Category Archives: writing

Flash: Caution: Storm Warning

Caution: Storm Warning

You Can’t Just Storm In Here, Storm Out There

The face of Golfball. A haggard-looking man with a limp Mohawk.

There’s a definite scent to the air that spells rain. A breeze in the air holds a hint of the weather. Dark purpled clouds are building to giants. A soft distant rumble echoes through the streets from afar.

Nobody looks, nobody watches, as the clouds slowly part as if ignoring the wind. The break in their darkness, a quick sliver of light, pierces through dust and etches a trail. The streaming band of light settles on a plant. A tiny little sapling, still mostly green, perks up at the touch. It noticeably rises.

A young woman’s fingertips brush at the fledgling tree’s leaves. She crouches and settles to sit on her heels. She smiles, showing missing teeth, as she hums a slow tune.

“Funny that. How you stop for every bit of green.” A haggardly man, hands shoved in his pockets, stops walking to lean and rest on a lightpost. He closes his eyes and shifts to find comfort. He reaches up with a yawn and brushes aside blue strands of a limp Mohawk. Twin tattoos, on either side of his head, display a smiley-face with an expression that is largely ambivalent.

The woman glances up while continuing her wordless song. She shrugs, smiles wider, and looks back to the plant. Callused fingers snap away bits of unwanted growth and pull off dead leaves from the tender branches.

“I mean, not that I mind, really. It’s pleasant, watching you do what you enjoy. And shit, better than some hobbies out there. At least you do it cause you care.” The man keeps his eyes closed. He seems nearly-liquid against the post. Melting against the pole as if trying to become a part of its surface.

The two remain in their chosen positions as if momentarily frozen in place. Minutes pass. Five. Ten. Both are engrossed by each and every moment. They are not feverishly busy. They are the opposite. They are lost in calm focus. They’re not the stillness of statues but the peace of calm sleep.

The young woman stirs and pets the tree and reaches into her purse. She pulls out a bottle of water and unscrews its cap. She waters the little plant. “What’s for dinner, Golfball?”

“Hmm.” The gaunt man rubs his face. His hands, even bonier than the rest of him, pop at the knuckles as he rubs the back of his neck. “Pizza, maybe?”

She nods, capping the water bottle, and stands with a breathy yawn. “Okay.” Her purse clicks as the clasp closes. “Where to?”

Above them, far above, the clouds shift and swirl. Slowly, almost reluctantly, the shaft of light disappears. The gap in the overcast shrinks like a healing wound. A uniform gray covers them once more. The day returns to its early partial-twilight.

Golfball gestures with a wobbling jut of his chin. “Down this way. A good enough place just round the corner.”

They walk together without looking companionable. The young woman keeps her arms crossed. She’s leaning, ever-so-slightly, away from her acquaintance’s jutting elbows. Her eyelids drift shut, occasionally, for longer than a blink. Dark circles carve extra shadow beneath her eyes and her shoulders droop. “I really need to eat.”

“Stay calm, Erin. We’re almost there.” Golfball walks like a praying mantis might. If it were on two legs and learned to swagger. His knees are skewed outward and his gait is a lazy lope of rocking from heel to toe. He looks like he should fall with every step, but somehow his next step manages to catch his fall.

Erin’s skin has gone pale. Paler than before. It takes on a bluish tint. “Better be good pizza.”

Around the corner, they stop. The sidewalk is blocked by a squat older man. He’s in overalls and a red shirt and a pair of combat boots. He has a handlebar mustache that’s as wide as his face. “Erin.”

“Shit.” Golfball grunts. “This that asshole you talked about?”

“Ethan, now is not great.”

“Never seems to be great, eh? Now, does it ever? Now will do as ever.” The squat man’s face is too-red and his hair is too-orange. “But if you’d just come along we wouldn’t have this arguing. Get away with you, punk. We need to be going.”

“She needs some food,” says Golfball. He scowls. His pointed-chin juts forward. His wrinkling nose waggles a septum piercing. “I’m doubting you’d want any of the shit I got stored up for hapless idiots.”

“Oh please, boy-o. You’re a spot of loose skin, aren’t you? Get away and quit you’re playing at protector. This here is between me an Erin.”

She slips a trembling hand around Golfball’s wrist. She grips as hard as she can, and the bit of red still left presses from her fingers. “Don’t. You’ve been so good. We’ve done so good.”

“Well you ain’t going with him,” grumbles the punk. He pulls out of Erin’s grip. He whips his hair back. The Mohawk keeps drifting into his eyes. Strands of blue get caught in his piercings, little silver rings in his brows, and he brushes them back yet again. “You hear? She’s not going with you. Not now. Not ever.” He leans forward. His shoulders draw up. His posture arcs into a grotesque hunch. “And she needs. To eat.”

Ethan studies the two with a sudden questioning raise of his brows. He makes a small, “Ah!” And then he begins to tut. “So that’s what’s going on here. Bit of symbiosis, is it? You two. She heals…” He waves his hand sloppily. “Whatever it is that ails you, and you act a bit as the bodyguard? Cute.” He snaps his fingers over one shoulder. “Jasper. Danny.”

There’s the sound of doors opening. A nearby car, deep blue, sits at the throat of an alleyway.

“Ethan, this is more than just me and him.” Erin hugs herself. She glances down the street. Toward the pizza place just a few buildings away. “If you don’t let me eat, I can’t hold him anymore.”

