Looking for writing-related posts? Check out my new writing blog, www.larrykollar.com!

Saturday, December 12, 2015 5 comments

Just Add Light

It’s unusually warm for the bottom of the year on Planet Georgia. Our high today was around 72°F, a good 20 degrees above normal. So, when I announced I was heading to the grocery store, Fizzle suggested I grill some fish for supper.

Good idea, thinks I, and added salmon to my list. As it turned out, the wife had a few things she wanted to get, and Christmas presents was part of it. So we got about 90% of the presents this morning.

But we neglected not the grocery run. My feet were well sore by the time we were done, as I just came off a gout flareup (the only one this year that was more than mild) this week. There were a few other things to do this afternoon, and they got done.

This time of year, it’s pretty much dark by grilling time… but I made do.

Bring on the food!

Work lights are really useful for all sorts of things. Oh, and it’s not just Planet Georgia. Not by a long shot:

May your days be merry and warm—even if they’re not bright!

Monday, December 07, 2015 4 comments

December Sunsets

Easing back into this blogging thing with a shot off the deck a few evenings ago. December’s sunsets can be just as pretty as June’s.

Cold comfort
There was definitely more color in the sky than in the leaves this year.

Monday, November 23, 2015 No comments

Guest post: Roy Huff, "The Fall of Brackenbone"

I know what it’s like to have a long-running fantasy series that won’t let go. Today, I turn the blog over to Roy Huff so he can talk about his own ball and chain, Everville. (It turns out we share a birthday… cool!)

So let me shut up―take it away, Roy!

Not writing it was unthinkable, yet the process taunted me. At times, the anticipation burned at my insides and tore at the fabric of my soul. That was the reality when creating The Fall of Brackenbone, the latest book in the Everville series.

The process was not of the actual writing, but forcing myself to sit down and write. It’s not that I didn’t want to. There were so many distractions, problems, and at the end of the day, excuses that kept me from setting aside my other semi-productive pursuits to ink the most recent book in the series.

I found myself in the middle of a firing squad, and I was the main target. One crises after another gave me ample reason to delay and postpone, and before I was ready to begin I had to confront each one of my demons and excuses head on. I brought out the brass knuckles and took them on in a street brawl of epic proportions that would make Rocky Balboa proud.

I focused my attention on an action plan for myself, one which I went into great length to discuss in a recent post on how I lost 40 lbs in 40 weeks. Succeeding at most of the items on that list gave me the added health and mental focus to plod through the daily challenges of my life and embrace my self imposed destiny.

Success came in April when I finished the rough draft and went through the final process of gathering feedback from hundreds beta readers, editors, reviewers and then marketing for a May 1st launch.

The process has continued, feedback has been positive, and thanks to my literary agent, Peter Miller, I have been fortunate enough to garner the praise of Brian Herbert, writer, collaborator, and son of Frank Herbert, of the famed Dune series.

I am happy to announce that Everville: The Fall of Brackenbone will be free on Kindle from 11/22/15 through 11/26/15 (my 39th birthday). Read it as a stand alone novel, and then catch up on the first three books in the series in the newly available boxed set, which will have a coinciding 99 cent Kindle Countdown Deal in the US and UK 11/22/15 through 11/28/15.

The process has been rewarding, and I hope to see you there. Mention the promotion and earn free entry in my $225 Amazon Gift Card blowout Rafflecopter giveaway contest on my homepage. I hope to see you there.

I do know what it’s like to try getting a book written when the universe seems to be trying to keep you distracted. But like Roy says, you just have to keep pushing until the thing gets done. So go check out Everville, and enter the contest. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one to win!

Monday, October 05, 2015 2 comments

New Blink adventure!

Blink is starting his latest adventure, My Dad, the Supervillain! at WriteOn. Go to writeon.amazon.com, click the drop-down, and start with Part 3. Or start at the top if you need a refresher. 

Updates go live every Monday until it’s done… then we’ll see about Part 4…

Friday, September 25, 2015 4 comments

Stealth and High Explosives (#FridayFlash)

Hey look, a #FridayFlash! I woke up Tuesday morning with the phrase “stealth and high explosives” in my head, so here’s how two opposites work together…

I could imagine the calm-faced bodyguards: Sir, we need to get you to shelter this second. I adjusted my tie and hefted my briefcase.

The side entrance slammed open, and a torrent of bureaucrats and office drones poured out, babbling to be heard over the alarm buzzers. Some were poking at their phones, half an eye on the foot traffic crowded around them. Some might be texting I’m OK to family members, others sharing the excitement on Twitter, it didn’t matter either way. After the initial crush, the traffic tapered off and I slipped inside.

Swimming against the current, I did get the occasional “what the hell?” I didn’t blame them; they were low-level government workers, and running into a bombed building wasn’t in their job descriptions. I was ready for them, though, with a fake badge they wouldn’t take the time to scan. “Security. Please remain calm and evacuate the building,” I said, and they would comply.

Even if I hadn’t memorized the layout of the building, I could have found the stairwell by following the people leaving it. It smelled in there, too many worried bodies in too small a space. Flashing my badge again, I got the crowd of evacuees to make a lane for me along the wall. I took the steps two at a time, in both show and need of haste. I had to get them to clear a lane at each landing, so it was slower going than I liked. But I’d crunched the numbers. If I didn’t get completely blocked, I’d have just enough time.

“Excuse me!” a young woman called. “Are we in any danger?”

“Not at the moment,” I assured her. “The incident occurred at the lobby. But you need to exit quickly, and move away from the building, in case they have more surprises. Tell anyone you see standing near the exits.” I passed her as I said the last. Attractive, especially for a government drone. She must be new; the work had not yet begun to wear on her. Give it a couple years.

Third floor. I had to wave my badge and repeat the magic words several times before I could get enough space to squeeze through the door and into the hallway. There were still a few people lined up, looking anxious. “Plenty of time,” I told those, waving my badge one last time. “Just keep moving away from the building when you exit.”

Past the stairwell door, the third floor was nearly deserted. One or two guys were still at their desks, looking like they were trying to squeeze in one last thing before bolting. Probably looking to prove they were Promotion Material. I was so glad I wasn’t part of that rat-race anymore. But it did remind me of the other potential snag in my plan: someone might still be in Dr. Wackjob’s office suite. He wasn’t the kind to order office assistants to stay at their desks in a crisis, so said his profile. Actually, he was a decent type to work for—which said nothing of how he treated those he worked on.

Dr. Wackjob’s other quirk was that he was ultra-paranoid. None of his work ever touched a computer. That’s why I was here. And—better than I’d dared to hope—the suite was empty, and the doctor’s office door was open. His bodyguards didn’t let him lock up behind. I added a minute to the time I had to work.

His desk had someone’s file on it. Nobody I knew or needed to know, so I went to the file cabinets lining one wall—fireproof, and built like tanks. If we had dropped the whole building, the files would have survived. Dial M for Mayhem, I thought, and opened that drawer. Zachary Malovio’s file was near the front, and I pulled the folder. It was thick with paper, and I knew I had no time to go through the whole thing, but what I needed most was on the front page: facility name, room, attendants, the works. I stuck the whole thing in my briefcase and left.

