My Birthday, Your Story

It’s my 30th birthday today. I had a dream about a story, so I woke up and wrote it. Hope you enjoy:

On a low hill in a quaint hamlet in the center of a very small island, there sat a tree. It wasn’t a very remarkable tree, though it was tall (three man-heights) and broad (three man-widths) and its two branches, like arms, stretched out and away and upwards toward the sky. The wood was gnarled and grey, for it was old (though no one knew how old) and wise (for wisdom grows in the roots of the land, and this tree’s roots were very long and very deep).

Leaves would go on this tree, always green and always rich. When autumn came to the island and to the hamlet in the center of it, the leaves did not wilt, nor did their color fade into the yellows and oranges of the season’s sunsets. They stayed green, like raw emeralds, and they kept their wide, hearty shape. When winter came, they would simply disappear, a few at a time, until the coldest days arrived and frost coated the dirt roads and the fields, and those twisted arms of the tree and its long, grey neck stood bare. No leaves littered the ground; they simply ceased to be, until spring brought buds and those buds brought leaves, rich and green and full of life.

This tree did not have a name, but though other trees (smaller, with more color, whose leaves did what leaves are supposed to do throughout the year) existed down near the water and in the yards fenced off and tucked away in yards behind quaint little homes, when someone wanted to go “out by the tree”, everyone knew it was the tree on the hill.

Picnics were had underneath the tree, and first kisses, and hounds would be taken up to play (though even the hounds knew better than to spoil that majestic trunk). Weddings were officiated there, and vows exchanged, and new lives began. It was a good tree, and a reliable one, and a wise tree, down to its deep, deep roots.

And every so often, every five years or so, that tree, in the center of its trunk and in the dead of night, would let off a peculiar light-blue glow.

Because this was a deliberate action on the tree’s part, there was no pattern to the glow’s arrival save for the whim of the tree. Though it was a fierce and beautiful shining light, it would sometimes go unnoticed. Though it always happened at night, the tree cared not for where the moon sat in the inky black sky. It would be discussed and questioned, but no one approached. To the hamlet it was a mystery, and mysteries were terrifying.

Now, this is a story about the tree, but it is also a story about a boy who grew. And before he grew, many years ago, he was just a boy who was, acting as boys do: impulsively and confidently and with little fear at all, through the mornings and deep into the afternoons, all up until late one night when he saw a thing that he maybe wasn’t quite ready to see.

Oh, he had heard about the light in the tree. From his parents and their friends, in hushed tones over an evenly-cooked dinner. From the older boys who were certain of what they would do should they see the blue glow in the dark. From the wizened old men and women who spoke in short sentences as they looked upon the hill with wistful eyes.

But one night, long after his mother had tucked him in under the scratchy warmth of his woolen blanket, that boy crawled over the ledge of his window and into the rocky little roads of his hamlet. He ducked and dodged through the shadows, sure that no one was awake and outside but cautious enough not to take a chance, until he reached the edge of the homes, back near the base of the hill.

Once out there, his eyes searched for more. The edge of the island, perhaps, and the waves there that lapped against the shore. Or a stick, maybe, with which to draw symbols in the dirt to confound the others once they woke. Instead, his eyes found the tree, that wizened, winding watcher on the hill, and as he looked a light began to form, faint at first but swiftly growing into a brilliant blue.

Before that night, the boy had never considered what he might do should he be the one so lucky as to see the light in the tree. Truth be told, he did not even know then, and so it was fortunate, perhaps, that his feet acted on their own accord. Left foot in front of the right and then the other way around, over and over until he had climbed the hill and stood directly in front of the tree. That close he could see clearly where the glow was coming from: four lines that appeared to have been cut into the trunk. Four lines that formed a rectangle, twice as tall as the boy stood. The light pulsed with a life of its own, and then flickered as the boy reached out his hand.

It died completely as the tips of the boy’s fingers touched the rugged wood, and the four grooves had disappeared completely, as if they had never been there at all.

“No,” the boy whispered, and it was all he whispered, as the rest of the words had snuck out of him as easily as he had snuck from his own bed.

The boy walked back to his house, the ocean forgotten, the stick forgotten, the light in the tree the only thing in his mind. He climbed back over the ledge of his window, climbed back under his thick blanket, and though he was not tired, he quickly fell asleep.

He did not dream.

That boy grew. He grew into a young man who learned to fish and found he loved it. He fought, once, his only fight, over the a woman he did not truly love and came away with a purple eye and a split lip. He learned early that pride was not as important as knowledge, and he learned many things about himself.

