Outlaw’s Mind – Part 8

Timothy hadn’t taken the Paxil long enough, nor at a high enough dose, to feel any sort of withdrawal syndrome from having stopped it.  In fact, he didn’t consciously recognize any difference at all at first from not having taken it the following morning.  The first inkling he had of a change was when, in the middle of the school day, he first saw the girl who had been bemoaning the split-up of the boy band she loved.  She glanced at him as she came into the room for that hour’s classes, and Timothy felt a curious little pang.  He felt as though he had done her wrong but couldn’t think what he might have done.  She didn’t look at him for longer than a second, and he was soon distracted by the beginning of class.  Even so, as they left almost an hour later, she with a small group of friends, Timothy continued to feel troubled.

That afternoon, as he walked toward the door to the apartment, his eyes were drawn to the side of the building, where he could see the hose wrapped around the spigot on the building’s side.  He felt a curious, almost guilty feeling when he saw it, but couldn’t figure out why.  He went inside before the neighbor arrived that day, but when he heard her go into her home, as he almost always could, he again felt a strange embarrassed, guilty feeling.  He didn’t dwell on it, though.

His mother said nothing noteworthy to him that evening, but he thought she eyed him a bit more pointedly than usual.  She stuck to her usual evening small talk, and the two ate a peaceful dinner and watched a sitcom together before Timothy went to his room to go to bed.

That night, Timothy had a bit of trouble falling asleep.  This was not unusual; he was somewhat high-strung, and he often found that relaxing in the evenings was a minor challenge.  He realized at that moment that he hadn’t had any trouble sleeping on those few days when he’d taken his half-Paxil.  That fact made him slightly regretful.  He wondered, idly, whether it was sleeplessness that caused his horrible temper, or at least contributed to it.

It wasn’t much of a wonder, but it distracted him enough to help him drop off to sleep.

An unclear amount of time later, he found himself swirling into a strange sense of half-wakefulness.  His head felt fuzzy, his thoughts were dim, and it took him a few seconds to realize two things:  first, that he needed to get up to use the bathroom; and second, that he couldn’t move.

His eyes flickered open.  The room around him seemed surprisingly bright given the depth of the night, yet it was also strangely fuzzy, as though he were looking at it through glass that had been smeared with Vaseline.

Then he saw why he couldn’t move, and every other consideration left him.

Half-sitting, half sprawling atop Timothy’s sleeping form was a hideous, unspeakable figure.  It was dark, dusky black, as if it had formed out the nighttime shadows themselves, and its rough shape was somewhere between that of a hulking dog—perhaps a giant-sized rottweiler or a pit bull—and a human.  But this similarity was only rough.  Its outline was covered with folds and wrinkles, undulating and pulsing as though serpents or worms moved about below the surface of its midnight skin.  It was so large that its haunches were across the lower part of Timothy’s legs, its lower body pressed against his thighs and his abdomen, and its partly raised chest supported above Timothy’s, its arms pressing down on Timothy’s shoulders.

Horrified and terrified, Timothy tried to scream in shock and fright, but he couldn’t so much as make a sound.  Even his breath felt paralyzed.

His attempt to make a noise, though, seemed to call the thing’s attention.  Its head had apparently been looking up and around the room, as though perusing Timothy’s various belongings.  Now it shifted down to look at him, realizing that he was awake.

The shape of the head was roughly humanoid, but it was much larger.  It was bald and elongated, with the same undulating wrinkles on its surface as on the rest of the body.  If it had a nose, it must have been as flat as a gorilla’s.  Its eyes were small relative to the size of its head, but they shone a piercing red, like the lasers in a supermarket scanner.  As the gaze turned to meet his, Timothy felt briefly blinded, the crimson light flashing into the back of his own eyes.  He saw that, when the creature moved its head, it seemed not to be moving solely through the normal dimensions of space.  It looked as though one portion of it disappeared into nowhere as another portion appeared abruptly in the real world, and this, rather than ordinary motion, was how it moved, as though what Timothy was seeing was merely a projection into normal space of some entity with a higher number of dimensions.

Its face, though, stayed consistent, even as the wormy, impossibly flowing rest of it turned the head to face him.

Timothy tried harder to scream.  He failed.

As if in answer to his own mouth’s opening to fight for breath against the weight on his chest, Timothy saw a mouth that must have been there all along open in the monster’s lower head.  It was huge, gaping, a gigantic, wide slit of a mouth that reached all the way around to what would have been the location of the thing’s ears if it had seemed to have any.  It cracked open in a gaping smile that could have encompassed Timothy’s whole head.

As the jaws parted, Timothy saw countless narrow, needle-sharp teeth.  A long, glistening, snakelike tongue came out and licked all along the creature’s upper lip.

In addition to the terror that set his heart racing and made him wish he could howl and shriek with terror, Timothy now felt a deep revulsion, a disgust as visceral as if he had stumbled upon a rotten corpse lying in his bed beside him.  Glistening black liquid oozed along the lips where the thing’s putrid pink tongue slathered it.

He wouldn’t notice until much later that—despite this nauseated, disgusted reaction—he didn’t notice any smell from the thing.

As it looked down at him, its wide mouth still split into a rictus of a grin, it’s laser-pointer eyes glaring at him, Timothy saw its tongue snake away from its face, moving as though it was, perhaps, another iteration of whatever it was that lived beneath the thing’s skin and made its undulating wrinkles.  It wove and bobbed through the air between its head and Timothy’s, and then the head began to bend forward.  Its tongue drew closer to Timothy, he could feel a feverish heat radiating from it, baking his cheeks and lips.

Timothy thought about how snakes and lizards tended to smell as well as taste with their tongues, that these were among their primary ways for testing their environment.  He thought that the thing must be about to taste him, to make sure he was palatable, before literally biting his head off.

He didn’t spare a single instant of thought to wonder how it could be possible for this thing, this impossible creature, to exist at all, let alone to be laying across him, holding him in place, in the middle of the night in his own home.  He merely recognized that he had to get free.  He could not let this horrible thing devour him.  He would not let this thing devour him.  He had to move.

He struggled to move his arms, his legs, his body.  He wanted to knee at it, to scratch, to punch, to do something, but his body would not comply with his commands.  It wasn’t just that he was held down.  Even in the portions of his arms where the thing did not lay, he couldn’t move.  He couldn’t clench his fists; he couldn’t wiggle his toes.  His body was not obeying his mind’s commands.

