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.

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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.

Birthday Notes IV

This is actually a double feature. Just a couple little very short flash fictions I whipped up as a little personalized gift for friends so that I didn’t just wish them a “Happy birthday”.
*****************************************
The sun was a pale yellow on the horizon. The sickly kind, the kind skin takes when the liver has started to fail. Long stretches of field lay out underneath it, the grass long dried brown and turned brittle. There had been cattle here once, before the world turned to shit. Before monsters stalked from the shadows and men turned into animals willing to do anything to survive.

Robert rested against a worn down fence post and sighed. His feet were sore, his legs tired, and his only company presently were two empty bottles of beer someone had set up for target practice some forgotten day in the past. His rifle leaned against his left leg, loaded with far too few precious rounds. His revolver sat on his right hip in a similar predicament.

Thirty miles of dead farmland existed between the next town and him. A whole lot of blood and ghosts between the last one and here. He hoped the bullets he had left would be enough. Failing that, his wits.

It was a hard world now, but he was a hard man. Hard to read. Hard to break. Harder still to kill.

*****************************************

Suzy wasn’t a fan of hospitals. At least, not when they were open. Sterility had a kind of scent to it, one that climbed unbidden into the nose and sat, kicking its legs down into the back of the throat. The doctors were flighty and the nurses curt, working in such a methodical, clerical manner that the building felt more like a machine, churning defective humans out into the world with patched up parts or into the trash bin if they were beyond repair.

Condemned hospitals – and other buildings,  for that matter – were a different story. There were no empty-eyed workers, no failing people. It lost the sterility but the clouds of sickness disppeared as well. Instead, there was only abandoned equipment and grime from years of misuse, broken doors and shattered windows. There was history in the corridors, of patients past and the squalor of the present.

Evidence of squatters was scattered here and there. Ratty sleeping bags, half-eaten cans of pork and beans. She even found a doll with a shattered eye socket and a brown dress that appeared to have once been a whimsical pink. When she picked it up to examine it, a cockroach skittered out from the hole in its face and across her hand. She flung both away.

Everything about the hospital seemed so much bigger without anyone in it. The operating areas could make good rec rooms. The hallways stretched out and begged to have wheelchairs raced down them. Suzy walked around peeling countertops and overturned chairs, eyes wide and a smile fixed, drinking in all the miracles and tragedies the building had once experienced.

As she came to the nurse’s station in the burn ward, though, an odd shape on the countertop seemed out of place. Curious, she neared it. Her foot caught the edge of an empty, half-crumpled soda can and sent it spiraling into the wall. The sharp metallic bite as it connected broke a silence she had become accustomed to over the course of two hours and she started, placing her hand over her mouth.

She let out an embarrassed chuckle almost immediately after and shook her head. This wasn’t a haunted house, she reminded herself. It was just a broken down old building.

Away from the wall and back towards the counter she went. What was it that had caught her eye? A paperweight that someone had left behind? Could it be that she had found a souvenir worth taking away? Maybe it-

A hand. It was a human hand. She noticed the nails first, how polished and deeply green they looked. It was impossibly perfect, the paint job, in an environment such as this. Her eyes moved against her will, pulling her attention kicking and screaming back along the fingers, along the soft mocha skin, to the wrist. The flesh their was ragged, torn. The hand had been removed violently, and the white of bone stood out in horrifying contrast. A ruby path trailed out from behind the hand and trickled over the edge of the counter.

Down the hall, a metallic sound clinked, not unlike the can banging against the wall. Suzy froze. Seconds later, it clinked again. She took one step back, another, another after that until she found her back pressed against the door of what had once been a patient’s room.

The sound rang out a third time. This time, the echo didn’t fade to nothing. This time, it led into a scraping noise. Whatever was being pressed into the wall sounded sharp. It sounded ugly.

And it was getting closer.

Birthday Notes III

Fire blossoms. I used to collect them by the basket as a little girl,  wandering deep into the thickets that surrounded our little college. Deep red petals that faded into a sunset orange towards the stigma, I fashioned them with twine into pretty little bracelets and necklaces. I would braid them into my hair and manipulate them into decorations for the small table we gathered around for dinner most nights.

My mother appreciated my enthusiasm and complimented my craftsmanship,  but she wasn’t keen on my venturing so far away from the home. We lived in a quiet village not known for its roving bands of brigands or intrusive predatory animals, but she insisted it was dangerous all the same.