He grew into a proper man who learned to repair homes. His hands grew calloused as he prepared houses for the storms that came late in the year. He managed his tempers and frustrations. During the days without work, be stared longingly at the waters, wanting one day to take his boat out beyond the horizon on a journey with no set end. During the nights, he would look up at the tree on the hill. It had refused him once, and it would not glow for him again.

One afternoon came along, and as he looked at the frothy waves and the fish that would sometimes jump from them through the air, he found himself joined by a woman with hair kissed by the sun. She was a farmer’s daughter with strong shoulders and soft hands, and she would become his wife within a summer’s time. They married beneath the tree.

Though he loved his wife, though she stole the breath from him every time she walked through a doorway to greet him, he looked often at the trunk during their ceremony. At the space where lines had once creased it, and where once blue light had lit upon his face. His distraction did not go without notice, but his wife knew his love for her and knew he would tell her his secret when he felt comfortable.

He tried often, but felt foolish. He worried that she would not believe him, or that she would and think the fading of the light was an ill omen. He tried often, but said nothing of the tree. He spoke often of his love, and she was content.

He would grow into an old man with children of his own–two daughters and a son, all of whom were as impulsive and confident and with little fear as he had been. He nurtured them into adults and taught him what he knew of fishing and love and temperance. They asked him about the tree and he repeated the same stories he had heard as a child. A handful of people in the hamlet claimed to have seen it over the years, in the middle of the night. None had approached. It was a wive’s tale, and a husband’s tale, and a tale for children that few truly believed. His children had children, and he enjoyed afternoons bouncing them on his knee by the fire and carving for them small wooden toys with joints so that they moved and rocked and posed.

One winter the farmer’s daughter passed away. She was warm when she went, and sleeping, a half-finished scarf draped across her lap. Her knitting needles had fallen from her hand to the floor. One had rolled up against the side of her foot. The boy who grew found her as he prepared to bring her to bed. Though his heart fell, like the knitting needles, and though his hand shook, he simply bowed his head and ran his fingers through her hair.

The ground was difficult to shovel, but her funeral was nice. Warm in the cold winter day by the bodies of the hamlet, who had all turned out to pay their respects.

The winter was hard and dark. The children of the boy who grew checked on him but spent most of their time with their own young boys and girls. The days passed, and the weeks, and the spot in his bed that had belonged to the farmer’s wife grew no less empty.

The boy who grew would stand in his doorway in the middle of the night, skinny arms wrapped across his chest. He looked up at that gnarled tree, gray and wise on that hill, and he begged often with his eyes.

“Why?” his eyes would ask. “What did I do wrong? Why won’t you come back for me?”

And the tree was silent in its wisdom, and patient, and it waited. The days passed, and the weeks.

The boy who grew would weep sometimes at night, though he was filled with love. His children were strong. His wife was at peace. The bed was still empty and the oceans still called.

One night, when the skies were at their clearest and the stars were bright and smiling, he left his home and walked up the hill to the tree. He had had picnics there and married the love of his life. He had seen his children and his grandchildren play with the hounds. He stood before the tree and placed his palm against the rough bark of the trunk.

“I am tired,” said the boy who grew. “And I am cold. And for my mistakes–the ones I know and all those I don’t–I am sorry. But for all that, I have lived a good life to the best of my ability, and I am proud of those in it. Through it all, through every dark night and bright day and all of both that fall somewhere in the middle, you have been there. Thank you.”

And the tree was warm. And it knew it was time.

Lines began to form in the trunk: four, forming a square, with the hand of the boy who grew touching square in the center. It was not so big a square this time, as the boy had become taller and the tree had stayed the same, but the square was still large enough for him.

The light flickered to life, blue like orchids, blue like forget-me-nots. It washed over his face and his chest, warming him in the winter chill. The creases in the trunk, he realized, hand on the wood, formed a door. Should he knock? wondered the boy who grew. Or was the return of the light in the tree, now, in his twilight days, welcome enough?

He pushed and the door swung upon. The light grew brighter. As the boy who grew looked beyond, a single tear trailed down his cheek to catch on the turn of his smile.

“Thank you,” he whispered, and that’s all he whispered, for the rest of the words had walked away from him as confidently as he had walked up the hill.

He stepped inside.

The next morning, the hamlet wondered at length where the old man (once a boy, many years ago, who grew and grew and grew) had gone. When he never again turned up, they went on to grieve and to place a little marker down by where the farmer’s daughter lay. And up on the hill, that wise, gray, twisted tree sat with its roots deep down in the ground.

The Balloon Trick: An Absolute Zeroes Story

He recognized the pistol as an A-series Kendler 73. It was modified with what looked like an extended magazine and a shortened trigger pull. The color was customized into a shimmering green that kissed gray in the right places. It was a solid gun. It was a gun that the owner should be proud of. He just wished the barrel wasn’t pointed at his face.