Had he been drugged?  Had he been poisoned?  Had this thing somehow shot him with some kind of venom, and that was why he couldn’t move, didn’t even feel that he could breathe?

The tongue waved and wiggled through the air, taking its time as though it were enjoying the scenery on the way to its destination.  It was clear, though, that it was coming closer to Timothy’s face, that it was going to caress him…to taste him.

Even his head wouldn’t move; he couldn’t turn from side to side to try to avoid the tongue.  Maybe he could close his eyes—he’d certainly been able to open them—but he had no desire to do that.  He knew, somewhere in his bones, that closing his eyes would not make this thing go away, would not conjure it out of existence.  It would simply make him blind to whatever it was about to do, more vulnerable rather than less.

His helplessness, his inability to act on his fear, frustrated him even more than it made the fear grow.  It was maddening not to be able to act, not to be able to try to flee.  This thing had him completely at its mercy, and it was playing with him.  Its tongue taunted him, drawing closer only slowly, teasing him before it came into contact.

Timothy had no way to read the creature’s expression; its face was too inhuman, too fixed into a permanent, insane slash of a grin, to draw any conclusions.  But he thought that it was laughing at him.

This didn’t exactly bring up the same rage that he’d always felt in waking hours when faced with such laughter, but it did make him angry.  He hated bullies, he hated tormentors, he hated the cruel ones who not only took advantage of those weaker than they, but who delighted in it.  He’d always felt that way, for as long as he could remember.  This hatred was stronger than his fear of any bully.  It was stronger than his desire to avoid pain.  It was stronger than his desire to live.

If he was going to die—if this inexplicable thing that lay across his body was going to eat him—then he was not going to do so without at least making a mark.

If it was going to bite him, then it was going to be bitten as well.

Somehow, Timothy’s rage empowered his own jaws and the front of his neck, or perhaps they were able to move for the same reason his eyes were able to open and to focus.  It was not easy.  The muscles of his neck and temples and cheeks did not want to be forced into wakefulness.  But Timothy had no patience for their laziness.  He was in charge of them, not the other way around.  A much clearer anger than his usual rage drove him, and with an insane effort of his own, as the tongue came nearer, he too imitated a snake, bringing his head forward with his jaws open.  He caught the tongue between his teeth, paying not the tiniest bit of attention to what its texture was or if it tasted bad or was caustic or poisonous or anything else.  Instead, he bit down on it as hard as he could, sinking his incisors and canines deeply into its thick, slimy flesh.

Did it scream?  Timothy thought it gave off a sound of some kind, but like the movements of its body, this noise seemed to happen in some other dimension, not completely intersecting with the world of Timothy’s bedroom.  Whatever the sound was, perhaps just a sound of the mind, it was both surprised and in pain, and the grim satisfaction of this truth drove Timothy to bite down harder.

The thing yanked backward, drawing its head and body upward.  Its tongue yanked out of Timothy’s mouth.

And all of a sudden, it wasn’t there, and Timothy was twitching and writhing in his bed, gasping for breath, throwing his blankets off and scrambling to stand up.  His body, out of nowhere, was doing what he wanted it to do, but it was clumsy, stiff and slow, as though he were just now waking up from sleep.

When he got his footing, he stared around the room.  It was dark, deep nighttime, and there were no lights in Timothy’s room, but a distant glow from the bathroom fixture leaked under the crack of the door.

Had that been there before?

He looked back and forth around his bedroom, trying to see where the monster might have gone.  Was it in the corner?  Had it darted impossibly under the bed?  Had it ducked into the closet?  It seemed too big for any of those possibilities.

Timothy’s heart raced and he breathed as though he’d been sprinting.  He wouldn’t really notice it until a few minutes later, but his tee-shirt was partly plastered to his sweaty skin.  It was a miracle that he didn’t scream out loud.  It was almost as great a miracle that he hadn’t wet the bed.

He couldn’t see well, not as well as he had a moment ago.  Despite the newly noticed dim glow under the door, the room seemed darker than it had.  Timothy scrambled for his bedside/desktop lamp, fumbling at it, almost knocking it over, as he turned the switch on the back of the lamp head.

The sudden light, though sometimes weak and pallid during the daytime, seemed blindingly bright, and Timothy had to squint at first when it came on.  His eyes quickly adapted, though, and he tore them around the room, seeking any trace—a trail of glistening slime, a few drops of blood from its injured tongue—of the creature that had lain atop him.  There was no visible trace that he could find.  Even his blankets, which he first kicked at and then grabbed and threw back on the bed to examine, showed no trace of any unnatural presence, no excretions, no stains, no markings.

It was almost as though the thing had not really been there.

Timothy’s fear, though, was as real as any fear could be.  Indeed, now that he could move, the sense of fear was greater than it was before, dominant over that outrage that had allowed him to break through his immobility and bite the thing.  He could feel his body trembling, could almost hear his heart beating, tripping along so fast that he could barely have kept count of it had he tried.  He jerked around in place several times, trying to catch sight of anything that might be lurking behind him even in his small bedroom, but nothing was present that hadn’t always been there during the day.

He glanced at his window, then fixed his gaze upon it.  The curtains were drawn, and it was night outside, so there was no sign of anything through it.  When the drapes were open, though, it looked out on the street.  There were no streetlamps in front of the duplex in which Timothy and his mother lived, so there was no sign of any light through the covered pane, but Timothy knew that, if he were to open those drapes, he should see the meager front yard and then the street and the surrounding neighborhood of similar dreary dwellings.

But if he were to yank aside those layers of fabric now, what would he see?  Would it be a normal nightscape, just the same place it was during the day thrown into darker shadow?  Or would he see something else?  Would he pull the drapes aside only to find the beast’s horrible face pressed against the pane, its slathering tongue licking at the surface, just waiting for Timothy to see it before it crashed through the glass to take revenge?

And behind the monster, would the city beyond still be there?  Or would Timothy find that his house had been transplanted into some new, alien realm, of which the thing that had lain atop him was only the least terrifying of inhabitants?  Would there be towering shapes with tripod legs and faceless heads, with long, swirling tentacles as thick as oak trees and as sinuous and threatening as moray eels?  Would there be eyeless, flying creatures crossing a bleak, starless sky, and distant mountains so high and jagged that one couldn’t even make out their peaks through cloudless air?  Would the stunted grass of the lawn be replaced by carnivorous weeds, with oozing acid and sharp fangs lining leaves that were shaped like jaws?