There were still a few stragglers in the stairwell, and I joined them. We all made haste, although I knew there would be another bottleneck at the exit. I was about the last one out, and joined the throng heading for the transit station.

I hoped for an open table at one of the cafes and bistros lining the street, but all the other evacuees had filled them. Not everything went perfectly, after all, and I was three-fourths done. I stopped and scanned the street, looking for possible tails, but saw neither potential sanctuary nor potential enemies. Three fire trucks blasted by, making a godawful racket, and I ducked onto a quieter side street. There was a coffee shop, a little downscale for how I was dressed, but there were plenty of open tables. I took off my jacket, loosened my tie, and took a chair.

“Everybody okay up there?” the barista asked, checking his phone.

“I think it was mostly the lobby. Can I get a medium with cream, no sugar, to go? And your wifi password?”

“Oh, yeah, no prob.” He rattled off the wifi password as he poured up my order, and I punched it into my phone. “You know they can sniff the traffic, right?”

“I have VPN,” I assured him, and set up a connection. “Just needed to send one item I couldn’t before they chased us out.” I worked from memory, then cleared and shut down the phone. I’d leave it on the train later. Zach would be discharged tomorrow and spirited away, and all would be well. I left a five on the table for the barista and hit the streets.

Stealth and high explosives might not sound like they go together, but sometimes that’s what you need to get the job done.

Monday, September 07, 2015 5 comments

Sliding Into Six

It's our timeshare week, and Mason's birthday was yesterday.


Today is the last day the waterslide is open, so we made the most of it this weekend. DD, Fizzle, and his kids all joined us Friday night, but left Saturday so Fizzle could get to his mall cop job. We went back to the manor for Mason’s party. To my shock, Snippet called for the first time in a long time. She texted me pics of her other two kids; I sent her a couple recent shots of Mason.

Of course, even though we’re on vacation, Mason keeps waking up at 7am and insisting on asking me questions instead of playing quietly until I’m ready to shamble out to the kitchen and start some coffee. We spent all morning at the waterslide, pool, and lake (where there’s a slide going into the water, as I demonstrated last year). He was seriously worn out, but a warm bath and lunch got him roaring back to life. He was hungry, he ate: a piece of bread (aka mayo sandwich), a slice of pizza, a piece of ham, and a cheese stick. He left one corner of the bread uneaten. Now, he’s badgering me to take him to the clubhouse.

And they call this vacation? :-P

Sunday, August 30, 2015 3 comments

Getting Organized

We were poking through some stuff in the garage a few weeks ago, before leaving on vacation. To my astonishment, my old Dayrunner turned up:

It’s been a while
As you can see from the date in the corner, it sat in a storage box for roughly 23 years. What was really amazing was the felt-tip pen (a “LePen”) still writes!

I remember buying the thing back when, after attending a time management seminar at work. Both the seminar and the planner were centered around to-do lists, with A/B/C priorities, long before the rise of portable electronic devices. To be honest, I don’t know how long I used it until I gave up and tossed the thing in a box.

Between then and now (spring of 2007 judging from the receipt), I heard about Getting Things Done (aka “GTD”) and bought a copy of the book. It was far more relevant to my life than Seven Habits or that time management course, and I did take a stab at implementing the system using the “Hipster PDA” forms from DIYplanner.com. It didn’t take, for whatever reason. Of course, I’d forgotten all about the organizer, and it was geared toward that A/B/C to-do list system anyway.

I started jotting down things I knew I needed to deal with in the organizer, then grabbed GTD off the shelf and read it through again. The forms in the organizer hadn’t magically transformed into GTD-compatibility over the years, but I knew how to fix that… DIYplanner loves GTD, and has gobs of forms that you can download and print. The selection was a little spotty for my organizer size—3.75"×6.75" or “Size 3” as they call it in the office supply stores (and Amazon) now—but I have LibreOffice, a punch, and a guillotine (paper cutter). Then I found that DayTimer sells blank pre-punched sheets in my size, and I ordered a pack. That’s handy, because (for some strange reason) they don’t sell undated refills… anywhere.

Part of GTD’s setup, and one of the things I didn’t do before, was to have a filing system within reach. My filing needs are fairly simple so far, so I figured a file box would be sufficient. The wife happened to have one empty, so I grabbed it and added a handful of paper clips, Post-Its, and an X-acto knife…

It’s not all over my desk!
It’s nice, the way it doubles as a file drawer… especially since I don’t have one on this desk. My home desk is nearly clean, now!

Somehow, I think it’s going to take this time. I have the system established, and I’m using it both on and off working hours. I already feel like my mind is clearer, which feels weird to be honest. I keep thinking, “now what?” even if the “what” is already written down where I know I can find it. Give it another week or so and I’ll get used to it. I hope.

Cue apocalypse in 3… 2… 1…

Friday, August 28, 2015 3 comments

Pain in the… [UPDATED]

It’s off to the doctor’s office with me. If you’re wondering what’s happening, I’ll give you a hint:

UPDATE: In at 10:30, out at 12:30. They put me OUT for the procedure, so I didn’t feel a thing besides the IV… and the horrible purging procedure yesterday, anyway. Doc said “we removed one polyp, nothing evil.” There shouldn’t have been anything evil up there… all that got shot out the tailpipe last night.

The nurse said I’d probably want to have a nap when I got home to sleep off the rest of the anesthesia, and she was right. She also told me no booze until tomorrow, which kind of shot down my plan for this evening. Tomorrow is, however, another day!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 1 comment

Cover Wars! Final Round…

Thanks to all of you, Beyond the Sea of Storms made it to the final round of Cover Wars! And so did all the covers I highlighted in my previous post.

Keep voting daily!

Monday, August 24, 2015 5 comments

The Tooth Will Out

One of Mason’s teeth has been loose for some time now, and getting ever looser. Tonight, it was hanging by a thread… first figuratively, then literally. Wife decided it needed to come out lest it fall out and get swallowed in his sleep. Join us for the action, the drama, the complete lack of blood…

Now he’s eagerly awaiting his first visit from the Tooth Fairy, of course. He’s been trying to amass enough money to get some kind of toy… not sure if it’s a set of toy soldiers or a Lego thing this week. I guess we’ll see.

I got him to curl his lip down for a clear shot of the tooth. He isn’t distressed, he’s just mugging.

It’s outta there!
Man, those milestones are moving by fast…

Thursday, August 20, 2015 5 comments

School is Now in Session

Did you SEE that playground?
As I have said before, Planet Georgia starts school way-too-dang-early and “makes up” by scheduling a bunch of off-days through the year. The upshot is, what used to be a three-month summer break is now only two months. This makes things difficult for vacations, because the entire month of August is no longer available.

This becomes more significant this year, because Mason has started kindergarten. While I was last dropping off kids at school… oh, about eight years ago I guess, I’ve been taking him to pre-school for the last couple years. It works out well on days I work at home, since his school is about five miles closer than the pre-school he went to last year.

