KDP and Createspace have merged. Move your books today!

After a long, long wait, the merger of Createspace and Amazon’s KDP softcover printing service is at hand.

It affected me greatly, moving more than 40 titles during the transfer.

But…

I’m pleased to say the transition was smooth, efficient, and resulted in none of the disaster scenarios I feared. Yes, the switch-over is mandatory. No, it’s not the end of the world.

Rather than ramble on, here’s the full scoop from KDP’s home page. Included is the full walkthrough of how to make the switch.

I recommend not waiting. Do the switch now…and don’t let KDP do it for you.

* * *

CreateSpace and KDP to Become One Service

CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) are becoming one service–making KDP the single place to publish and manage your print and digital books. To learn more about the move, see the topics below.

Before you move


See our list of tips for preparing your CreateSpace account for the move to KDP.

How to move


In a few weeks, we’ll automatically move all accounts to KDP. If you’d like to get a head start, you can move your entire catalog yourself in a few steps. To ensure a quality experience, we’ll enable the ability to move your CreateSpace books to KDP in phases, so authors may see it at different times. See an overview of the process.

FAQ


See frequently asked questions for general information about the move, as well as details about moving your books and royalty payments, sales rank, distribution, and taxes.

Join us for a live webinar and have our experts introduce you to the KDP website. Registration is hosted by Adobe Connect, so you’ll visit their site to sign up. Can’t join us for the live event? Watch the webinar recordings here.


Before you move your books to KDP

Our tips for preparing for the move:

  • Make your book available on Amazon. This will allow you to enable Expanded Distribution and order author copies on KDP.
  • Check your payment information. Make sure your bank and tax details are up to date because this information will also move to KDP. If you have an existing account with complete payment and tax information, we’ll use that information going forward.
  • Make any changes to your Cover Creator cover. If you designed your cover using Cover Creator on CreateSpace and want to update it, do so before moving to KDP. Why? CreateSpace Cover Creator designs aren’t compatible with Cover Creator on KDP. If you want to update your cover after the move to KDP, you’re welcome to design a new one using KDP’s Cover Creator. You can also use our cover templates.
  • Finish setting up books in the statuses “awaiting proof” or “proof review.” We recommend doing this on CreateSpace so you don’t have to resubmit them on KDP. Books that aren’t live on CreateSpace will move to KDP and appear there in “draft” status. The statuses “awaiting proof” and “proof review” don’t exist on KDP. If needed, changes can be made on KDP after the move is complete. After you submit your book for publication on KDP, we’ll check your files for quality issues.
  • Make any changes to books written in languages KDP doesn’t support. CreateSpace supports some languages that KDP doesn’t. After your books are moved, you won’t be able to make any changes to books written in languages KDP doesn’t support.
  • Download any CreateSpace files you want to keep. If you want to download files stored in your Project Tool box or any CreateSpace reports, we recommend that you do so before you move to KDP. After the move, you won’t be able to access these files on CreateSpace.

How to move your books to KDP

You’ll be able to move your entire catalog to KDP in a few steps.

VERIFY
To ensure you’re moving the right books to KDP, confirm the CreateSpace account you want to transfer from.
LINK
To ensure you’re moving your CreateSpace books to the right KDP account, confirm that it’s the account you want to transfer to. If you don’t have a KDP account, you need to create one during the transfer.
MOVE
Once you’ve made sure you’re transferring from and to the right account, click Start your move. When we’re done preparing your account for the move, you’ll be redirected to your KDP Bookshelf, where the transfer will be finalized.

To ensure a quality experience, we’ll enable the ability to move your CreateSpace books to KDP in phases, so authors may see it at different times. This quick video shows you what the move will look like.

Video: Moving your books to KDP

 

All the Stupid Things I Used to Believe When I was a Kid

Kids are like sponges.

They soak up every imaginable piece of information.

And we all know how smart sponges are, right?

Growing up in rural Illinois had its benefits. The whole world was my playground. In winters, I had endless fields in which to stomp, sled, and build snowmen armies. In the summer, the entire state served as my personal baseball diamond.

But…

For all the fun I had, and for all the places my imagination took me, I was an idiot.

How big of an idiot?

Let’s find out…

*


*

I used to believe animals could never make mistakes. I guess I probably watched too many National Geographic nature shows, because for many years I thought it was impossible for any creature other than a human to fall down, trip, stumble, or make any slight error in movement. Then one day I saw my cat jump for…and miss…the stairs. And a light bulb flickered on inside my head.

I assumed women’s breasts were for amusement purposes only. I mean, I guess they kind of are. Babies seem pretty happy to encounter them. I didn’t figure out the whole milk thing until I hit about ten years old.

I knew Santa was fake (sorry, kids.)  But I believed in the tooth fairy. And the Easter Bunny. Not really sure how I didn’t connect the dots.

My grandfather (dude was mean sometimes) explained to me the pizza delivery guy didn’t need tips because he got paid too much already. Don’t worry, I got over this one rather quickly. I overtip now.

One of my family members convinced me that because I hadn’t been baptized, touching holy water in church would burn me. Actually, now that I think about it, they might be right. I’m not brave enough to test the theory.

I believed cicadas were pretty much the deadliest creature alive.

But I happily chased bees with reckless abandon.

A cousin once convinced me that baseball pitchers threw the ball so hard, the ball would literally pass through the hitter’s bat if they didn’t swing hard enough.

I was pretty sure that if I couldn’t see the bottom of a particular body of water (even if it was only a few feet deep) the water’s depth was thousands of feet.

Also, I believed sharks lurked in the freshwater quarry in which we used to swim.

And Jaws definitely lived in the swimming pool’s deep end.

Once, I tried to dig to China. With a plastic yellow shovel. Literally. I got about three feet down before I gave up and went inside for lemonade.

I thought holding my breath made me harder to see while playing hide & seek.

And I still kind of believe turning the music down while driving helps me when I’m driving downtown.

For a brief time in second grade, I thought kissing girls was enough to get them pregnant. So naturally I chased every girl down on the playground and kissed them. Sadly, no one got pregnant, but I did earn a week’s after-school study (Detention for little kids.)

 

Someone convinced me squirrels were carnivorous.

Alligators definitely came from toilets.

Quicksand was something to be feared. It could’ve happened anywhere.

King Cobra snakes littered the cornfields of northern Illinois.

And Eagles only lived on the tops of the highest mountains in the world.

I really didn’t understand how the chain-reaction caused by dropping atomic weapons didn’t destroy the entire planet. When we had nuke drills in the early 80’s, the teachers would make us hide under our desks. As if THAT would help.

Root beer definitely contained real beer.

I was absolutely sure girls could never smell bad in any way.

My worst fear was throwing up so much my entire stomach might come out.

I believed people could be resurrected. As in, raised from the dead. I didn’t quite grasp the concept of permanent death. Oops.

And…while going through her New Age phase, my aunt briefly convinced me reincarnation was real. C’mon, auntie.

One of my earliest childhood memories? A week or two during which I tried to run faster than light. At dawn at my grandparents’ house, I sprinted outside and tried to run fast enough to catch up to the night again. I’m pretty sure I got close. Or not.

