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Monday, February 28, 2011 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 76

Friday, February 24, 2012

The first part of the pipeline project involved everyone in Laurel: those not building the spring head or laying the pipe itself, or finding and hauling material to the worksites, were preparing meals or barricading roads. School was canceled for the week after Caitlin scraped her shoulder, simply because everyone was in the thick of everything to do with the pipeline. It seemed to Cody that everyone wanted his opinion or help —

What do we do with the pipe itself? “Lay it on the ground now, bury it when we know there’s no leaks.”

There’s only enough four-inch pipe to reach a third of the way back to Laurel! “There’s plenty of smaller roll pipe around. Let’s switch over once we run out and hope we can find more big pipe later.”

How do we deal with all the road crossings? Won’t the trucks crush the pipe? “Cut a deep enough groove in the pavement to lay the pipe, then mortar over it.”


Rita had a busy week too. Caitlin’s shoulder was just the beginning; an easy beginning at that. Everyone looking for supplies or building the spring head all had to deal with wild dogs — having exhausted vast supplies of garbage over the winter, former masters forgotten or resented, with the coming spring the packs were hunting and staking territory. Two people were bitten, and Johnny narrowly escaped being a third. He couldn’t get his carbine around in time, but Tim was facing the right way and shot it — almost hitting Johnny. It was Sheldon who suggested finding Super Soakers and filling them with ammonia, and that worked as well as the guns when the dogs got too close. Getting hit with a stream of ammonia was only an annoyance, compared to a bullet, so people were more willing to use the squirt guns.

But it was the accidents kept Rita busy. Rains made the ground slick, and falls led to several sprains and one broken wrist. Max dislocated his shoulder at the spring head; meditation and a dose of oxycontin allowed Rita and a helper to set it on the spot with only minimal discomfort. They put him on the backboard and rode him back to Laurel on a trailer.

Late winter weather in Georgia can (and does) change every which way, often overnight. With no nightly forecasts on TV, people often worked with one eye on the job and the other on the sky. Working outside in variable weather led to numerous colds, which people tried to ignore despite Rita’s admonitions, and several people had colds worsen nearly to pneumonia.


“I’m worried about Ashley,” Rita told Johnny one night, as she climbed into bed after a long night at the clinic. “She’s a big help, but she’s still just eleven. I’m afraid she’s over her head.”

“Send her home.” Johnny had been dozing a little, but had forced himself awake when Rita came in. “She needs her rest. So do you.”

“I did send her home. Me, I’m used to late nights. Even this hasn’t been as bad as most Saturday nights at Grady. One broken wrist, one dislocated shoulder, two dog bites, and everything else has been minor injuries. Or bad colds. It’s been a busy week, even for the clinic in Chamblee, but we’ll manage. It would be nice to have an MD on call, though, just in case.”

“You’re our doctor, Rita. Everyone trusts you.”

She sighed. “I haven’t been called on to do surgery yet, thank God. I’ve been studying, but…” She shuddered. “I just hope Ashley is ready when the time comes. I hope I am.”

“This is gonna sound stupid, but I’m gonna say it anyway. Why not take up veterinary surgery? We have a few dogs and cats that need to be fixed. I mean, it would suck if something went wrong, but not as much as losing a person. It would give you some practice, too.”

A long silence. “Maybe that would help. I’d have to find some veterinary books, though. Maybe when things settle down.”

“Yeah.”

“Ashley’s been such a big help. She runs the clinic when I have to go on a call. Even when the other kids are helping, she’s there to make sure they’re doing what needs to be done. I know children bounce back, but they need their sleep too.”

“She’ll be all right.”

“I hope so.”


Rita woke up the next morning feeling queasy. She worked through the morning, and all but forgot about it.

continued…

Saturday, February 26, 2011 5 comments

Weekend Roundup

There’s been enough stuff going on, but not enough time to post mid-week. I hate when that happens, so I’ll just dump everything in one post…

The Boy and I replaced brake pads on both my Civic and Mrs. Fetched’s on Monday afternoon (which was a paid holiday in the US). Doing this without a C-clamp — or rather, being unable to find any of several C-clamps I should have around the manor — to push the brake piston into the caliper can be rather difficult. After a lot of frustration, I hit on the idea of using this gigantic ancient screwdriver I found laying on the highway to pry against the brake pad, and that worked. The next three calipers combined took us less time than the first.

But I’d been hearing some disturbing rumors, and decided to come right out and ask The Boy about it: “Are you and Snippet back together?”

“Yeah.”

AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHH!!!!!!

Fortunately, what goes up must come down, and The Boy came in from work this morning in a sour mood. Seems that Snippet is “still confused about whether she loves me, so I made it really easy on her, I’m done with her.” WOOHOOOO!!! I hope it’s permanent this time. Snippet may have made threats about getting custody of Mason (not gonna happen) because he’s talking about having him “legitimized.” Seems like since Mason’s family name (on his birth certificate) is the same as The Boy’s, it shouldn’t be difficult. Besides, the paper granting Mrs. Fetched guardianship obligates her to make sure he’s cared for. Snippet didn’t care enough to get her skinny @$$ out of bed in the afternoon to take care of him when she was here, so why would things be different when nobody’s trying to get her to do anything at all?


Excuses for not writing:

1) Your grandbaby snatched your pen and Moleskine out of your shirt pocket. (See, I’ve got proof!)

2) The rest of the family thinks that watching TV is infinitely more important than taking care of said grandbaby, so they drop the kid on the one person who has better things to do than watch TV.

3) Feline interference.

Actually, I’ve been doing some writing… mostly #FridayFlash stories. I just haven’t had much time to dedicate to a serious edit of White Pickups, which is needed to fix various issues. There’s also a sequel to attend to. I wasn’t planning to serialize that one here on the blog, but if that’s what it takes to get me to finish it… I’ll need lots of urging in the comments as I post episodes though. Ideas come fast and furious these days, and even if they don’t, there are various writing prompts to try. Not to mention ideas I’ve shelved…

There are various “collectors” out there, and I’ve started submitting White Pickups to the Tuesday Serial collector and my flash stories to the FridayFlash collector. I had what I think is a wicked-cool idea for a flash collector: send a story link, it strips out everything but the story and compiles all submissions into a weekly anthology (or magazine if you prefer) in both ePub and MOBI formats. The whole thing could be automated — probably would have to be if it caught on — and would give people who have eReaders and long stretches of time offline the chance to keep up with the many good stories being blogged out there.

Some people put audio versions of their flash stories on Audioboo. My test run with that suggests the story needs to be around 750 words maximum to fit in the 5 minutes provided there. But I might try it. I do occasionally write something really short (I have one that’s less than 200 words in current trim) so I do have some fodder to work with.


I would love to take a vacation. Daughter Dearest is home for spring break, which would have been a good time to go. Oh well, I hope it means I’ll get a little relief from the near-nightly (and all weekend) Mason-sitting for a couple weeks. The Boy and I did take him over to the park this afternoon, among other things, and he didn’t want to go back inside when we got home. He needed a nap, and refused to take one, then finally demanded a bottle. He usually only gets a bottle at bedtime now, but we were both tired and cranky and I figured it was worth a try. He was out in ten minutes.