He’s doing pretty well. He went into kindergarten already able to read a little, and to count well past 200 (and can do addition in his head). We were afraid he would be bored, but so far so good. He’s getting good behavior reports daily, because he saves up the acting-out stuff for when he gets home. :-P

As for school itself, it seems slightly disorganized… which might be appropriate for kindergarten. The school sent a child-oriented planner, but they don’t use it for anything. We’re trying to decide what to do with it. His teacher had a family emergency on Curriculum Day, when they invited the parents in to tell us what they’re working on this year, but that wasn’t her fault. Just the usual glitches, I suppose.

Meanwhile, Daughter Dearest has begun teaching music full-time at a different elementary school (same county) this year. The former “other” teacher snarfed all the material the two of them jointly worked on, and then DD’s work computer ate itself, so she has to start from scratch.

So there’s a big milestone for two of the FAR Manor inmates.

Thursday, August 13, 2015 4 comments

Big V's Scary Week

As some of you remember, my nutty one-legged sister in law is diabetic. And she’s never been the most stable isotope on the periodic table. Most of that side of the family have an amazingly high clue-immunity… you can see where this is leading. The reason she’s one-legged is that she doesn’t take care of herself very well, refuses to adjust her high-carb diet to accommodate the diabetes, etc. Lately, her continued avoidance of reality has taken its toll on her kidneys.

Sunday afternoon, she checked into the hospital to get hookups for dialysis. It was supposed to be a two-night thing, including her first dialysis. As usual, her body chemistry had to get un-whacked by a day or so of decent diet before they were comfortable doing the surgery. So that happened on Monday. Everything sailed right on through, no problem. I visited her on the way home from work, since the office is about a mile from that hospital.

The “fun” began Tuesday morning. Her blood pressure started dropping, and continued to drop, to the point where they thought she was in cardiac arrest and started doing chest compressions. The head nurse, who dropped by when the wife met me there in the evening, said “you scared the crap out of me.” She remembers Big V saying I can’t die, I have to take care of Skylar. And perhaps that’s the only reason she’s still here to annoy the rest of us. :-P

Needless to say, the two-nighter dragged on another day or two. They rolled the dialysis machine into her room and hooked her in… and her numbers responded very well. So well, in fact, they were in the normal range after the second dialysis. They ended up unhooking her and sent her home late last night. No more dialysis! That’s a very good thing, because guess who would be taking her down there? (wife, not me)

Now, if she gets her act together and starts eating right, she'll stay reasonably healthy. And I’ll be watching for flying pigs…

Wednesday, August 05, 2015 3 comments

August Cover Wars!

I entered Beyond the Sea of Storms in the Masquerade Crew’s Cover Wars promo for August. Go check it out, and vote every day:

Click the pic to go vote!
So which covers stand out for me?

My own, of course!
So I'm a sucker for gears…

Dragons… need I say more?
Takes me back to 1978!

There’s 30 covers, and you can vote for up to 25 per day. I’d appreciate it if you guys could bump me into the next round (and maybe these other three covers as well).

Go forth and vote! And do it again tomorrow!

Monday, August 03, 2015 5 comments

Home Sweet Hole

It was too much to ask, vacation going on forever. Every time we head home, it seems like there’s some “reason” to get there in a mad rush. This time, it was Fizzle needing to pick up his kids for back to school shopping.

I did get to see Dad one more time Friday morning, and that was fruitful. I realized, from the things he talks about, that he’ll remember something that makes an impression on him. Like the old lady on his floor that came walking into his room and tried to make herself at home. “This is my space,” he said, circling a hand around the room. “She thought she could just come in here. Well, I showed her the door.” Then there was the nurse who woke him up one morning and got him down to breakfast: “She seems to think she knows everything, but she doesn’t.” He also remembered her as… oh, rather hefty. So chances are if you rile him up, he’ll remember that!

Now that we’re back to the manor, it’s about time to start school. Michigan has a much more reasonable schedule, letting people have their summer so they don’t have to rush vacation and lose all of August. Here on Planet Georgia, Daughter Dearest is already going in to prep and socialize with her co-workers; Mason starts kindergarten on Friday.

As for me, it’s back to work. I weeded my email from home yesterday afternoon, leaving only things I needed to take action on today and the rest of the week. At least we have another week off in September.

Thursday, July 30, 2015 4 comments

Escape from FAR Manor: Family

For pix of the beach trip, scroll down or jump to the previous post

These trips north give us all a chance to escape the free-range insane asylum, and gives me a chance to see my family. Dad has Alzheimer’s these days, which makes it difficult for him. He’s in a facility where they can keep him comfortable, and I suppose that’s the best that can be said. Other Brother and his family lives nearby, so he at least gets regular visits.

Despite the issues, he’s still Dad. He reads quite a bit. Remembering how to work a TV remote is a little beyond him, so one of the staff turns it on for him and he just unplugs it when he’s ready for some quiet. He does retain some of what he reads; he could tell me a little about the book he was reading when we came in. I think I should send him a monthly letter with pictures; maybe it will help.

He has a rather odd narrative of how he ended up here: he was at an assisted living joint for a while, and liked it there. He says two guys from the place invited him out for a walk, then abandoned him; he got cold-cocked and woke up in this place. What actually happened was that he got an infection in a leg muscle that got to the point of blood poisoning; between that and the Alzheimer’s, he doesn’t remember the hospital stay or the transfer.

Some of my other uncles are not doing so great, so we’re planning to see one or two tomorrow. We’ll hit a winery while we’re out. Combining trips is important when you have to leave Friday for the old grind…

Sunday, July 26, 2015 4 comments

Escape from FAR Manor: Reaching the Beach

In an attempt to stretch vacation, I took Thursday and Friday off as well as the entire week. We made the hotel reservations, and only afterwards found out DD’s fiance was coming with.

BTW, I have the fiance’s blog-name: Fizzle. (Future Son In Law → FSIL → Fizzle) This name will last unto the wedding, at which point I’ll come up with another one.

There was no problem at neither the hotel we spent the night at along the way, nor the one we have set up camp in. We couldn’t get two rooms at the Ramada like we did last year, which was bad because that pool has a waterslide and good because their wi-fi sucks so hard, so we ended up a couple miles farther out at Crowne Plaza. We arrived Friday evening, unpacked, got food, and crashed. Saturday we mostly dinked around. We went to a local park so Mason could hit the playground, but that was about it.

But Sunday… ah, Sunday. We loaded up and headed to Saugatuck. We went to the beach there many times in my youth, climbing Mt. Baldy and running full-tilt-boogie down the other side. The “in my youth” part is significant here. They replaced the uphill slog with steps:

Stairway to Heaven?
Wife took one look and said, “nope.” DD echoed the sentiment. To my surprise, so did Fizzle. Mason wanted to do it, and I would have been OK with it, except I knew my knee would start screaming well before the day was over.

So we piled in the car and took the less up-and-over route to Oval Beach. Being a summer weekend in Michigan, with temps in the mid-80s (F), we were far from the only people going to the beach. There was a rather long line of cars waiting to pay the $8 and get through. When they got to us, they said, “you’re the second to last car.” Yipe!