And finally…

Until just before high school, I believed women gave birth to babies via their butt. No one had bothered to explain proper anatomy to me, and so I worried that if a mom-to-be was using the bathroom, she stood a reasonable chance of ejecting the baby into the toilet, where it would drown.

See?

I told you.

I was an idiot.


*

Be smarter than me. Read this.

J Edward Neill

 

The 100 Most Important Definitions in the English Language

The 100 Most Important Definitions in the English Language


RBF – (Resting B***h Face) The expression on a woman’s face when she’s looking at anything other than her puppy.

Uber – A transportation system designed to rescue alcoholics.

LyftDefinition unknown. 

Meme – A limited-scope comedic device employed to populate 97.6% of every social media feed.

Ghosting – Abandoning your toothbrush in order to avoid a narcissist.

Social Media – Where happiness goes to die.

Internet Dating – What people do when they’re in the mood to rapidly judge strangers.

Creepy – When someone to whom you’re not attracted tries to flirt with you.

“I know, right?” – A reply meaning, “Can we talk about something else now?”

Catfishing – Subtracting 30 lbs. while adding 2 inches.

Sale – The same price as before, but with a ‘Sale’ sign affixed above the product.

Clearance Sale – “No one wanted to buy this s**t.”

Salt Life – A sticker adhered to the vehicle of a person who has visited the ocean once.

13.1 – The distance between narcissism and a mediocre level of fitness.

Millennial – A person born between 1980-2000 who simultaneously possesses more luxuries and fewer opportunities than any other generation in the world’s history. (This word’s definition subject to change based on the age of the person defining it.)

BFF (Best friends forever) – An acronym used to define a friendship that will last 2-6 months before abruptly ending.

Diet Soda – A beverage consumed by people pretending to be on a diet. Usually paired with large fries and a double cheeseburger.

Kale – A solid form of diet soda.

Skinny Margarita – A drink created by combining water and crushed ice.

Vegetarian – A word spoken to make waitresses cry.

Vegan – A word spoken to make waitresses commit suicide.

Crossfit – Intentionally blowing out your joints for the purpose of looking good in a bathing suit.

Politics – A cultural phenomena in which citizens argue vehemently about which sociopathic millionaire is most fit to rule a given nation.

Climate Change – The act of intentionally increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in order to generate cash.

Capital Punishment – The moment one realizes they accidentally used all-caps in a message, email, or Facebook post, and now their friends are all upset about it.

Passive-Aggressive – When your wife says, “Oh, nothing.”

Gun Control – The act of pretending it’s physically possible to disarm three-hundred million people.

Terrorism – The act of fighting a war while not in possession of tanks, planes, and nuclear weapons.

“It is what it is.” – A phrase uttered by someone who no longer wants to participate in meaningful conversation.

“You do you.” – A phrase said by someone who strongly dislikes the person to whom they say it. (e.g. “I heard you don’t like bacon. That’s okay. You do you.“)

“Off the chain.” – A phrase spoken by white people while sipping champagne at a yacht club.

Unicorn – A reasonably attractive woman who allows her boyfriend or husband to enjoy more than one beer.

Triggering – Purposely antagonizing stupid people.

Gentrification – The act of raising property taxes to bleach neighborhoods.

Feminism – Depends on whom you ask.

News Media – A large gathering of opinions.

Fake News – Possibly real news.

Homophobia – A powerful fear of penises.

Bae – The name one assigns to their future ex.

Fitbit – A device worn to trick onlookers into assuming its wearer possesses an interest in physical fitness.

Jealousy – Becoming angry in the belief that another person is not in fact a real person, but a piece of property.

‘Self-Made’ – A claim made by a ‘successful’ person when no one else is aware of their privileged upbringing.

DUI – The act of plucking one tipsy driver from an ocean of thousands.

Lactose Intolerance – The act of avoiding milk and cheese on date nights.

Monday Night Football – A television show capable of stretching a 60-minute game to 4 hours.

Soccer – Faking injuries with the intent of winning on penalty kicks.

NBA Basketball – A league of thirty teams in which only three teams have any chance of competing for a championship.

MLB Baseball – A sporting event people attend when they want to pay $400 for two hot dogs & two beers, and then watch the game on the jumbo-tron.

Golf – Long-distance beer pong.

Pornhub – Where married people go for sex.

Politician – A wealthy, elderly white person participating in a system in which popularity determines the right to make extremely important societal decisions.

Immigration – One or more people crossing an imaginary line while in possession of paperwork.

Illegal Immigration – Like immigration, but without paperwork.

Marriage – The act of sacrificing one’s long-term financial future in order to secure 3-5 years of consistent sex.

Gay Marriage – Marriage.

Divorce – The act of giving away most of one’s money.

Hipster – A person who sneers while mocking mainstream music.

Facebook – A place one goes to view advertisements for something they purchased yesterday.

Music – A cultural phenomenon beginning in roughly 4000 B.C. and ending in 2000 A.D.

Government – A large gathering of wealthy lunatics.

Tariffs – A method of fighting wars using cash instead of bullets.

Tweeting – A recently-developed method of governing.

Electoral College – A political point-keeping system designed to empower flyover states.

Public Schools – A 12-year program designed to babysit children and teenagers until they’re old enough to hate their lives.

White Privilege – Not having to explain why you’re dating a white girl.

Anti-Vaxxer – A person refusing to immunize their children due to a misguided love of Jenny McCarthy.

RDF (Resting Dad Face) – The look a father gives his son to make him stop jumping on the couch.

Twerking – A swift method of securing single-motherhood.

Snapchat – Where fake dog-ear selfies and loneliness collide.

Cosplaying – The act of hyper-sexualizing an underage comic book or cartoon character.

Instagram – Where people go to obsess over cosplayers.

AirBNB – A super-convenient way to find a bed on which someone else had sex yesterday.

Introvert – A descriptive term for a person who dislikes everyone besides their cat, their dog, and their one friend who’s fine with hanging out just once per month.

Extrovert – A descriptive term for a somewhat likable asshole.

Gaslighting – A phrase uttered when highly emotional people become angry about colliding with rational thought.

Human Trafficking – A clogged interstate at 7:55 on a Monday morning.

Protest – A form of peaceful social criticism allowed only when it doesn’t interrupt flag-worship.

Children – What people create when they desire expensive, needy, emotionally-draining pets.

Social Justice Warrior (SJW) – A person who fights to change society via capitalized social media posts.

Cultural Appropriation – The act of pretending Taco Bell is real Mexican food.

‘Protect and Serve’ – It sounds way better than ‘Harass and Intimidate.’

Hashtag – A word or phrase preceded by the # symbol. Typically used to divide angry humans into separate (but equally angry) camps or by housewives to boast about their children.

Income Inequality – The act of owning three mansions and seventeen cars without any sense of irony.

LOL – An acronym used to deceive someone else into believing they might actually be funny.

Church – A building one visits to judge his or her fellow humans.

Religion – The large-scale rejection of science.

Socialism – A system of government which includes the pooling of resources to provide infrastructure, essential public services, joint armed-forces, and basic welfare for all people living in a given nation.