Timothy considered, for a mere instant, going to the window and throwing aside the drapes, proving to himself that the world beyond was just as it always had been, which he told himself must be the case.  But he thought that, even if it were so—as surely it must be—he would still scream if he yanked the curtains open.  Even if the world was normal, he would still shriek if he dared to look.  And he couldn’t stand that thought.  He couldn’t bear the possibility.  He felt that, if he were to face his fear that way, it would kill him.  He would give a howl of shock—shock at finding an alien landscape, or just as great a shock at finding everything normal—and drop to the floor, suffocating, paralyzed again, dying even before his mother—who would no doubt be awakened by his scream—could make her way into the room.

The thought of his mother distracted him.  She was just through the bedroom door, down the little hallway, her bedroom along the back of the apartment.  Only two doors separated them.  The apartment’s small size, a fact that was occasionally a source of dissatisfaction for Timothy, now seemed the purest of blessings.  He could yank his bedroom door aside, rush through it, the hallway weakly lit by the bathroom light that was always left on at night, and go into his mother’s room, awakening her.  He would tell her he’d had a bad dream, ask if he could sleep in her bed with her.  True, he was a teenager now, and an unusually self-sufficient one; it had been nearly a decade—maybe more than a decade—since he’d prevailed upon his mother to soothe nighttime fears.  That didn’t matter, though.  He was not ashamed to be afraid.  Not after what he’d just seen.

But then…if outside his window might be filled with a hellish new reality, might not even the rest of the apartment?  Might he not open his door to find the hallway already populated by things like the one that had lain atop him?  What if the whole space of the hallway floor was covered with the impossible, writhing shapes of creatures like that one and worse, their red laser eyes all swinging about to regard him in surprise as he opened the door, then bearing down on him in a mindless, chaotic mass that would devour him from the outside inward?

What if he found them already feasting on the remaining pieces of his mother’s body?  He could imagine seeing her head, torn off her body, her mouth and eyes agape, somehow still staring at him accusingly, blaming him for the horror…somehow still barely alive though decapitated, even as a horror made from the stuff of nighttime chewed at the stump of her neck.

And an even worse notion occurred to Timothy.  Maybe he would find his mother quite whole and well, standing amongst the red-eyed beasts, gently patting the head of the one that Timothy had bitten, soothing it, reassuring it.  He had the terrible thought that she would be saying—not to him but to the creature—that she had raised Timothy solely so that once he was old enough, plump enough, meaty enough, he could be fed to monster.  And then, of course, she would come to Timothy, holding a slaughtering knife in her hand, and she would slash his throat, dropping his bleeding body to the floor, where the creatures would start to eat him long before he was dead.

No.  That wasn’t possible.  None of that was possible.  Timothy shook his head, berating himself.  None of that was happening, none of that was going to be so.  If he opened the door—or if he opened the curtains—he would find the hallway, the apartment, the world outside to be just as it always had been.  His mother would be sleeping in her room, his best advocate and protector in all the world, not his butcher.

He would surely find that if he looked.

But he was not so sure—not so convinced—that he was willing to look.  After what he had awakened to find on his chest, he could not be sure enough of anything other than what was right before his eyes.  He could see his room, he could see his bed, his desk, his dresser.  These were normal as far as he could tell in the light of his desk lamp.  Anything else was unknown.  Anything else was up for grabs.  Anything else was not safe.

He was alone.  He was stuck in his room by himself, terrified, unable to process what had happened, unable to explain how the thing had been laying on top of him when he’d awakened, unable to understand where it had gone.  There was no one who could help him.  He was on his own.

What could he do?  Nothing.  Nothing but what he finally did, after an unmeasured interval passed, which was to crawl backward into his bed again, shuffling until he was seated against the small headboard and the wall behind it.  He grabbed the corner of his blanket, the part that was still on the bed, between his two outstretched ankles, pulling it toward him first with his legs, then with his hands when it was close enough.  Imagining that, just maybe, the part that hung onto the floor would come back with some monstrosity attached to it, a smaller relative of the thing that he’d bitten, like an alien fish on the end of a hook and line, he had to force himself to yank it up quickly, relieved almost to the point of a yelp when nothing but blanket came in response to his pull.

Timothy wrapped the blanket around himself, covering himself up to his neck, accepting the restriction of movement on his arms even as he tucked the material behind and underneath him.  Better to be protected than to be free to move.  Better to be warm.  He considered even covering his head, but then he would be trapped under the blanket, unable to pull it aside for fear that his room itself would have been taken away while he wasn’t looking.

No, better to keep looking, to armor the rest of him but to keep his head free, his eyes wide.  He wished he didn’t even have to blink.

He hated himself for being so afraid, ashamed that he was unable to face his fear.  But he was unable to do otherwise.  And it certainly didn’t occur to him that his fear might be unjustified, irrational.  Why would it?  He had seen the monster.  He had felt it lying atop him.

He couldn’t have said how long he sat there, propped against the back of his bed, against the solid, cinder-block wall behind it, staring into the familiar refuge of his room, unknowing what might lay beyond and unwilling, unable to force himself, to investigate.  If he dozed off at any point, he did so while still awake, and that sleep never became deep.  He didn’t know what time it might have been when he had awakened to find the otherworldly abomination all but smothering him.  It could have been an hour after he’d gone to bed.  It could have been an hour before his alarm clock was due to go off.  The time between was the eternal and instantaneous time of dreams, and he could never have given even a guess about its length.  If asked, he could not have guaranteed that it had not been far longer than eight hours in length.  He could not have sworn—not if he was honest—that it hadn’t been many days, or even years.

When the light of the returning day finally began to brighten the space behind his window curtains, it only came to Timothy’s attention gradually.  By the time he noticed it, dawn was well underway.  Enough time had passed that his acute fear had faded, but the sense of unreality was stubborn, and Timothy didn’t leave his bed, didn’t even dislodge his blankets from where they wrapped him up like a strait jacket, until his alarm clock forced the processes of habit into action.

Have you not love enough to blog with me, when that rash humor which my mother gave me makes me forgetful?