“Brittania,” she said one night, sitting at the foot of my bed. “One day, you will have a Name Day and your gift will be something extraordinary. Something unlike the world has ever seen. You’ll have the ability to keep yourself from harm’s way and you will have no need of me or my worry. But until then,  you are my little girl and your safety is the most important thing to me. Please listen to your Mama in these things.”

And I did listen to her. Sort of. I no longer wandered out during the day. I didn’t show off any more trinkets. Instead, I snuck out in the middle of the night and returned before dawn. Finding the flowers in the dark was a challenge I thrived on. I kept them in a box I hid beneath the floorboards under my bed. It was my guilty pleasure. My secret adventure.

I spent many hours out there just listening to the sounds of the night. The songs of the lunar swallows and the snapping of click toads. The rustle of wind through pine needles. The crunch of dried twigs under my feet.

And all the while, I wanted to know what this present was. Where was my mother hiding it? When would I get it?

She never told me. No matter how much I begged. No matter how old I got. She didn’t tell me when she got sick. She didn’t tell me when the armies from the East began pushing into the True Territories. Not even when I announced that I was leaving to try and do something with my life.

That was three years ago. I hadn’t done much of anything, as it turned out. I spent one Name Day in the arms of some scruffy grifter I had picked up a couple months before. He had spent the whole day trying to convince me he was the present I would come across that would empower me and protect me. I once saw the man swindle the last few coins out of a traveling family because he wanted a new pair of snakeskin boots.

Yeah, safe to say I packed up my things and left the next morning before that idiot slept off the drunk he had worked up.

Things didn’t get much better from there. I bought a map off a poor forger and spent the next several months getting lost and traveling in the wrong directions. I ended up in the path of the Eastern armies and, in attempting to get away from the stories I had heard, found myself lost in the deepest parts of the Ghostwhisper Valley.

It was a nonsense name, of course. Not that I don’t believe in ghosts, but I spent a couple months living off the land in there and the scariest thing I came across was the savaged body of some kind of wild pig. That wasn’t the work of ghosts. It was a mangled link in the food chain.

Still, there were worse things than ghosts. I was finding that out tonight.  The Eastern armies had moved into the valley as well, probably to try and circle around the next city they wanted to take. I had been foolish and kept my fire burning. The same flames that got me to thinking about fire blossoms had attracted the attention of some unsavory company.

I could see them in the shadows, their twisted, ugly armor standing out in what moonlight broke through the canopy. There were rumors that the army was not comprised fully of human warriors. Fanged monsters and green-skinned animals that walked on two legs were supposedly responsible for razing entire villages and plundering whatever supplies they could.

Surrounded as I was, I don’t suppose it mattered much if they were man or beast. I was looking to be in a predicament I couldn’t get myself out of. I was disappointed as they circled closer, as chuckles rolled through the darkness that crawled like spiders across my skin. Disappointed that I would never know-

And that was when the flames of my firelight exploded upwards in a sudden burst of energy. The forms around me shrank back, a few even yelping in surprise. Just as quickly, it extinguished itself. The forest was plunged almost entirely into blackness.

Sparks spiraled downwards, like little red eyes glinting at me. They filtered their way down, past my head, my shoulders. They fell to where my hands fidgeted anxiously by the knives at my belt.

It was there that their descent grew lazy. Their glow grew brighter and they swirled faster. Around my hands, closer and closer to the skin no matter how much I tried to shake them away. The air around them glimmered and in a flash everything up to my elbow was engulfed in flame.

Strangely,  it didn’t burn. In fact, I felt no heat at all though I knew, somehow, that the temperature would be unbearable for anyone else.

I looked up slowly, back to the figures around me. They had stopped completely. Though I couldn’t make out their features, I could see that some had lowered their weapons, stupefied.

Was it my Name Day again already?

“Huh,” I said.

—Happy Birthday, Britt.

Birthday Notes II

When I was 14 years old, I met a bunch of men on the Internet and would occasionally fly across the country to sleep at their home. That sounds bad. I only slept at one guy’s home. And a couple women. And that wasn’t until at least three years later.

To clarify: I stumbled across a message board for a band I liked, thanks to the suggestion of a girl I had met online when I was, like, 11. That girl, now a woman thanks to the transformative powers of time and maturity, is still an incredibly close friend of mine.

The message board, of which I will write at length about at a later date, allowed me to meet a great many people, including the members of the aforementioned band. Several of those people are still close friends of mine, across the states and throughout the world, and though I absolutely advise the utmost caution if you ever decide to do so (and definitely recommend you be over the age of 17), through meeting them in person, I’ve experienced some of the most incredible stories of my life and some of the deepest friendships.