Communism – The same as socialism, but evil because it’s used in non-Western nations.

Helicopter Parenting – The act of imprisoning a child within an imaginary ten-foot diameter sphere.

THICC – Someone in possession of a giant ass. (e.g. “My cat is THICC.”)

Voting – A mass cultural event in which people click buttons in a booth, receive a sticker for a prize, and brag about it on the internet.

Lobbying – Investing large sums of money in political contests for the purpose of acquiring large sums of taxpayer dollars.

“Keep calm and…” – …shut the f**k up.

“Literally.” – Probably uttered regarding something not at all literal.

Craft BeerBeer.

Reverse RacismRacism. 

GMO Food (Genetically-modified food.) – Food.

Organic FoodFood.

Gluten-Free – Lacking in flavor.

Satire – The act of intentionally triggering sensitive people.


*

Did this make you mad?

Good. Get even angrier while reading this.

Or take a deep breath and try this. 

Dragoncon 2018 is over…but the art continues

Whew…

What a ride.

This year’s DragonCon Art Show was epic. A ton of great artists, a TON of great art.

To celebrate, I’m restocking my store with everything I didn’t sell.

AND I’m offering this coupon, which is good for 25% off everything.

YES.

EVERYTHING.

Let’s start with the prints and original paintings I featured at the Art Show. Through the end of this month, use coupon code DRAGONCON to get 25% off the listed prices!

Just click the art you’re interested in and go nuts. 🙂


Where Dreams Die (Print) – $15

Horned Queen (Print) – $15

Hither the Wind (Print) – $15

Season of Shadows (Print) – $20

Worship (Print) – $15

Underworld King (Print) – $10

Be Silent (Print) – $15

Furiosa (Print) – $15

Summoning Tree (Print) – $20


Also, the coupon (again, it’s DRAGONCON) applies each of the following original canvasses.

Visit my shop to learn more.


Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing to Become One Service

It’s official.

We all knew it was coming.

Createspace and KDP are ‘merging.’  If you’re a paperback publisher who uses either platform, you’ll want to review the following message, copy/pasted directly from Amazon’s KDP website:


Hello,

We’re excited to announce that CreateSpace (CSP) and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) will become one service, and in the coming days, we will give CreateSpace members the ability to move their account and titles. To ensure a quality experience, we will add links to the CreateSpace member dashboard in phases so authors may see it at different times. As a reminder, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) now offers Expanded Distribution to sell your paperbacks to physical bookstores in the US, as well as the ability to sell your paperback books on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.au (Amazon.mx coming soon). With these features, KDP’s paperback distribution will be on par with CreateSpace’s distribution. KDP also offers features that aren’t available on CreateSpace. These include the ability to purchase ads to promote paperbacks on Amazon.com and locally printed author copies in Europe.

As a result of these enhancements to KDP and our ongoing efforts to provide a more seamless experience for managing your paperback and digital books, CreateSpace and KDP will become one service. On KDP, your paperbacks will still be printed in the same facilities, on the same printers, and by the same people as they were on CreateSpace.

In a few weeks, we’ll start automatically moving your CreateSpace books to KDP. Your books will remain available for sale throughout the move and you’ll continue to earn royalties. Once we begin this process you’ll be unable to edit existing titles or create new titles on CreateSpace.

If you have a release planned soon or you would like to start the move yourself, we are making updates that will allow you to move your entire catalog in just a few steps. During this transition, you can contact KDP customer support by email and access phone support in English.

There are a few payment and printing fee differences associated with the move. Going forward you will be paid on KDP’s payment schedule. CreateSpace pays monthly royalties 30 days after the end of the month in which they were earned while KDP pays monthly royalties approximately 60 days after the end of the month in which they were earned. As a result, you’ll be paid in September for any royalties earned in August on CreateSpace and be paid in October for any royalties earned in August on KDP. In addition, some low-page count books will see an increase in printing fees when they are printed in the UK and EU. This affects a small number of titles. If your titles are affected by this change, you will receive a separate email on this topic. Learn more about KDP’s printing fees here.

To learn more about the move and review the latest, visit here. We’ll be in touch with more updates in the coming weeks.

It is still Day 1 for independent publishing. As Amazon’s recent shareholder letter noted, there are more than a 1,000 authors who earn more than a $100,000 a year from their work with us. We could not be more optimistic about the future of independent publishing and this change will allow us to innovate faster for you.


As a user of both platforms, it’s almost a relief to see this is finally happening. While the royalty payout time is not so great, KDP generally speaking has the better interface. It’s long past time to move forward with this merger.

Self-publishers unite!

J Edward Neill

The 12 Paintings I’m Showing at DragonCon

I’m headed to DragonCon this year.

It’s my first time appearing in their annual art show.

The show will be loaded with great artists, including all of these talented folks here.

As for me?

I’m bringing twelve canvas paintings.

Here they are, each with a little story included:

‘Serpents of Sorrow’ – A collaborative piece created with sculptor Tahina Morrison. I’d never really painted snakes before this. We tried to capture a tragic Greek pose. Did we succeed? You be the judge.

‘The Spider God’ – Detailing the gears, pipes, and machines took days…and days. Some people have said the mess behind the Spider God is too much, but I loved creating it. This giant piece currently dominates my basement.

‘Pierced’ – I wanted to create something sensual without being overtly sexual. Along came this girl. I poured the watercolors on with reckless abandon…and then inked the girl in with soft, serene colors.

‘Summoning Tree’ – Most of my paintings contain metallic, muted colors. I wanted to bring one LOUD piece to DragonCon just to offset the softer stuff. Along came Summoning Tree, whose reds and yellows burn with the intensity of many suns. This one was pure chaos to create.

‘The Nemesis’ – I’m not really a fan of most video game art. But the Dark Souls series inspires me. I can’t stand the game – it’s too hard. The art…on the other hand. This giant piece, I painted atop another, much older painting. His armor turned out really well, I think.

‘Be Silent’ – My favorite collaborative piece of all time. The girl, her crown, the swirling colors in the background…it all just came together. This one is on prime display in my living room. If she sells, I’ll miss her badly.

‘Underworld King’ – Right back to the dark stuff. I wanted to mix a furious range of colors to complement Tahina’s skull work. Somehow, my violent splash of reds, blacks, and golds came together. This painting is big…and intense. (My kid is terrified of it.)

‘Season of Shadows’ – It’s no secret I like to paint trees. Usually split-color, leafless, tormented branches. This one is among my most favorite. The reds and blacks pretty much exploded onto the canvas.

‘Beauty and the Blade’ – The concept here is an (almost) immortal goddess. In a fit of extreme vanity, she wants to prove nothing can harm her. But her blade strikes home, and she learns even goddesses can die.

‘Charon’ – The Boatman. The Ferryman of the River Styx. I love painting bones and bone textures. This one is based off an actual deer skull I keep on my bookshelf. Zoom in to see the dark sigils on his face.

‘Lucifera’ – She’s loosely based on a Danzig album cover. She’s also one of my oldest paintings, marking the first time I really got into using metallics. I hang her over my stairs, which she watches without ever sleeping. I suppose her scream will never end.