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday, November 4th*, the first Thursday of the new month, and—of course—it’s time for another edition of my weekly blog post.

Halloween has passed, alas, and now we enter the weird time wherein Thanksgiving symbols—at least in the US—struggle to hold onto at least a brief period of prominence before they are overtaken, no later than November 25th this year, by Christmas decorations**.

I’m slightly sorry to have to admit that yesterday I flipped back to writing Outlaw’s Mind on computer.  I’ve been getting quite a bit of minor but irritating arthrotic*** pain at the base of my thumb, and where the metacarpal meets the wrist.  I’d forgotten this.  It probably feels worse than it really is, since it’s been a while; also, the last time I experienced much of it, I was in wretched circumstances.  But I’ve felt it plenty of times before, even going back to my teenage years.  I think I tend just to get really focused when I’m writing and use those joints to a greater than ideal degree, causing wear and tear.  That damage no doubt accumulates, since healing is rarely complete in any region of the body, unless you’re a spiny mouse, so the discomfort starts earlier each time.  But it’s not primarily inflammatory, because there’s never even a hint of heat, redness, or noticeable swelling, and it only flares up with use, so arthrosis it is.

Because of that, and the minor inconvenience of storing my writing when not in use, and of flipping back to reread what I’d written yesterday instead of merely scrolling up, and, of course, because computer writing is easier to read, even for me, I’ve switched back.  I’m occasionally troubled by the spirit of the great Harlan Ellison, who (so I’ve read) thought that one can’t write decently or effectively on a word processor/computer because it’s too easy.  He supposedly disdained anything beyond the typewriter.  Ellison-sensei could be an opinionated curmudgeon by all accounts, but such an argument clearly doesn’t stand up on its face****, or Ellison should have committed to writing every one of his first drafts on stone with a chisel.

I can’t say I would completely have put it past him.

But I don’t think writing with a modern computer is necessarily worse, or that it changes anything all that much in any given writer’s style.  I wrote a good deal of the first draft of Son of Man on a very small smartphone using its note-taking app.  That wasn’t easy on my thumbs, but at the time I didn’t have a portable computer, and I was riding busses about three hours a day, so I was able to do a lot of writing that way.  I don’t think it was any easier than writing by hand at a desk would have been, and I don’t think my writing suffered or improved noticeably for it.

If you’d like to check, you can read Son of Man and compare it with Mark Red or The Chasm and the Collision or the short stories Paradox City and Solitaire, the first and often second drafts of all of which were written with pen on paper, and you can compare it also with Unanimity or any of my short stories starting with “I for one welcome our new computer overlords”, which are straight computer-written.  You can also compare it with The Vagabond, which was originally written partly as pen on paper but mostly on a Mac SE using WriteNow.  Or you can read all the tales in Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, which begins with a story part of the first draft of which was typed, if memory serves, and ends with a story that was written partly by hand and partly (first draft and all) in Microsoft Word™.  Unfortunately, now that I’ve told you the difference, your experiment will be hopelessly confounded by bias.

Oh, well.  Read them all anyway, what the heck.  You can buy extra copies for friends and ask them what they think without revealing the above information.  If you want to make things double blind, you can ask a third party to ask your friends what they think.  Or you can just read the stories.  I know that a lot of them are horror of one sort or another, but remember, just as a puppy isn’t only for Christmas*****, a horror story isn’t just for Halloween.  The darkness of night continues to grow, at least here in the northern hemisphere.  The time of daylight is in full retreat, and it will be weeks and weeks before it even begins to take back ground, let alone before it comes to dominate again, revealing all the stark unpleasantness of the world in its cold, bitter glare.  In the dark, it is easier to pretend.  And sometimes, if you’re lucky, your imagination can run away with you.

Which brings me back to Outlaw’s Mind, for which I’m gradually regaining my momentum, which was no small task since it’s been interrupted more than once.  Maybe the handwriting thing was just a way to trick myself around my resistance to getting going on the story again.  If so, it seems to have worked reasonably well, and Outlaw’s Mind will perhaps be all the better for its disjointed history.  I’ll do my best to make it so.

In the meantime, Happy November to you all.  It’s generally a month I like, even though it exists in the lee of my favorite holiday.  It evokes memories of still-falling autumn leaves blowing about in briskly cold (but not yet bitter) winds, and the anticipation of two big family holidays, each associated with feasts and TV specials and games and long weekends and so on and on.  And though many of those things are no longer mine to enjoy, alone here in south Florida, I can at least say that it’s a time of year where one can enjoy walks outside without obscene layers of sunscreen and emergency water rations to replace all the bodily fluids that have soaked one’s clothes.

I don’t know what it’s all like in the southern hemisphere but considering that summer’s on its way for them, it’s probably great.

TTFN

Happy Birthday


*It’s my mother’s birthday.  She would be turning eighty, if my memory is correct.  Happy Birthday, Mom, wherever you are!  Knowing her, if she’s anywhere, it’s someplace good.  She certainly would deserve it.  As would my father, of course, who would have turned eighty-two precisely a month ago.  He was a bit of a curmudgeon—I take after him in many ways—but a good person.  So, belated Happy Birthday, Dad.

**And to a far lesser extent, Hanukkah and other solstice-related holiday decorations.  You rarely see any Saturnalia symbols, though.  I’m not even sure what those would look like.  Oh, well.  We get plenty of the Norse decorations.

***The auto-correct thingy tried to change this word to “arthritic”, without even asking me, but that was an incorrect correction.  The suffix “-itis” indicates inflammation, usually as a primary component of a given disorder.  Though there may well be secondary inflammation in the root structures of my thumb, this is clearly a wear-and-tear phenomenon, and so is an “-osis”, not an “-itis”…the latter suffix which the program keeps changing to “it is”, which is again wrong, and again, it’s not asking me.  I wouldn’t mind a little red wavy underline to bring it to my attention—asking me if I was sure about writing that—but especially if I enclose something in quotes, the program should not presume to correct what I write.

****Which sounds both difficult and painful.

*****It’s also delicious in a sandwich on Boxing Day.

For thy part, I do wish thou wert a blog, that I might love thee something.

