a webcomic and DIY zine publishing the thing every so often as we go along.  Curt has already drawn his first treatment of Turtle.  I think this story is a good match for him. He likes to draw oddball/slightly disturbing characters, which is what this comic is all about. Example:

179983_10151114207136532_1419284192_n

LOOK AT THIS FUCKING THING. He drew fucking spider-bat-pig.  And look how happy spider-bat-pig is to be spider-bat-pig! He has no idea he is an unearthly monstrosity.  I am absolutely writing this character into the script somehow.

Think of this as Cerebus meets The Goon while listening to Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois.  Turtle and Leech are a very slow duo of adventurers traversing the shattered hellscape of post-apocalyptic Central Illinois fighting unspeakable evil at .2 miles per hour.  I’ve already got the second issue outlined, and I’ll be posting some sketches as Curt sends them to me.  Hooray!

So, after that super long fucking introduction: Here is story 5/10 on my journey to becoming a writer.

Turtle and Leech: ISSUE 1 

Page 1 Three equal panels, one atop the other.

Panel 1: In a forest clearing surrounded by dead, black trees whose spidery branches look like cracks pounded into the slate gray sky, lie half a dozen bodies in various stages of dismemberment, a broken wagon piled high with sacks and barrels, and a turtle shell, in the center of panel. A sword sticks out of one of the bodies. Others are missing limbs.

The view is from above, and the shell, being small, will not be immediately recognizable.  Among the debris scattered about, it might just be another piece of junk.

On the trees behind, nothing grows, nor is there any plant life on the ground.  Mist snakes and dances among the trees.  Whisps of smoke rise from the embers of a camp fire.

Text: Upper left, single box: MORNING, SOMEWHERE BAD.

Panel 2: Zoom in, the same drawing, and the shell remains in the center of the panel. We can see more detail of the shell and the things around him. A body, face down, clutches an antique-style double-barrel hammerlock shotgun.

We can the handle of a machete sticking up into the air behind the shell.

Text: Upper left, single box: THE MURKY DAWNLIGHT ILLUMINATES NEW DEAD THINGS.

Panel 3: Side shot of the shell and and upright severed head opposite — shell to the right and head to the left, facing each other. The shell is about 1.5 times the size of the head.  The head sits in the embers of the camp fire, eyes and mouth open in an expression of shock. Perhaps a little smoke rises from what is left of the hair — the head has been in these embers for a while. We can see that the carapace is battle scarred.  Several deep, vicious grooves are visible , signs of old violence.

Text: One box, long and rectangular, across the top of the panel like a banner. The second is on the bottom, right. In the middle, there is a single word bubble, coming from the front of the turtle’s shell.

First text box: THE LOCALS CALL THIS PLACE, SIMPLY, “THE DEAD FOREST.” THEY DO NOT GO INSIDE. THEY SAY ANY CREATURE OR SOUL IN THE FOREST WHEN THE SUN SETS WILL NOT LIVE TO SEE IT RISE, FOR THE FOREST WILL CLAIM THEM.

TURTLE: Zzz…

Page 2: Four equal panels in a windowpane.

Panel 1: A closeup of the font of the shell.  The top and lower lips of the shell’s front frame the sleeping face of TURTLE. A light colored scar runs diagonally across his face, cutting across one eye. At either end of the scar, there is a deep wedge cut out of the carapace of the shell — the intended effect being that someone swung an axe into Turtle’s head at some point, and he only survived by pulling the old turtle trick of pulling his head down. In this case, however, it didn’t get him out unscathed.

His eyes are shut tight, but even so he seems to wear a permanent scowl.

TEXT: Single box: SOME WILL SAY THAT DEMONS APPEAR AT NIGHT, AND THESE ARE SOUL HARVESTERS.

Panel 2: Closeup shot of the severed head. The bottom half of the face is blackened from proximity to the coals. The top half his normal enough, except for the loss of most hair.  What is left sending tendrils of smoke up into the air. One eye is open much wider than the other, giving the face a sort of o.0 look of disbelief, as if, prior to death, the man, not so much afraid, simply couldn’t believe what was happening to him. The mouth hangs open, and the bottom lip is more or less burned away, giving him the appearance of a horrible underbite. The gums are drawn back, making the teeth appear elongated, more like fangs.

Text: Single box: OTHERS, THAT THE TREES THEMSELVES COME TO LIFE TO SNAP AND TEAR HUMAN LIMBS.

Panel 3: Same as panel 1, only TURTLE’S right eye is now open. He scowls.

Text: SIX MEN DIED IN THE FOREST LAST NIGHT. THEY MET NEITHER DEMON NOR TREE SPIRIT.

Panel 4: Turtle’s face again. His eyes are open.