“Hold him? Girly. He don’t deserve you’re attentions. Let him rot and come home. We’ve missed you.”

Two toughs walk from the parked car. They’re big bulky men with waists as wide as their shoulders and necks that try to match. “Ethe, there’s a few eyes on us, just to say.” One of the two thumbs toward a second-story window. Blinds close in a rush.

“Well, fuck it all,” says the red-head. He raises his chin. Looks down his crooked-nose at Golfball. “But that ain’t gonna stop us from making this difficult. You don’t play nice, well I suppose you’ll have witnesses to your failure.”

Erin moans, soft and restrained, before falling forward.

Golfball catches her, helps her to her knees. “You okay? Fuck, but you and your plants.”

The young woman smiles despite her moment of weakness. “It will grow so well. So big.”

“Well I can feel the bones again now. I take it you’re done then?”

She nods. “For now.” Sighs. “I’m sorry.”

Ethan gestures toward Golfball. “Alright gents, take this skinny bother out and away will you? Just give him a quick little nap. Erin’s not feeling well so we’ll be needing a fast exit.”

“Fuck,” grumbles the punk. His hunched form begins to hunch more. His head droops, wobbles, and then drops forward. “Hate this shit.”

“Giving up already?” One of the toughs walks up to Golfball with a laugh. He clicks his tongue. “Jasp, maybe it’ll be we just have to carry some dead weight.”

Golfball’s legs straighten. And their knees pop. And then they bend backwards with a wet slurping sound.

The closest henchman, Danny, jumps backward. “Oh! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”

“What the fuck?” asks Jasper. He’s stopped in his tracks.

“This shit?” says Ethan. “You found some crazy like this?” He glares at Erin. “What the fuck did you do?”

Erin, still resting on her knees, struggles to raise her head. “Some wounds don’t heal. You know that.” She glances at Golfball. “Some infections can only be held at bay.”

The punk falls completely forward. His hands slap against the pavement, but his wrists rotate too far around. A full one-eighty and yet the fingers splay out with more sickening crackling joints. He’s become some kind of insect with his abdomen held low to the ground and elbows and knees pointed at the sky. His head hangs loosely with the Mohawk dragging on the pavement.

Golfball’s back arches. His shoulders are horrendously distended beneath a patchwork jacket of green. They’re like wide plates pointed at the two men. As if that’s the eyes of this creature. He, it, whatever, has a full-body spasm. A twitch. It jerks to the right. Toward Jasper.

“Shoot the fucker!” yells Ethan.

Jasper pulls out some generic semi-automatic pistol. He untucks it from its shoulder-holster, flicks the safety off, and squeezes the trigger in one fluid draw.

The gunshot rings as the twisted-version of Golfball skitters forward. Skitters with the slick fluidity of water across a hot pan. It moves as if its merely gliding at its foe.

Blood spatters as one, two, and then three bullets hit the strange punk-form’s body.

It does nothing to slow its attack.

Jasper goes down in a crunch of broken bone and ripping flesh. Something, something deep down within the tough’s chest, makes a loud crack and blood spurts out into the street.

“Where’s you’re fucking gun?” asks Ethan.

Danny’s hands are trembling to open a knife. “Couldn’t. Fucking. Buy one!”

And then his scream rises as Golfball leaps ten feet from one dead body to the next.

Ethan runs. He turns without another word. He heads for the alleyway with the dark-blue car and he even gets in the seat.

Then the hood of the car crumples. Bone-tipped fingers pierce the metal skin. The front window shatters. A not-quite hand rips Ethan from his seat.

He arcs across the road and smacks wetly against the side of an old brick building. Bits of paint fleck off. A few bricks crack. And then the body unsticks and drops down below.

Erin sobs. She clenches her fists. She doesn’t look up to see what’s happened.

Golfball’s bent and twisted form gallops down the road.

Gritting her teeth, summoning her strength, Erin pushes to her feet. She stumbles to grab the side of the closest building. She uses it’s aid to get her down the sidewalk.

Step by slow-shuddering step, she makes her way for pizza.

The owners are outside. They’ve all run to see. They’re calling for help from ambulances and the police.

A little bell tinkles as she pushes through the door. Erin sighs with relief at the sight of displays with ready-made slices. She leans over the counter, grabs one and devours it in just a few bites.

She takes a little more time with the second piece. By the third, she’s taken a seat.

Again, the little bell tinkles as someone pushes through the door.

Click. Click. Click. “Hello.” Click. A woman’s bootheels click. “There have been reports of a strange creature here.” Her words are like the dryness at the back of a nervous throat. Every syllable is clear and crisp.

She takes a seat at Erin’s booth.

“Who are you?” asks the young-woman.

The other smiles without showing her teeth. “My name is Valerie Knox. I need you to tell me where he is.”

“You aren’t getting him either.” Erin shakes her head. “There’s a storm coming, and none of you have earned that right. Don’t you know? He’s got no power. He’s just a victim of chance.”

“Tell me, creature. How do you feel about Florida?”

“What?”

Valerie chuckles. “He will find you again. I am sure of that.”

Erin, suddenly wide-eyed, pushes up from the table. She turns to run with a muttered curse.

She’s stopped in her tracks at a touch. Something like the buzz of electricity fills the small pizza-shop’s room. Erin’s eyes close and she grits her teeth. All she seems to do is strain.