“Where are the relics, Rumble?”

“You’re going to have to be more specific. Are these actual antiquities are are you referencing the pair of older women Tix and I were drinking with earlier?”

The man with the gun scowled and tightened his grip. “You know what I mean, you damned -”

“Hey, now. No need for that. It’s right…” He pointed directly over the man’s shoulder, past the handful of men with him. “There.”

“How dim do you think I am?”

Rumble smirked at the same time with several animals began screeching. The native name for them was ganthrum but Tix just called them Palgannan tiger-lizards (not to be confused with the tiger-lizards on Inner Springer which were smaller, less temperamental, a different color and really only tangentially similar beyond loping like tigers and being reptilian). They had come upon a full pack in the “nonexistant” back room of a local exotic pet vendor and purchased the lot of them.

They had been expensive, but the amount he and his partner would make hocking the ancient merchandise would triple it. Maybe even more. Plus nothing beat the looks on the faces of the men trying to keep him from his payday as ganthrums, notoriously prone to violent actions when lumped together in tight confines, thrashed their way around the landing pad.

Each of the tiger-lizards had a dozen balloons tied tightly around their tails. They waved around wildly, a whimsical counterpoint to the gnashing of teeth and slashing of claws. With soft slaps, they bounced off of the fuel pumps scattered about.

This was good. This was key.

David Rumble knocked aside the gun in his face and headbutted the confused man holding it in the side of the chin. With his right arm, he spun the man wrapped him up, back tight against his chest. With his left hand, he pulled his own pistol and pressed it against his hostage’s temple. The other men were now torn between defending themselves from the animals and rescuing their leader. They trained their guns on the smuggler.

“Ah ah ah!” Rumble said, loud enough to be heard over the ganthrum snarls. “Those balloons are full of etherium! You know how combustible that stuff is. You light me up, the whole pad will blow.”

“Rush him, then! He can’t risk shooting me, either!”

“Ball bearings with a water pressure projection system. Enough to scramble your brains without any of the burn.”

The man in his arms cursed and his people watched warily as Rumble backed up to the loading ramp of Shadowlark, the ship he bought and that Tix Trobly couldn’t stop working on.

“I’m up!” Rumble shouted back into the belly of the ship.

The engine began thrumming and he could hear the thrusters prepping to ignite. The ramp began lifting up and Rumble snickered as he saw the men on the dock scrambling to get as far away from the ship as possible.

“Wait! The etherium! If you let him take off-”

“There was never etherium in those balloons. The fuel tanks have fire shielding, besides. Good God, man, how the hell did you pull a crew?”

He pushed the man off the ramp. It was high enough that the landing hurt but not so high as to cause permanent damage. Tix would have pantsed him beforehand, but there was no need to add insult to injury.

The relics were secure in the cargo hold. He was uninjured. It had all gone smoothly. Rumble holstered his weapon and made it to the cockpit. Tix was lounging in the pilot’s seat with one hand on the lift controls.

“You know, there’s one thing I don’t get.”

“What’s that?” Rumble asked.

“We knew where they were going to be waiting for us. There were a half a dozen ways we could have got everything back to the ship and taken off without a confrontation. Why the tiger-lizards? Why the balloon fake-out?”

“For the story, my friend. Rumble and Tix wouldn’t be worth half a damn if we couldn’t get the job done without some flair.”

He settled down in the co-pilot’s seat and pulled a bandana from his back pocket. With practiced motions, he tied it around his head, obscuring his eyes.

“You’re just going to take a nap?”

“You’ve got it, Tix. I trust you. Now shush. Chicanery always tuckers me out.”

The Velvet Anchor

“Captain.”

The voice crackled through the speaker installed just above her bed. She hadn’t yet upgraded to the video projector, doubted she would anytime soon. There was something unappealing about the idea of her crew having a chance of accidentally catching her in a state of undress.

“No,” she replied and rolled over, pulling her pillow over her ear.

“You wanted us to let you know when we got near Damocles Station.”

Kylie opened one eye and peered at her clock from under her pillow. She had pre-set it to the outpost’s standard time before going to bed. Accordingly, it informed her she had been asleep for around three solid hours.

“Ffff. That’s two hours earlier than expected, Talos. What happened?”

“Low traffic at the jump gate. That shaved off most of it. Once we were through, we punched it for a while. You made it clear how important this lead was.”

You can’t call him an asshole for being a good crewman, Kylie, she thought to herself. You want to, but you can’t. Put your Captain hat on and deal with it.