We found a spot, a rather decent location in fact, and hucked our chairs, cooler, and bags to the sand. It was rather crowded, as you can see here.

We have reached the beach!
The gatehouse to the parking lot had info posted, including the water temperature: 65F. eep But the air was warm, the sand was downright hot, and there were people in the water. As it turned out, the water was cold, but it didn’t feel all that cold. Fizzle and Mason were gung-ho to get in, DD skeptical, and I took my sweet time but joined them.

Did I mention the sand was hot? Yup. In one of those “reality is stranger than fiction” things, the sand was actually hotter than the pavement on our tender bare feet. If you were standing in one place on the sand, you could dig under the top inch or so to a more comfortable layer.

The wife stayed with our stuff, high up on the beach, while the rest of us gamboled in Lake Michigan. She took plenty of pictures, including this one of the four of us:

Me, DD, Fizzle, and Mason
She took many other shots, but there was this one woman who seemed to like to photobomb us a lot. Or maybe she knew I’d appreciate it…

DOUBLE photobomb!
She got right in the way of DD and Fizzle’s happy embrace. Jeez.

After a few hours, we were all ready to move on. After a late lunch at a local bowling alley/restaurant, Fizzle and I ended up at the Saugatuck Brewery for a taste of local craft beer.

Bottoms up!
The Beer of the Day was a dopple-bock that was very good, even if it had a tarragon note. The Singapore IPA is a middle-of-the-road IPA, nothing weird. I was less impressed with the Oval Beach Blonde, even if we had just come from its namesake. I got a variety 12-pack to take back to Planet Georgia.

So, a toast to vacation—may it go on much longer!

Monday, July 20, 2015 5 comments

Send in the Crowd

So over the weekend, Daughter Dearest drafted me to help her fiance move… to FAR Manor. With The Boy moving his stuff back to Newnan, the other upstairs bedroom is open and so there’s room.

This IS my happy face. Especially at 6am.
Just what I always wanted: get dragged out of bed at 6am on a Saturday. She also recruited BrandX to help as well. He drove the truck (pulling a trailer), and we took the minivan (with the center and back seats removed to make room for Stuff.

Oh, did I mention he has joint custody of three boys from a previous marriage? Only one of which is his? So it wasn’t just his stuff, it was his and the boys’. At least he had coffee and biscuits waiting for us. I drank four cups of coffee to get functional for the day, and that was about as much as the Jitter Control Module could take.

In the end, we got everything packed. With no room to spare anywhere. We had some issues with mattresses wanting to escape the trailer, and finally found a long extension cord in the truck to tie them down better.

Back at the manor, we had enough energy left to unload the trailer and the bed of the truck. There was a bunch of small stuff behind the seats in the truck (an extended-cab Tacoma) that didn’t get removed… and then The Boy took off with the truck. Daughter Dearest was rather furious.

So expect some more really weird reality in the coming months. I have to come up with blog names for the new players.

Friday, July 17, 2015 9 comments

Cornered (#FridayFlash)

This is set in the same world as The Last Lightkeeper… which could be Termag, if the Dawn Greeters’ creation myth is to be believed. It’s darker fantasy than I usually write. I got the idea after reading Catherine Russell’s Caveat last week.

Image source: openclipart.org
Riata rounded the rocky corner, gasping for breath. She dodged around a pile of brush, and barely avoided slamming head-on into the end of the canyon.

“No, no,” she panted. Had she miscounted? Four passages then right, three then left… and she had counted three and four. Of course she had miscounted.

Trapped. No way out. A vicious chuckle echoed down the canyon walls. The minions of the Dark were coming. Their thoughts rang in her head: The Light has forsaken us. The Lightkeepers have fled. We are alone, alone with the Dark. She sat down, her back against the wall. Something dug into her backside, but that was no longer important. The Dark closed in, taking their time, savoring her terror and despair.

For some, there is a place beyond terror, beyond despair. In the slow minutes before certain death, Riata found that place—not rage, not a desire to betray her soul for a few more years of life, but a calm certainty: I will die with meaning. She pushed the thoughts of the Dark from her mind, though they echoed all around, then reached around to see what poked her sitting place…

“Ah. That.” A small copper canister of fat. A little rancid, but it could yet serve. Her wagon had an axle that tended to bind in its bearings, and Riata had not yet found a way to adjust it. She was always greasing that Light-forsaken thing, and she was doing it yet again when the minions of the Dark had come upon her. She must have slipped the canister into a pocket when she fled. Her flint was always with her… and a brush pile lay between her and the Dark.

Hope did not banish fear, nor did she expect to walk away from this canyon—but now, she knew she could fight. The Dark might take her in this hour, but their victory would come with a price. In the eternal twilight, she keened a song of mourning, but broke branches from longer sticks and piled dry leaves around her open canister. The minions of the Dark, hearing only her despair, gave her all the time she needed.

As the Dark approached, vicious and confident, Riata began striking her flint over the canister. Clack. Clack. Sparks fell into the fat, and the leaves she had rubbed in the fat… and a spark stayed. Riata blew gently, continuing to strike her flint. More sparks alit and glowed under her breath as the Dark closed in. A tongue of flame arose.


Caught in a trap of their own making, the minions of the Dark howled in pain and rage at the flare of Light blooming from the brush pile. Some fell, others charged, as spears of fire rained upon them and Riata’s dirge became a battle song.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 3 comments

Brown Hawk Down

There’s an open field between FAR Manor and the in-laws place, with a utility line crossing the road and the field. A hawk has been perching on that line, and I’ve been trying to get a decent picture of it for a long time. Good light and a few seconds is all I need, but mostly I’ve had one or the other.

On Friday, I was heading down to the in-laws after work, and saw the hawk jumping and tumbling on the road. I hit the brakes, and he got off the road and laid in the grass. This was not the way I wanted to get a picture.

Approach with much caution
He was still breathing, so I knew “no touchy” was the way to go. I told the wife about it, and she said, “Mason saw him on the fence post yesterday, and I slowed down. Then he flew in front of me. If I hadn’t slowed down, I would have hit him then.” So I expect someone else must not have missed. She advised me to get the guy who has been helping with the farm work, which was a good idea since he’s had to handle raptors before.

He put on gloves, got in behind, and made the grab on the second attempt. I drove the cart back, with him holding the hawk. As for the hawk, he was in “chomp anything that gets close enough” mode for a minute, but settled down when we didn’t do anything. We popped him into a cage, and it was obvious he had a broken wing.

Take this broken wing, AND this cage…

The farm guy called the DNR to get a rehab specialist to pick him up the next day. That meant he wouldn’t be released back into the wild, but would spend his life making the rounds of state parks and educating people about raptors native to the region.

Unfortunately, he didn’t even get that far, and died overnight. Whoever clobbered him must have left him with internal injuries. Bummer.