Valerie’s hand settles on Erin’s shoulder. Tattoos of bright blue glow to life. They’re in the shape of some stick-figure people. The delicate lines begin to blur. “You will be a help.”

Erin collapses to the floor.

Flash: The Rising Cost of Automatons

Taendragor Ends Trade Negotiations with Galania

Nosson's skyline.

Business leaders pressured government trade representatives to halt crucial talks.

Breysa Eyon introduced an international petition against discussions aimed at new international treaties. The Eyon Industries CEO and Taendragonian powerhouse of netwabi production brought all talks to a standstill. A delegation of company leaders met in secret over several months to organize the movement. Their message focuses on spirit use and sustained interaction with the gods. Supporters implore resistance toward government intervention and spirit-directed treaties.

Officials granted the industry giant a visit to the trade conference after weeks of delay. Attendants within the meetings cited a concern about bribery and corruption. However, it seems that curiosity won out as the conference leaders allowed the visit.

As usual, Ms. Eyon attended in the latest fashions and with her personal bodyguard. This time, her oft-seen party-crazed tabloid persona was noticeably absent. Instead the young woman presented herself with a stern grace more-reminiscent of her departed mother. Without more than a stilted curtsy, Ms. Eyon presented a signed statement with approximately 150000 signatures. The statement was co-signed by twelve partnering spirit-tech CEOs. Additional signatures were from community leaders across the Taendragor continent. An infodisc, reportedly containing an additional million signatures, was said to represent “additional peoples of Nalan that choose to resist unrepresented choices toward a dark future.”

Delegates from every kingdom, nation, and state-entity were at the negotiations. The visit initially garnered intense scrutiny for its interruption of international politics. However, Ms. Eyon’s position in the market has left an expectant caution toward her presence and the petition’s demands. Analysts discussed the possibility of shared technology agreements that could arise from forced alliances. The petition may be a perfect catalyst for the change long-desired by private-sector markets. However the results fall, industry experts warn that this power-play has begun a larger movement to negotiate directly with world governments. Eyon Industries may be positioning itself toward a takeover unseen in recent history.

From the Company to the World

The Automaton Doctrine, an Eyon Industries internal policy, provides much of the groundwork for Ms. Eyon’s petition. Many tenants are pulled straight from pages of company guidelines. Normally, the doctrine’s audience is intended for participants of high-level acquisition decisions. The Automaton Doctrine sets her political beliefs as a matter of company policy. Every employee attends mandatory training on Spirit Singing and its dangers. Weekly regional briefs include an overview of regional gods and cultural foci.

These company policies have been examined and ridiculed before. Opponents state that the training is useless and dangerously biased. Others feel as if the practice is understandable though a little heavy-handed. Ms. Eyon maintains that the training is crucial for a company environment so steeped in the use of Spirit power. For safety or not, Ms. Eyon is a well-known proponent for open-spirit laws. Her policies have been used to make notable progress against Taendragor’s restrictive practices.

Now, that policy has been rewritten into demands toward an international audience. The petition is outlined in a prioritized list with the following sections of argument:

  • A restriction of government interference in all matters of Spirit.
  • A call for the immediate and complete deconstruction of any wards and netwabi that trap, limit, or otherwise influence the gods.
  • Limit, or end entirely, any practice that knowingly redirects worship toward mortal deification.
  • Destroy any records of true-names, god-names, or Aldyati.
  • Consolidate idolized imagery into one of the four elder gods.

The Cost of Automatons

Outside of Eyon Industries, the largest contributors to the petition are well-known Automaton manufacturers. This has been identified as a key reason for the sudden intervention. Technological limitations have kept Automaton development stagnant for years, and the proclamation of true automation still seems ages away. Researchers have been complaining about restrictive legislation for years, even outside of Taendragonian borders. There is little public research that reveals how legislation has limited the Automaton developers, but recent polls show that popular support is on the rise for deregulation on Spirit Singing.

Advanced Automaton models seem more than capable to serve as household assistants and constant workhouse aides, but the cost of such devices has hardly diminished over time. Netwabi-borne machinery has been developed for the better part of a millennia in most developed state-entities. Despite this, critics argue that their functionality is mostly refined rather than improved. Miniaturization has led to advances in the number of functions available to customers, but these gains are incremental rather than transformational.

These claims, and topics, were discussed in earnest in a little-seen interview with Ms. Eyon several months prior to the meeting. She stated that “…transformation will only arrive when we let go of these power-hungry caches that we have developed. Everyone has them now. Has had them for ages, I suppose. They have to go.”

Ms. Eyon’s opinion on the matter seems to have grown more serious. She left the trade meeting after this brief speech: “I know that you think of me as something of a fluke. I take it, from your rather shocked expressions, that I have surprised you with this bit of seriousness. But let me be clear. We need to change. And I will no longer idle away my time waiting for government to reach the conclusions that we must all arrive upon. Nalan will die if we do not release our control on Spirit. The world needs the gods returned to their natural state. This petition guarantees that.”

Shock and Ambivalence

Galanian Counselor, Deffar Eyresia, disagreed with the intent of the petition and its source. “Breysa Eyon is well-respected for her company’s contributions to the world, but we are not beholden to her whims and beliefs. International law is no place for profit-minded decisions, and the spiritual nature of these demands is an affront to the multitude of religions we represent as an international consortium.”