‘Rapture’ – A lone girl, connected to machines which ensure she’ll never die, awakens in a tangle of shadows and snaking tubes. She’s something other than human now. Long after we’re gone, she will remain…

*

Hopefully you enjoyed this sneak peek.  Come see the originals at DragonCon 2018.  They’re much more impressive than these little thumbnails.  They’re also for sale at very reasonable prices.

…mostly because I’m not yet famous. 🙂

For more of my dark (usually) art, try this.

Dark New Cover Art – Let the Bodies

In the old world city of Ellerae, one person goes missing every day.

Poor little Mia doesn’t stand a chance.

Or does she?

Let the Bodies

One dead. Every night. Forever…

With new cover art by Tahina Morrison…

*

Let the Bodies also appears in the short novel – The Hecatomb.

The cover art (The Shroud) is available as an original painting here.

J Edward Neill

Bouncing Between Bottles – Memoirs of a Tipsy Author

He promises to drain one bottle per chapter. That’s the rule. There’s no breaking it.
And while deep in his cups, J Edward Neill takes readers on a sometimes funny, often poignant journey. Playful yet serious, humorous yet honest, his bounce between bottles delivers readers on a stroll through everything. It’s a lighthearted memoir blended with sharp philosophy. It’s social commentary blended with powerful cocktails.

Dating. Religion. Politics. That one time J Edward and his friend built a dam and met the world’s most relaxed water moccasin…
It’s all here.
One bottle per chapter.
One chapter every night…

*

*

Now available for every e-device worldwide. 

101 Questions for Single Parents

This book is for you if…

…you’re a sleep-deprived single mom who can name at least 50 Pokémon but can’t keep your kids’ names straight or remember where you parked your car at the grocery store.

…you’re a single father who sits in a morning work meeting, waiting to give a monthly report presentation, when suddenly you realize you forgot to remove the polish your daughter had applied to your finger nails (and half your hand) the night before.

…you ‘re the grandparent who can’t retire because you’re raising your young grandson alone. After an eight-hour work day, your nights are filled with homework, constructing cities out of Legos, and answer 2AM calls to chase monsters out from under the bed.

…you are, know, love, or want to get to know a single parent. Here are 101 ways to dig deep into the challenges and the joys of single parenting. The following questions are sometimes fun, sometimes thought-provoking, and always enlightening.

*

7 Questions for Single Parents

7 Questions

For Single Parents

…or really any Parent

* * *

*

*

Timing is Everything

 You’re a single parent, right?

(Even if you’re not, you can still answer this one.)

When dating a new person, how long should a single parent wait before allowing their new lover to meet the kid(s)?

*

Think Fast!

Using one or two-word answers only, describe what you’d do in each of the following scenarios:

  • Your child walks in after visiting your ex and claims they now believe the exact opposite of whatever your religious beliefs are
  • Your ex withholds two months of child support, claiming a financial hardship
  • Your two children (ages 10 and 15) announce they want to live exclusively with your ex-spouse
  • Your one child (age 7) announces they want to live exclusively with you and never, ever see their other parent

*

The Answer is 84

 At what age should a child have the legal right to choose to live solely with one parent?

*

Mecha-Ninja Tech-Savvy Godzilla Mom

From the following, choose one or more descriptions that would best fit your style of single-parenting:

Tiger (High discipline, emphasis on structure and academics)

Free-Spirited (Lower emphasis on structure. Let the kid do almost anything they want…within reason)

Soccer Mom/Dad (Athletics, exercise, and physical activity)

Techie (Video games & devices allowed. Emphasis on computer skills)

Skill Builder (Teach the kids to follow in your footsteps. i.e.; fixing cars, hunting, fishing, cooking, sewing, et cetera)

Culture Warrior (Teach the kids to become highly involved in society.)

*

*

Fight Club!

 You’re a single parent of two boys, ages 8 and 10.

You’ve had it with their constant bickering and sibling rivalry.

Your ex-spouse isn’t helping.

How do you handle their disputes?

  • Every time a fight goes down, I break it up and dish out the appropriate punishment.
  • I get involved in the serious conflicts, but let them handle the small stuff.
  • Ignore them. What kids?
  • I hand them each a sword and tell them to fight to the death!

*

All Fridays become National Holidays for Grocery Shopping and Mario Kart

Here’s your chance.

Create a new nationwide law that will apply only to single parents.

Your new law can be beneficial or punitive; it’s up to you.

If your law goes against single parents in any way, describe the penalty for breaking it.

*

Bragging Rights

 Do single parents have the right to be extra-proud?


*

So…

You like answering these kinds of questions? Go here.

Or maybe you’re tired of talking about your kids. In that case, go here.

*

Imagine a World Without ________

Reach deep.

And imagine…

 

You’re walking down a city street. All the cars speeding past you are grey and boxlike. They’re all the same, featureless, colorless, and they make no sound as they sweep down the streets.

You walk into a clothing store. There are no sections for men, women, and children. On every rack hang beige shirts, pants, and coats. The styles are drab and shapeless. There are no dressing rooms. There is no color. Other shoppers…even the cashier…are dressed in the same exact clothing. Everyone looks identical. You slap down your money and walk out with a grey bag full of the same clothes everyone else wears.

You’re hungry. Starving, actually. You walk into a restaurant without a name, a logo, or a menu. You step up to the counter and order the same thing everyone else is having. This is the city’s best place to eat, but you’re not impressed. All they offer are tasteless, watery noodles and flavorless bread. Everyone sits quietly and eats at grey tables. You can’t even remember why you picked this place.

Mmmmmm…watery noodles.

At home, you’re ready to relax after a long day at work. Your house looks exactly like everyone else’s, but luckily you remember which one is yours. After all, it’s got a number. You park your grey car inside your grey garage, and you walk through grey doors into a grey room. Your walls are barren. No photos of loved ones. No paintings. No color. You sit on your couch and turn on your TV. There’s only one station. It’s the same two people wearing the same two suits talking about the same thing they did yesterday. There’s no Food Network, SyFy Channel, Game of Thrones, or Discovery Channel. It’s just two people discussing the value of nothing. What else is there to watch?

Nothing.

You’d like to go to the movies. But there’s no such thing.

You’re thinking of taking a stroll through a museum. But no one’s ever thought to build one.

You’re hungry for a gourmet pizza, a scrumptious slice of cake, and a nice cocktail. But there’s no chefs, no bakeries, and certainly no bartenders.

Perhaps I’ll just lie in bed and read a book, you think. It’s not like there’s anything else to do. 

But there are no books. Because there are no authors. And even if there were, all the covers would look the same…grey and black. You wouldn’t know which one to read. It’d be impossible to choose. At this point, you’d settle for a magazine, a newspaper, or a funny website with cute comics on the internet. It sucks, because these things don’t exist. You’ve never heard of them. You can’t even want to want them.

You’re bored. You’re distraught. You step outside for a walk. It’s strange walking through your town. The houses, buildings, shops, and stores are all white boxes. No one bothers with windows…there’s nothing to see. You can’t tell the difference between the car repair shop and the bank. They look exactly the same. No one ever bothered to be an architect. No one knew it was possible.