“I’ll be up in ten. I want a stim ready, and I want it hot.”

“Yes, ma’am. Sugar? Cream?”

“I want it as black as the space I’ll eject you into if you don’t get off the fucking com and get back to work.”

****

The bridge of the ship wasn’t very large,  but it didn’t need to be. Hers was not a luxury cruiser or a military vessel. The Velvet Anchor was a recovery craft, intended on the seizure and transportation of smuggled goods, illegal weapons caches and escaped criminals. As such, the belly of the ship was where most of the space was, with rooms set aside for storage and a handful of cells for prisoners.

Kylie sipped at her stim and glanced around at her crew. Magda wasn’t present and was likely doing a standard maintenance check throughout the Anchor. Talos was back on the navigation system. Garrety sat at the weapons station, legs outstretched and hands clasped behind his head. If there were any reason to fire upon the station, chances were they would be too late to defend themselves properly anyway.

Ilo, her first mate, sat at his station next to the captain’s chair. He was busy pulling up the schematics for Damocles Station: current population, structural details, command structure and shipping logs. A blue light began flashing at the top of his control panel.

“Station’s hailing us, Captain.”

“Patch him in.”

Ilo pressed a ridged black button next to the light. A moment later, a small blue hologram cast out from the light in the form of an older man dressed in loose pants and a button-up shirt.

“Can you see me alright?” the man asked.

“All fine on this side.”

“You’re coming in clear for me as well. My name is Patch Harding. I’m the dockmaster for Damocles Station. State your name, crew size and starship for our records, please, and the purpose for your visit.”

“I’m Captain Kylie Hendren of the Velvet Anchor, currently with a crew of five, counting myself. I’m a molly contracted currently by the Alcan Recovery Operation. I got a tip that a wanted felon is hiding out on your station. I’d appreciate your assistance and the assistance of your station security in apprehending him.”

Harding looked away to someone not visible in the projection. After a moment, he nodded once and offered a tight smile to Kylie. “Everything checks out. You’re free to dock in AC-7. After you get settled, any of the workers will point you in the direction of my office. In the meantime, what’s the name of your perp? I’ll call in an alert.”

“Appreciated. His name is Dillyn Harridan. He’s wanted on several counts of weapons smuggling so tell your people to be careful.”

“Come again? Did you say Harridan?”

Kylie’s eyes narrowed. “You know him?”

“Haven’t had a molly stop here in close to eighteen months, figures you’d be here for him. We’ve already got him locked up, Captain.”

“On what charges?”

Harding looked grim. “We’re holding him for six murders. I’ll tell you more once you’re landed.”

“Roger that, Dockmaster.” Kylie ended the call and settled into her seat. “Take us in, Ilo.”

“Captain, holy shit. Six murders? That’s not, like, a feud or a crime of passion. That’s psychotic.”

“We don’t know any details yet. Could be anything. Guy’s a weapons smuggler. Maybe a deal went wrong or there was another, pissed off party there. I’ll have to find out.”

“Forget the murders,” her navigator said. “I heard Damocles has a strip club. We got time to nose around the station?”

“Shut up, Talos.”

“Cap, if he’s already caught, some leave time would be welcome,” Garrety said. “It’d be nice to get off the ship for once and stretch out legs.”

Kylie sighed and set her cup aside before rubbing her temples. “We’ll see how it shakes out. I’ve got to talk to Harding first and I may even need to see Harridan. Murders don’t sound like him.”

Ilo frowned and looked over at her. “Do you know Dillyn Harridan, Captain? I thought this was just another job.”

“It is just another job. I don’t know Dillyn, but I knew his brother years ago. We’re mollies, this crew. We’re here to grab a criminal, take him in, and collect a check. All the same, I aim to find out some answers.”

The Anchor settled down into the docking bay, handled expertly by Ilo, who had flown several kinds of craft during the Halfgallon Moor war on Bellam. Captain Kylie Hendren’s crew turned down their systems and began prepping to exit into the station.

For her part, Kylie made her way back to her room and strapped her pistols to her hips. She glanced into the mirror. No make-up. No problem. The weariness in her eyes was masked by the scowl she wore for having slept so little.

She was a decent captain. She was an excellent molly. She had a damn job to do.

The Wrong Kind of Flop

Ohhh, man. When I was 11-16 or so, I partook in a series of text based fantasy chat rooms where we roleplayed characters set in the Dragonlance world. There was a room set in a tavern, the gardens, the caverns, the arena, a tower of sorcery,  and a thieve’s guild. At its height, there were maybe even hundreds of characters played by dozens of people and each had their own backstories and lives that unfolded over countless years. I made some of my earliest and best friends there, stretched my creative muscles and had some of the best storytelling adventures of my life.

