Skaz Martin might be my favorite writer. I’m biased of course because I wrote a romantic comedy novella with him and plan on writing at least one epic with him. I’ve known him for years, read his poetry, short stories and the horror novel he’s working on which is like nothing you’ve read and genuinely gave me nightmares.
He’s the writer I click the most with when writing. The yin to my yang and the creative consultant I trust the most. I trust him to help me develop ideas, to prompt me when I’m stuck, to present the questions I hadn’t considered so I might answer them, to tell me when I’m wrong. I trust him enough to bring into projects I don’t think I can handle myself.
Skaz is one of my best friends, the writing partner I’d be truly lost without and I’ve never met him in person. But his brilliance and his talents can’t be denied, at least by me.
For his birthday, I asked him if he wanted a flash fiction from our war epic, from our rom-com or something personalized. He asked for all three. So here it is.
Once the region had begun to recover after the Devastation that had wrecked both land and lifestyle, the greatest construction workers of the Imperio Paramesium moved out into the savaged outlands and began salvaging what they could from the wrecked and abandoned cities. Towering buildings were left to deteriorate in the elements, worn down by storms over many years. Some had collapsed, their skeletons draped disgracefully across the ground. Others leaned precariously, a constant threat to anyone who moved around them. Still others stood tall, the dying remnants of a civilization that no longer existed.
Basilio stood in the middle of the city, back pressed against a massive collection of debris. His pistol was gone, emptied of its rounds and dropped somewhere in a muddy puddle during a mad scramble to avoid being shot. He held a long, curved knife in his right hand. Sebastian had given it to him one year as a birthday gift; Bas thought at first that it was a replica and was pleased at its functionality.
The sky above was forlorn, blues and grays holding hands and trickling a steady curtain of rain down on him. He slicked his hair back with the outside of his thumb, careful not to stab himself in the face. His left hand ached and he glanced at the bloody rag wrapped right around it, hoping to staunch the bloody wound where his ring finger used to be.
His wife was going to kill him for losing his wedding ring. Basilio coughed a chuckle and smiled to himself. That’s if Rhoco didn’t find him first and finish what he started. Here he stood, back against what once was a wall, maybe, or a ceiling, with nine fingers and a knife. Jonathan would have laughed that crazy laugh of his and said that ten fingers was too many, anyway, but it had been many years since Jon had said anything.
How he heard the click amongst the pitter-patter of the rain, he couldn’t say. He simply acted instinctively, pushing away from the debris and pivoting. His right arm came up and the knife flew from his hand like an extension of himself. The man with the gun was perched atop the piled bits of rock and metal. To his credit, he merely grunted when the knife sank into his shoulder and swore not at all when the firearm slipped from his hand.
Basilio darted forward, intent on getting the gun. The other man pulled the blade free from his body and leapt down. They crashed into each other hard and continued into the ground, slipping in the mud. Basilio bit into his cheek and tasted blood. Tiny rocks on the ground bit into his side and back. They wrestled for a few panicked moments, each trying to get a grip on the other. Rhoco tried to angle the knife for a lethal thrust. He was met with several strikes to the ear and the side of his neck.
The two men rolled away from each other. Basilio was the first to his feet and lashed out with his foot, catching the other man under the jaw. He stepped in to follow up with another kick and slipped in the mud. A sharp pain lanced up from his ankle. He retreated and his opponent rose up slowly.
“You picked a fitting place to die, Constantine,” the mountaineer said. “Amongst towers that, for all the impressive things once said about them, amount to nothing but being broken, abandoned relics.”
Basilio smiled. He could feel his own blood coating his teeth. “Take it you didn’t like how my boot tasted. Too bad. I stepped in horse shit just for you.”
Rhoco Makara’s eyes went flat. He shifted his legs, pulling his left back and putting a slight bend in his right knee. His hands came up in front of his face in a similar manner. It wasn’t a stance Basilio was familiar with but he had stopped carrying some time much earlier.
“When I kill you, I’m going to take the rest of your fingers and make a necklace out of them.”
“Hey, you’re up?”
“You’re next. Come on!”
With great reluctance, Franklin pulled his head up from the book he was reading. The line he and his girlfriend had been standing in had disappeared at some point, leaving an open space between the author’s desk and them. He looked at Roz and lit up like a kid on Christmas morning.
“I know, I know,” she said, rolling her eyes. She placed a hand on his back and pushed him.
Together they walked up to the table that had been set up. Books were set up on one side of it to be purchased. The other side just had a plain white sign propped up reading, “Free Signings.” Where two men, co-writers and collaborators, were supposed to be seated, there was only one. The other had developed a severe case of food poisoning. Skyler Martin was there, though, and to Franklin, he was glorious. An angel who wielded a monstrous lexicon as his flaming sword.
Franklin shuffled up to the table and held his book out. Martin took it, glanced at the cover, looked up and smiled.
“The Life of Marcus Demastocles, eh? What part are you at?”
“Makara and Constantine’s fight to the death. It’s my third read-through.”
“You can’t pull him away from it,” Roz said. “Even when there are more important things to do. No offense.”
Martin smirked. “None taken. Who should I make this out to?”
“If I had one complaint, though, it would be that you haven’t finished it yet,” Franklin said.
“Blame the other guy. He’s the one who’s always busy with other projects.”
“It’s been years, though. Don’t you think he’d want to be writing this? Or writing faster? Can’t you guilt him into it?”
Martin paused, tilted his head. “What was your name again?”
“Oh. Uh, Franklin.”
“What do you do for work?”
Franklin looked at his girlfriend, thrilled that his favorite author was interested in his life. Roz raised her eyebrows and feigned enthusiasm. As long as he was happy.
“I’m in IT.”
“Like tech support? Like a call line?”
“Yeah, more or less.”
“When do work next? I’d love to help you in your ventures there and I think showing up and encouraging you to answer more calls or resolve issues faster will make the time pass by more speedily and increase your success rate substantially.”
Franklin deflated. “I didn’t mean…”
“I know.” Martin smiled again and picked up his pen. He opened the cover to the novel. “To Frank-”
“Franklin. Sorry. I, uh, never took well to just Frank.”
“To Franklin. May your deeds become lesson and your life become legend.” Martin finished the dedication with a scrawl that resembled his name. He handed the book back. Franklin took it reverently.
Instead of embarrassing himself further, Franklin simply nodded his appreciation and moved away with Roz. His cheeks burned but he was also filled with excitement at meeting someone whose work he respected so dearly.
“Hey, Franklin.” He turned. Martin grinned from ear to ear. “Soon. I promise. And if it isn’t soon enough, maybe we can work something else out.” He pointed at the book.
Confused, Franklin flipped open the cover. In the lower left corner, a couple inches under the dedication, was an email address. He hadn’t even seen the author jot it down.
“Franklin, I love you and I love those books and I’m glad you introduced me to them, but I’ve spent two hours in a line with you reading while the neckbeard behind me stared at my ass and my stomach’s about to consume itself.”
Roz grabbed Franklin by the back of the head and pulled him into her lips. She kissed him deeply, twining her fingers through his hair. When they broke away, he was breathless.
“I almost ate you just now,” she whispered. “That’s how hungry I am.”
“…let’s get lunch.”