[Just a quick reminder:  Anyone who wants to leave me a comment—I know, it’s not likely to be many people—should not waste time doing so on Facebook or Twitter.  I check Twitter intermittently at best, to try to minimize unnecessary despair, and though I share many things to Facebook, I rarely go there directly, as being there is far too prone to stress me out at an even more extreme level and make me even more depressed than usual (if that’s possible).  Comment here, on my blog, or on Iterations of Zero if you read that.  I’m on WordPress all the time, since I follow quite a few other people’s blogs, and I get frequent notifications about “likes” and comments.  This is probably an exercise in futility, since I doubt anyone really wants to communicate with me more than is absolutely necessary—goodness knows I don’t want to communicate with me—but just in case.)

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday again, the last Thursday in October of 2021, and so it’s time for the ordeal* known as my weekly blog post.  In three days, it will be Halloween, my favorite holiday, though I suspect that many if not most will be celebrating it on Friday or Saturday night rather than Sunday.  I have a costume to wear, which I’ll probably only put on at work; it’s a sort of steam-punk version of The Master from Doctor Who (it’s my own original interpretation of the character, but Doctor Who does have a sort of steam-punk quality to it), complete with chameleon arch fob watch, Harold Saxon’s signet ring, and The Master’s laser screwdriver**.  I also have a cool cane with an extendable telescope that really works (though it’s not terribly powerful).  Other than the hardware, it’s all black, of course.

Beyond that, not much new is happening.  I’ve been writing the first draft of Outlaw’s Mind by hand, and that seems to be going nicely.  I don’t know whether the story will be better for it, but I don’t think it will be worse, and anyway, it feels a bit like going back to basics, which is nice.  It also feels like it will help avoid me getting too carried away and writing more than I should.  As you all may have noticed, when I have a keyboard, the words come very quickly, and I often go off on tangents.

I’ve been getting in some regular walking recently, as much as six miles a day, both to get a bit healthier and, if possible, to lose some weight (the less of me there is, the better, I say).  It also ties in nicely with a recent impromptu post I did for Iterations of Zero, which I think about three or four people may have read—probably not all the way through.  One of the nice things about walking is, it lets me think about the notion or idea or whatever you want to call it that I discuss in that blog post, particularly in the penultimate paragraph (really, the last full paragraph), which involves going for a very long walk.

It really is a pleasing and beguiling course of action to contemplate, and it’s particularly useful in that it minimizes inconvenience for most other people.  Also, there’s frankly nothing anyone can do to stop it, legally, since it doesn’t involve doing anything that is definitively a danger to oneself or to others.  It’s really diabolically simple.  It just requires commitment***, and that’s something with which I tend to be overflowing.

In addition to that encouraging consideration, the other day, while taking a slightly new route, I thought of a story idea related to walking, which I immediately “wrote” down—actually, I used voice to text because I was still walking—in my “story ideas” entry in my note taking smartphone app.  It’s always fun when ideas like that come, even if the story never gets written.

Speaking of stories, here’s a reminder to you all that Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities is available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats, and many of the tales in it might make for excellent Halloween reading.  While you’re at it, The Vagabond is certainly, without doubt, an excellent Halloween story.  And, technically, Unanimity Book 1 and Book 2 are pretty good for Halloween, and the three stories in Welcome to Paradox City are quite strongly so.  Of course, one could hardly say that a teenage demi-vampire was entirely out of place on Halloween, so Mark Red is also good reading for this holiday.

I do tend to lean in that direction when I write, don’t I?

With that, rather unusually, I think I’ll call this blog post to a close after only a relatively short amount of writing.  I do hope you all enjoy the holiday.  Spend some time, if you can, having fun with family and friends (as long as you take appropriate precautions regarding infectious diseases), eat some candy, watch some scary movies, read some scary stories, maybe dress up in fun outfits, and generally have a laugh at the darkness of the world.

You might as well; it certainly laughs at us.

TTFN

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*At least, I assume it is for all of you—some form of penance, perhaps, through which you wash away sins with a relatively minor bit of suffering.  It’s the only plausible explanation I can think of for the fact that you’re reading it.

**Who’d have sonic?

***So to speak.

HOLE FOR A HEART teaser

Note: This story will appear in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and that’s why I’m posting this teaser.  However, it has already been published in “Kindle” format, and there is a link to that below, in case you cannot wait for The Cabinet to be published*.

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HOLE FOR A HEART

     Jonathan Lama drove west along Interstate 80 on a warm, late spring day, headed for Chicago.  His journey was at least partly an excuse to test the recently purchased ’97 Mustang convertible he drove.  He was not a true car aficionado, but he liked the Mustang, and he had a good friend, Rob Gardner, who was a mechanic and lived near him.  When Jon had told Rob that he was looking for a second car and had found the Mustang for a very good price, Rob had all but offered to go in halfsies just to have the chance to work on and restore it.  Rob plied his trade only part-time—and under-the-table—since a severe back injury had left him both eligible for disability benefits and honestly unable to work a full schedule.  He was, however, good at what he did, and after much effort and a fair amount of additional expense, he pronounced the car ready for long-distance travel.  All the remaining work was cosmetic.

     So far, Jon had no complaints about his friend’s efforts.  He’d previously only driven the Mustang around central New Jersey, where he lived.  In the beginning, it had ridden rough, and the speedometer had malfunctioned, making Jon nervous every time he took it out, though it had been easy enough to match the speed of traffic.

     Now, the speedometer had been replaced and checked and was working as it should.  The engine ran powerfully on all eight cylinders, and Jon could barely tell that he wasn’t driving a brand-new car, at least based on those criteria.  The interior still needed a lot of work, and the car’s paint was noticeably faded, but Jon had never disagreed with Rob in prioritizing functional issues. Continue reading

SOLITAIRE teaser

Note: This story will appear in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and that’s why I’m posting this teaser.  However, it has already been published in “Kindle” format, and there is a link to that below, in case you cannot wait for The Cabinet to be published.

[In case you can’t tell already from this teaser, this is a VERY dark story, so be warned.]

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SOLITAIRE

            UP, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN…

            The nine of hearts is showing on the left.  Nothing very noteworthy about that, except that the card’s already partly stuck to the table, lying in a tacky spot of something someone spilled there and didn’t bother to clean up.  I’m already not sure I’ll be able to pull it loose without tearing, at least if I have to wait too long before I play it.  I should have been more careful when I was laying it out, I guess, but…well, it doesn’t really matter.