Before I ever played Dungeons and Dragons or Mutants and Masterminds, I had Tyro Vultheim in the Kender Chats and I miss it so much and I wish I had the time to do it again.

In any case, some of the characters from my experiences there have persisted through my life. Some of the adventures have inspired stories. In fact, I plan on writing a six novel series set in an original fantasy world with some of the characters from those chats, with permission from their incredible creators.

Tyro Vultheim will be one of the main protagonists. The other will be the subject of today’s birthday note. Played by my friend Leonard, Drake originally had a different last name, one no longer useable due to the sudden extreme popularity of a fantasy series. But we compromise.

In the chats, Drake and Tyro had an incredible relationship. They were rivals. They were friends. Their romantic interests would occasionally intertwine until they both settled into routine and then their significant others, friends and allies would develop levels of importance,  affection and irritation with each other as well. They would fight, they would fistfight and afterwords crack open a bottle of wine and sit next to each other, lips still bleeding and eyes swelling, and they would put it behind them.

Drake and Tyro are brothers. But they weren’t always thus, and they didn’t always know each other. For Len’s birthday, I wrote this:

******

Drake Lethos looked over several stacks of cobalt coins with a grin in his eyes. Several coins more were scattered about in the center of the table, bets from the four men seated there. Only Drake and the gap-toothed gentleman who scowled across at him still had cards in their hand.

“What are you holding?” the man asked. He hadn’t been happy when Drake had joined their game, unwilling to trust some stranger blowing through town.

“If I told you, it would defeat completely the purpose of the game.”

“You look nervous. You nervous?”

Drake glanced down at his winnings. “I suspect I’ll be alright either way.”

“Why do you even keep going?” one of the other men asked. “You ain’t won enough?”

“Why does anyone do anything, friend? Are we compelled by the gods? Some think so. Or they think it’s fate. Perchance the subsconscious urge to act in the echoes of a past life.” Drake flashed a mouthful of pearly white teeth. “But frankly, I think I’ve a bit of a gambling problem.”

“You going to keep raising until I can’t bet?” the man across from him asked. “Because if that’s the game you’re trying to pull, we’re done now.”

“Did you want to raise?”

“I’ll check.”

“Then I’ll check, too. Many things can be said about me, but the first to call me a poor sport would out himself as a liar.”

The man scowled and laid his hand down on the table. Three Countesses with a Dragon for a wheel. It was a strong hand and Drake saw his opponent wrestling to keep a smile from his face. He wanted to see what Drake had.

The cards settled on the tabletop, face-up, with nary a sound. Three Dragons and a Jester. The air was sucked from the room.

“Well, hell,” Drake said. “What are the odds of that? One in sixty thousand? Seventy thousand?” He reached out with both hands and began pulling the coins towards his stacks. “And as it will get no better than that, gentlemen, I think I’ll call it a night.”

Now, there was something that should be known about Drake Lethos: he was a man who loved a life of luxury. That meant expensive clothes, with silver buttons and ridiculous frills at the ends of his sleeves. Fine cuisine for all three meals and beds that could fit several people, made up with satin sheets. It meant sly winks at strange women towards the other end of a crowded area and that alone being three steps in the direction of the ballroom or the bedroom or both.

There was another side to him, though. One that involved panicked runs down back alleys, hasty escapes from scummy bars, and an expansive vocabulary that constructed a treasure trove of excuses to pull out when everything went wrong.

It was because of this latter half of life that he registered the ale mug shrieking towards his face, propelled by the angry hand of a sore loser. With his second of preparation, he flung his left arm up from the pile of coins that rightfully belonged to him and deflected the projectile. Deflected it at the wrong angle, but deflected it all the same. As it struck the mechanism attached to his forearm – three inches up from the wrist – and caused it to go haywire, spewing a handful of select cards from his expertly turned cuff, Drake thought to himself that maybe, just once, he should have pushed his instincts down into his gut and allowed himself to be hit in the face.

Slowly, the other three men turned to look at him. Their expressions varied, but only along the narrow margin between disgust and murderous intent. A low growl curled up behind him. Drake turned and saw the half-orc bouncer walking towards him, massive biceps putting his shirt through exercises it wasn’t meant to endure.

“Ain’t no cheaters to be in here.”

Drake’s mind, spinning through his options for a line that could save his ass, blanked at that.

“That’s the best Trader you can manage? This tavern needs to invest in some kind of language course for its employees.”

*****

Drake Lethos leaned against the outer wall of a tanner’s shop. His face felt like a thousand puzzle pieces that jammed together in the wrong positions. He considered the fact the mud and blood would probably never be removed completely from his clothes and lamented that he didn’t even have the money to buy a replacement set.