One of them, my friend Tommy Kelley, has not only driven me across the country for my first ever concert (the aforementioned band, playing in Detroit. We hauled ass up from Alabama in a single day in a beat-up truck with broken air conditioning. I don’t know if the radio worked. I seem to recall wondering what would happen if we turned a corner and Godzilla were to appear which I don’t believe is something I would have considered so thoroughly had there been music. Also, Ohio smells like garbage from the freeway, but that’s neither here nor there), but also gave me a place to live last minute with no questions asked after I got kicked out of Canada.

I know the Canada thing probably raised a few eyebrows. It’s kind of a shitty story, but I’m going to file that under “Failed Moves to California” of which there was one and a half and which I will also cover later. I’ve got to parse these stories out, man. You need to think I’m a man of great depth and deep secrets until I eventually lay it all out and you realize my life is more like a series of expensive, regret-filled bloopers.

Anyway. Tommy. The man bends over backwards for his friends. He’s seen a lifetime full of shit and, instead of breaking down,  tends to respond to life’s problems by slamming a fifth of whiskey, chasing it with ten energy drinks, grabbing his dick and screaming at them that he is, in fact, Lord Thunder Wolf, King of the Iron Lightning and that it is he who will be doing the fucking.

He’s secretly a sensitive guy who loves hard music and crazy women and I’m proud to consider him a brother. So when it came time to write a little short story for his birthday, this little bit I whipped up seemed appropriate:

He shifted his pack so that it fit more comfortably over his shoulder and stared ahead at the wreckage left over from the Catastrophe. Cars littered the shattered asphalt for as far as the eye could see, fronts crumpled up from where they had barreled into other vehicles and windows shattered, the glass glittering like diamonds on the darker ground.

Overhead, the sky was rolling clouds and crimson lightning. The thunder shook him so hard it was difficult to believe he was anything other than alive, surviving in the midst of a chaos that was only growing. Shattered and leaning buildings towered over him, leering out of their broken-door mouths and through their hollow eyes that once let the businessmen who worked behind them daydream the drudgery away.

There were monsters out there now, beasts made up of gnashing teeth and raptor talons. They eviscerated anything they came across that was too weak to fight them off. He couldn’t be too weak, then.

His fingers tightened around the metal pipe in his right hand. He had taped a long hunting knife to the end of it. It was a simple modification, but he was proud of it all the same. He gave it a soft little swing even as the first heavy drops of rain assaulted him. He looked up with a scowl.

“Happy birthday to me,” he muttered before stepping once more into the apocalypse.

Birthday Notes I

One of the things I’ve decided to start doing just recently is writing up some little (little as in short, not little as in 8pt font) fiction pieces for good friends of mine as a birthday present. This is usually posted on their wall, usually works their birthday into it somewhere and is meant to be more of a gift than the obligatory “Happy Birthday” posts the asshole who hasn’t seen them since chemistry class a decade previously leaves.

I have done two so far. Since they’re more micro-fiction than compelling story or meaningless rant half-heartedly described as something with substance but reaching some mythical word count requirement I’ve pulled out of my ass, I’ll leave one here today, post one tomorrow on my “off” day and hopefully have something more enlightened or entertaining come Friday:

With a heavy sigh, he dropped down into the worn, beat-up leather seat that made its home behind his worn, beat-up mahogany desk. His feet were hauled up from the fading carpet to their familiar spot on the desktop, a pale yellow crescent mark beat into the surface where his heel had spent many a lazy afternoon.

Everything was where it should be. The small stack of thumbed-through leads that went nowhere on his left. The half-full bottle of vintage scotch on his right. The plaque that read, “Derek Chivers, Professional Dick” front and center. If he opened the bottom drawer, he would no doubt find a well-used glass, inexplicably dusty though he cleaned it almost daily.

But this day, this otherwise unremarkable Sunday with the phone quiet and the glass of his door undimmed by the body of a potential client – this day, there was an additional occupant to his desk’s top space. It was a simple piece of white paper, as unremarkable as the day, with a short message scrawled in small, rickety handwriting.

All it said was, “Happy birthday, dear friend. K.J.M.”

-AND WITH THAT, A MYSTERY WAS BORN. Or another 364 days of jack shit, Derek. For the rest of you, see you tomorrow!-