            I look across the table, trying to meet Vicki’s eyes.  She’s not paying any attention to me.  She’s just sitting there in her chair, with a bowl of oatmeal resting in front of her.  The oatmeal’s probably cold by now.  She never can just eat her food; she always has to putz around until it’s tepid at best, and until anyone watching is as annoyed as hell.  Right now, I’d bet she doesn’t even mean to finish the stuff.  She’s just sitting there, staring into the distance, lost in thought, ignoring her food, ignoring me, and ignoring everything else.

            UP, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN…

***

            “I’m really sorry, Jerry, but…I’ve got no choice.  I’m giving the account to Walt.  You’ve always been good for Tel-Co before, but…well, lately I’ve been getting…complaints.”

            “Complaints?” I asked.  To be honest, I didn’t give two shits about any complaints—what they were, why they’d been made, or who made them.  But it was expected that I’d be concerned, and I decided to be a good boy and play the part that was assigned to me.  I think I must have failed pretty badly; my voice sounded dull and flat even to me.  Chasing certainly seemed puzzled.  I liked that, at least.

            Chasing’s tie was plain and red.  His suit, of course, was blue, because he considered that a “power suit,” God only knows why.  Unfortunately for him, the suit, along with his red tie and white shirt, made him look like a reject from some Army recruitment poster:  a cheesy, modernized version of Uncle Sam, but with a puffy and worried face, no beard, and hair that was kept from going the traditional, distinguished white by regular application of Just for Men®.  That thought amused me, and I suppose I must’ve snorted a bit, because Chasing looked at me quizzically before he continued.

            What a dork.

            “You know that I’m behind you all the way, Jerry,” he said, probably with about as much truth as we put into all our advertising.  “But…well, more than one person—and these are people I have no reason to disbelieve—more than one person has been…complaining.”

            He looked at me for a reaction, but I just watched his face, thinking about how much better it would look if someone would throw a bottle of acid on it.  He must’ve been disturbed by the way I stared at him, because he suddenly looked down at his shoes.  Maybe he just didn’t like what he was forced to be saying.  I don’t know.  I don’t care, either, not really, and I didn’t at the time.  After all, whether the universe contracts in on itself or just fizzles out into a haze someday, we’ll all be long gone and forgotten.

            “I’ve heard that you’ve been…well, neglecting your responsibilities.”  Now Chasing grabbed a pen out of his pocket and started fiddling with it, flipping it around in his fingers.  He only did that when he was really uncomfortable.  That discomfort was obvious in his voice, too, when he said, “You haven’t been meeting your deadlines…or your extensions.  It’s not like you.  More importantly, though, is that when you come through, you’re not providing quality work.  Yesterday I read your outlines for the next Tel-Co TV spot series, and frankly…well, frankly I was shocked.  You can’t do things like that, Jerry; Tel-Co pays us a lot of money to give them the best.  And you are the best, I know that, like everybody here does…” He stopped then, looking at me, probably waiting to see how I was going to react to his forced praise.  I wasn’t sorry to disappoint him.

            Looking back on it now, it’s kind of surprising that I remember what he said so clearly, considering that I really, honestly didn’t care, not even in the most distant part of my mind.  Somehow, I can hear him as if it was all happening again.

            Isn’t that a horrible thought?

            “Look, Jerry, it seems obvious to me that you’re having some kind of…personal difficulties.  I don’t know what they are—the stress, the pressure, something at home—and I’m not going to pry…at least not unless you want to talk to me about it.”  He stopped again there, I guess waiting to see if I was going to open my heart to him.

            What I wanted to say was, “The problem, Chasing, is that you’re a greedy asshole bastard, and I’m probably one, too, but that doesn’t matter, because the world doesn’t notice either of us until it finally swallows us up, and the universe doesn’t notice the world at all.”  I knew he wouldn’t understand, though, so I stayed quiet.  Chasing looked like he couldn’t decide whether to be disappointed or relieved, and I was more than happy to see him confused.

            “Well, look,” he said, “I’ve gotten approval in advance for you to take a few weeks off.  With pay.  I want you to just stay home, starting tomorrow, and…relax.  Take care of whatever it is that’s bothering you, okay?  We need you here and we need you whole, Jerry.”

            “Thanks,” I said simply, then just watched him until he muttered something appropriate and left my office.  When I was alone behind the closed door, I laughed—quietly but intensely—until there were tears in my eyes.  What an idiot!  At that moment it was hard to think of anything more appealing than the notion of worms chewing on his rotting corpse.  Although, come to think of it, that would be a sort of cannibalism, wouldn’t it?  Heh.

            I turned around in my chair.  For the rest of the day, I stared out through my office window, looking out onto that disgusting city, watching the world as it died around me, most of its inhabitants not even realizing that it was ill.

***

            UP, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN…

            The next two cards showing are the three of diamonds and the ten of clubs.  That’s convenient.  I’ll be able to move that nine when I’m done dealing—assuming, of course, that it’ll come unstuck.  Who spilled that shit there, anyway?

            It must’ve been Denny.  He always makes such a mess.  Well, okay, not always.  Not right now.  Right now, he’s over in the family room, watching cartoons on TV before he goes to school.  It must be nice to be in kindergarten and not have to go anywhere until noon.  Not that I have to go anywhere today.  Chasing, the prick, saw to that.

            Poor Denny.  To have been born and to be growing up in a dying universe, on a world where life is not only futile, but hateful and wretched as well.  I wish I could do more for him than I have.  But I can’t.  Nobody ever can.

            UP, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN…

FREE RANGE MEAT teaser

Note: This story will appear in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and that’s why I’m posting this teaser.  However, it has already been published in “Kindle” format, and there is a link to that below, in case you cannot wait for The Cabinet to be published.

Free Range Meat cover

FREE RANGE MEAT

            It was unusually hot and bright that day, and as Brian approached the parking lot, he almost regretted his decision to walk to the shopping plaza where his nearest Whole Foods was located.  Though his backpack was currently empty, he was already sweating heavily beneath it, his tee-shirt sticking to his back.  The front of his shirt also, though less sopped than the rear, bore visible sweat marks.  Brian had decided already that, as soon as he got home, he was going to take another shower.  He hated to waste the water, but even his conservational idealism had its limits; many hours remained before bedtime, and he really didn’t want to spend the rest of the afternoon stinking of stale sweat.

