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.]

solitaire cover

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…

Journeys end in bloggers meeting

Hello, good morning, and welcome to another blog post!  It’s the second Thursday of December, and the year 2018 is now perilously close to its end.

As you can probably tell, I’m not doing an episode of “My heroes have always been villains,” today.  I don’t seem to get much response to such posts, which is rather heartbreaking, since I love them and the concept.  I guess I’ll just keep them to myself for now.  Maybe someday I’ll make a book of the ones I have, adding any others that I may write in the future.  There are so many interesting villains to discuss, if I can only find people who want to discuss them.

Those of you who’ve been paying attention will have noted that I published Solitaire for Kindle, as I threatened to do.  I posted about it here in my blog, yesterday, and I also added it to the “My books” page, so you can link to the story on Amazon from either source, or by clicking on the title anywhere it appears in this post.  All roads lead to Solitaire!  Okay, well, not all roads.  But there are many paths to that destination, nevertheless.

I’ll repeat, for what should be the last time, my “trigger warning” about SolitaireIt’s not a happy story, and those who suffer from depression—or at least who are in the throes of an episode or who have experiences of trauma related to depression—may not want to read it.  I have no clinical data (obviously) on what its effects might be, but as someone who has struggled with depression for most of my life, I recognize that the story could, if I were in a vulnerable state, make me feel worse.  Perhaps I’m being overly cautious, but I wouldn’t want to make anyone feel even more depressed than they already do, and goodness knows that, when one is depressed, it’s all too easy to find data and experiences that seem to reinforce it.

That being said, I really like the story, as do those who have read it for me—though they too admit that it is, in its way, rather fucked up.  And, lamentably, it is not an unrealistic tale.

We can represent many occurrences in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror that may not be possible in the real world, but I suspect that every state of mind expressed in nearly every kind of fiction, if done well, is something that someone, somewhere, at some time, has experienced.  In fact, one of the many enjoyable things about fantastic literature is that we can put people in situations that could never really happen and see how they might react, finding almost always that—in fiction at least—they react in recognizably and understandably human ways.

I’m still editing Penal Colony, and it’s going well.  It will certainly take longer than did the editing for Solitaire, partly because it’s longer, and partly because Solitaire has been percolating in my head for many years; I was ready, quickly and eagerly, to make the few tweaks that I thought it required.  Penal Colony is much more lighthearted than Solitaire, but it’s still one of my stories, so it’s not entirely light.  I’m afraid I’ll never be able to write in the genres dominated by such luminaries as Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.  Alas!  I do enjoy making people laugh, but my natural tendency, in writing at least, is instead to make people feel…well, perhaps a tad disturbed and insecure.  That’s not such a bad thing.  After all, most people who go to a carnival, or to one of the modern equivalents, aren’t as interested in watching the antics of clowns as they are in exploring the funhouse or, better yet, riding a roller-coaster.

I know those are the things I like to do.

And finally, I am steadily approaching the end of Unanimity.  I don’t think it will be done before the new year arrives, but if I’ve not completed the first draft by the time January has come and gone, I’ll be very surprised…and more than likely will have been the victim of some accident or illness, because honestly, there’s no way it should take that long.  I know, I know, I’ve been wrong before, but as the end approaches, the absolute margin of error shrinks, even if the relative error remains the same.  Once I’ve reached the book’s conclusion, as I’m sure I’ve said before, I’m going to follow Stephen King’s advice and let the manuscript lie for a month or so before beginning the editing process.  Don’t worry, I’ll have plenty to occupy me.  I’ve got another short story to write even if I’ve finished and published Penal Colony by then, and another novel to start right after that.  There shall be no rest for the wicked, on either end of the keyboard.

TTFN

I will encounter darkness as a bride, and blog it in mine arms.

Good morning!  Allow me to welcome you to another Thursday, which I know you’ve been awaiting with bated breath.  It’s the first Thursday of December 2018, and the new year rapidly approaches.  Hanukkah has already begun, and some other biggish holiday is also coming up, based on the various decorations and songs one hears in the shops.

I’ve been working steadily, if sometimes not as quickly as I like.  Solitaire should be ready to publish soon, probably before the end of the year.  We’ve already begun working on the cover design, which I don’t expect to be a great surprise, but which nevertheless is so appropriate as to be all but inevitable.

I’m excited about publishing Solitaire, and I’m enthusiastic about people reading it, but I want to say again before that day arrives:  this is not a happy story.  It has its moments of sardonic humor, I suppose, but it is supremely dark…so dark that, when I originally wrote it, I couldn’t imagine where to send it to get it published.  I couldn’t see how any magazine would want it.

Not that it’s not a good story; obviously, I think it is.  But it’s not science fiction, and it’s not supernatural.  Thus, venues dedicated to those genres were not readily available.  And though there is a surprise revelation involved, it’s not really a mystery story, either.  It’s the tale of an advertising executive having a breakdown, and contemplating the recent events of his life, and that of his family, while dealing out a hand of solitaire at the breakfast table.

But this is not the whole story of why I never tried to have it published; it’s actually a bit of excuse-making.  The fact is, especially as a younger man, I was nervous about putting Solitaire out into the world.  From then to now, the reactions of those who have read it have ranged from, “Man, that guy’s really bitter,” to “Doc, you’re fucked in the head.”  These comments have always been made in good humor—the commenters clearly meaning what they said as a species of compliment—but these were people who know me, after all.  They know I’m a good guy.

Strangers reading Solitaire might be rather put off.  I suppose that’s okay.  People who can’t handle dark things should avoid it; for certain others it may even be “triggering.”  I would go so far as to say that someone in the throes of a significant mood disorder probably should not read it.