Counselor Eyresia has been a long-time defender of religious freedoms and has rejected 90% of all bills brought before the Galanian Council on religion. Galania is also home to the world’s leading research institution on netwabi development. There seems little chance that the Galanian Union will capitulate to Ms. Eyon’s demands. It is, as of yet, uncertain as to how the young CEO plans to enact her proposal. Eyon devices are fashionable and well-loved by fans of the company, but Galania markets account for less than 5% of Eyon profits.

Taendragonian leaders were unavailable for a statement on this developing situation.

 

Reporting by Lefon Anterah
Nosson Journal

Flash: Twilight Spider

Talking to Shadows
Issue No. 25231

1 January 1923

Archivists Note:
This letter was published within the last known issue of the infamous “Talking to Shadows” semi-annual magazine. There are numerous accounts from newspaper editorials and, later, news reports themselves, that speak of the Delossi Process, but this has been identified as the earliest credible presentation that someone had identified a rising change of the status quo. Of particular interest is the mention of a group of elders, and their intent to perform some manner of negotiations, but the results of this meeting are so far left to our imaginations. It is, as of yet, unknown whether the writer had a personal acquaintanceship with Madame Delossi, but both were certainly prominent figures in the ensuing period of unrest. They demonstrably knew of each other, but it is inconclusive as to where they obtained such knowledge. Wherever they knew one another from, it is intriguing to discover the initiation of what later became a vicious rivalry that spanned throughout centuries.

Editor’s Letter

A happiest of New Years to the readership. Hopefully, you are waking with a rather minimized hangover. Hopefully, you recall a rather clever use of muffling mentioned in issue 1528. The world should be a tad more tolerable after proper application. Otherwise, let us look forward to these next weeks, these next months, as a time to strike boldly toward the goals that sustain us. Bring in those that deserve our knowledge, build the interconnections of our communication webs, and seek out new applications of those core abilities brought to us by the mastery of talking to shadows. And, most of all, use our capability to strengthen the world and its foundations.

Now, having made mention of the core abilities, it may indeed be time to reiterate those with an emphasis on usage and intent. Surely, the proper use of shadows never strays from our minds, but knowing recent events it is worth an additional moment of thought.

Firstly, it is well documented that some specialists are able to glean combined knowledge from what lingering dead populate all that is cast between light. Importantly, none do this without serious cross-referencing with both the Books of Shadowspeak and public resources. We must all be very aware of the responsibility weighing our shoulders at the possibility of illumination from the past. Even seemingly innocent drivel, from the furthest reaches of time, may have far-reaching affects that are not easily seen by those of us lost in the present.

Secondly, others among us hone that fine ability to pass whispers at the speed of light, or rather as is more apropos, shadow. This tremendous ability has been a most fine aid throughout the millennia. It is no idle boast to claim that our group has saved whole countries, whole continents with the lightning-quick spread of alerts and warning. However, we also spread such information with the care required to allow for misdirection and negate suspicions. It would hardly be of use if we ourselves were not kept safe by our own techniques. Gladly, the rise of radio, of that frightful electron, has made some requirements of this particular skill easier than ever.

Thirdly, though certainly not minimized by the ordering, there are also those upon us with success at visual illusion and misdirection. Notorious for its difficulty to perform, let alone master, it is nonetheless amazingly useful on levels personal, regional, and global. I myself have struggled to build relationships with our departed required for such tasks, but alas those dead to me seem rather reluctant to convince their fellows. Yet, such is the danger of shadow optics. It is beyond reprehensible to lie to those from the beyond in order to convince them of your importance or familial ties. Those bonds we form with the undying must be true and solidly based on reality. Let us never forget the complete loss caused by a simple lie in Rome. There is still little guarantee that the truth of Christianity will ever surface now that the rumors have spread into the hearts of those long passed. Of lesser gravity, but still terribly important, we must never use illusion for such folly as is attempted in mass-hypnotism expositions. Our talents are not those of simple tricks, and the misuse only lessens us and those who follow our creed.

All combined, these are valid and trusted methods of shadowmancy that have been carried forward through generations upon generations. These are the foundations of work that we carry out from day to day. These are the tenants that we nail to doors and uphold with both hands. These are the pillars that build our church.

However, recently it has come to my attention that an elder among our group has claimed a new technique. Please, disregard this dangerous work if you find yourself in possession of Madame Delossi’s essay. Her theories on transportation through shadow have only ever been but wishful glimmers of fancy. Even if possible, though it has been stubbornly disproved time and time again, it is a horrid menacing desire. Entrusting one’s mind and body to such danger, liaising with netherfolk so that life wanders among death, would be calamitous at best. Souls must not breach from one plane to the next, and no protective companionship with the dead will prevent this from attracting the attention of every wraith ever clinging to the edges of Earth’s veils.

Already, I have heard and read of reports from those that have acted on this spurious knowledge. Lives are being lost, friends. A concussive force of darkness obliterated the light in Dallas just last month. Dawn finally broke through just yesterday, but a gloom has set upon the city. Dust storms were engineered to account for such an oddity, but losses of productivity and peace have been unaccountable. Earlier this year, two boys, brothers attending the illustrious Shadow Sept in Eugene, barely escaped with their lives after a nigh-hour attempt that collapsed a butte on itself. Specialists have managed a fine reenactment of mudslides to diminish the abruptness, but several projects have been set aside for months to prevent chaos.

Please, I beg of you, refrain from attending to Madame Delossi’s claims. The rest of the elders are discussing matters of publication standards with her as we speak, and we will surely find a happy medium to settle the unease caused by this tumultuous miscommunication.