Oh, and the battery died in my motorcycle — at work, naturally. Fortunately, it’s light enough to push to the top of the driveway and I was able to roll-start it and get home. But with gas prices going through the roof all of a sudden, this wasn’t the time. (But is there ever a good time to have your battery die?)

Friday, February 25, 2011 24 comments

#FridayFlash: The Philosopher’s Stone

This one is based on Icy Sedgwick’s Photo Prompt 20. The prompts that prompt me get me to ask a question: the resulting story answers the question. In this case, the tale is a cautionary one — sometimes, a great discovery doesn’t always work out…



The Philosopher’s Stone

We accept your invitation for March 14th. Her Grace has business nearby and will personally attend your demonstration. I myself will accompany her…

Giovanni put the letter aside. Marco felt threatened, as well he should. He, Giovanni, had discovered the Philosopher’s Stone! Because of him, gold would become as common as dirt. Three weeks, and yet much work to do.


Marco swept through Giovanni’s door unannounced, giving the front room a disapproving inspection —

“Behold Her Grace!” a herald called from the doorway. Giovanni immediately turned and knelt.

“Arise,” said the queen, bored with ceremony. “You are the one whose demonstration I have come to see?”

“Your Grace,” Marco sneered, “we may be in the wrong place. The Giovanni who wrote us claims to be an alchemist. We seem to have found the apothecary instead.”

“I am the one, Your Grace,” said Giovanni, refusing to be cowed by the likes of Marco. “I am also the apothecary to this village, which provides the income to pursue my true calling.”

“Impressive — to have discovered the Philosopher’s Stone in a part-time pursuit.”

“Your Grace is kind. But I have not labored unaided. My brother is the local monsignor, and I have a letter of commendation from the bishop as I successfully treated his gout.” Let Marco chew on that — any ill he plotted would be returned.

“I see,” said the queen. “And thus you found it. How?”

“Your Grace, you yourself know the Church has preserved a great body of ancient knowledge, to which I was granted access. From Roma, my research led me to a monastery in Persia, where is stored a certain manuscript from faraway Bharat. Clues I found in Roma — and much prayer — allowed me to unlock its secrets.”

“A pretty story,” Marco sneered, “but incredible. A mere village apothecary, no matter how well-traveled, discovering what so many have searched for their entire lives? If you were certain of success, you should have sent your notes.”

And let you steal the credit? “Eminent Marco, it is said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. I intend to provide that proof.”

“So you intend to put on your show?”

“Aye.”

“Your fraud will —”

“Marco,” the queen interrupted, “enough. We were invited to be witnesses. Let Giovanni succeed or fail without further harassment.”

Marco sketched a bow and mumbled “Your Grace.”

Giovanni made a more sincere bow. “The queen is kind. All is ready in my laboratory. This way, if you please.” He conducted them into the next room, and lifted heavy lead-lined aprons from the wall. “Some of the manuscript, I was unable to translate satisfactorily. I am unsure whether these are for safety. But with such distinguished guests, I err on the side of caution. I believe the power of the Stone brought to bear on mere flesh can cause harm.”

“The Stone. What is the Stone?”

“That, eminent Marco, is a misnomer that led us all astray. It is not a stone at all, but metal! The manuscript spoke of mines in what are now German and Slavic districts. There I found the ores.

“The refining process is exacting. The manuscript says that a certain amount of refined metal is required, and must not be brought together into a single mass until the proper moment. The base metal is packed around two pieces of Stone, and brought together with a great weight atop. Perhaps you wish to examine the apparatus before we begin?”

Marco nodded and peered into the open furnace. “This brown stuff — that is it?”

“Aye.”

“So unimposing. Perhaps that too has kept it hidden. Well… proceed, then.”

Giovanni turned to the wall, where a sturdy crank was mounted. With a silent prayer, he released the catch and let go the handle; it spun madly as a mass dropped from above and struck the mass below with a flat WHUMP.

Marco smiled. “Nothing. You have failed. As expected.”

(Photo: Icy Sedgwick)
“It grows warm,” the herald said. The furnace hissed and popped, then the stone vessels shattered. Molten yellow poured forth.

“A miracle!” The herald gasped. They stood transfixed in the growing heat, until Marco seized a crucible by its long handle and dipped it in the flow. He pulled it to them and all stared at the contents wide-eyed.

“It glows with an inner light!” the queen breathed. “Marco: speak true. Do you find fraud in this?”

“If fraud there is,” Marco whispered, “I cannot find it.”

“Then acknowledge him,” she commanded.

Marco gave a sour look, but sketched a brief bow. “Maestro.”

“Maestro Giovanni,” Her Grace smiled. “What will you need to bring your apparatus to our court?”

“All can fit in ten wagons. Except, of course, the furnace.”

“Very well. Marco of course will assist you with all his talent. We will withdraw now. Begin preparations immediately.”

“Of course, Your Grace. Please, take the crucible as my personal gift to you.”


The pounding at his door did not wake Giovanni, for exultation precluded sleep. He put down his short sword when he recognized the herald’s voice: “Open, in the name of the queen!”

The herald entered. “Your services as apothecary are required,” he said. “We vomit, and our bowels run like water.”

“Tainted food,” Giovanni said, then started. “I have never known Pietro’s inn to serve bad food!”

“It was ours,” the herald said as Giovanni spooned powder into a packet. “Heads will roll at the court over this!”

“Stir this into warm tea for each of you. Who would do this?”

The herald rubbed his head, then looked at the loose hair in his hand. “Any of them.” He paused. “Marco… beware of him. He is envious.”

“I will, and thank you.” Giovanni himself felt a little queasy, and he’d eaten… nothing. He’d forgotten supper. Forcing himself to eat a bite, he then took a pinch of his own powder.


Two days later, a hearse conducted the remains of the royal entourage back to the palace. The village was in turmoil, and Giovanni departed on the advice of his brother. The villagers were used to his comings and goings, so few noticed.

Another day, another village. In the afternoon, a dead man arrived atop a cart, slumped over the reins. The cart and its contents were looted. A stack of books fed only the fires…

Monday, February 21, 2011 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 75

Contents

Monday, February 20, 2012

Miss Sally closed her folder. “This is a good stopping point,” she said, glancing at the figure in the doorway. “Professor Ball is here for science, so I’ll turn things over to him. Don’t forget your homework: pick a story, identify its central conflict, and explain why it’s important.” She stood and motioned for Charles to come in.

The schoolroom was the former workout room. It had tall windows that welcomed the morning sun, and blinds for when it got too bright. The teacher and student desks, pilfered from Ben’s old school, were lined up along the windows so they only needed artificial light on rainy days. Sometimes, Stefan and his boyfriend would come to use the exercise bikes, sweating and puffing as quiet as possible while the kids had class.