Page 3: Full page splash

TURTLE has leapt into the air. He is upright and a foot off the ground with the machete, held in both hands (which are not human hands, but ordinary turtle feet) pulled back over his head. The severed head is in the foreground to the right, and our view is from behind it. TURTLE is staring down at the head with with a calm face and same dark, angry eyes.

Text: Upper left, single box. THEY MET SOMETHING WORSE.

Page 4: Three panel page. One 2/3 panel.  Two smaller panels below.

Panel 1: Side shot of TURTLE from his right, standing, holding the machete outward.  It is buried in the severed head. TURTLE is on the left and the head is on the right. When TURTLE is standing, the top of the head is at the TURTLE’S neckline. TURTLE is looking down onto the head.

Text: Three word bubbles, spaced for effect.

TURTLE: I have already killed this one.

TURTLE: I really need to stop swinging a machete into the first thing I see when I wake up.

TURTLE: Where am I again?

Panel 2: Show from slightly below, showing TURTLE looking up and to his right.

Panel 3: The tops of the trees.  Dead, black trees snaking and splintering up into a dead grey sky.  Nothing alive can be seen.

Text: Blue text box, with a different font. TURTLE’S inner monologue. Box: Oh, yes.

Page 5: Full page splash:

Panel 1: Panel one is a map, with the edges of the panel the torn and curled edges of the brown and coffee-stained paper.  The idea is a map that’s been the glove compartment of a working truck for many years. A road winds down, top right to bottom left, where there is a wooded area, and, hand scrawled in ink, THE DEAD FOREST. The road is similarly labelled, THE DEAD ROAD. As is a creek that crosses it, top to bottom.  At the far right is hand-written, TO SPRINGFIELD and an arrow pointing right. Make it a map of central Illinois, but with the names crossed off and horrible things written in their place.  Have fun with it. It should have some cigarette burns on it, some ancient blood splatters.

The text in TURTLE’S inner monologue occur diagonally from top left to bottom right:

TURTLE: Uhn. The Dead Forest.

TURTLE: It’s always so. “The Dead Forrest” or, “The Dead Marshes” or, “The Swamp of Despair.”

TURTLE: … or, “Murder Mountain.” Fucking loved that one.

Page 6: Windowpane

Panel 1:

TURTLE is standing with his left side to the head, jerking out the machete. His head is down in exertion, and the machete is still imbedded in the head.

Panel 2: Shot from above, with TURTLE in the center, his right arm holding the machete out, away from him, away from the head.  The head has toppled over and gloppy stuff spills out of it. Bodies surround him. TURTLE’S head is still down.

Panel 3: TURTLE from the front left, placing the machete behind his shoulder. The machete will have no visible means of attachment, just as his ‘hands’ do not have opposable thumbs. When he is walking on all four legs, the machete will attach itself to his side, and poke out behind him.

Panel 4. Shot from the front, with turtle now on all fours, facing us, but looking to his left.

Page 7: Four panel windowpane.

Panel 1: TURTLE is in the same position as page 4, panel five, but now we see him from his right side.

TURTLE: Leech…

Panel 2: Closeup, head and shoulders shot of TURTLE, looking to his right now. His eyes are a little scowlier.

TURTLE: Leech!

Panel 3: Shot from the front. Turtle on the left, the face down body of the man holding the shotgun visible from just below the shoulders and exploding upward out of his head is LEECH. TURTLE is surprised, reels back a little from the exuberance of LEECH’s entrance.

LEECH: OH HAI!1 (LEECH only speaks in lolcat and his word bubbles are jagged, like explosions)

Panel 4: Closeup of TURTLE’s head, eyes squinched tight, as LEECH lands on his head with a squishy *plop.*

Page 8: Two atop, three panel

Panel 1: Side shot of TURTLE’s head, as LEECH looks out of the panel with big watery Bambi eyes.  His body, about as long as TURTLE’S HEAD, is formless black and aside from his eyes the only discernible feature is a soft pink tongue perpetually stuck out.  LEECH needs to be cartoon-y and adorable. TURTLE is looking up, trying to see him.

TURTLE: I wish you’d stop sleeping in those. You smell like old brains.

LEECH: I can has brains?

TURTLE: No, you’ll spoil your dinner.

Panel 2: Shot from TURTLE’s front right. His machete is at his side, horizontal to the ground. The head is visible in the background, split open. TURTLE is walking forward. LEECH is leaping onto TURTLE’s shell from his head.

TURTLE: Get off my head, we’re leaving.

LEECH: K-thx!

Panel 3: Shot of a man, sitting up against a barrel, with a vicious wound in his forehead, as if he was shot from behind with a very large caliber bullet, such as the shotgun on the ground. Beside him is a burlap sack, tied at the top. The sack is on its side.  A word bubble is coming out of the sack.

Text: whimper…

Page 9: Three panels, stacked.