The odd thing is, he could have seen the in-laws’ chickens from that perch on the utility line. I always wondered why he didn’t go nail a few of them… maybe he thought chickens were too evil to eat.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015 2 comments

Foraging the Harvest

As yummy as they are big!
Last month saw a return to the typical summer weather we get in Sector 706—we had more 90°F days in June than we did all last summer. Combine the heat with lots of rain, and it made for a few oddities. Usually, the wild blueberries growing around the manor peak around the first week of June, and the blackberries a month later. This year, the blueberries were late and the blackberries were early, so we had lots of both all at once.

And dang, some of them are big! We usually get a few nice plump ones along with the not so plump, but this is the first year I’ve seen them get as big as the domesticated blackberries you get in the store.

Pick, eat, repeat
The weird thing is, in early June, the berries looked pretty small overall. We had a dry (and cool) May here, during the time the vines were setting fruit. So I figured they wouldn’t get much better. Fortunately, I was wrong.

This is Mason’s favorite time of year, because he can go outside and get himself a snack. He loves blackberries, even the tart ones, and it’s a hand-to-mouth situation for him.

One notion I need to disabuse him of: he likes to say, “you pick, I’ll eat.” WRONG. I do tend to pick into a container, while he just eats everything he picks… and then wanders over to snag a few out of the container. (And yes, I’ve been known to pick myself a little snack as well. But the vast majority of them go in the container for later.)

Another one of his oddities is that he’ll move on to the next vine and insist that I should be over there with him—even when I have a ton more berries on the vines that he can’t reach.

Small but sweet
The blueberries always run small (the wife insists they’re actually huckleberries, and I have no reason to doubt her). But, they’re a lot more plentiful than they’ve been in most years. The wife thinks the birds will clean them off immediately, but I’ve not found that to be a problem. We’ve been picking for nearly a month, and getting small handfuls. The good thing is, they’re easily as sweet as commercial ones.

But I think after this week, the berries will pretty much be done. Just in time for the garden to start producing. I leave you with a line from a UNIX fortune cookie:

Faith is what lets you eat blackberry jam on a picnic, without looking to see if the seeds are moving.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 2 comments

Oh “Snap.”

With Daughter Dearest’s wedding a ways out yet (T minus 350 days and counting, give or take), details are a little squishy. One thing that was settled early: I’m going to do the photo stuff. This will be the second wedding I’ve officially shot; the first was Mom’s second marriage. (Memorable moment there: with no organist, I started whistling Wedding March and the other four or five people in attendance took it up. They’re still together, so it worked out OK.)

So a week or so ago, DD said, “Hey, who are you going to have take the pictures when you’re walking me up the aisle?”

I thought a moment. “Hey, I know! Selfie stick!” I made one a few years ago, long before the name existed, to hoist a small video camera over crowds or other obstructions. Just needs a ball-joint mount, and I have one laying around here somewhere.


The challenge of holding a DSLR out on the end of a selfie stick is intriguing, though. Maybe I should ask Other Brother if he remembers that detail (her dad also shot their wedding). I think the wife will probably do the honors, though.

So yesterday, I’m heading to lunch. Daughter Dearest texted me: I love you but if I decide to do this you're not taking them :D and included a link. I was sitting at a stoplight, so I followed the link.

Um… (click to see the full page)
This is something neither of us were aware of before—it’s a photo shoot that the groom gets the morning of the wedding. I guess it’s to warm him up for the night… not that I’ve known many grooms who need warming up.


Being a good father (you can tell, I raised her right!), I responded:


Monday, June 08, 2015 7 comments

Planter… planted

I started this project last fall, but only now have I finished it.

As you may recall, there was a steep slope between the driveway and the back yard. A couple summers ago, I dug out the eroded pathway and replaced it with concrete-block steps (hosing my left shoulder in the process). I haven’t quite gotten around to filling in the holes just yet, but now I’m a step (pun intended) closer.

Between the steps and the garage was a steep bank about four feet high. It was clay and gravelly rock, supporting nothing but weeds and debris. I long fantasized about digging it out and putting in a planter, and decided to dedicate it to strawberries because Mason does love to pick himself a snack. So last fall, I dug out the bank, throwing the dirt into large (20 gallon?) buckets that once held mineral lick for the in-laws’ cattle and covering them. I poured a concrete footing and built up the sidewalls with concrete blocks. And that’s pretty much where it remained through winter and early spring, because cold weather and mortar mix don’t play well together.

The top really isn’t that uneven… the driveway slopes.

But the weather finally warmed up, and it stopped raining for a little while, and I tackled what I thought was the final step: building the front wall with all the rocks I’d picked up and saved for the job. Trowel, bucket, mortar mix, water, rocks… I spent a pleasant afternoon finding stones that fit the next mark, slathering them with mortar, trying to remember why I thought it fit that way, repeat. I used some shale I’d dug up to make the top a little flatter. I used some old bricks to cover the tops of the concrete blocks. Ta-daaaa!

Now we have a hole!

Done! Or so I thought. The Boy pulled up just as I finished. “Looks nice,” he said, which was good because he’s been doing similar work lately. “But you need to put some bricks behind the rock wall with some rebar so the dirt doesn’t push the wall out.” Fortunately, I had some extra concrete blocks handy, and two 8-foot lengths of rebar laying around. I stacked the bricks, drove the rebar through the holes to hold them in place, and left it all there so the mortar could finish setting up.

The rebar that sticks up gets pounded down…

After a week of warm weather (and rain on the back end), I figured it was time to fill it in. I dragged the buckets over and started shoveling until they were light enough to lift, then dumped the rest in. To my surprise, I had just enough dirt to fill the thing about 6 inches below the top—I thought I’d have plenty of dirt left over. I left it this way for another week to allow the incoming rains to settle the dirt.

Just before dumping the garden soil in. Plants ho!

Another surprise: the dirt didn’t settle all that much. Three huge bags of garden soil topped it off nicely. It’s ready for the strawberry plants!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 4 comments

Beyond the Sea of Storms has launched!

And… there’s the Launch Cannon! The sixth story in the Accidental Sorcerers series, Beyond the Sea of Storms, takes Sura, Mik, and Bailar… well, you can guess from the title. ;-)

The newly resettled town of Vlis seems an ideal place for Mik to recover from battle-shock—quiet, remote, and on the edge of the Deep Forest. But the Deep Forest has a mind of its own. Soon, Sura’s compulsion to return home takes them farther from home than ever.

Befriended by a Lesser Dragon, hailed as a prophet by the locals, Bailar and his apprentices must find their way in an unfamiliar place. When an invasion forces them to choose sides, Mik must come to grips with his deepest fear to save his friends and innocent folk.

Check out the cover, too!

Links, you say? Glad to oblige:

It will get to Kobo and other eBook stores once Smashwords gets a round tuit. If you’ve been waiting for it, wait no more—hit a link and go!

Sunday, May 24, 2015 3 comments

Indoor-ish Critters

I’ve mentioned Rosie, also known as Doofus, Roomba, and GET OUTTA THE KITCHEN!, on Twitter but I don’t think I’ve done it here.