“Give me five or ten minutes,” said Charles, as Miss Sally left through the glass door. “I want to organize my thoughts a little, and I’m sure some of you could use a bathroom break.”

Caitlin flipped her notebook shut and stood. “Yeah, I need to pee,” she said in a low voice. Lily giggled, but she and Ashley both got up and followed, flanking her about a half-step behind. The boys brought up the rear, talking between themselves. Caitlin thought about how much things kept changing — just a few weeks ago, it was Ashley up front with Lily and herself following, but now she was in the lead. How — and why — did that happen?

Their bathrooms were the public clubhouse bathrooms, almost directly across the hallway outside — left to the pool, right to the staircase, straight on to the johns, as Sheldon once said. There were no windows, but Caitlin and Ashley turned on their flashlights and hung them on sconces the grownups installed near the mirrors when they put in the composting toilets. This gave the bathroom a dim light, enough to see what needed to be seen.

“Have you guys picked out your story yet?” Lily’s voice reverberated off the tile walls.

“Not really,” said Caitlin. “Right now, I don’t care. I just hope Professor Ball finishes his lesson early. I am so bored!”

“And what’s after science class?” Ashley asked; Lily joined her in a sing-song answer, “Skate class!” They both giggled.

“Yeah, whatever,” Caitlin said, finishing up. “It could be gardening for all I care. I just want to get outside.”

The other girls said nothing, in silent agreement. This was the nicest day they’d had so far this year, after all. No jacket required for once, even inside once the sun had warmed things up. It seemed wrong to be cooped up indoors on a day like this. Just another way things have changed, Caitlin thought — back Before she would have watched TV and snacked, regardless of weather. And skating? skateboarding? Never in a zillion years. True, she had worked hard at it to begin with, just to get Cody’s attention and approval, but now she worked at it because she was good and wanted to get better. Let them think what they wanted.


Cody had a surprise waiting for the kids: a low ramp, made from a sheet of plywood and some scrap lumber. The high side stood maybe two feet off the pavement. It had a brief platform, about a foot wide between the slope and empty air.

“I’m not quite up to building a quarterpipe,” Cody explained. “This’ll do, until we can get over to the skate park. Anyway, a ramp’s a little easier to start out with, and it’ll give you an idea of what to expect.

“We’re gonna start by rolling off with our skateboards. When you’re comfortable with that, we’ll practice doing some turnarounds. That should get us through today, and we’ll try a couple other things with our skates later.” He laid his stick on the narrow flat area on top, letting the front wheels rest on the slope. The rear wheels hung in a little gap between two of the boards. “Just put your back wheels here in this gap, it’ll keep your stick from rolling before you’re ready.” He stepped up and placed a foot over the back wheels. “Look forward, lean forward. When you get to the bottom, put some weight on your back wheels so the front don’t try to plow into the asphalt. Okay? You got your armor on, and you won’t go fast enough to worry about it anyway. Give it a little nudge and you’re off, just like this: ready-fire-aim.”

Cody rolled down the ramp, hit the pavement, made a wide turn in the empty street. He gave a kick and rolled back to rejoin his class. “Just like that. When you come off the ramp, straighten up and you’ll be fine. Who’s first?”

To his surprise, Ashley and both boys joined Caitlin in volunteering, and Caitlin looked nearly as surprised as he felt. “Huh. Well, I guess we’ll go in alphabetical order: Ashley, Ben, Caitlin, Sheldon. Lily, you stand at the bottom and watch what they do. If they don’t wipe out, just do what they do when it’s your turn.” She nodded and moved to stand where Cody pointed.

Ashley shifted on her board and it started rolling. She wobbled a moment, but stayed upright and rode it out. She rolled off the ramp, then took a wide turn like Cody’s but picked up her board and walked back when she’d slowed enough. Ben got fixated on the bottom of the ramp and fell. His pads kept him from getting hurt, and Cody gave him the “eyes up next time” sign. Caitlin rolled down like she’d done it all her life, then stopped with a showy braking maneuver Cody had shown her outside of class. She kicked her board up, caught it, and carried it back, looking a little smug. Sheldon rolled down and away without trouble. He still had trouble slowing and turning, so he rolled until he could stop, then turned around and kicked his way back.

Lily looked a little nervous. “You see that mailbox way down there?” Cody asked her. She nodded. “Good. Keep your eyes on it until you’re off the ramp. You saw Ben wipe out, right? He was looking at the pavement, and you go where you look. So don’t look down. Just do what you do on a driveway.” She nodded again, mounted the ramp, rolled away.

She stayed upright and yelled “I did it! I did it!” as she continued to roll away. Like Sheldon, she had difficulty braking and turning. She rolled to a stop and walked her board back with a big grin.

“Not bad, guys!” Cody grinned. “Ben, you wanna try again? Just watch the mailbox like Lily did, okay?” He nodded, mounted the ramp, rolled down and this time stayed on the board. He made his turn and came back.

“Cool. You know how I made you guys practice that one-eighty? Now you’ll do something useful with it. Lemme show you.” He rolled up the street a ways, stopped, turned around. “Now I’m gonna come up the ramp. When I stop, or almost stop, I’ll kick around and come back down.” A few strong kicks sent him up the street; he rolled about halfway up the ramp, turned and descended. “You’ll want to know how to do this when you’re on a halfpipe.”

“We’re not as fast as you, Cody,” said Caitlin. “How are we gonna get up enough speed to do anything?”

Caitlin was up to something, but Cody had no idea what. She had a good point, though. “I could pull you on my bike, I guess. You wanna go first?”

“Sure.”

Cody picked up his mountain bike from the grass and rode up the street, Caitlin following on her board. “Okay, just hang on to the rack, then let go when I tell you, got it?” Caitlin nodded and Cody got them going.

“Now!” Caitlin gave a grunt and a hard pull on the rack before letting go, hitting the ramp faster than Cody intended. As she reached the top, she ollie’d and sailed over the narrow platform, drawing shrieks from the other girls. She landed off-balance and fell, hitting the pavement on her side, her skateboard tumbling up and over the curb.

Cody left his bike on the street and ran to her, cursing. “You okay?”

“I think so,” she said, clambering to her feet. “Ow.” She felt her left shoulder. “I think I scraped it up.”

“Road rash!” Cody said.

“Abrasion,” said Ashley. “We need to clean it and get you to Rita.”

“Just clean it,” Caitlin snapped. “I wanna try again.”

“I don’t want you trying to ollie off the ramp again, okay?” Cody looked serious. “You scared the shit out of me. Just up and down this time. Promise?”

“Fine.” Caitlin hissed as Ashley reached under her sleeve, the wet-wipe stinging her scraped skin. “This is how you learn though, right?”

“Yeah, but maybe on colder days when you can wear a jacket. Then you won’t get scraped up so much.”

continued…

Saturday, February 19, 2011 2 comments

Saturday in the Park

No way I’d mistake it for the Fourth of July, but it was an awesome day for February. That’s a little ironic, since the upcoming episode of White Pickups is set right at this time of year and deals with a very similar day (weather-wise).