There’s one thing left that’ll save you. You run back to your trusty radio. It’s a grey box like all the others. You flip the switch and turn the dial to your favorite station. The sound greeting your ears? Static. Dead, dry noise. There’s no rhythm in it. There’s no beat, no catchy hook. It’s just static.

Always crackling. Always the same.

And you’re emptier still.

That evening, your kid comes home from school.

“What did you do today?” you ask. “Learn anything interesting?”

He shrugs. He doesn’t care much about school. He learns the same things every day: math, chemistry, and science. That’s all well and good. But he never has any good stories. It’s because there aren’t any. He’s happy because he doesn’t have to write book reports, but sad because he’s never read a book. There’s not much going on at his school. No sports. No chess club. No band camp. Why have extracurricular activities if there’s no such thing?

He doesn’t even know what a crayon is.

Actually, neither do you.

You’re walking down a hall.

The walls are barren. Everyone you pass is wearing pale sackcloth. Everyone looks the same.

It’s silent in this place. The only sounds you hear are footsteps and your own breathing. They haven’t even bothered to pipe lame elevator music into this place. Why would they? There’s no such thing.

There’s no color here. There’s nothing to do but eat your noodles, sleep in your white bed, and drive to work in your simple grey box.

What is this place?

Where am I? you wonder.

It’s simple.

This is a world without art. Without color. Without chefs, architects, or artisans. Without painters, writers, or musicians. Without photographers, sculptors, or comedians. Without gardeners. Without dance. Without movies.

Without meaning.

Support an artist today.

Without them, we are nothing.

J Edward Neill

The Cradle of Magic Custom Art Series

Welcome to the Cradle of Magic series.

I’m now offering custom canvas paintings created in the color you desire. Each painting will look like one of the fantastical forests seen in the photos below.

How it works:
You pick your color, and I paint your dark, magical tree using iridescent acrylics to match your order. The process takes approx 3-5 days, after which I’ll varnish with a fine matte protective spray and ship immediately. Due to these being custom, each canvas will vary slightly. (But will match the style and flow seen in the photos.)

Color choices are:
Purple
Scarlet Red
Cobalt Blue
Green
Gold

A few of the color choices available.

These paintings are 12″ x 24″ on heavyweight (1″ thick) gallery-wrapped canvas. I create them individually with acrylic paint and iridescent watercolors. To make the backgrounds, I use a heavy watercolor drip, and after the drip dries I paint them with intense, bright colors and deep blacks for the trees. I’m happy to provide more photos by request. Reach me on Facebook right HERE.

I also offer a premium option, which includes bigger, deep-edge gallery style canvasses (12″ x 30″). The premium option is for the serious collectors out there. Check it out HERE.

Your custom painting will look like:

This…

…or maybe this.

…or maybe even this.

It all depends on the color you choose!

To get started, go HERE. 

Happing art-ing!

 

My Journey to the DragonCon 2018 Art Show

I’m not sure how it happened.

A few autumns ago, I bought a new house.

And somehow got it in my head to use one of the rooms as an art studio.

Sure, I’d painted before. Twenty years ago, I owned an airbrush T-shirt company. I made banners for local bands. I dabbled in various art forms. I even spent a few seasons at art school, which ended up being the only education in my life I ever enjoyed.

But nothing like this.

On a brisk, windy day, my son and I left our new house behind, marched into our truck, and sped off to Hobby Lobby. You know Hobby Lobby, right? The bible-thumping craft store…which just so happens to sell gallery-ready canvasses, high-quality paint brushes, and paint…tons of paint.

Being fools, we walked into Hobby Lobby and exited an hour later with armloads (and a truckload) of the hugest canvasses we could find. Along with fifty tubes of acrylic paint, charcoal pencils, graphite powder, brushes, an easel, and…well…you get the point.

I’m not really sure why. It’s just what happened.

That first night, while the rain pummeled suburban Atlanta, and while my kid sat on the floor slathering yellow paint onto a canvas of his own, I stood in a daze in our new ‘painting room.’  Really, it was just a bare-walled empty space; most people would’ve used it as a dining room. You know…the room most families never inhabit?

Black paint hit the canvas hard. Directionless. Not quite Jackson Pollock random, but close.

Something like this came out:

‘The Emperor’s Vision’ – 2013

The Emperor’s Vision. It was a scene from one of the fantasy novels I’d written. Somehow…to see it alive on a canvas…I felt an awakening.

All it took was one simple painting. One glance at the strange world I’d accidentally created.

And I was hooked.

Autumn rumbled by. Winter settled atop us. During the long, dark nights, as the never-ending rain drowned our little neighborhood, I found myself wandering each night into the painting room.

At first, I lacked aim. Purpose. Meaning. (not to mention, talent.)

I tried painting people. More dark cities. Corrupted landscapes. Trees. I was nothing if not a bit brooding, a bit dark. I glued all the lessons I barely remembered from art school to my wild imagination, and strange things resulted.

‘Summoning Tree’

For the next two years, I toiled in the shadows of my new, over-big house. My blank walls, once eggshell white, transformed into a cacophony of colors. Ten paintings became twenty, and twenty become more than one-hundred.

And then I moved. To an apartment. In which the walls offered only about 10% of the space I’d formerly had.

What am I going to do with all this junk? I thought.

I’ve got stacks of paintingsand nowhere to put them.

What if…? Nah…

A few quiet months went by, and another accident happened. A journeywoman artist moved to Atlanta, and we decided to paint cooperatively.  No idea why. Once again, no goal existed. We just wanted to ‘art’ for the sake of art itself.

She sculpted. I painted. And I moved again, this time into another house. My new bachelor pad wasn’t nearly as big as my previous house, but the walls offered plenty of space to fill with our new three-dimensional creations.

Many months smoldered by. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Another summer.

Were we getting better? we wondered. Is all our work resulting in actual skill? 

Nah…couldn’t be. 

The walls of my newest house filled up. Once again, finished canvasses were stacked on the floor, collecting cobwebs as they slept well out of sight.

And then, a text message arrived:

“I’d like to buy one of your pieces.”

“Wait…really?”

“Yes. I’ll pay shipping, too. Just give me the price.”

An accident. Luck. A door cracked open. A sliver of light shining through. One sold painting. Then five. Then Ten. Thirty. Fifty.

What just happened?

I’m doing this professionally, I said to myself.

How? 

No idea…

An artist friend – Amanda Makepeace – had a booth and gallery at DragonCon that year. Sure, I’d been to D-Con before. No, I never dressed up or really participated in anything. Honestly, I usually went to party and haunt the art show.

The DragonCon art show.

Hundreds of fantasy, sci-fi, and other paintings…all in one place. 

Thousands of people. 

Look at Amanda’s art. It’s beautiful. I wonder…could I? Nah…right? 

One night, while sipping scotch in my house and painting nothing in particular, I asked a few questions. Of my friends. Of Amanda. Of people I knew who’d attended DragonCon.

Ever the impulsive fool, I made a rash decision. I planned to paint seven pieces to submit to D-Con’s art show selection process. Why? I’m not sure. I’d no intention of succeeding. I really just wanted to challenge myself. After all, the three-person jury included three well-known art masters, two of whom I often emulated (Allen Williams & Brom.) How could my small efforts impress long-term professionals?