Making noise, as dogs do
She’s obviously a Boston Terrier, huh? Panda delivered her to FAR Manor around Christmas as “a gift for Mason.” Of course, I was not consulted, and of course the bulk of her care and maintenance falls to me (although Daughter Dearest gives her baths). She displays the occasional cat-like qualities, especially if she’s on the bed and someone slips a hand under the covers, but mostly she’s a dog: loud, smelly, grabs “treats” out of the garbage when she gets a chance, occasionally incontinent, and chews stuff (especially Mason’s toys) when nobody’s looking. Oh, and she’ll drop a fart-bomb and walk away—like she did just now.

Daughter Dearest’s fiancĂ© has Roscoe, one of her brothers. When he brings Roscoe over, things get… well, this is FAR Manor. She tries to hump him.

More recently, Cousin Splat lost the lease on the house he was renting (“It was in the bottom drawer, I swear!”) and brought a cat and her kittens down to the in-laws. Dogs being dogs, they started hunting the kittens, grrr. Wife brought the mom-cat and the last kitten standing to the manor, to live in the garage, and the fiancĂ© adopted the little grey furball right away. That left us with the hollow-flanked mom, who is quickly regaining some weight now that she only has to feed herself. She was a bit shy at first, but now she’s all about getting picked up and cuddled:

Pick me up!
For lack of a better name, I’m calling her Miss Target because that’s what she does (where “target” is the litter box). Wife is fed up with that already, even though it’s just in the garage, and is threatening to send her packing. Maybe we should try a covered litter box, where she has to be in the thing. I’ll try to get a better pic of her… it’ll have to be when she doesn’t know I’m there, though.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 5 comments

Ring-a-Ding Ding

Welp… Daughter Dearest has gone and made it official:

So, this happened…
I won’t be posting the wedding pics for a year or so, because that’s when they’ve scheduled it. A year and about a week from now. I made a crack about leading the reception crowd in a chant of “EMPTY NEST! EMPTY NEST! EMPTY NEST!” but the wife said they’ll probably be moving in with us. Oh… well, it’s been a little quiet at FAR Manor lately. There should be plenty of blog-fodder to come.

So here’s a shot of the happy couple…

Here they are!
Oh, and Daughter Dearest is teaching full-time next year! Full-time job, with benefits… maybe he’ll be the househusband. :-P

Now I need a blog name for him. “Baldy” is too obvious, so that’s out.

Saturday, May 16, 2015 4 comments

Ten Years Later…

Still bloggin’ after all these years…

A lot of stuff has happened in ten years, since I began with a post about replacing rotted siding on the gables, racing to beat an incoming thunderstorm. Finding a niche for my writing and ending up with a grandkid were maybe the two biggest changes.

Still, lots of things haven't changed. The in-laws are as much of a PITA as ever, Daughter Dearest is still close at hand (although there are signs on the horizon), and I’m still working at the same place.

TFM has turned into mainly a writing blog in the last few years; I posted serials, short stories, and a lot of #FridayFlash. I plan to change that in the coming year. I got out of the habit of writing flash fiction every week—and with the demise of FridayFlash.org and its move to Facebook (a place I avoid like the in-laws avoid reality), I probably won’t be writing much more flash anyway. On the other hand, I have a couple serials in the works, and I’ll likely be posting them… at writeon.amazon.com. I’ll let y’all know when they’re going up. I’ll continue to do my somewhat-weekly Writing Wibbles on Wednesdays, and maybe an occasional flash. But I’m going to try to redirect TFM to once again being mostly a blog about the people in and around FAR Manor. I’ve made similar pronouncements on earlier blogiversary days in the past, and they didn’t pan out, but that won’t stop me from trying again.

So, here’s to all of you whose comments have kept me blogging! I leave you with the traditional video… I think you’ll guess why I picked this one when you hear the lyrics. I would have rather included this lyrics video, but it isn’t embeddable. Oh well.

And now we start the next ten!

Friday, May 08, 2015 12 comments

Sunset (#FridayFlash)

With fridayflash.org winding down this week, I thought I’d write something about closure as well. It’s not nearly as fun as Chuck Allen’s Closing Time, but Termag’s history calls yet again…

Image source: openclipart.org
“…the blessings of the Creator and the lesser gods be on your journey, and may you find peace and happiness at your destination.” The knot of folk standing on the raft bowed with hands to foreheads; Captain Chelinn and Rathu the warrior-priestess put hands to hearts in response.

Chelinn and Rathu stood side by side, watching as the departing folk poled the raft away from the landing. As the Vliskoyr River’s current caught the raft, they turned and looked sadly back at Vlis, a city dying once more.

“Don’t look back!” Chelinn chided them across water. “Forward you go, to the Gulf and beyond!”

Rathu put a hand on his arm. “Tell me true, old friend,” she said. “Do you think they will take that advice?”

Chelinn’s shoulders slumped. “Nar. But we can hope. How many are left now? Fifty?”

“Fifty-seven, including the staff who cook and clean for us.”

“A thousand souls to this, in a few short years. Bah. I oft accuse Ak’koyr of avoiding the truth, when it is convenient for them to do so. It is time I stop doing the same. I have failed here, Rathu. It is time to gather the rest of the folk and follow that raft downriver.”

“Indeed?” Rathu slid her hand to his shoulder. “I expected you to hold out until the last dozen.”

For the first time that evening, a genuine smile came to Chelinn’s face. “Ha! I still have a surprise or three left in me, you old skullcracker.”

“Flattery? At a time like this?”

“I find that few folk have faith in me now. I must do what I can to keep the few friends I yet have.”

Rathu chuckled, a throaty sound that always made Chelinn—for only a moment—look past the comrade in arms, the dear old friend, and see the woman beneath. “So you failed. Ak’koyr will gloat, but we’ve never cared a half round’s worth for their opinion, eh?”

“True. And… ah. Far too late, I now realize my mistake.”

“You rarely fail, Chelinn. Perhaps the Creator is reminding you to be humble. Where did you—we—go wrong?”

“I did not choose my settlers wisely. I recruited among the disaffected of Ak’koyr, those who hated their rulers. I should have brought in others.”


“Yar. People who wanted more than to wave their pinky at Ak’koyr. Ah, there are some good folk among those I brought here, and they all deserved better than what they had in the First Round. But I should have brought in others. Others who were for Vlis, not just those against Ak’koyr.”

“I understand. Where will all of us go, then?”

“Phylok. Ethtar told me long ago that if this experiment did not work out, I and all who came with me would have a welcome and a home.” He chuckled. “Perhaps he foresaw this outcome. Perhaps that is why I waited this long, so I would not burden the good Protector with enough people to fill North Keep.” Chelinn looked downriver, painted red by the evening sun. “I will rename the barge Sunset. We can give everyone a few days to prepare, then bid this place good-bye. And I’ll send a detailed account home to Dacia. Perhaps Sarna’s grandchildren will find it useful.”

“You’re not going south, then?”

“Nar. I intend to be a thorn in Ak’koyr’s side, as always. I’ll see them too busy regretting my presence to gloat at my failure.”