Everyone else ran off to the chicken houses, after lunch, leaving Mason and me alone at the manor. I’d made plans for this contingency, and so we were shortly off to the park.

We started with a stroll around the perimeter path, just over a mile. Mason enjoyed all the stuff going on, especially the kids playing soccer in the practice fields next to the path. I enjoyed the moms jogging or strolling with their kids. We both enjoyed some fresh air and sunshine.

The playground is just off the path, almost all the way around from where we started, and I found a spot to park the stroller and turned him loose. He has no trouble going up stairs, and I found that with the generous handholds offered on the jungle gym, he also had no problem going down them.

I did get a little nervous when he climbed to the next platform and got out of reach. As I was trying to get him to come down the nearby slide, a little black-haired girl poked her head out of the adjacent tunnel and stared at me. I stared back.

“Moptop? Is that you?” I asked after a second.

“Are you FARf?” she responded. Sure enough, that big guy stalking around the edges of the jungle gym was Moptop’s grandpa. We chatted for a minute, me with one eye on Mason, and Moptop slipped off to hit the swing set. Mason and Moptop saw each other, said hi, then went on with their own pursuits.

After a little running, climbing, sliding, a diaper change (atomic), and watching the other kids, Mason got a little overloaded. He stopped, stood and watched the chaos, occasionally stooping to pick up a handful of wood shavings and toss them. Finally, he walked over to the fence and looked at the path. “That!” he said, several times, until I realized he was ready to get in the stroller and continue our walk.

We disposed of the nuclear waste dump he’d left in his diaper in a nearby bathroom, and I got nervous about where the car was until I realized I hadn’t gone quite all the way around, and we returned and headed on back.

He was asleep a few miles before we got home, and barely stirred when I got him out of the car seat. He only napped for 45 minutes, but he’d had a good morning nap so I wasn’t concerned.

Spring #4 is being very good to us on Planet Georgia, and Winter #5 hasn’t shown up in the extended forecast just yet. But hey, there’s still March to get through.

Friday, February 18, 2011 10 comments

#FridayFlash: G-5 Goes Fishing

This concludes the G-5 flash trilogy. If you’re just joining the free-range insane asylum, here are links to the first two parts:

Part 1: G-5
Part 2: G-5’s Blast from the Past



The ice run was profitable, but G-5 added what he called “gravy” by monitoring comms from Orbital Control and finding a cargo of iridium needing a ride. I had to look up “deadheading” — it means traveling without cargo — but I liked the word, and understood G-5’s distaste for the concept. But he had even more distaste for what was waiting for him at home.

“Do you have any idea how much I hate her?” he asked as we broke Mars orbit and burned for home.

“Since you’ve mentioned it at least eight times a day since you got her message, I have a pretty good idea.”

“Eh. No. Strangling her with my bare hands wouldn’t be good enough. I’d —”

“Hey. Remember, just saying things like that in public is a felony these days. You need to be careful.”

“This ain’t public.” G-5 grinned. “Yeah. I’m just blowing off steam before I make the call here.” He stretched, letting the tenth-gee pull his arms back. He looked nervous, even though he and gram and I had worked it all out over the last two weeks.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “If you swerve, we’ll just re-take. You won’t have to go real-time until we hit lunar orbit.”

“Yeah. You know this is a waste of time, right? Back before I — we went popsicle, she said she’d go to the ends of the earth to pay me back after I beat her in court.” He looked at his reflection in the dark monitor. “Whatever. Let’s do this.”

I adjusted the vid and nodded. He looked at the input and smiled. “Carolyn. I have to admit I was surprised you’d follow me, even through time, just to keep your petty little feud going. But I shouldn’t have expected anything less.

“I’ve been in touch with our great-great-great-granddaughter, Marla, who’s the current CEO. Actually, they call it Steering Prime now, same thing. Against my wishes and better judgement, Steering is making you a pretty generous counter-offer. You’ll get a trust fund that will let you live out the rest of your miserable life in comfort, as long as you stay clear of me and other ECF staff. You won’t be content — nothing ever satisfies you — but that’s the absolute best you can do.

“I know you won’t believe me, but that’ll just make it more fun to watch you go down in flames again. I didn’t need connections to beat you last time. And the legal system is entirely computerized now — you can make all the sad faces you want at an AI, and it won’t care.

“So there you have it. Take it or leave it, and I really hope you leave it — I’d love to see you cast loose without a penny. But I’m attaching contact details for Marla anyway.

“Oh… hey, I’m in a generous mood. I’ll be in cryo for six weeks, but I’ll give you one more shot at me when we’re closer to home and we can talk direct. Send me your timezone, so I’ll know when to wake you up.” He turned to me. “Well?”

“Looks good. You covered — oh, you forgot the last part —”

“Nope. I’m gonna spring that one real-time. Let’s go popsicle before she has a chance to respond. With any luck, I won’t dream of that leech.”

“Leeches are extinct.”

“All but one.”



As before, G-5 was out of cryo well before me, waiting with a sippy of warm coffee and a big grin. “The bait has attracted the fish,” he said, leaving me to figure out what that meant. “Lunar O.C. assigned us a slot, and You Know Who will be waking up in about an hour. Plenty of time to chow down.” If you’ve ever been in cryo, you know how hungry you are when you wake up. Something inside knows you haven’t eaten in months or years, and it wants to make up for lost time. Space chow isn’t great, but it’s food. Lots of fiber to keep the recyclers humming, good protein, and enough carbs and fat to give it some flavor. Some. We ate, G-5 with one eye on a chrono set for Standard minus 6 (which he called “Central Time”).

With our wake-up hunger dealt with, we slotted into lunar orbit and set up a relay to Earth. It took a few minutes, but Carolyn’s face glared at us across space. “Well,” she said, “I didn’t believe you, but you wouldn’t tell a lie so easily refuted. I checked it out, of course. It seems that I have no choice but to accept our descendant’s offer. I must say, you haven’t fared much better. Such a strange future we’ve woken up in… we’re not respected much.”

“Tell me about it. You know they call us throwbacks, right?”

The three-second delay stretched on. “Such an ugly word.”

“Yeah. And like you said… here I am. Second fiddle on a space truck.” He didn’t mention gram’s offer of a Steering seat. “At least they cured what ailed us. But you know, they don’t have popsicles now? I was thinking about starting a new business — introduce ’em to some good ol’ twenty-first century junk food.”

Her eyes brightened, a smile came to her face. “Ah. Well, I won’t trouble you further, Warren. This world has done enough to us both. Goodbye.” She cut off the call before he could respond.

G-5 grinned. “Hah! Hook, line, and sinker!” He ignored my puzzlement. “She’ll start the business herself, thinking she’s cutting me out, and I’m rid of her at last!”

That’s exactly how it went. We came home to find she’d already started 21st Century Treats, and was happy to ignore us. G-5 got his Steering seat. He promoted me to Head of Logistics, a fancy title for cultural assistant, but it beat long stretches in a tin can. I got married, had kids, and taught them to call him “G-6.”