As an extra precaution, this issue will have a focus with topics on defensive shadowplay and muffling techniques. As always, take every chance to develop a prowess of mind that does wonders at refining the separation between shadow and light.

Until next issue, may the whispers find you.
– T.S. Canthry

Foggy Mornings, Additional Musings

Foggy Mornings

And Additional Musings

When the day is young, still
When the fog rolls in
When the morning light is dim
When my mind is lost
In lingering dreams, my friends

When the forest is too overgrown
When the underbrush is thick
When the wooded trail is lost
When each footfall breaks wrists
And promises speak of death

There is the hopeless
Then is the moment lost
That is the breaking point
Before barriers are crossed

Then is the moment
Where solutions make sense
Whether or not
They can provide a defense

Why should we rely
On the infallible thought
That we can try
And figure it out

But in those gloomy places
With just the right lie
There’s still a torch to see
A pretty face
Or a project to be
A mental construction
A glimmer beckoning

And maybe, perhaps
It’s just an illusion
But believe in illusion
Until it must be

 

Avoidance

Something cold trickles down, drips, catches
Sits, waits, becomes a weight
Heavy, heavier, the heaviest thing
It’s bearing down
It’s listening

A thought that hammers repeatedly
It bothers, needles, breaks skin
Digs down and burrows in
Becomes the truth
Despite denial

Oh denial, oh its relief
The promise it offers of unchanging
How can I stop who I have been?
When it took so long to learn to be

Acceptance is good, isn’t it great?
You can be yourself
You can let the world in
You can alienate all of your friends

So patch the dam as it cracks
Bulges, creaks under that weight
Just ignore what might be
Take the comfort
Of not reckoning

Avoid the searching of who and why
The state of not, doing a thing
Stalling, stalled, a stall that breaks wings
Keep the secret
Down within

 

Caught

They caught me on the doorstep
One Saturday evening
We were arm-in-arm
Secret kissing

Some secrets are joyful
A happy surprise
A dramatic reveal
That pleases
Assures
And Complies

But those aren’t the best secrets
The best secrets draw blood
They drew blood
Because of a secret
They broke hearts
And you lie

Conformity breeds liars
You have to fit in
But if you don’t?
If you won’t?
Then you learn to fib.

Honesty is for the normal
Honestly for shapeshifters
They fit in a box
Because they were poured in

But what of the misshapen?
The ones that can’t melt
Or those that refuse
Because that’s not being yourself

Then? A choice.
A statement.
Of life:
A constant fight
Or a constant fib

 

Never

She took a step and stopped
Looked at me, quizzical
The question wasn’t why
It was not a question
An accusation

And I couldn’t take it
I couldn’t refuse
Love was easier
Than hate

But who wrote the rules?
And when do they break?
When did the moment pass
Where someone had been hurt?

I didn’t succumb
I overcame
But to an outside viewer
They were one and the same

The challenges are breathless
Wordless
Weeping
Choices

And those choices, daggers that cut different
Hurt self or someone else
Any choice is deafening
When an expression of self

Traffic Control

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
505 Words

I fingertip nudge my glasses. “Hey, Greg, check this out.”

He spins in his chair and wheels across the hall. The door squeaks wider as he uses it to boost to my desk. “What’s up?”

“Fifth and Jackson. Monitor four.” I point at the television wall.

His head swivels up and left to find the point of interest. His eyes widen. “The hell? That’s quite the crowd.”

“They’ve been showing up for half an hour. Been a pretty steady stream of people.” I tap my keyboard and take control. “Maybe just a party? ”

The screen flickers with static as I pan and zoom. Amplified-light colors streak as the camera struggles to refocus. Then splotchy red and white become the crisp outline of an expensive car. Its exhaust curls up thick into the cool night air.

Greg leans back and kicks his feet up on the control panel. His black boots narrowly miss a flashing switch.

“Hey, man! Careful. You almost hit the alarm!” I slap his shoulder. “Off!”

He relents with rolling eyes and heels snapping to the floor. “At least let me enjoy the show.”

“Well-” I start, but then I get distracted.

There’s commotion from the crowd milling about on screen. They split and part like a staff-directed sea. Another car, sleek, red, creeps into view. I imagine rumbling from the engine as it pushes through.

“Ooh, sweet! They’re totally gonna play chicken!”

“Not good.” I shake my head and reach for the phone. “We should probably call the cops.”

“What harm’s it gonna do? Let them have their fun.”

My eyes shift to meet his. “We’re traffic controllers. Not traffic watchers. And someone could get hurt.”

“Yeah?” He winks. “Means we could totally sell the vid.”

“You’re terrible,” I mutter, but my hand slips from the receiver’s handle.

“I know, but what’s it matter? These are rich punks doing stupid things. They wouldn’t get in trouble if someone caught them anyway.” He leans forward and puts his hand on my knee. “How much did we make off that potato gun incident?”

The screen fills with the fog of showoffs spinning tires. Both drivers are busy making donuts of a rubber variety.

I push his hand off my knee. “That guy was out on highway twenty. This is different. There are houses on Jackson Street. What if they wake someone up?”

“Then it’s even better! How cool would it be if some grandpa storms out in his bathrobe?”

My head sweeps from Greg, to the screen, and then to the phone. “They could hurt someone in that crowd too.” The cars have stopped spinning. Now they’re lining up.