Wednesday, May 06, 2015 6 comments

Writing Wibbles: Smashwords, Direct to Tablet

Last week, I talked about exclusivity and what outfits like Smashwords need to do to break it. In the comments, Patricia Lynne made a good point:
I find it hard to link to SW too when on Amazon people can click and have it upload to their device automatically. If Smashwords could do something like that, then I'd be more willing to try to promote my titles on there.
For eInk readers, that barrier is hard to hurdle. But if you use a tablet or a tablet-based eReader (or a smartphone for that matter), you can already do this. Below are instructions for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire (use the links to skip past the parts you don’t care about). If you need an example book, I’ll be glad to provide a link. ;-)

iOS (iPad, iPhone)

Apple has quietly climbed the eReader ranks of late. iBooks is pre-installed on current devices, and provides a very nice reading experience for books of any size.

In Safari, go to Smashwords and find my books the book you want to download. Tap the epub link in the “Download the full version of this book” section, down below the “Download samples” section:

eBooks aren’t very big, and download quickly even on DSL. As usual, Apple makes this pretty straightforward:

If you have other EPUB-capable eReader apps installed on your device (Nook, Kobo, etc) you can tap Open in… to use one of those apps instead of iBooks.


If you have a phone or general tablet, you’ll need to install an eReader app. I used a Nook HD+, which obviously has one included…

Start Chrome, go to Smashwords, and find your book. Tap the epub link in the “Download the full version of this book” section, to the right of the “Download samples” section:

On my Nook, the eBook opened in the reader app right away. On other Android devices, you might have to navigate to the Downloads folder and open the eBook there. If a more Android-savvy reader would like to fill me in, I’ll update this.

Kindle Fire

While people who buy a Kindle aren’t exactly the “boycott Amazon” types, they might want to use Smashwords for other reasons. Fortunately, it’s just as easy to download a MOBI from Smashwords as it is an EPUB on other tablets. (Yes, I know a Kindle Fire uses Android as a base, but Amazon uses a lot of special UI sauce with it, so I count it as a separate type here.)

Start the Silk browser, go to Smashwords, and find your book. Tap the mobi (Kindle) link in the “Download the full version of this book” section, below the “Download samples” section:

The book appears in your carousel, possibly without a cover.


Do you have a different tablet? Or do you know of a better way? Sound off in the comments.

Monday, May 04, 2015 2 comments

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 20 (CONCLUSION)

Blink’s earlier adventures:

Blink’s First Adventure | 2 | 3 | 4

Superhero Summer Camp (this one): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19

Mom gave him the news at the beginning of Labor Day weekend, Friday after she got home. “Your father and I have been talking some,” she said. Seeing Stevie’s hopeful look, she quickly added, “We aren’t getting back together or anything. But we’re going to communicate better from now on. We’ve agreed that the support payments he missed will go into bonds for your college. Once we’ve caught up on all the bills, we’re going to put more of that money aside for college.”

“That sounds cool.”

“And he really wants to see you, Stevie. I told him it would be okay if he picked you up tomorrow around eleven. You’re seeing Sarika on Sunday, right?”

Stevie paused. That’s right, three-day weekend. No school Monday. “Yeah. I guess that’ll be okay.”

To Stevie’s amazement, Dad showed up at five minutes to eleven. He had never been on time for a visitation before. He had a new car—a different one, anyway. Nothing fancy, but it looked and felt solid. “The old one finally gave up the ghost,” was all Dad said about it.

They said nothing important on the way. Dad stole nervous glances at Stevie, who curled up and watched the road. Back to the state park for more Frisbee, he guessed. To his surprise, though, Dad stopped at the Dari-Freez. “It’s about lunch time,” Dad explained. “Can’t have a boys’ afternoon out on an empty stomach.”

“Can I get the Choco-Peanut Explosion for dessert?” Stevie asked, thinking about the one he had left on the table a few weeks ago.

“Tell you what. We’ll split one. Sound good?”

“Sure.” Truth be told, after last night’s patrol, Stevie could have downed the entire dish and not worried about the calories. He only spent two hours on patrol each weekend, a compromise after tense emails with both Captain Heroic and Professor Zero once they found out, but he stayed busy for those two hours. Holdups, break-ins, even a stalker this time. After he told them The real supers should be doing this stuff, the banks can afford to hire security, not much more was said.

The Dari-Freez was crowded on a holiday weekend. When they finally got to the register, they ordered burgers and fries, since those were ready to go, and found a table. “Your mom said you got to go to summer camp,” said Dad, as they unwrapped the burgers and squirted ketchup onto the paper. “How was it?”

“A lot of fun,” said Stevie. “I guess Mom told you about Sarika.”

“Uh-huh. She showed me the picture, she’s a cutie. First girlfriend and everything. Quite a trip, then?”


“Well, enjoy it while it lasts. Your mom said that camp did you a world of good. She said you’ve really grown up. You’ll be a Steve soon, maybe a Steven.”

“I guess.” Stevie shrugged.

“Yeah. Well, don’t be in a hurry to grow up, okay?” Stevie looked up at his dad, surprised, as Dad continued, “I know you feel responsible for your mom, but being an adult sucks. All the responsibility, keeping up appearances…” He sighed. “I’ll tell you more, but not here. At the park, where we’ll have a little more quiet.”

After they finished, Dad went back and got a Choco-Peanut Explosion as promised. They dug in, but Dad let Stevie have the lion’s share, assuring Stevie he’d had enough. Stevie had no problem with that, and left the container empty.

At the park, another surprise. Instead of throwing a Frisbee in the open field, Dad had a disc golf set. He let Stevie get used to how the different discs performed, then they got started in earnest.

“Anyway,” said Dad, as they ambled across the field after their tee throws. “I was starting to say at the restaurant, I got my priorities all messed up last year. I didn’t send the support money because I didn’t have it. But I was all wrapped up in keeping up appearances, being an adult, all that crap. If I’d admitted I’d been laid off in the first place, and was really close to getting foreclosed on… well, it wouldn’t have paid your mom’s bills, but there would have been more understanding. Sometimes, you think you’re ready to be responsible… well, you know what I’m saying. You’re a smart kid.”

“I think so.”

“Fortunately, things got better recently. Here’s your disc. Found a new job, one of those foundations bought my mortgage so they could cancel it, catching up on stuff, yadda yadda yadda.” They threw their discs; Stevie’s stopped short of a stream and Dad’s went over it. “Anyway,” Dad continued as they approached the stream, “I really brought you out here to tell you something. But you have to promise to keep it a secret. You can’t tell your mom. Or anyone else, but especially your mom.”

“You got another family.” Stevie’s voice was flat.

“What?” Dad snorted. “No, it’s not that. I don’t even have a girlfriend. I haven’t even dated since your mom and I split up.”


“Really. I wanted to tell you this last year, but I chickened out. But—you keep up with all the hero stuff, right? Yeah. So you know about this Blink kid. He’s your age, and he even sounds like you. I was a little worried that it might be you at first, until your mom told me you were at camp. But I kept thinking to myself, that coulda been you, and I can’t dodge being your dad anymore.”