He retaliated by teaching them his favorite words.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 9 comments

Off-the-Cuff: Apple vs. Amazon

I didn’t think they’d do it, but I was wrong. Apple is putting the screws to Amazon and other companies, who have used former loopholes to get around Apple’s onerous demand for a 30% commission on “in-app” purchases, for iPad applications. A lot of people have been asking variations on the same question, what does it mean to Amazon and the Kindle app?

That’s the wrong question. The real question is, how many people use an iPad (or iPhone) as their primary eBook reader? As someone who has both a Kindle and an iPad, the only times I have used the iPad to read a book were: 1) When the Kindle screen went Tango Uniform and I was waiting for the replacement; 2) To check the ePub version of my White Pickups draft.

Yes, part of that is because the iPad gets passed around from hand to hand pretty much all day long — if M.A.E.’s not using it to check Facebook or play Angry Birds, it’s Lobster doing the same thing, or it’s Mrs. Fetched playing Mahjongg solitaire. Once in a while, I’ll use it to check Twitter or blogs, or play a round of Angry Birds or solitaire, but I don’t do much reading on it. The Kindle is so much better for that — the screen is easier on the eyes, it’s lighter, and the battery life is better (even though the iPad is no slouch in the battery department itself). In the iPad’s favor, it’s largely format-agnostic, able to read Kindle, Nook, and pretty much everyone else’s eBooks.

I remember all the pronouncements about how the iPad was going to destroy the eBook reader market, but it hasn’t quite turned out that way. Kindle hardware sales are thriving, with B&N’s Nook line running a distant but respectable second, and Sony and Kobo fighting over who will challenge Nook for the #2 spot later on. Apple’s iBookstore is there, but it’s far behind the Kindle Store in sales and probably brings up the rear behind B&N.com and Smashwords. And I don’t think Apple cares all that much. If they did, they’d talk up the eBook reading aspect a lot more in their advertising.

So why is Apple demanding a 30% cut of everything? I can see it for apps — Apple maintains the App Store, paying for the server farms that run it, dealing with payments, and keeping the front end (i.e. the web site) running smoothly. But when we’re talking about buying eBooks through the Kindle and Nook apps, Apple isn’t out of pocket for any of that. There’s something else going on here.

Personally, I think it’s a negotiating position. There’s a popular school of thought that says to ask for the moon in the initial round of negotiations, so you can “compromise” a lot and still get what you really wanted to begin with. Google responded with OnePass, which takes “only” a 10% cut, and I expect that Apple will match it or even undercut it by their self-imposed June 30 deadline for app providers. Credit card companies take 2.5%, so I expect that everyone will head that way sooner or later. Competition or antitrust action, either way things will improve.

Monday, February 14, 2011 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 74

Contents

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kelly insisted on helping with what Tina called “procurement.” “This is going to be a big hassle,” she said, “and if it turns out to be a waste of time, it should be my time wasted too.” And so, on a chilly day that promised rain or snow later, she rode with Tim, Cody, and Johnny to a nearby Green’s Home Center. All of them pulled trailers.

Skirting the truck parked near the main entrance, Johnny led them to the contractors’ entrance. “The stuff we want is closer to this door,” he explained. “We can open the overhead door and ride in, too. No sense in lugging it out if we can just ride it out.”

“Yeah,” said Kelly. “Sooner we’re outta here, the better. These stores creep me out.”

“Hey, all the ghosts are in trucks now,” Cody laughed. “Maybe… ooooOOOOOoooo!” He waggled his fingers on either side of his head.

Kelly snorted and they walked their bikes to the entrance. Johnny and Tim forced the sliding glass doors open, and they wheeled the bikes inside. Birds fussed at the intrusion, flapping between the rafters.

Cody sniffed. “Smells funky in here. Like something died.”

“Didn’t this chain have a fast food counter in each store?” Johnny asked.

“Most of them, but I don’t think this one —” Tim stopped short as a scuffing noise echoed around the shelves. “What was that?” He put a hand on his revolver.

“Possums. Groundhogs. Who knows?” Johnny shrugged. “Let’s get the door open.”

The overhead door rattled and banged on its way up; dust and pieces of a bird’s nest rained down. As the echoes died away, they heard more skittering noises under the chattering birds. The open door let in more daylight; it lacked enthusiasm but did help the grimy skylights a little. Moving away, they turned on flashlights.

“What’s that?” asked Kelly, pointing her beam at something on the floor as Johnny and Tim walked by it.

“Cody squatted down for a look, nudging it with his shoe. “Looks like dog crap,” he said. “Not that old —” he jumped up, drawing his revolver. “Guys! Weapons out!”

A low growling sound, then they heard Tim and Johnny yell. Seconds later, barking, shouts, and Johnny’s carbine filled the store with noise. Birds roosting in the rafters above flew back and forth, cursing and looking for a way out.

“Shit shit shit,” Cody chanted, taking two steps toward the others then stopping. “Kelly! Do you have a gun?” She shook her head, wide-eyed, rooted to the floor. Cody cursed again, darting his light around the shelves. “There!” He pointed at a rack of pipes as they heard more gunfire. “I’ll boost you up on that shelf. Watch down there so we don’t get blindsided!”

They rushed to the shelf. Cody looked down the aisle, then laid the revolver at his feet and linked his hands. Kelly stepped in, jumped up on the shelf, then Cody grabbed up Sondra’s gun and ran to join the others.

“Dogs,” said Johnny, back to back with Tim, “or maybe coyotes. Not good either way.”

“You hit the ones you shot at?”

“Not sure. They ran like hell. Hey! Where’s Kelly?”

“Two aisles down, up in the shelves. I boosted her up. She should be safe up there.”

“Let’s hope,” said Tim. “Okay — with three of us, we can cover all the angles — one look forward, one look back, one down the aisles.”

“Yeah,” said Johnny, “but I need both hands free. Hang on.” He stepped over to the nearest checkout counter, gave a satisfied grunt, and returned with a roll of duct tape. He tore off a strip and bound his flashlight under the barrel, then nodded.

At the next aisle down, a big dog charged headlong, barking. Johnny fired and it fell tumbling and sliding across the concrete floor, stopping a few feet from them. He dropped another in the next aisle, but its fellow dodged behind some merchandise.

“We’ll have to get —” Johnny began —

A scream cut him off. “Cody! Help!”

“Shit! You guys get that one, I’m going back!” He ran back before either could protest, nearly overshooting Kelly’s aisle and skidding to a stop. He played his flashlight down the aisle. “Kelly!”

“Cody! They’re up here!” Cody shone his light along the shelf, and saw two dogs — one black, one white — about fifteen feet from Kelly. She had a short length of plastic pipe, whipping it back and forth to keep them back. They started barking at Cody’s light, making him wince at the racket.

Kelly dropped the pipe and grabbed a large coupling. She thrust it two-handed at the black dog, bouncing it off its snout.

“Good one, Kelly!” he yelled.