Then again, there were motherly women in the world who would take pity on a helpless, battered man. After that, there was always another town. In towns, there was always another game.

Drake Lethos spit a mouthful of crimson into the road and smiled his perfect smile.

Go Out And Get ‘Em, and a Birthday Note

Through high school, there were teachers I hated, teachers I respected, teachers I had crushes on and teachers who left absolutely no lasting impression on me whatsoever. There are very few, though, that I genuinely consider friends.

I was a teacher’s aid for Chad Sant’s more traditional academic course (History, I believe, though I was more concerned with grading papers and giving girls back massages), but the class I was an actual student in was his acting class.

I had never really done acting before that class. I took it because I needed electives, it seemed easy, and a couple girls I had crushes on were in it. Participation was mandatory. There were a lot of improv games: park bench, questions, sausage…that last one isn’t what you might think. We also had to memorize monologues and perform them for the class.

I liked being a smart-ass. I liked pushing the limits and being a class clown. All the same, I had yet to acquire my comfort for the spotlight. I was nervous being in front of so many people and reciting something or becoming somebody I wasn’t or reading something I had written. So it was with complete skepticism that I met Chad’s suggestion I should audition for the school play.

Now, this was senior year. I had never acted on stage before where others had been doing it for 6 years or more. I had quit band after 8th grade because I was afraid of anything that might get me picked on. But Chad insisted, my friends encouraged me and I went in and did a cold read that I thought went fucking terribly. I tossed the script in the trash on my way out, headed to the mall and – I don’t recall exactly – probably got drunk that weekend. I was an angry, lonely seventeen year old. I had a routine.

Cut to a week later when I happened by Chad’s classroom and found the cast list posted on his door. To my surprise, I had been cast as Dallas Winston in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I hemmed and hawed over it for almost a week before grudgingly accepting. I had never read the book. I didn’t even finish the script. Chad brought the movie in for us to watch and that was the first time I discovered that I died in the end and fuck yes, this was actually going to be awesome.

Spoiler alert, but that book has been out almost 50 years and the film for over 30. Matt Dillon played my character. Tom Cruise still had a fucked up nose and crooked teeth. It was truly a different time.

Anyway, the show did not go off without its hitches. In the premiere show for the school, in front of the artsy kids, the special needs kids, several teachers and the principal of the school, the gun I was supposed to pull on the policeman got caught in the pocket of my leather jacket. I let out a frustrated, “FUCK”, at which point I was gunned down, the lights dimmed and I could hear one of the girls backstage say, “Whaaat did he just say?”

I didn’t get in trouble. It still makes me laugh, because it really did warrant at least a detention. At least one. But Chad told the principal to chalk it up to nerves and when I apologized, he turned to me and said, “Huh? Oh. Yeah. Don’t….do that again.”

There are plenty of other stories from that show and the two others (Grease, Pirates of Penzance) I performed in under his direction. But this isn’t about me, as much as I like to talk about myself.

I bring up my experiences in theater because it opened up a lot for me. It opened up a love for the craft I never could have imagined. I’ve only done six shows, some high school drama competitions, a couple Renaissance Faires and a couple short indy films, but holy shit has it influenced my life.

I began writing more – short fictions, poems with plot, starts of novels, screenplays – because I fell in love with the art of storytelling. I owe being an author, screenwriter and poet in part to that.

I moved to Los Angeles when I was 21 because of a want to be an actor/writer. I failed so fucking hard. But that dream led me to one of the loves of my life and some of the best friends I’ve ever known. I felt more at home there than anywhere and I want to move back. The dream of acting led me there.

My theater experience in school led me to a few shows with city theater groups. I met another love of my life through that, in a passionate, ill-advised tryst. Through her, I was introduced to the karaoke bar I fell in love with until it closed. Through experience in musical theater, I was given the opportunity to judge karaoke contests and everything that entailed.

Chad Sant set me on this path as an artist. He took me aside and told me he believed in me. More than that, that he needed me to help complete his casts and bring everything together. Now, that’s bullshit. I was absolutely replaceable. Almost all of us were. But he made me feel like I wasn’t. He drove me to and from rehearsals. He talked to me about life between classes. He treated me like an adult and didn’t hold back when discussing and debating mature topics. He didn’t treat me like I was stupid.

Chad has purchased each book I’ve put out so far. He has brought them into his classrooms and told his students about me. He’s made an effort to keep in touch since I’ve graduated and put in a good word.