“Hey! Come on…”

I pick up and listen to the dial tone. A laminated sheet of numbers hangs on the wall. The black and white list goes blurry as my glasses are yanked away. “Greg!”

He jumps up with a barking laugh and his chair shimmy-wobbles.

I resist the urge to give chase and dial a nine and two ones.

Back Roads

American roads, the long and winding blacktop, often look the same.
The differences, the only changes you see, are the leaves of trees.
Same road signs and rails, same tire-rattling tar-bumps, everywhere you go.

I took a turn without thinking
A decision of unconscious need
Away from the four-lane highway
Onto an old back road

It’s easy to forget
To drive without thinking
And the miles go by
Before you realize

The road turned to half-sand
With trees encroaching
Before the mind recovered
Before a reemerging control

Where was I?
There was no telling
It was a secret stop
An unknown spot

A turn of the key
And even the engine quiets
Jarring the moment
With that change of tune

The windshield was shining
Soaking up the sun
And on the skin-sticking seats
My head drifted back

All of the things that I must do
Driving, work, bills to pay
Prompt the most vivid dreams
I fall asleep most readily
When I should be awake
But when I have permission
I fight to find my sleep

And yet there on that road
Parked between stands of trees
I drifted into a slumber
And then all simply ceased to be

Ever Famous?

Reach for the starrrrrrrs, pardner!Ever Famous?

I overheard an interesting conversation earlier, but it wasn’t really all that interesting for its content. It was interesting because of what it made me think of. Snippets of some other life are like that. A lot of the time they inspire more than they intrigue.

Anyway, the thing I overheard made me think of topic I think about fairly often. I was sitting at a coffee shop, of course, and scrolling through random online media. Also of course. I was lending half-an-ear to the surrounding people. It was busy. Being a payday weekend, everyone was out shopping and perusing the wares of a strip mall I dropped into in search of house wares. I needed an airtight container where I could seal my cereal in defense against stale flakes and bugs.

The people at the coffee shop were also busy and moving fast to stay busy. Most weren’t sticking around long enough to strike up a proper conversation with their companions. They waited for their drinks with an impatiently cocked hip or with the kill-some-time swipes through their phone. Most of the snippets of conversation were about where to go next, the latest political nightmare, or how many calories some drink had.

There was, however, one group of friends that had taken up residence one table over. As friends do, they were making fun of one another for random things.

One didn’t understand the difference between a normal bank and a credit union. They were declared to be ignorant, stupid, and “Haven’t you heard of Google?”

Another was surprised to learn that you were required to have insurance to own a car. That resulted in less insults and more bitter agreement that such a rule was a terrible inconvenience.

But for the most part, whatever they said, as soon as one of them spoke up about something, the others made fun of that something.

One of the friends mentioned a hobby of collecting quarters. For non-Americans, or perhaps those Americans that don’t look at their coins, she was referring to the quarters with specific designs on them. It’s a campaign by the U.S. Mint called “America the Beautiful” that releases new quarters every year for states and notable places throughout the United States. They’ve been in circulation since 2010 and have 54 distinct designs on the backs of quarters.

The response to the young woman’s hobby was mostly negative. There was one friend that offered a generic, “That’s kinda cool.” The remaining reactions ranged between “That’s dumb.” and “That’s useless.”

Useless was the keyword that got me thinking.

Now, granted this is a group of friends that seems to have fun with making fun. They were all smiles as they insulted one another about trivial things. Maybe they don’t even believe what they’re saying. Some people like saying things for the sake of a laugh or to get a rise out of someone. So, the content of their conversation was mostly fluff. Not all that important.

But, it got me thinking.

My hobby, though it’s probably clear in some fashion, is writing. I like to write. I like to create things in general, but in particular I like to write. The main thing I write are fiction stories. That’s fun. One day, maybe, I’d like to publish one of my stories as a book.

Though, I often ask myself a question of little value. At least, I don’t value the question that much because I’ve come to believe that the question doesn’t matter. I only still ask it because part of me frets over stupid things. It’s difficult to stop yourself from fretting over stupid things.

But, how many people read a book? Not like, how many people buy the book. Not even how many people open the book to look at it. But how many people actually read it? The whole thing. The people that turn every page. Whisper every word. Hang on the end of each sentence and rush into the next.

Now, every book has a different audience, and every reader is not necessarily reading for the same reason. But, let’s pretend that we’re talking about those that want to read it. For whatever reason.

There are people, websites, organizations, that analyze this kind of thing. Of course there are. There are a billion sources of data in the world these days. We’re all little bits of someone else’s tracking system, right? And yet that data isn’t so easy to get at most of the time. Or it’s not very easy to digest. And so we often rely on nice bite-sized tidbits that give us the approximation of an idea. As usual, the curse of simplification is that it obscures the truth.

We like narratives. We like a story. We like an idea that’s been honed and sharpened and whittled down to something clever and pretty. Even if it is a repeat of a repeat.

For instance. Physical books are continually declared dead, alive, reborn, or somewhere in between. Zombie books seem to be doing well.

But what about the data? Well take some American Pew Research for one data point. Reading is declining! There are people that haven’t read a book all year! Well. Yeah. Not surprised. But what does this measure? How do we measure reading anymore in a world of content? These studies focus on the term “book” in a way that doesn’t account for other things that involve reading. What about online serials? What about in-game content for MMORPGs and games in general? Does it count if people only read screenplays? Or if they read magazines, or comics, or pamphlets, or zines, or whatever else by the dozens?