“Just a basketball pass!” Kelly grinned in spite of the situation and took up her pipe again. Both dogs stopped barking; the black dog snorted and jumped down to face Cody.

Cody reacted, pumping four quick shots into the black dog without thinking. “No!” he yelled, raising the pistol. Sondra taught me better! “Not this time,” he growled, as the dog twitched its last. The white dog closed the gap with Kelly, snarling just outside the reach of her pipe. “Hang on, Kelly! I got it!” One shot, one kill, Sondra had told him once, that’s what Dad taught me. He nodded to himself, aimed, fired. The white dog jumped as Cody shot — Kelly screamed, but it fell squirming and twitching, just short of her knees. She clubbed it several times with her pipe, then scrambled back.

Shots and shouts rang out farther down as Kelly slid to the edge and jumped down. She wrapped herself around Cody, shaking, her head buried in his shoulder.

“Let’s get down there with the others,” said Cody. “Quick! I gotta reload!”

Kelly squeezed once before letting Cody go. “Five shots — you got one left, right?”

“No. I had the hammer on an empty chamber. Let’s move!” They hustled down to Johnny and Tim.

“We got that one in the shelves,” said Tim, as Cody reloaded.

“Two came after Kelly. That’s five.”

“You need to learn to shoot, Kelly,” Tim told her, “if you want to keep coming on these trips.”

“Yeah. Is that all of them?”

“I don’t know. Do we want to clear this place out, or just get our stuff and go?”

“Clear it,” said Cody, looking grim. “We’ll have to come back for the rest of the blocks, and the pipe and other stuff sooner or later. I don’t wanna go through this again.”


There were four more dogs; they shot two and the survivors bolted through an open gate in the garden section. Tim latched the gate and they boarded the broken glass door going into the main building. Only then did they feel safe wheeling the bikes into the aisles and loading concrete blocks and bags of cement onto the trailers. Johnny added buckets, trowels, two wheelbarrows, and several long broom handles to the load.

“You think we’ll have any extra?” Kelly asked as they pushed their bikes to the door.

“Maybe — after we get two more loads like this one!” Johnny laughed.

“I almost got eaten by a dog, and we gotta do this two more times? I knew this was a crazy idea.”

As Johnny pulled down the overhead door, Kelly hugged Cody again. “Thanks.”

“Sure.”

“No, really. You did good in there.”

“You did good too. You kept ’em off you until I could get back.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t panic.” She kissed his cheek. “Sondra would be proud.” He gave her a curious look as she jumped on her bike and got her load rolling.

continued…

Friday, February 11, 2011 13 comments

#FridayFlash: Click

This one is based on Icy Sedgwick’s photo prompt #19.



Click.

Easy, easy money, thought Marc, pulling his shirt open and giving the photographer his sexiest smile. Lucky she’d run into him at the lounge; the agency would have charged her two-fifty an hour and paid him seventy-five an hour. He was making eight hundred cash for the afternoon. After figuring for taxes he wouldn’t pay on it, he was pulling two days’ pay for a Saturday afternoon.

And if she wanted a little more than pictures… no problem. She wouldn’t be the first cougar he’d worked for, and she obviously took care of herself.

Click.

“Okay, that’s the clothing,” she said. She had three small jobs come in all at once, and he was modeling for all three.

“What’s next?”

“The shower shoot. Lucky me, I had Phillips install it a month ago, so I don’t have to pay to set up another in the studio.”

“Yeah. You gotta work whatever angles you can these days.”

“You got it!” She smiled like a cat (or maybe a cougar) and led him to a spacious bathroom. “Just put your clothes on the shelf, get wet in the shower, then wrap this towel around yourself. I’ll give you some privacy, let me know when you’re ready.” She left and closed the door.

Marc did as asked, thinking maybe this will be just a photo shoot after all. Either way, no problem. He stepped out, his wet sandy hair curling into ringlets. He took the towel, called her in, and she shot him in several poses and positions.

Click. Click. Click.

“Great,” she gushed. He now noticed she’d changed too, into a black robe that tied down the front. Uh-huh. As long as she didn’t want anything kinky… eight hundred only bought so much. “Keep the towel on, I think we’ll use it for the garden shot — it’ll add some kick, don’t you think? Bring your clothes, just in case.”

He shrugged, smiled, tucked the towel in. “You’re the client.”

The afternoon was thankfully warm. She posed him on a picnic blanket, on one knee, holding a glass of wine as if offering it to the camera.

Click.

He lay on his side, gazing into the distance, touching the wine bottle.

Click.

After a while, he sort of lost track. He was a meat puppet, a pliable statue — in his modeling zone.

Click. Click. Click.

“Last thing,” she said, startling him out of his zone and leading him to a tree. “Stand here.”

Barefoot, of course. Among the moss and ferns and who knows what. He’d need a shower afterwards, but he’d done worse. She wove a thin wreath from twigs and placed it on his head.

She positioned the camera to one side, checked the view, came around to stand in front of him. He was on a slight rise.

“Hands behind your back?” He complied as she undid the first two ties on the robe. “Close your eyes for me.” Rustling noises. “Perfect. Don’t move.” Her voice grew sultry. “Are you stiff yet?”

“Hmm?” Eyes closed, his face betrayed slight curiosity —

Click.

She gave the statue a puzzled look. “Yellowish? Why did you —?” She shrugged and picked his wallet out of his clothes, retrieving the money she used for bait, and looked at his driver’s license. “Marcus Sander Graham?” She felt the surface. “Damn… sandstone.” Names had power, of course, enough to send a powerful spell slightly awry. She looked back at the statue that had once been a model and thought — he didn’t match her other statuary, but he’d bring a good price if she took care in shipping. “All is well.” She turned to the camera and took a final picture of him, standing under the tree.

Click.

Gentle Giant

Thursday, February 10, 2011 5 comments

Snipped!!!

She even looks like an older version of Snippet…
Hooray, I say!

Things started going our way about a week ago, when Snippet finally got her mom’s truck like she said she could. Her dad put her on his insurance, and away she went. And has been at the manor for less than 24 hours since then.

I think The Boy was happy to get a little space at first, but it may have been that Snippet only stayed with him because he has access to a car most of the time. Now that she has her own vehicle, she’s been pretty scarce lately.

Last night though was the first time I really dared to get my hopes up. The Boy met me on the way to choir practice and swapped my car for Mrs. Fetched’s. “What are you going to do?” I asked.

“I’m going to give Snippet a little chewing out,” he said. “Basically, I’m gonna let her know she can choose either her friends, or me and Mason.” That’s not quite as controlling as it sounds — he’s never had a problem with her going to visit one of her friends for an evening or even an entire weekend — but when she’s gone pretty much constantly, after being up his butt for so long, there’s some questions that need to be asked or at least implied.

He was gone all night (which didn’t please Mrs. Fetched) and came in this morning. “How did it go?” I asked. He just scowled, shook his head, and carried Mason upstairs. M.A.E. and I high-fived.