            The sky was barely dotted with occasional small clouds, but the air was noticeably humid, and the temperature was well into the upper eighties even though it was only early May.  Brian shook his head, tossing his mid-length, straight hair—also damp with sweat—from side to side as he went.  He wondered, given such unusual warmth, how anyone could possibly doubt that climate change was real, that the world was getting warmer thanks to the unrestrained use of fossil fuels and the ridiculous output of all the cattle humans raised just so they could eat steak and burgers, wasting countless acres of land that could have grown food for people to eat directly, without nearly so much impact on the environment.

            He had to remind himself that one unseasonably hot day was no more proof of global warming than a particularly cold winter day was evidence against it.  Still, the emotional weight was hard to resist.  He didn’t think he was mistaken in believing that his childhood summers had not been as severe, nor as early, as they were now.  That was memory, though, surely colored by the fact that a child’s body was more resilient than an adult’s—though Brian was lean and muscular from regular workouts, a regimen he’d undertaken more to fight against his moderate scoliosis than for trying to look good.  Indeed, at forty-four, Brian had often been assured that he looked easily ten years younger.  The tee-shirts and shorts he habitually wore helped this impression, but even in a suit and tie, which he wore when meeting with certain clients, Brian could easily pass for a young, upwardly mobile professional rather than a man approaching middle age.  Even his simple, wire-framed glasses made him look young and intelligent.

            Brian took no special pride in the fact that he looked good for his age, except to think to himself that this was what clean living did for a person.  And though, just as with the weather on any given day, he knew that his individual attributes couldn’t honestly be used as evidence of a general trend, he was nonetheless convinced that his health and appearance were due more to lifestyle than to genetics.  Perhaps his genes could be credited with the fact that he was smart enough to recognize better ways to live and had the will to act on that recognition. Continue reading

PROMETHEUS AND CHIRON teaser

Note: This story will appear in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and that’s why I’m posting this teaser.  However, it has already been published in “Kindle” format, and there is a link to that below, in case you cannot wait for The Cabinet to be published.

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PROMETHEUS AND CHIRON

          Tommy first saw the woman at the station in the evening as he waited to catch the train home. He had done some drywalling in a friend of a friend’s house that day and was tired and sore as he waited.  The job had been off the books, so as not to endanger his disability benefits, and it was good to have the extra money; quite apart from eking out basic living expenses, the supplemental cash helped pay for his medical needs.

          Tommy had injured himself some years before, during a construction job on a three-story building.  The fall had not been as serious as it might have been, but three fractured lumbar vertebrae, with the addition of disc herniations and joint injuries to his right knee had left him in chronic pain.  He’d begun taking prescription opiates at first solely to relieve his agony; the extent of his MRI-revealed injuries had at least ensured that he never had to fight much to convince doctors that his pain was real.  After a while, though, he’d found that the meds also made other aspects of life easier, and his dose had slowly but steadily increased.

          Tommy stood at the far end of the station, smoking a cigarette in the designated area.  He had swallowed two extra blues on his way from the job, trying to take the edge off his soreness, to assuage his own jitters, and to relieve his psychic distress over when his next paying job might be coming.  He had just achieved a bit of equanimity when he looked across the track and saw, in the electric light that locally banished the already-thick nighttime, a woman seated on one of the benches.

          Something didn’t seem right about her.  She was extremely pale, Tommy could see that even from across the tracks in the artificial light, and she was visibly trembling and squirming.  She didn’t look healthy. Continue reading

IN THE SHADE teaser

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IN THE SHADE

 

            When Gary Sawyer first heard the screams, he thought they were just the noises of boys playing.  His son, Kyle, had been out most of the morning with his friend, Sean Corcoran, from two “blocks” up, and they were rarely the quietest of companions.  Upon noticing the sharp, high-pitched noises from one of the boys, overlaid with shouted but unintelligible words from the other, Gary assumed that the two were involved in some strange adventure game, or that one of them might be angry at the other.  Such things happened from time to time, even between boys who were as good friends as Kyle and Sean were.

            Gary sometimes thought of the stretch of road on which he lived—and from the end of which he heard the noises—as a “block,” but it really wasn’t.  It was a cul-de-sac, a little, knobby protuberance sticking off the main street, with three houses along each side and four circled around the bulb at its end.  Well…there were three completed houses at the end, and one that was still under construction.

            Gary was not a fan of the way streets were laid out in Florida developments.  He had grown up in the Midwest and the northeast, and one thing you could say about northern suburbia—at least where he had lived—blocks there were blocks.  Streets crossed each other at right angles—more or less—and they split neighborhoods into rectangular agglomerations of dwellings, with backyards abutting other backyards, usually with fences in between, as God clearly intended.

            In Florida, however, things rarely followed any sane deity’s design.  The roads along which people lived tended to meander and twist like big, sightless worms working their way through the soil of neighborhoods, with no clear geometric path.  Occasionally they would close into a single, huge loop, but there was rarely anything one could honestly call a block.  Also, there were all those little protruding bits of rapidly terminating street, such as the one on which the Sawyers lived—strange polyps of roadway.  They were called cul-de-sacs, and residents often referred to them as “sacks.”  Gary supposed the French term sounded fancier than “dead end”, but where he had grown up that was what they would have been called. Continue reading

HOUSE GUEST teaser

The following is an excerpt from the beginning of my short story House Guest, the oldest active story in my opus, so to speak.  It will be the first entry in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities.  Enjoy!

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HOUSE GUEST

            William Harrison sat up in bed, awakened by a particularly frightening nightmare.

            This was all too common an event for him, though he’d thought it was becoming less so.  His pajamas were slightly damp with sweat, but that was as much because he was using too many covers as that he was frightened by his dream.  He’d had far too many, sometimes far more terrible and vivid, dreams in his life to let himself be bothered all that much by this last one.  In fact, as was usual, he couldn’t even remember what the dream had been about now that he was awake.

            He blinked sleep from his eyes and looked around the dark room, first noting that, according to his bedside clock, it was just after three in the morning.  Surely that was the loneliest time of night…the soul’s midnight, he had heard someone call it once, though he didn’t know why.

            He sighed.