Whatever. 

I plunged in. Did my homework. Bought a boatload of new canvasses. Stayed awake until 3AM painting alone or in the company of others.

I worked.

And waited.

I waited.

And I worked.

‘Rapture’

On the day DragonCon art show submissions opened, I stood at the ready, my finger poised to submit what I believed in my head-movie were my seven best pieces.

I clicked ‘Submit.’

And I allowed myself to forget what I’d done.

Impostor syndrome. 

Hundreds of applicants. 

Best fantasy artists in the world. 

This was a fun ride, but it ends here.  

Honestly, I really did forget. There seemed no sense in agonizing over what I’d accidentally fallen into. I told myself I was just a guy goofing around in his kitchen, drinking whiskey, making funny shapes to put on my walls.

And it was true.

Even so…

A few months later, when the phone call arrived, I awoke as if from a stupor. (No really, I was hungover.) And there it was.

“You’re in,” he said.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

I want to tell you the rest of the story. But it hasn’t happened yet.

The DragonCon Art Show hits Atlanta from Aug 30 – Sept 3 this year.

I’ll have 12 original pieces and more than one-hundred prints.

I’ll probably still be there just to party.  I don’t have a booth, so really all I’m doing is dropping paintings off for everyone to look at.

Whatever.

I hope you’ll stop by the art show.

And then find me down at Hard Rock Cafe.

Look for me at the bar.

First round is on me.

Love,

J Edward Neill

.

Oh…here’s a few snapshots of me laying out my gallery space.

All paintings are originals. J Edward Neill & Tahina Morrison.

A Free Short Story by J Edward Neill

 

*

*

* * *

The Skeleton Sculptor

 J Edward Neill

*

On the morning the hunt began, we’d had a hundred men.

After three months, we were down to eleven.

We all knew how it would end.

But only a few got to see it.

My name is Costas. Those who knew me would’ve said I listened more than I talked. They’d have been right, of course. I was always a watcher more than a doer. I’d grown up in the Master’s service, in a mountain city graven of pale stone. In the Master’s Citadel, we had towers taller than anywhere else in the known world. We had women more beautiful than the sun, moon, and stars. Why talk, I thought, when surrounded by such glory?

And so I watched. And listened. And learned.

It was a perfect place, my home. I loved it.

And if I weren’t dead, I’d return there and never leave again.

* * *

Most of what I remember of our ninetieth night out was that my feet hurt. I sat beneath the full red moon, the campfire snapping at my toes, and I rubbed my soles until my fingers went numb.

For a short while, I didn’t care about all the men who’d gone missing.

I didn’t care about the Master’s orders.

All that mattered was that my sandals were off, my armor was loose on my shoulders, and my belly was full of stew. After all, there weren’t many of us left to eat the food we’d started with. There seemed no sense in dying hungry.

“It’s ten days home,” a soldier murmured across the dying campfire. “Which means if we leave tomorrow, one of us will survive.”

I looked at the other men. Five of us were hunkered in the scrub. We were sulking by the fire, our gazes inky in the night. The other six were asleep in two tents atop a nearby hill. I could see the lights of their fires dying the same as ours. The flames were red, just like the moon.

There was no wind that night. Only the scarlet light on the silent earth.

“So,” Aios grumped on the fire’s far side, “the one who makes it back home…he gets to die on the Master’s gallows ‘stead of out here in the grass.”

I listened while the argument began.

“We don’t know the others are dead,” Nikolas grunted. “Could be they’re hiding. Could be they’re lost in the hills somewhere.”

Nikolas wasn’t wrong, not exactly. We’d never actually found any of the bodies. But Aios knew better. So did I. Not that I said anything.

“As likely missing as swimming on the moon.” Aios glanced skyward. “They’re all dead and you know it.”

Philok, biggest of our cadre, rolled his massive shoulders. Tanned to gold by the sun, still packed into his hard leather hauberk, he was the only one of us who still looked fierce.

If any of us survive, I thought, it’ll be him.

“I want it to come,” Philok rumbled. “Let it skulk out of the darkness. I’ve a spear for it. There’ll be no more of our bones. Only its.”

It was wishful thinking, and we all knew it. Aios shook his head. Nikolas just looked afraid. Leuk peered over the fire, moonlight in his eyes, and went back to eating from his wooden bowl. He never talked, our Leuk. He was even quieter than me.

“Spears don’t kill ghosts,” murmured Aios.

“Mine might.” Philok glared.

Our huge friend had a point. His spear, a man and a half tall, leaned on a boulder near the fire. Its haft was as thick as most men’s forearms, its tip catching the moonlight just so. I’d seen Phi skewer a boar with it once. It’d split the poor, squealing thing in two.

But our quarry wasn’t a boar. It didn’t squeal. It didn’t die.

All it did was take the living away. And never bring them back.

The men argued more. They’d done the same every night for weeks. But by now no one bothered to get truly angry. We all figured if we started killing each other, it’d only make our quarry’s work easier.

Easy enough for the Ghoul already, I thought.

I rubbed my feet one last time and went to sleep.

 

* * *

It had started ages ago, this problem of ours.

It’d begun before I’d been born. Before the Master’s great-grandfather had been born.

Before any of us.

Back then, before the Citadel, before all the pale stone cities had sprung up along the coast, it had been a better world. At least, that’s the yarn our elders spun around the hearths at night. And so that’s the tale we believed.

A fine, quiet realm,’ they used to say. ‘Green pastures, hillocks teeming with olive trees, golden sun shining on endless vineyards.’

And no Ghoul.’

I’d never cared about the stories. Not as a boy, anyhow. In the Citadel, home of the Master, there’d never been any ghosts. The clap of hard sandals on marble streets had been our music, not the howls of mothers who’d lost their sons or or husbands whose wives had never come home. The stories we cared about had been of wars fought and won, of islands conquered, and of white-sand shores. We dreamed of golden coins in our pockets and raven beauties that would one day be ours if we served with honor in the Master’s guard.

We’d known nothing about the Ghoul.

And our lives had been better for it.

* * *

In the morning we woke to shouts again.

“It’s Saulos!” I heard Nikolas scream. “How? He slept in his armor! He’s gone, but his breastplate’s still here!”

“Where were you?” one of the hill-camp soldiers cursed another. “You were on watch! You were supposed to be guarding us!”

“I was on guard! I—”

Amid their shouts, I clawed away sleep’s last cobwebs and sat up beneath the dawning sun. It was hot already, and I was tired despite having slept so well. To defend against the Ghoul’s nightly visits, the others had taken to sleeping for only an hour or two at a time, if at all. Not me. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to be awake when death came for me, and so I’d almost always slept full nights…and weathered my nightmares alone.

I shambled up the hill. My sword pattered against my outer thigh, and the straps of my armor dangled without care. A year ago, I’d been a fresh recruit in the Master’s service, a newly-minted member of his honored guard.

And now what am I?

Dead.