Data is meaningless, after all.

And The Long Tail continues to lengthen. Niches can forever get more specific. And that isn’t any kind of surprise. Between self-made bubbles, social media bubbles, and good ol’ cognitive bias, the easiest path is selectivity.

We do tend to focus on the things that interest us. Fortunately, now we can actually find more of whatever interests us with minimal effort. We’re not trapped to some localized version of the world. The town we live in no longer controls our information flow. Gone are the days of monoculturism and all hail the rise of globalization! Now everyone will be the same!

Right? Well. Maybe not.

Really, our neighborhoods, our communities, have moved to the cloud. The borders and walls between cultures have gone digital. Now we can just ignore the pieces of the world that we don’t care for.

We can each be uniquely more individual than ever before.

So. Collecting quarters. Useless? I dunno. What’s useful? A skill that brings about profit and a livelihood? Since when has that mattered when it comes to hobbies? Does something have to bring an eventual goal of wealth to be pursued? That doesn’t seem very fun.

I mean, don’t we all do something as a “day job” that’s useful so we can do the useless thing at night?

So, how many people read a book? How many people will read my book? My stories? One?

Zero?

And if it is zero, should I care?

Nah. After all. I wrote it to fill my own special personal niche space of preference.

Tropes: Everything is Done Did

Take it on down to Troperville.

No really. Take it down.

Oh man, don’t do the Tropes! Except, do the tropes, because not doing them is such a trope. And make sure you don’t do any subverting of tropes, because that’s getting old and I’m so tired and bored that I’m yawning already just thinking about it. But dang. Tropes! What the heck are they? Don’t write them, but do. Keep them in mind so you can understand the reasons they were used! Write them in a new way! Go to TVTropes and die from starvation and dehydration as you click the next rabbit-hole link.

But yeah. Tropes are a thing. Like, they are a noun that means something. The ol’ online dictionary describes them as literary or rhetorical devices, and yeah, that’s what they are. But I guess they mean more now, or at least they have connotations surrounding them with the gravitas of dark and stormy nights.

And really, that makes sense because culture is ever evolving. And in our global society of sharing everything its easier to transmit ideas in condensed form. Its like powdered milk in a box that needs a little added water. Or Ikea furniture where you see the display model and then you go find the boxes that make the thing you want. Some of those parts are interchangeable and can be used for multiple final forms. It’s an adult form of Lego except there’s a lot more screwing involved.

The greatest part of assemble-it-yourself furniture is that you could make it however you want. Do you want to paint all the stuff before you put it together? Sure, go ahead! Maybe you don’t like that headboard that the assembly guide suggested. Get another one instead and somehow make it work. Customize and reshape, reimagine and carefully build. The end product becomes something special and you’ve also got something to sit on. Yet, you don’t have to do any of that if you don’t want. Maybe you really do just need a decent chair. Get the parts, align the holes, and tighten the nuts and bolts. That’s perfectly fine. It’s functional. It’s nothing pretty or unique, but it works.

Weirdly enough, there’s an odd shifting perspective on what’s cool to customize. Cars are well-known art projects, and custom woodworking is pretty nicely received. Yet, some hobbies are seen as somewhat useless or maybe only for the highly trained. Like, model rocketry is fun. Plenty of people try it once or twice. They go to a store and buy a box and put together some kind of kit. Then sometimes people feel a hook sink deep into their skin. Then the kit isn’t enough. There are modifications that must be made.

At some point any hobby can become a sometimes negatively-associated word: obsession. Except, often enough, for those that are highly accepted like sports or cars or money. Isn’t that strange? Why is it so easy to point and laugh at someone’s drive? Why do we get to pick and choose what gives joy to someone’s life? Shouldn’t we just let people find their niche? Well, except murder and sexual assault and other types of violence. Those are bad and I don’t care if it gives someone a surge of excitement.

Seriously though to find a niche is a meaning of life itself. We all want to find the place we specifically fit. No general purpose user cares what computer they use. But, the gamers and the coders and the developers want a special machine at their fingertips. And to them there’s a purpose to that selection. There’s a reason for the choices they make. A hammer is a hammer if you just need something heavy to swing. But delicate taps to shape metal need a ball pein’s specific hit.

Speaking of smashing and hitting. Now’a’days tropes have started colliding and combining with memes. Ideas are fun to exploit and explore. It’s a pleasure to express that ideal version of a repeated dream. To me that raises the question of whether or not that will dull the senses. Will people get so used to blunt concentrated thought that subtlety will be a novelty?

Nah. We’re too adaptable. And instead of adaptable it’d probably be okay to say forgetful. The things we find popular today and tomorrow will be the next generations cool new thing. That’s the way of history. Cyclical thinking is… well. It keeps coming around.

So, certainly, everything’s been done before, but that’s probably just fine. Because, really, the creation of something new shouldn’t be the goal. The creation of something that speaks to you or to a reader is more important. Remember that book you read as a child? Or that movie or cartoon? Whatever it was, at whatever the age, it affected you deeply. It changed your life.

Someone out there hates your favorite thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a show, a story, a comic book, or a cake. Your tastes are not the same. The stuff you think is dumb or pointless? Someone else loves that too.

I guess, then? Do the tropes. Do whatever you want. But do it well.

-J.A.