Our quiet jubilation was dampened somewhat this afternoon, when Snippet called him and The Boy decided he needed to go to Krystal’s to talk to her. “He’s gonna patch things up with her,” I thought. “She’ll come back,” said M.A.E. We clung to hope, because he packed a couple garbage bags full of her clothes and took them with. Mrs. Fetched phoned in after and got the scoop: she “has feelings” for an old school friend and “isn’t sure she loves him anymore,” and “doesn’t want to live at the manor.” Of course not, she doesn’t have to use him for transportation anymore. He then called us on the way to get Lobster from work, and said he’d need help “getting the rest of her $#!+ downstairs.”

Happy dance! M.A.E. and I high-fived again and even hugged.

My continued jubilation is dampened by The Boy’s hurt. Having been slept around on and dumped when I was his age, I have a pretty good idea of what he’s going through right now (minus the having a kid part). The Boy does let his Flaky Emotional Artist side fly a little freer than I do with mine, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have intense feelings about things. I opined that he’s now free to find someone who truly loves him, although M.A.E. (who has also gone through the love/dump wringer) thinks he should just focus on himself, Mason, and his music for a while. Sound advice.

I’m sure Lobster will be happy to have Snippet out of the picture as well. It’ll give him more space in the bedroom, and he won’t be summarily kicked out when Snippet wants a little nooky. ’Course, he’s getting a car tomorrow, and has a date on Saturday with someone he met on Facebook. Seeing as she’s about 10 years older, maybe he’ll have a different temporary roof over his head pretty soon…

Wednesday, February 09, 2011 2 comments

I Got Mail: 1st Grade Drawing

Most of the “funny” email I get isn’t that funny. This was an exception. The Evil Twins’ dad sent it along…


A first grade girl handed in the drawing below for her homework assignment.


The teacher graded it and the child brought it home.

She returned to school the next day with the following note:

Dear Ms. Davis,

I want to be perfectly clear on my child's homework illustration. It is NOT of me on a dance pole on a stage in a strip joint surrounded by male customers with money.

I work at Home Depot and had commented to my daughter how much money we made in the recent snowstorm. This drawing is of me selling a shovel.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Harrington

Monday, February 07, 2011 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 73

Contents

A subdued Cody and Kelly entered the Laurel Room, not noticing the curious stares from her parents and Johnny, and took their seats again. Their eyes were puffy, and Cody’s grim look was gone. Charles and Tina looked at each other, then turned to watch them.

“Okay,” said Kelly, “scratch the aqueduct. We still —”

“Nuh-uh.” Cody shook his head.

“What?”

“Don’t scratch the aqueduct. Yet. Maybe it’s a bad idea. But it might be a good one. Or the start of one.”


At the other table, Tina and Charles looked at each other. “Do you think they —” Tina twirled a finger at the teenagers.

Charles shook his head. “They’ve obviously worked something out. But I’d bet a stack of firewood that it didn’t involve sex.”

“Firewood?” Johnny grinned. “Is that gonna be our currency now? I’m gonna need a bigger wallet!”


“How do you figure?” asked Kelly.

“Well, maybe not an aqueduct. That’s like what the Romans had, right?” She nodded. “Yeah. They had lots of slaves to build that kind of shit, but they didn’t have big-box stores full of pipe and other construction junk waiting to be plundered.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Cody looked at Kelly, and saw the spark in his eyes, saw the manic grin. “Instead of an aqueduct, make it a pipeline!”

“I don’t know. I still think it’s a dumb idea.”

“Maybe not. We have to find a spring that’s higher up than here, and it has to be close enough where we can find enough pipe to get the water back here. If all that works out, it’s a good idea. If not… nice try, we’ll come up with something else.” Cody stood. “Hey,” he said to Tina, Charles, and Johnny, “I think we’ve got something here. Or Kelly does.”

“Yeah right,” Kelly mock-griped. “Blame it on me when it turns out to be a dumb idea.”


After supper, they reconvened in the Laurel Room. Kelly looked at the whiteboard, full of what her mom labeled Action Items. “Are we gonna be able to get all this stuff done?”

“Sure,” Charles said. “It might take longer than we like, it might be more effort than we expect, but we’ll do it. We have to.”

“If we can find a spring in the right place,” said Cody, poring over the topographical maps he and Tim found at the library. “And it looks like there could be one a little north of here.”

“How far?” asked Tina.

Cody used his fingers as a compass. “Maybe two miles straight there. We’ll have to go around some crap though.” He fiddled some more. “Call it three, maybe three and a half miles of pipe.”

“Three miles!” Kelly shook her head. “Let’s think of something else. There’s no way we’ll find enough pipe!”

“Actually, that ain’t too bad,” said Johnny, peering over Cody’s shoulder. “If we can put up with a small pipe, that stuff comes in five hundred foot rolls. Thirty, thirty-five rolls — we might find that much at one supply house if we’re lucky.”

“Will a small pipe carry enough water for fifty people?” asked Cody.

“I think so. The way I figure, we take all the rain barrels and set ’em up on that little rise behind the clubhouse. We only use the water through the day, and the rain barrels are more than enough for that, so we let ’em refill overnight.”

“We’ll use it,” said Charles. “We’ve all been pretty good about staying within our limits, but if we have more we’ll use more.”

“Okay,” said Kelly, “so let’s pretend the spring is where the map says it is, and it’s big enough to supply enough water. What’s next?”

“Build a catch basin and cover it,” Johnny answered.

“Why?”

“Why which? We need the basin so dirt can settle out before it gets into the pipe, and to even out the flow. We need to cover it so debris and critters mostly won’t get in and clog things up.” Johnny used the last remaining bare spot on the whiteboard to sketch a diagram.

“Mostly?”

“Yeah. Bugs might get in, but they should float right back out the overflow pipe unless the flow drops off. We’ll still have to filter down at this end, but not as much as we would otherwise.”

“Okay… but I still don’t see how we’re gonna carry three miles of pipe.”

“A little at a time.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Following the map, they found the spring branch and followed it back to the source. “This is Valentine’s Day,” said Max. “Let’s call it Valentine Spring.”

“Is that enough water?” asked Kelly, watching the water burble out of the hillside. Tim, Johnny, Cody, and Max were also there to check out their potential new water source.

“Should be,” said Johnny. “Looks like at least two or three gallons a minute. Not huge, but that would fill one rain barrel in forty minutes. If we don’t get more barrels, it would fill them all overnight twice, maybe three times over.”

“I guess we can start digging then,” said Tim.

“Let’s wait until we get the blocks and mortar here,” said Johnny. “If we get a heavy rain first, it’ll wash our work away.”

“Swingin’ the axe all winter got us in shape to dig, I guess,” Cody shrugged. “How many blocks will we need?”

“A few hundred. We’ll need three or four trips at least to bring ’em all in.”

Kelly looked dubious. “That’s a lot of work for something we don’t even know is going to pan out.”

Max grinned. “Like we got anything better to do?”