            His bed was too big.  He noticed this acutely in the near blackness of his room, the pale rectangle showing vividly against the surrounding dark.  For the past several months, he’d slept in a bed that was little more than a cot, and the king-sized mattress he lay on now was far, far larger than that.  To add to—and to worsen—its relative size, his wife, Melissa, wasn’t there with him.  And, of course, neither was Tammy, their four-year-old daughter, who would sometimes crawl into bed with her parents during the night, when her own nightmares, or just her darkened room, became too frightening. Continue reading

I am a fellow o’ the strangest mind i’ the world; I delight in blogs and revels sometimes altogether

Hello, good morning, and welcome to Thursday, on which day of the week we complete the scared ritual by having me write my weekly blog post.

It’s been a fairly uneventful week, as far as writing and related matters go.  I’m editing In the Shade, as per usual, but that’s been going somewhat slowly.  I’m working on it every day, but I’ve been getting a bit less done than usual, due to some lifestyle changes I’ve made regarding allergy treatment, back pain interventions, and food habits—and other such things—and until my personal, mental clocks adjust to these changes, my concentration is a bit lacking.  To be fair to me, I am adjusting rapidly.  Today, for instance, I’m much more alert than I was yesterday and the day before.  I don’t think it will be long before I’ve gotten back up to full speed.  I may even accelerate.

I’m trying to consider what to work on after I finish In the Shade and complete and publish Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities and then complete and publish Outlaw’s Mind.  I think I may want to swing toward lighter fare.  I’ve been doing mainly horror or horror-related stories for quite a while now, which is fine, but I think veering toward more of a fantasy/sci-fi adventure tale might be good for a bit of a change.  Of course, there’s an element of horror to most of what I write—that’s just who I am, I guess—but still, it might be nice to do something a little less dark.

Among my released novels, two are purely horror stories—The Vagabond and Unanimity, though the latter disguises itself in a science fiction veneer.  The other three, however, are not.  Even Mark Red, which is about vampires and demi-vampires, isn’t a horror story; it’s more of a teen fantasy-adventure of sorts.  The vampires in the story are not merely the protagonists but are actually the good guys*.  Weirdly, though The Chasm and the Collision is a youth fantasy adventure, it could not only legitimately be called science fiction—albeit highly speculative—but it also has more horror elements than Mark Red does…which, I maintain, is essential in any youth-oriented fantasy adventure.

Of course, Son of Man is pure science fiction, though much of it is quite speculative, involving notions of complex time being used as a partial workaround of the Uncertainty Principle, and as a way of doing “time travel” without actually traveling through time.  It plays with identity questions related to the whole “Star Trek transporter”, copy-versus-original, destroyed and recreated versus actually transported question, but with the added levels of differences in time, and with chains of inescapable causality as well as unrequited love and the inability of even a supremely powerful being to change its past.  And, of course, given the title, it indulges in a bit of a playful religious allegory, or whatever the proper term might be.  Though there are references to truly horrific events in it—worse, frankly, than in any of my horror stories—it isn’t a horror story at all.  Go figure.

Of course, among the three tales in Welcome to Paradox City, two are clearly horror, though of quite different subtypes, while the middle one is sort of a supernatural low-key comedy.  I don’t know how funny it is, but though it involves “the unquiet dead**”, it is not a horror story.

All this is my way of reminding myself that, no, I don’t just write horror, though that’s what I’ve mainly written in recent outings.  So, I don’t have to write anything horror-ish for my next big project.  I’ve considered starting the novelization of a story I’d originally conceived as a manga***, based on two separate doodles/drawings I’d done, The Dark Fairy and the Desperado.  If you look at pictures on my Facebook page, you should find some drawings of these characters, and scenes I envision them experiencing, and which are part of the narrative in the story in my head.  They are unlikely heroes, and quite unlikely companions, originally from different worlds (literally), who are tricked/forced to work together on a quest to serve the desires of an extra-dimensional wizard who is trapped in a tiny universe of his own making.  Along the way, they encounter another extra-dimensional being, properly considered a demi-god, who calls herself Lucy (not Lil), and who is a huge fan of the Beatles, and who models her realm accordingly.  As you might guess, Lucy is prone to call the Desperado either “Rocky” or “Dan” or even “Bungalow Bill”, depending on how generous she’s feeling toward him, and she refers to the Dark Fairy as “Sexy Sadie”.

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As you can tell, this story is conceived of as a fun sort of bizarre adventure, with few restrictions on what can possibly happen (though I do insist upon internal logical consistency, as long as it’s not too much trouble).  But I truly like the characters, as I imagine them so far, and would like to find out more of what happens to them, and to introduce them to other people.  I fear, though, that it would require an entire series to tell their tale(s), much more so even than with Mark Red, which can sort of stand on its own, though there’s more to that story than is currently written.

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This is Lucy. In the sky. With diamonds.

And, of course, I have a story waiting called Changeling in a Shadow World, which is about a boy/young man who believes himself to be a normal human, but who is actually the transplanted last survivor of a race of beings that perceive, move through, and manipulate higher spatial dimensions (and non-spatial dimensions), and who were wiped out by a creature or entity that exists between physical planes of reality, without integer dimensionality of its own, and which desires to invade realms of “normal” realities, either to become “dimensional” or merely to ruin such realms for everyone else.  It’s quite non-sane, being a creature without fixed dimensionality, and it has appeared in my stories before.  It’s referred to by those who fear it as Malice, or the Ill-Will, or the Other.  Its (rather unwilling) servants include less powerful irrationally dimensional creatures known as Crawlers…at least one of these appears in one of my soon-to-be-released stories already.

So, these are some of the options for what to work on after my current projects are done, which shouldn’t take too much longer.  If any of my readers have thoughts or preferences about what sounds like a good story for me to write next from among these descriptions, I would be honestly delighted to get your input.  I don’t absolutely guarantee that I’ll go along with your requests, but there can be no doubt whatsoever that you will influence me.  Surely all authors want to write stories that people will enjoy reading, and to which people will look forward!

In the meantime, I hope you all continue to do your best to stay safe and healthy and, especially, as happy as you’re able to be.

TTFN

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This is the original drawing of the Dark Fairy


*I’m using “guys” here in a gender-nonspecific way for convenience.  The lead characters include a female vampire (Morgan, my favorite character that I’ve written so far) and a male demi-vampire (the title character).

**They find the term “ghost” offensive and would prefer that people not use it.

***Mark Red was also so conceived, originally.