Train Platforms and Rooftops

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
854 Words

Train platforms were always a kind of half-peaceful escape from humanity. Sure, sometimes it’d get busy, and then you’d have to deal with a bit of a crowd. That was the exception, however. Most of the time you just sat there on a bench, quietly staring into a space made up of rock and steel, rust and flickering lights. The peace flew the coup whenever a freight train went blurring by. Those were a physical force of noise and motion and sucking wind.

Gerald sat there as one of the behemoths lunged behind him on the second tracks. He was staring at a small mouse crawling over another. He was slouching, hands deep in his pockets and a toothpick held between his teeth. The toothpick gave him a feeling of being cool. His hands within his pockets gave him a feeling of comfort almost as a security blanket would. He likened putting your hands in your pockets to balling up into the fetal position. It was comfortable.

An announcer started his gibberish about time, trains, and tracks. The time registered somewhere in Gerald’s mind, matched up with a schedule, and activated a movement protocol. Work was starting soon. He picked up his book bag.

The great thing about train stations, airports, and bus stations was the security you had in being there. If you had some sort of bag, or at least looked tired, withdrawn, and worn, no one would bug you. You could just sit there, for hours on end, without anyone giving you a second glance. It was kind of like an open privacy. Every bit of its escape was in your mind.

Sidewalks were always worn, cracked, and stained. When someone put in a new stretch of the stuff it’d practically glow, especially on sunny days. The sidewalk on the way to work was old, ancient and beaten by the forces of gravity and pedestrians. It had little cracked dips and rises, places where the earth had settled, and places where roots had pushed out against the confines of a cement prison. There was old spray paint and new chalk. These were two forms of graffiti with varying levels of acceptance. Permanence is hard to accept.

The place that Gerald worked was one of those looming buildings of mortar and stone, too old to know it should’ve fallen down already and too old to consider making it fall down. It had historical merit despite most of that involving bad days of work. Today was a bad day of work, and it hadn’t even really started. Things were just sort of uneven and off rhythm. Sometimes the world just seemed to pulse exactly the wrong way, or maybe it was just Gerald. He clocked in and considered the digital timestamp telling him he was two minutes late.

In a cubicle, you have the exact opposite of privacy. You have a little cardboard box that everyone can open. They lift the flaps and rummage through the contents. They toss out what’s been in there too long. They stuff other junk inside that they don’t want anywhere else. The only real refuge is the computer screen. There is the glowing God with digital secrets and dreams hidden away beneath false windows and half-hearted spreadsheets. Someone in another cardboard box loves work and pushes out maximum output. Gerald doesn’t hate work, but he doesn’t care, and so pushes out no output. Combined, along with whatever other cardboardians, output is nominal.

On break, Gerald stood by the water cooler with one of those little conical cups. They hold maybe a gulp of water. He always filled them up eight or nine times until slowly getting a full eight ounces. Today he just stared at the cooler, empty, and tried to figure out what it was he would do. Lunch was always water. Getting water was how he spent his lunch.

After work, Gerald walked home while pretending his feet were wheels over the landscape of a rolling sidewalk. He passed the train station, considered taking a seat to listen to the passing trains, but kept on toward his apartment. The air was cool with the scent of budding flowers and car exhaust, but the important thing was that it felt good. He didn’t go to his room, not yet, but slowly wound up the staircase, forgoing the elevator’s rumbling ride.

On rooftops, there was always a kind of half-peaceful escape from humanity. Under your back was the feel of gravel and small rocks, weight distribution keeping any from digging in and making it uncomfortable. Above you, the sky darkened and an expanse of stars opened up, peeking out from their hiding places in the blue beyond. The peace flew the coup whenever sirens went blaring by, but it was alright. There were still the stars, and the sky, and the gentle breeze that always picked up just enough to carry away the heat and oppression of things going stale.

Tomorrow, Gerald decided he’d stop by the train station again. Who knew, maybe his train would come in.

Key Liar

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
300 Words

Others of the warrior’s ilk were filling the room around me, burly men and women wearing pelts and bits of iron as jewelry. They ducked carefully to step downstairs onto the ship’s lower deck, “We are honored by your presence.”

Arranged in a semicircle they passed around horns of drink and baskets of bread. These were shared with reverent bows in my direction. They repeated one phrase: ”The key to our salvation.”

None approached me and I soon grew bored out of my fear, “Might I have something to eat?”

“Sacrament,” said the first, the leader, the one that yanked me from the city, “Fulfillment of the pact requires clarity.”

“What pact?” I stood warily, unsteady because of rolling of waves, “If I’m so special then tell me something!”

“You are the key…”

“…to our salvation,” I finished, “Yeah, I got that. Ridiculous.”

Deep pulsing sounds reverberated through the vessel.

Two of the savages grabbed my upper arms and yanked me out of the room in a hurried rush. Their faces were tight, jaws clenched.

All around us the sky was dancing with streaming light. Electricity crackled as my captors lifted me to the sky, “The key!”

A great sonorous wail shook the very fabric of the world. I felt my mind twist.

“Liar! LIAR!” The leader stared at me with horror, “You claimed yourself sterile!”

Thin sheets of energy surrounded my skin. The ship, along with all of its sailors, disintegrated in screams. Bright purple light engulfed everything.

A breeze whispered fading words, “Liar…”

I bobbed in the swell of a sea I did not know under an alien sky. Ignorance wasn’t a lie, but I felt terrible for my unknowing betrayal. I had been their key alright, but not for salvation. Nor mine. I couldn’t tread water forever.