And you know what?  I’m not the only one he does this for. He’s gone to Jessica Singleton’s comedy shows. He regularly goes out for dinner with several of his more prestigious former students. He keeps us all apprised on each other and instills in us a sense of accomplishment not just in ourselves but with these former colleagues we suffered through high school with. He helps us maintain a sense of camaraderie through years without communication.

He’s a good man. A kind man. An inspiring man. He’s funny and smart and he sees potential in people. I wrote before that testing doesn’t equal teaching, and Chad is a perfect example of the educator who goes above and beyond to make sure his students are invested in learning, in being something more than themselves. When he sees the capabilities a person possesses, he pushes them to accept that role and pursue that path.

He convinced me to pursue that path and gave me the confidence and encouragement to keep the journey going. Those dreams and experiences have taken me to some of the best, most adventurous, most instructive, most fun, most challenging moments of my life.

Anyway, it was his birthday yesterday. It isn’t much, Mr. Sant, but here you go:

***

The toll of the bell indicated the day was over. Christian watched his students push themselves out of folding seats and pull their backpacks up from the aisles before filing out of the theater. A few kids raised their hands to high five and fist bump him as they passed. He did so pleasantly, a smile on his face, and wished them an awesome weekend.

After the last of his pupils passed through into the lobby, he pulled the faded red doors shut and locked them tight. He turned and strode down the stairs, carpet torn from decades of trampling feet and inattention. At the front of the theater, he lifted one leg and hoisted himself up on the stage. It had been spraypainted the kind of shiny silver-black obsidian was, but each year more and more slivers broke free, revealing the dark brown wood beneath.

Christian didn’t care. This was his dominion. The stage. In front of the crowd and under the spotlight. He glanced out at the seats, empty now by sight but always occupied by the spectres of captive audiences past.

He turned his back to the audience. It was a faux pas during performance, but he stayed behind for himself tonight, unconcerned with the judgement of memories. Instead, he faced the set piece his students had spent the past few weeks diligently constructing and painting. The prized portion was the massive forefront of a castle, twisted through by artificial trees on either side.

The show wasn’t due to start for another month during which he hoped the rehearsals would smooth themselves out a bit more. They often did due to the power of repetition and the growing confidence of his actors in their own abilities. Unimpressed by the standard recycled fare of shows most schools used, he had penned his own fantasy epic with a compelling romantic subplot. His colleague described it as The Princess Bride meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream and implored him to submit it for more professional venues. Christian resisted, insisting he had written it for his students. He wanted to give the kids an opportunity to be a part of something that had never been done before. Something that would be wholly theirs.

Well, mostly theirs.

While Christian had indeed written it himself, he had yet to reveal where the inspiration for the tale had sprung from. Indeed, he didn’t plan on ever confessing. There was too much risk to his reputation, his life, and those who trusted in him.

He lifted his hands and held them before him, palms pressed together and fingertips pointed towards the set piece. He closed his eyes and slowly pulled his hands away from each other. Almost immediately, he felt the fabric separating. A warm gust of air hit him full in the face, fresh with the scent of berries that carried no name. He could hear the gentle songs of four-winged birds as they zipped on by. The fertile soil of a well-worn path stretched out until it replaced the worn wooden floor beneath his feet. He didn’t need to open his eyes to know the passage to the other realm had opened smoothly.

“Mr. Sant?” a voice asked meekly.

The teacher whirled to his right, eyes wide in surprise. He saw Billy Tamlin standing there, a sheaf of papers barely held in his shaking hand. He was a quiet boy that kept to himself unless he was on stage. On stage, he broke out of his shell into a truly wonderful talent.

“I forgot my script…”

Christian swore to himself. He must have forgotten to lock the back door, the one leading out into the side hall, utilized for quick changes and getting any actors who escaped through the crowd back into the theater unseen.

Well. He hadn’t wanted to tell anyone where his inspiration had truly come from, but there was an expression about best laid plans.

Satori and the Key

I have often used art as inspiration to write stories. Whether it’s a picture of an abandoned warehouse or a character design that warrants exploration or a battle that needs to be expounded on, I’ve often looked to visual mediums for ideas.

Then, while I write, I often have headphones plugged in to drown out the surrounding world and to keep people – usually co-workers – from bothering me while I work. The music tends to be without lyrics. If I were listening to lyrics, those words tend to get jumbled up with the ones in my mind that I’m attempting to put on paper. Instrumentals, however, flow sweetly, encouraging without undercutting. It keeps my mind focused without loading a bunch of extra shit on.

Something I haven’t done before, though, is writing for music. Alongside it. I stumbled across a writing prompt last night that said, “Write the final scene in a story set to this song.” I have never used the rhythm or melody of a song as a score to the things I’ve written. It’s an interesting thing, to create that partnership, to have a soundtrack to the words you’re reading and the pictures you’re visualizing in your mind.