Panel 1.  Shot looking over TURTLE’S shell from behind his head. He’s looking back over it toward the sound. Leech is in the foreground, same big dough eyes and tongue sticking out, looking in the same direction.

Panel 2: Shot from the side, TURTLE has his head lowered down near the opening, and has grasped in his mouth one of the ends of the rope tied around the top of the sack.

Panel 3:  From the font.  TURTLE’s face and rope leading into his mouth. He’s squinting with exertion, pulling on the rope.  LEECH is peeking around the side of his head, dumb happy look on his face.

Page 10: Two panel.  Panel one is very large, panel two smaller and overset.

Panel 1: Shot from above. TURTLE is facing the sack, rope still in his mouth. LEECH is on his back. A girl, arms and legs bound, with a gag in her mouth, has tumbled out of the sack onto her side. She is wearing only a small t-shirt and panties. Bruises and dirt stain her legs. She is facing TURTLE and LEECH.

Panel 2. Closeup of the little girl. Her hands are drawn up to her chest. Her eyes are wide in surprise.

Page 11: Four Panels, stacked.

Panel 1: Side shot of TURTLE, LEECH on his head with a very excited look on his face, and DAISY facing opposite.  DAISY left, TURTLE right.  No dialogue.

Panel 2: DAISY from front – right.

Daisy: Um, hello, Mr. Turtle. And little thing on Mr. Turtle’s head.

LEECH (Word bubble from off-frame): HALLO MISS HOOMAN PERSON!

Panel 3:  TURTLE from front – left. LEECH perched on his head.

LEECH: CAN I HAS…

TURTLE:  No. And get off my head.  Now, miss. A bag in the middle of a bunch of dead cannibals in the middle of the dead forest is no place for a little girl to be.

Or a big girl, really.

Anyone at all. Cannibals too.

Panel 4:  Perspective from just over a jumble of body parts.  DAISY, TURTLE and LEECH in background. DAISY is looking at the bodies. TURTLE is looking over his shoulder toward us in the same direction.

DAISY: Did you make all their heads fall of like that?

TURTLE: We’ve been tracking them since Decatur.  Not hard.  Just follow the bones and the Firepits. They’ve been eating their way across Central Illinois.

We caught up with them last night.

Page 12: 4 panel, irregular.

Panel 1: Foreground is the silhouette of a gnarled tree.  A skull is lodged in the fork.  Background, our trio, still conversing.

TURTLE: What’s your name?

Daisy: Daisy.

TURTLE: Where did they take you from?

DAISY: New Berlin. It’s west.

Panel 2: Turtle, facing Daisy, from front, left.

TURTLE: Are you hurt?

DAISY: No, I don’t think so.  They didn’t start eating me yet or nothing.

LEECH: OM NOM NOM!

TURTLE: Very well then, Daisy. We will take you home.

Panel 3: TURTLE from front, walking away. DAISY behind.

TURTLE: And no time to waste. We need to get some road under us if we’re going to be out of the Dead Forest by sundown.

DAISY: It’s like, barely morning.

TURTLE: I’m not fast.  Besides, do you want to hang out with all the rolly heads?

Panel 4:  Zoomed out of the forest.  Very stylized and black. On the horizon the sun is rising.  Word bubbles with long snaky tails rise up for the blackness of the woods.

DAISY: What’s your little black slimy friend’s name?

TURTLE: His name is Leech.

LEECH: HAI SACK LADY!1

DAISY: He’s cute.

TURTLE: He likes to eat brains.

DAISY: EW.

LEECH: OM NOM NOM NOM!1

Page 13: Windowpane.

Narrative box:

Panel 1: “And so our intrepid trio set off across a narrative interlude to show the passage of time through the Dead Forest.”

Side shot of the three. DAISY is skipping in the lead. TURTLE is plodding along with a morose look on his face behind. LEECH is sleeping on TURTLE’s shell.

Panel 2: “They saw many horrible things.”

Shot from behind.  The three are looking at a pyramid of human skulls.  LEECH is on TURTLE’s head again.

Turtle: “Get off.”

Panel 3: “Sometimes they did something about it.”

Again from the rear. TURTLE’s back is to us. He is holding his machete and katana high in the air against a serpent, coiled high into the air and baring huge fangs. It’s about three times his height.  In the foreground, DAISY cowers behind a tree stump, holding LEECH to her chest, who looks equally terrified.

Panel 4: “Sometimes, maybeee not….”

All three running away, toward us, from an entire herd of zombies.

Page 14: Windowpane.

All four panels here are looking down the same forest road.  All three are walking toward us, getting closer each time. DAISY mostly looks down at her feet.

Panel 1: Narrative: “Sometimes there were no terrible things for a while, so they just talked.”

DAISY: You think those men were gonna eat me?

TURTLE: That doesn’t matter now.

DAISY: Thanks for making all their heads fall off like that.

TURTLE: Any time.