“Huh.” Now Stevie was interested. His alter ego had brought Dad back into his life?

“So anyway, I called your mom, and we talked, and I fessed up to my own financial issues. That was a little easier to do, now that I could fix things. That’s something you’ll find out about when you get older, you’re more comfortable about talking over a problem when you know how to fix it. Something… something else, and this is just between us. When you get to be eighteen, maybe a little older, you might find you have some—some special abilities.”

Stevie snorted. “What? Like I’m gonna be a superhero or something? Yeah, right.” He allowed himself a little pride on his delivery.

“Not a superhero, not exactly. Like I said, you have to tell no one. Promise?” Stevie nodded, intrigued, and Dad looked around. Nobody in sight. “I’m—I guess I should show you.”

Stevie’s jaw dropped as Dad hurdled the ten-foot stream from a standing start, then picked up his disc and leaped back. “Son… I’m Jaguar.”

Coming soon: My Dad, the Supervillain!

Monday, April 27, 2015 3 comments

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 19

Blink’s earlier adventures:

Blink’s First Adventure | 2 | 3 | 4

Superhero Summer Camp (this one): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18

“Whoa,” said Lashaun, as he and Chris stared at the picture Stevie took out of his wallet. Sarika had taken a picture of them, using the woods around Zero Point as a background, and emailed it to him. Mom, of course, had printed one to put in a frame, but printed a smaller one for Stevie’s wallet. “She’s beyond pretty.”

“Nice,” Chris agreed. “Cool that she lives close enough that you can see her. You got to sit with her at the movie yesterday? Do you even remember which one it was?”

Stevie laughed. “Yeah, it was the new Empire of Space flick. She likes them a lot, too.”

“Beauty and brains! You get a chance to play Wizards at all in that summer camp?” Lashaun waved his Wizards of Stolevan deck. They had come out to the park on a fine late-summer Sunday—partly to play Wizards, mostly to get away from the parents for a while.

“Nah. They had most of our days planned out.” Stevie, in truth, had left his deck at home. He so wanted to tell his friends about what really went on… “Guys, can I tell you something? You won’t tell anyone?” He winced, realizing he was about to tell them way too much.

But Chris smirked. “You kissed her, didn’t you?” Lashaun chortled, waiting for the confirmation.

Stevie sighed, partly in relief. “Yeah. During the part where they show everyone’s names afterward. We were waiting to see if there were any outtakes, but there weren’t. Then…” He waved his hands. It was all true. They watched the credits for a minute, then Sarika got his attention. He didn’t mind at all. It was an awesome first kiss. The second one was great, too.

After the whoops, the high-fives, and the laughter, Chris took a seat across from them on the picnic table. “This game ain’t gonna play itself, guys. Let’s get started.”

Stevie was rusty, but it started coming back to him by the time they finished the first round. As he was getting the upper hand in the third round, they gained a spectator: the high school kid who had picked the fight with Stevie back in the spring. His right hand was in a stiff-looking glove. He lit up a cigarette, fanning the smoke toward the card players.

“Not cool,” said Lashaun as Chris abandoned the table in a coughing fit. “He’s allergic.”

“Oh well,” the intruder sneered.

Stevie pointed at the sign on the pillar above them. “The pavilion’s a no-smoking area.”

“What are you gonna do about it?”

“Me? How’s your hand?” Stevie reminded him.

The high schooler flushed and scowled. He tried to clench the gloved hand, but winced. “What’s it to you? I can kick your butt one-handed. Matter of fact, I think I will.”

Stevie glanced over at Chris, who had his cellphone out—getting video, Stevie hoped. An overconfident opponent, whose right hand was probably still not a hundred percent… no need for a superpower this time, fortunately. “Whatever,” said Stevie, standing up. “Let’s get this over with. I guess smoking really does kill your brain.”

Lashaun and Chris gaped. The high school kid suddenly looked a lot less sure of the situation—the weenie wasn’t begging for mercy or running away—but dropped the cigarette and stomped it on the concrete floor.

Stevie walked into the open, about ten feet from the pavilion, and faced the older boy. “Okay, bring it on,” he said, with all the sarcasm a young teen can deliver. “No trees this time. Show us all what a big man you are.”

He expected the high schooler to charge, but instead he came at a brisk walk. Still, he telegraphed his intended left roundhouse long before he swung; Stevie thought he might have been able to block that punch without training.

The fist came around. Move.

“Holy crap!” Chris shouted, as Stevie responded with a flurry of fists, elbows, and knees. He finished with a sweep, leaving the high schooler writhing at Stevie’s feet. The fight lasted three seconds.

“That’s going on Facebook!” Lashaun gasped.

“No,” Stevie countered. “I got a better idea. Tell you what,” he told the high schooler. “You leave us alone from now on, and we won’t put that video all over the Internet. You don’t want all your friends to see how you get owned by an eighth-grader, right? At least you didn’t break anything this time. Except maybe your big fat ego.” He walked back to the pavilion and sat. “Who’s turn was it?”

“Mine,” said Lashaun, sounding awestruck. “That was… that was totally awesome. Sign me up for camp next summer.” Behind Stevie’s back, the high schooler staggered to his feet and moved on.

“Coolest customer ever,” Chris agreed. “I thought you were toast, right up to when you toasted him. You sure you don’t want to put the video online?”

“Yeah. Hang onto it, though. Just in case.”

“Lucky for Frank he passed,” said Lashaun. “He can’t pick on you so much, now that he’s in high school this year. Finally.”

“He was almost okay after that thing with Blink, though,” Chris reminded him. “Speaking of Blink—Stevie, did you catch that interview? That was amazing. I wish I coulda been there.”

“Wiped out a bunch of battle-bots, and got a girlfriend, all in one day,” Lashaun added. “But your girlfriend’s a lot better looking, man. Too bad she goes to some private school on the other side of town.”

“It’s not so bad,” Stevie assured them. “We email all the time. Mom and I are finally gonna get a new computer next weekend, so we’ll be able to do video calls, too.” He yawned.

“Up late?” Chris asked.

“Kind of.” Last night, after Mom went to sleep, Stevie put on his black hoodie and popped outside. Blink spent a couple hours roaming the streets of Skyscraper City—but not the financial district. The supervillains weren’t bothering normal people, and the other heroes could keep them at bay. Blink walked the neighborhoods instead. He found a burglar climbing a ladder to the second story, and pushed the ladder over, dropping the burglar in the bushes. He used his little Super Soaker on a couple in the middle of a domestic, leaving them shocked enough to work things out. He wrote down the address of a meth lab, then called the cops from one of the few pay phones still standing. All in a couple hours, then he went back home and slept.

He thought of Warmonger’s last DM:

@Blinkss14 I won’t badger you anymore. But the offer’s open, whenever you’re ready.

Ready to switch sides, in other words.

Maybe there was a better way. If Warmonger was right, the heroes were defending villains worse than Warmonger’s whole bunch. Busting an occasional purse-snatcher was cool, but that’s not what heroes usually did.

Maybe Blink could change that.


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