Johnny unscrewed the cap from an empty water bottle, cleared some debris from around the spring, and dipped it in the flow. “Looks pretty clear,” he said, watching the water swirl in the bottle. “I might have picked up a little sediment, but once we get the catch basin built, that shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll have to clear the silt out every few years, but that’s no big deal.” He took a sip. “Pretty good!” He passed it around.

continued…

Sunday, February 06, 2011 6 comments

Mason and Planning

Mason is 17 months old today. The kid’s come a long way, and of course he has a long way to go. But he hit a big milestone yesterday — he requested a ride on the potty seat for the first time. He didn’t do anything but sit there, but it’s a big step and kicks off the toilet training phase of life. Mom said she just let me run around with my naughty bits in the breeze one summer, and I wouldn’t let ’er rip unless I was on the pot or wearing a diaper… maybe that embarrassing situation won’t have to be repeated with Mason. (Mom got a picture of this, but I think it got clobbered in Dad’s fire. Oh well, no FARf-nudies this time around.)

He’s learning new words all the time, and amazingly can be reasoned with on occasion. For example, when I come in from work, he wants me to cuddle him up and play with him right away, and gets mad if I head down the hall. But if I explain that I need to use the facilities and get some stuff out of my pockets, he’s okay until I return. Of course, there are many occasions where reason just doesn’t cut the mustard. For example, we’re trying to switch him over from bottles to sippy cups, and have succeeded for everything but bedtime — he wants that bottle for the long sleep. We got him a large-capacity sippy cup today, but he isn’t used to it just yet. He’s back to mostly sleeping all night, after a week or so of nightly wake-up calls. whew


I’ve been seriously considering going indie with my fiction writing, but there’s a ton of work involved. I have a plan mostly roughed out in my head, and have identified a few holes in the plan. It’s the holes that need the most work and give me pause… but the whole “getting published” gauntlet involves a lot of work as well, with no guarantee that my stories would ever see daylight. Worst of all, many of the same holes are present for either route: for example, if I go indie I’ll have to get an editor to go over my stuff; a publisher might have an editor on staff, but given the typos I’ve seen in published works I have to wonder. Cover art is the only aspect where traditional publishing has a clear advantage. Either route forces me to do most (or all) of the marketing and publicity. The traditional route gets me into traditional bookstores, but as an indie I can get into major eBook stores easily enough. The thing is, if I can work out a decent system for indie publishing, I could conceivably make some coin by doing the gruntwork for other authors. Something to think about, anyway.

My other plan, completely separate from the first, is to get a store open on CafePress or something similar. Doing that right also requires some legwork — getting the designs down, then in the right format, and I can visualize something a whole lot easier than I can get it out of my head. Maybe The Boy can help there.

Just a few thoughts…

Friday, February 04, 2011 11 comments

#FridayFlash: Go Out With a Bang

As has happened several times in the past, I wrote this in a burst after thinking I wasn’t going to write much. This one’s a more traditional zombie story than my last one, and is based on a writing prompt from Apple Ardent Scott: You’ve Been Bitten — Now What? Might as well…



Go Out With a Bang

I keep looking at my cellphone. I need to stop it. Focus. Doc White says I’ve got about an hour, maybe a little more, based on my weight and age.

The bite doesn’t feel that bad, but I guess that doesn’t matter. Getting numb is one of the symptoms. Hey, since I won’t be me much longer, I might as well be honest — it was my own damn fault. We got surprised, had to leave the truck when it ran out of gas, got back here just ahead of the zombies. I forgot to bar the outer door, and they just walked right in. We pushed ’em out of the alcove, but one fell and bit my leg. Hurt like hell for about ten seconds. I pulped the sumbitch’s head, too late for me. I’ll be out there with ’em soon enough.

I’ve made my last confession to the priest, the machete’s razor-sharp, and I’ve got Billy-Bob, my trusty two-pound hammer. One more thing to do. I walk over to Heather; she looks her normal pissy self as she finishes my suicide vest.

“Hey.” I move her sweater and purse off the other barstool, to an empty part of the workbench, and pull it up close.

“What?” She has a cellphone already wired into the vest, wisely turned off. Its number is already programmed into my phone. The bomb part is done, she’s just pouring shrapnel into pouches to make the bomb do that much more damage.

“I have a confession to make: in spite of your attitude, I’m still attracted to you. I fantasized a lot about taking you into a corner and banging your brains out.”

She finally looks at me. I could snap a portrait and put it in the dictionary next to “distaste.” “Uh-huh. You think maybe I’ll grant you a last request or something?”

“No time for that. I just hope it makes you more eager to push that call button when the time comes.” I lay my cellphone on the workbench near her hand.

Heather shakes her head. Her look changes… it might have been a tender look, if she knew how to give one. “I don’t hate you, Ras. Don’t even dislike you. I just haven’t thought that way since… since all this zombie shit. If I’d known you before…”

“You’d have slagged me off as a dirty old man.” I grin. “That’s okay. I wouldn’t have come onto you anyway. I’m all talk. Well, mostly.” I pick up my cellphone one last time. “Forty minutes. Time flies. Is that thing ready?”

“Yeah.” Heather helps me slip the vest on, hands me a largish flannel shirt to put on over it, quickly kisses my cheek when nobody’s looking. I barely feel it, but cherish the gesture. “Good luck out there,” she whispers.

“My luck ran out an hour ago. But thanks. I’ll take as many of ’em down as I can. Call me when it’s over, okay?”

“Asshole.” But she’s smiling. Heather has a pretty smile, I just wish I’d seen it more. I turn away and say goodbye to the others — Doc White, Friar Buck, Linda the chain-smoker, JR the male stripper, Walt, Jenny, the others — and get handshakes or hugs as the spirit moves them (and another kiss, from JR). Buck follows me to the inner door and gives me last rites, then I put on my old motorcycle helmet and gloves. Heather and I go through the door, hear it latch behind us. We say nothing — it’s all been said. She turns on the vest phone, and I pace the alcove a couple times, working up my nerve. A stumble tells me it’s time: I’m almost completely numb now. At least I won’t feel much out there.

Hammer and machete thongs looped around each wrist — check. Helmet in place — check. I look through the peephole — the zombies are waiting. Check. I look at Heather and nod, lifting the bar as quiet as possible. Heather’s right behind me; she closes and bars the door as I slip through.

They see me, shamble my way. I rush to meet them, machete in my left hand, hammer in my right. I dodge, almost fall, hack at backs of knees to hamstring them as I try to stay outside their flank, then break away and catch my breath, fogging my face shield a little. They follow. I use Billy-Bob to smash in the head of the first, hamstring the second, dodge around their flank again, bashing heads as I go, then break away again.

Getting slower. Time for the grand finale. I hoped to get ’em all, but that’s not gonna happen. But with any luck, I’ll do enough so the others can finish the job.

I raise my weapons, scream, charge stumbling into their midst, hacking and pounding. I see more than feel their hands reach, grab, pull. The machete falls away, then the hammer. I see them bite, hoping Heath—

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