Panel 2:

DAISY: So what’s your story, Mr. Turtle? Where are you going?

TURTLE: Wherever there is evil.

DAISY: That’s kinda everywhere.

TURTLE: Right.

Panel 3:

DAISY: Where you from?

TURTLE: Far, far to the East. We have traveled years to arrive here.

DAISY: How far is far, far?

LEECH: 47 MILES! MUCH FAR! SO JOURNEY!

DAISY: Oh, right. Turtle speeds.

Panel 4:

DAISY: This is gonna take a while.

PAGE 15 – 16: Two page spread:

NOTE: MAYBE DO A ROUGH, QUICK ATTEMPT AT DRAWING THIS LAYOUT. IT MIGHT BE TOO CROWDED.  ALAN MOORE USES A LOT OF 9 PANEL LAYOUTS ON A SINGLE PAGE, BUT HE’S WEIRD.  LET ME KNOW IF YOU WANT ME TO REWRITE THIS INTO A THREE PAGE SPREAD.

Panel 1:The top panel is just a little bit of cuteness.  On the far left is TURTLE and LEECH, plodding along. And on the far right DAISY is sitting, bored, on a tree stump with her head resting on her hand, waiting for them to catch up.  She’s embarking on a road trip to reunite her with her family and she has to move at a turtle’s pace.

DAISY: You’re slow.

Panel 2: Side shot, walking along. All three facing to the left. TURTLE is telling a story. LEECH is sleeping DAISY’S hands. She’s holding him up in front of her.

TURTLE: “…and so the demon lizard spawn of Joliet descended upon the..”

Panel 3: An abandoned gas station. A mad-max-looking lunatic runs out of an abandoned gas station yelling some pseudo Cthulic nonsense.

Lunatic: “BAGGAH SHA! GRAZH BAGGAH SHA!”

This is the first time we see TURTLE actually fight.   He calmly watches the guy running at them wielding a nail-studded baseball bat and calmly cleaves his head in two when he gets there.

Panel 4: Close up of TURTLE’S face. He has gone quite grim.

Panel 5: TURTLE calmly dodges the lunatic’s first swipe.

Panel 6: TURTLE equally calmly beheads the lunatic.

Panel 7: The trio staring down at the lunatic’s body.

DAISY: What was he yelling about, Mr. Turtle?

TURTLE: It’s the Black Speech of Gaggoroth

LEECH: MUCH GAGGOROTH! SO TRIBULATION! VERY TENTACLES!*

Panel 8: DAISY is making arm gestures.

DAISY: Sometimes I pretend my arms are tentacles. But they don’t move as good as tentacles, ‘cause they’re really arms.

Panel 9:

(close up of tattoos on the lunatics’s face)

TURTLE: Those are the markings of the West Toledo Bone Cults. I thought they were extinct.

Footnote: *Gaggoroth the Absolutely Tentacled emerged from the inky depths of Lake Erie during the Ascension of LeBron. Now the locals call it The Sea of Sighs, on account of all the ghosts.

PAGE 17: Four panel windowpane.

Panel 1:  TURTLE walking toward us, DAISY in the background.  She’s rolling her eyes.

TURTLE: Come on, then.

DAISY: Oh, you go on ahead. I’ll take a nap here and catch up later, slowpoke.

TURTLE: Newsflash: I’m a turtle.

Panel 2: DAISY turns her head and sees something.

DAISY: Yeah, like the slowest turtle ev…OHMYGOD!!!

Panel 3: DAISY is spring toward us.  TURTLE in background, watching. LEECH is looking on as well.

TURTLE: (thought bubble) Huh?

LEECH: OM NOM?

Panel 4: The backs of TURTLE and LEECH’s heads, looking at the abandoned gas station.  We see DAISY with her back to us, throwing junk to the side.

DAISY: Guys! Guys! I found the answer to our problems!

TURTLE: The Eye of Kothar-wa-Khasis? *

DAISY: Wha – no!  I found…

Footnote: Thought lost for many years, the Eye of Kothar-wa-Khasis was found in a mausoleum in Davenport. It’s discovery lead to the Third Tribulation of the Quad Cities.

Page 18: Full page splash!

Full body shot of DAISY, who has pulled a wagon out of a junk pile.  Old-fashioned Radio Flyer.  Light emits from it.  DAISY is all excitement and grin.

DAISY: A WAGON!!!

Turtle: (From off – left.) Oh, hell no.

LEECH: WHEEEEEEE!

Narration box: To be continued…
End of 1st issue.  I could have another page devoted to an “About the creators” section.  I also want to create a fake letters to the editor section, written by people who actually live in this hellscape.  We have to take up two more pages, though. So one side (Page 19) can be the about/letters section and the other side just a standalone art piece of the three. Maybe being pulled in the wagon? Or maybe some initial sketches?