I came to Saulos’ empty tent. It was just as the others had shouted. There lay his armor, all red leather and polished steel. Saulos had been a captain. His armor was better than ours, or at least prettier. It didn’t much matter. It lay on the ground, almost untouched. It looked like someone had snipped the straps off and carried him away while he was sleeping. There wasn’t even any blood.

As I stood there, the others fell into their ritual panic. Some muttered prayers. Others shouted that we should return to the Citadel at once. Both cries were familiar. Neither really mattered.

One of us alive is better than nothing!” cried a soldier whose name I hadn’t bothered to learn.

“The hell it is!” argued Aios. “You think the Master will understand when one man marches up and explains ninety-nine of his brothers are dead? He’ll smile, name the survivor a deserter, and hang his body over the cliffs for the gulls to laugh at.”

Aios was right. If there was one truly hard thing about life in the Citadel, it was the Master’s law. He didn’t suffer failure, not from his fabled soldiers. If our hundred never came home, it wouldn’t matter. He’d have a feast, sacrifice a few bulls, and send out two-hundred more men.

Though somehow I knew the result would be the same.

The men argued. It got vicious. Someone cursed the Master’s name. Someone else shoved Nikolas in the dirt. Philok shook his spear, and everyone finally fell silent.

I don’t know why I stopped watching and started talking.

Might’ve ended better had I not.

“There’s one place we haven’t looked,” I chimed in.

“Where? What place?” grunted Philok.

“The lighthouse. It’s only a day south.”

“Why there?” spat Aios. “It’s just one cripple in a rotten tower. He’s probably a hundred days dead. Besides, the lighthouse doesn’t work. Doesn’t need to. Ships don’t use that route anymore. They come up the river.”

“He’s right.” Nikolas stood and dusted off his armor. “We’re trying to help the villagers, not some lonely old cod stuck in a tower.”

They were right, of course. We’d not help anyone by marching down to the sea and visiting one old man in his tower. The lighthouse keeper didn’t even have a family. Never had, not that we knew of. Even if he was still alive, we’d not do the countryside any favors by rescuing him.

But that wasn’t my point. Maybe it should’ve been, but it wasn’t.

“Nikolas, you still have the map?” I blurted.

“Aye,” he said.

“Well. Fetch it.”

He did. In moments he marched down the hill and back up. The others stared at me like I’d just slapped the sun out of the sky. Wouldn’t have been the worst thing, considering how hot it was.

Nikolas brought me the map. It was big, the Master’s chart, and I unfurled it on the hillside while several others knelt beside me.

“There.” I pointed to a village by the sea. Veni, jewel of the south, sat on a beautiful beach right in the map’s center. It was a new city, paid for by the Master’s coin. We’d been there a month prior. None of us had wanted to leave. Until the villagers had made us.

“So it’s Veni. What about it?” said Aios.

I dragged my finger eastward along the map. I stopped at a nameless black ink-blot. It was the lighthouse. I tapped it twice.

“We’ve been to every other village, tower, and crumbling old fort along the sea. But not the lighthouse. Not there.”

No one could disagree with that. We’d marched to dozens of hamlets, fisherman’s wharves, and sad little huts along the coast. All of them had lost people over the years. By the dates they’d given us, we’d figured it out. One person had gone missing every night. Just one, never more, never fewer.

For hundreds of years.

And we’d only just now worked up the courage to try to stop it.

“The lighthouse,” I said, “it’s right in the middle of it all.”

I traced a circle with my finger. All the places that had lost people, all of them, lay within it. And in the circle’s center sat the lighthouse.

The men stared for several moments. I figured Aios would be the first to argue. He was, after all, the smartest of us. If anyone ever forgot it, he was always sure to remind them.

“Now just you wait.” Aios didn’t disappoint. “The Master knew about the lighthouse. He sent men last year to scour the old tower up and down. They didn’t find a thing.”

“Aye,” agreed Philok. “I remember. That’s what started this whole mess. While our soldiers were in the lighthouse, people were disappearing in cities three and four days away. That’s when the Master decided to start the hunt.”

I closed my eyes. I knew what I wanted to say, just not how to say it.

“What if the Ghoul doesn’t come home every night?” I finally exhaled.

“So it goes out on rounds?” Aios let out a morbid laugh.

“Maybe so,” I countered. “But it still has to have a lair, right? A place to retreat? What if it’s the lighthouse?”

“Nice theory, but after all these years the lighthouse would be stuffed with bones a thousand men high,” said Aios. “The Master’s men would’ve noticed, I think.”

“Or they’d have found the bodies along the way,” murmured Nikolas.

And they’ve never found any of the missing, I thought.

They’re right. I’m stupid to bring it up.

But wait. There was something else I wanted to say.

Maybe it’d been a dream. Maybe something else. If the morning hadn’t been so damnably hot, chances are my brain wouldn’t have cooked and I’d have never remembered it.

What was it I’d thought of?

Was it a nightmare I’d had?

A memory of my childhood?

“I think I was born out here,” I said.

“What?” Aios made a face.

Several of the other soldiers stood and left. I knew what they thought. They thought I was a fool wasting their time. I didn’t blame them. I heard them talk about fleeing home to the Citadel. They didn’t want anything to do with the map or hunting the Ghoul. They wanted to be home in their beds.

But Aios, Philok, Leuk, and Nikolas remained.

“I was born out here,” I continued. “Not in Veni. But close. It was near the sea. I remember my mother. I think I do, anyway. And I remember the rocks. And the lighthouse.”

“No you don’t,” spat Aios. “You were born in the Citadel, same as us. It’s just another of your dreams.”

“What if—” I started.

“I wasn’t born in the Citadel either.” Philok came to my rescue. “I’m from the mountains. My father was dying, so they brought me down to the Master’s fortress. My family figured I’d never have a life unless I served in the guard.”

Aios looked stunned. I nodded at Philok, grateful.

“I remember walking on the shore.” I stared off into the sky. “My mother sent me off to play while she worked. At least, I think she did. One day, I wandered near the lighthouse. I remember it. It was above me. Way above. And I remember seeing something in the cliffs beneath it. Was it holes? Breaks? Cracks in the rock?”

“Holes?” Aios shook his head.

“I think he means caves,” said Nikolas.

I looked at the three of them. They’d been my brothers for the last year. They knew I didn’t talk much, but when I did, I meant what I said.

“That’s right.” My eyes were wide. “Caves.”

It hadn’t been a dream.

I’d just remembered a part of my childhood.

And my mother, who’d I been made to forget.

* * *

Clouds gathered over the sea. Greys and blues smoldered in the sky, darker than the water. The hour was only late afternoon, yet the world looked ready for twilight.

We were terrified.

We’d every right to be.

The five of us mounted a last hill and caught sight of the distant lighthouse. It was an old, old thing, its stones bleached skeleton-white. It’d been built long before the Master’s time, long before any of us. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the Ghoul’s prey the lighthouse had watched vanish.

One every night.

Hundreds of years.

I couldn’t make the numbers work in my head.

We’d walked all day. Ever since we’d split up from the other soldiers, I hadn’t said a thing. Phi, Aios, Nikolas, and Leuk had decided to join me. The others had chosen to go back to the Citadel and face the Master’s wrath.

Our group hadn’t lost anyone last night.

And so we all knew what had happened.