I wanted to try it. The song in question is The Aviators by Helen Jane Long. I wanted to give the story an animated film feel to it. So here we go.

****

A trickling sound roused Satori from what felt like a deep sleep. She was on her back, laying on a firm substance, but she wasn’t uncomfortable. Her eyes moved behind heavy lids for several seconds before she opened them.

She was in a cavern. The memory of it gradually came back to her, but she recalled the interior being dark and bare. Terror had filled her as she struggled to escape Moko and dread coursed through her veins once she realized the cave had been a dead end.

But that was all. Those were the only things she remembered before waking up.

Now the cavern was bright, every wall and most of the ground covered in ice blue crystals. She lay on a mossy bank next to a clear pool. A thin shaft of light shone through a hole in the rocky ceiling and a stream of water tumbled down into the natural lake. Like snow, tiny amethyst lights drifted lazily down around her, fading as they hit the surface of anything.

Where Moko had stood, arms stretching upwards with a sword clenched tightly in his hands, there was only a tower of crystal the color of lilacs. Satori cautiously climbed to her feet and approached it. There was no resemblance to the man who once stood there, but when she pressed her fingers to the center she swore a faint orange glow radiated outwards.

She cast one more glance around and then made for the exit. It all felt so surreal, that the last few days could end in such a manner. Had it been real? Had she imagined it? The crystal cave was too fantastic to have gone undiscovered for so long otherwise, right?

The path wound out to one of the three cliffsides overlooking her village. The sun was still climbing as morning yawned, casting rubies and citrines over Fairweather Harbor in the distance. The windmills were churning slowly. Smoke was already billowing from the chimney of Old Han’s restaurant.

Satori cast a glance back at the mouth of the cavern. She fished around in her pocket and came out with a boring, slightly bent, little brass key. The key that started it all. She kissed it and then thrust it back into her pocket. With careful steps, she started descending the bluff towards her village.

If she hurried, and if her mother forgave her absence, she may just make it down in time for a late brunch.

A Nice, Slow Day

I’m recovering from the delightfully hilarious comedy set I got to experience last night as well as the copious amounts of drinking that followed after. I’m two weeks behind on new comic books, so I’ve spent the bulk of my day rectifying that. A guy needs his comic fix, y’heard?

But I don’t want to leave you with nothing! Only almost nothing. I was browsing around online earlier and stumbled across this image:

image

That piece is by Michael Heath (you can find his gallery here and I recommend checking it out), and it won an award as the cover for Mark Walden’s Earthfall. I haven’t read the book but I do like the image, and sometimes I’ll see a picture that makes me want to whip out something nice and quick. So here is this:

David sat behind his desk in the loft he rented for far too much money. It rested at the top of a former cathedral that had been converted into a series of odd living quarters in an effort to provide more homes for the rapidly growing populace as well as wrest some control away from the religious leaders in the community. He didn’t particularly care either way; it was quiet and it was roomy. Exactly what he wanted out of a bachelor pad.

It wasn’t a bad office space, either, and he tapped a penical against his right ear while looking over the designs for his latest building project. He had been commissioned by the Minister of Commerce to come up with a new Justice Center that would be worthy of the duties carried out inside. It took a few months, but he was almost finished.

He put lead to paper and moved it in its final line. A loud and sudden THRUM blasted through his ceiling and sent him sprawling from his chair to the floor. The start caused the pencil to drag off course and tear through the picture. David swore loudly and climbed shakily to his feet.

The sound hadn’t stopped. It vibrated the entire cathedral, rumbling at a decibel he couldn’t hear himself over. He hurried over to the window to attempt to get a glimpse of what was causing it, trying not to worry about what kind of damage it was doing to his ears. All he could make out was a long shadow covering part of the city.

Wait. A shadow? What could…cause a shadow that big…

Swallowing hard, David pushed open his window. Carefully, he climbed out onto the terrace and then pulled himself up on the jutting pieces of tje roof. It was dangerous, a long and fatal fall if he slipped, but it wasn’t his first time. Nights spent on the roof staring at the starry skies was a peace he had never previously known.

It wasn’t night now, though, and instead of serenity, a sense of dread took root in his belly. He stared with an open jaw at the cause of the shadow.

A massive circular ship of some kind crawled across the sky, clouds gathering around it like a storm. The center of its bottom opened up in a hole that, despite its immense size, could not be peered deeply into. There were no companion craft, no colors to indicate what country it may have originated from. It merely moved until it was directly over the old Justice Center. It stopped there and hovered.

The thrumming stopped.