Still, I think it’s a good story, and I’m proud of it, despite its darkness…or perhaps because of it, who knows?  If I don’t, I don’t see how anyone else could.  I think that, although sometimes the best way to deal with darkness is to whistle past the graveyard and make jokes, at other times its just as well to dive right into the deep, dark end of the frigid pool and get it over with, or get used to it, or whatever you want to call the process.  Maybe such fiction is a way of saying, “The world can be dark.  Sometimes it can be very dark.  We can take it.  Bring it on.”

Whatever the meaning, I’m delighted to have rediscovered it, and to be able to present it to you in a venue all its own, hopefully for your enjoyment.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’m also editing Penal Colony.  It’s taking longer than Solitaire, partly because it’s a longer story, and partly because Solitaire gets priority.  Penal Colony is more light-hearted, and it is definitely science fiction, though not of the ray-gun, starship variety—it takes place in the modern world, mostly in an all-night diner.  Make of that what you will.

And, of course, Unanimity is moving along as well.  We’re about to reach the final confrontation, something I’ve been approaching for many times longer than have the characters in the story (which takes place over only a few months).  It’s been a long road, much longer than I expected, and it’s good to be able finally to catch a glimpse of the end, even if it is still off on the horizon.  Or some other, better metaphor.

Have a happy holiday season, even you only tacitly celebrate the Winter Solstice.  It may be cold and dark outside, at least in the northern hemisphere, but that’s okay.  As I said above, we can take it.

Bring it on.

TTFN

Fortune brings in some blogs that are not steered.

Hello, everyone!

First of all, I’d like to wish a very Happy Thanksgiving to all those living in the United States.  I hope you have a wonderful day, enjoy a feast with friends and family, perhaps watching some decent football games, and doing any and all other good stuff such as will make you feel thankful.

I wasn’t sure I was going to write anything today; I often skip these posts on holidays, as you may have noticed.  However, such a fortuitous and unexpected thing happened to me today that I simply had to share it.  Talk about being thankful!

I was fiddling around with an older email account, one that I’ve had for many years.  It may even be my very first personal (as opposed to work-related) email, I’m not sure.  Anyway, I used one of its functions to look through the list of all the files that had ever been attached to my emails.  I was, specifically, searching for an old Harry Potter fanfic of mine that I liked quite a bit, but which I’d lost (I wrote part of another at the same time, and I still have that, so it’s doubly frustrating not being able to find the other).  It’s a silly story, to be honest, one that I never even had the nerve to submit to a fanfiction site, but I really would like to be able to find it and read it again.

Well…I haven’t found it.  I’m not giving up, but my Bayesian estimated prior probability of ever locating it is small indeed.

So, why am I thankful?  I’ll tell you.

Some of you longer-term readers may recall me mentioning an old short story I once wrote, and that I had more than half a mind to try to rewrite.  This short story was called Solitaire.  Well, I did NOT find my lost Harry Potter fanfic (title: Disinhibition), but I DID find an older-style Microsoft Word copy of the short story Solitaire!  It’s the complete story!  As written, if memory serves, way back in the early nineteen nineties, or perhaps even the late eighties!

I wrote the story during the summer, when I was visiting the young woman who would later become my wife.  I don’t think we were officially dating then, but if we were, we had just started…it was right after she graduated from university.  In fact, it may have been that summer when we first got involved.

Anyway, she had a summer job with Squibb, if I remember correctly, and was working on a project that was going to keep her up all night.  I’ve always been a night owl, and she worked better with my company (according to her), so I stayed up with her.  I had a spiral-bound notebook with me, probably from my own college stuff, and I decided, while she worked, to write a story.

Solitaire was that story.  I wrote the whole thing that night, almost in its finished form.  It didn’t need much editing.  When she read it, her response was along the lines of, “It’s really good…but what in the world was going through your mind to make you write something like this?”  To that I had no clear answer then, and I have no clear answer now.  It’s just the way my mind seems to work.

I never tried to get it published because, frankly, I couldn’t see what kind of publication would want to release such a dark story.  Now, though, I have just the venue, and I’m going to put it out for Kindle (and will later include it in my eventual next collection of short stories).  It will probably be ready to publish before Penal Colony…which is coming along well, thanks for asking.

I’m obviously even happier than I would have been if I had found the Harry Potter fanfic (though I am still frustrated about that).  In fact, I think the only thing that might make me happier would be if I’d magically found a file containing my complete first horror novel, Vagabond.  Alas, though that was saved as a computer file, I don’t think I ever emailed it to anyone.  If it’s ever published, it will have to have been rewritten.

[This isn’t as heartbreaking as the loss of the first novel I ever completed, back in high school, Ends of the Maelstrom.  Unfortunately, that was 570-some-odd single-spaced, handwritten pages, with much overflow squeezed between lines and into the margins, and I never got the nerve up to begin rewriting it.  My procrastination cost me dearly there, as that book is now lost with all my other worldly possessions from prior to 2011 (see this week’s post in Iterations of Zero for an explanation of why).]

Hopefully I’ll let that be a lesson to me.  Knowing me, though…well, we’ll have to see, I suppose.

But still…wow!  Solitaire, in near-original form, discovered at long last.  Thank goodness for the near-eternal memory of the Internet.  Soon, all of you will have the opportunity, for less than a buck, to read the story that caused the woman I was going to marry to wonder just what the hell was going on in my head.  (She did marry me, so obviously she wasn’t all that worried, though many years later she effectively reversed the decision.)  And, of course, shortly after that, you’ll get to read Penal Colony and In the Shade if you’re so inclined.  And not too much after that, Unanimity will be forthcoming.

You have so much to which to look forward.  I envy you.

TTFN