“I hope it took Diok,” chuffed Aios as we walked down the hill and into the fields between us and the lighthouse. “Never liked that prick.”

Nikolas sighed, “Maybe it’ll follow them instead of us. That’ll give us what…three more days?”

“Maybe.” Philok’s knuckles were white around his spear. “But what if there’s more than one Ghoul?”

None of us had ever thought of that before.

We shivered the notion away and kept walking.

The five of us drew nearer the lighthouse. Switches of dry grass skirled at our waists, dancing wildly in the wind. My feet hurt again. My ankles, too. The grass had nicked me in a hundred little places. If the Ghoul didn’t kill me, I half-believed the fields might drown me.

At least it’s not hot anymore.

By the time we came to the cliff, upon which the lighthouse stood tall and formidable, the rain began. The wind hit us and the storm’s droplets beaded on our sunburned skin. I looked my companions over. To a man, we savored standing in the rain. It was an island of peace in a world of despair.

“Are we going in?” Nikolas nodded.

“The lighthouse?” Aios smirked. “Why should we? We know what’s in there. Nothing.”

“Might be wise to weather the storm in there,” Philok held his huge palm open to catch the rain.

Aios looked annoyed. But then again, he always did.

“Fine.”

I knocked at the lighthouse door. The oak plank must’ve been two-hundred years old. It felt soft as soap beneath my knuckles. I rapped it ten times before Philok pushed me aside and kicked the thing in. I’d hoped the old man would answer. But the moment Nikolas fired a torch and walked into the great round room beyond the door, we knew the lighthouse had gone untended for months.

“Think he died all alone in here? Somewhere up there near the top?” Aios’s voice echoed in the void.

“Maybe the Ghoul got him,” said Philok.

“Why would it bother?” Aios cracked. “Old man was damn near a hundred. Pointless to kill what’s already dead.”

Except the Ghoul doesn’t care, I almost said. He takes children. Pregnant women. Venerable old men.

And soldiers.

We used pieces of the broken door to light a fire. With it blazing, we peeled off our armor and hunkered down in the shadows. The rain shattered the world beyond the lighthouse walls, harder than anything I’d ever heard. It didn’t feel natural. Bitter breezes flew into the windows, and stray drops of water swirled into the room, stinging our shoulders. No matter where I sat, the rain found me. I finally settled on the spot farthest from the fire. Leuk, stoic and silent, shook his wet hair when he sat down beside me.

“Maybe you were right.” Aios smirked at me while cooking up a pot of stew. “This place is creepy. I hate it. That old man’s body is probably up those stairs. The Ghoul’s probably waitin’ for us.”

“How do you suppose we kill it? I mean really, really kill it,” asked Nikolas.

“The Ghoul?” Philok rubbed his forehead.

“No, the fucking rain,” quipped Aios. “Of course he means the Ghoul.”

Philok didn’t flinch. “This spear.” He flicked the blade of his man-and-a-half tall weapon. “Or Costas’ sword. Or Leuk’s daggers. Doesn’t matter. Everything dies.”

“Does it?” Nikolas looked afraid again. “It’s been a few hundred years, right? It should’ve been dead by now. What if it can’t die? What if it’s…forever?”

Philok thought about it for a moment, and then huffed. “There’s probably no such thing as the Ghoul. It’s probably a family of murderers. Might be they’ve passed down the family secret over the generations. Fathers teaching sons…hell…mothers teaching daughters. ‘Here’s how best to kill a man, lassie,’ they tell the little ones. ‘A drug in his wine to make him sleep, then a knife between his ribs. No one’ll be the wiser. Not even the Master.’”

No one laughed except Aios.

I might’ve known.

We set up a watch. I went first, else I’d never have woken for second shift. The rain raged as I tightened my armor and laid my sword atop my thighs. I probably should’ve been afraid. As it turned out, I’d little energy left for fear.

I didn’t remember falling asleep that eve. I suffered no dreams, no nightmares. One moment I was sitting beside the fire, the mist collecting on my shoulders.

And when I woke, Nikolas was gone.

The others were still dozing. It’d been Aios’s turn to watch, but he was curled up beside the long-dead fire, looking little different than a sleeping boy. Dawn’s first glow crept into the high windows. In a pool of soft light lay Nikolas’s armor, his blanket, and his bowl.

And his sword, still in its scabbard.

If I shout, it’ll go like it always does, I thought.

I’ll be quiet. 

I knelt beside the patch of stone Nikolas had slept on. He’d lain there for some time, it appeared. The mist had gathered all around him, but his blanket was dry. I touched the brittle fabric, and in the cold light examined it.

No blood.

Not torn.

Almost like he left willingly.

And then there was his armor. The straps were sliced clean through, the same as scissors through twine. Looking at the hunk of leather and steel, I wasn’t sure why we even bothered with armor anymore. The Ghoul wasn’t afraid of it.

The Ghoul wasn’t afraid of anything.

I looked at my hand. My knuckles were bloodless. I realized I was squeezing my sword.

For all the good our weapons do.

I woke Philok first. He came to with a jolt, seizing my throat in his massive hand.

“Phi—” I coughed.

He let go of me. As I knelt there gasping, something in my eyes gave the truth away.

“Who’s gone?” he rumbled.

“Niko.” I sagged.

“No blood? No one heard him?”

“Nothing.” I rubbed my neck. “It’s morning now. He’s only been missing for a little while.”

We woke the others. For once, there was no panic. Leuk said nothing. He looked stoic as ever, no different than if he’d slept in his bunk at the Citadel. Frowning, Aios kicked at Nikolas’s things and glared at the rest of us, but kept his curses beneath his breath. This was what it had come to. We were dying one by one, and we hardly even minded anymore.

After a time, Philok dropped a helmet on his head, shouldered his spear, and marched to the bottom of the stairs that led to the lighthouse’s top. The weathered stone stairwell twisted up through a gaping hole in the ceiling. No sunlight spilled down from above. The inky darkness of the lighthouse’s hollow heart oozed down onto Philok’s face.

“I’m going up there,” he grunted.

I expected an argument. But Aios plucked up Niko’s sword, unsheathed his own, and nodded at Philok with both blades in hand. “I’m coming with you,” he said.

Leuk and I had no other choice.

With Philok in front and Leuk in the rear, the four of us stalked up the stairs. We emerged into the void above the room we’d slept in, and we saw slender shafts of light carving pallid lines into the darkness. The windows on the lighthouse’s sides were shuttered. The climb to the tower top would be done mostly in shadow.

Step by step, we marched. The lighthouse felt a thousand steps high. The musty air filled our lungs, while plumes of dust from our footfalls floated the same as stars at midnight. We wound our way up through the cold emptiness, at last arriving at the door to the lighthouse’s top. None of us knew what to expect. I held my sword with no more confidence than when I’d first set foot in the Master’s training garden.

“If anything’s on the other side,” Phi whispered, “kill it. Don’t stop cutting until your blades are down to nubs.”

We all nodded. Aios cracked a wicked smirk. Philok shouldered the door with all his might, breaking the door to pieces.

The sunlight poured over us.

We invaded the lighthouse’s top room. We were an army, the four of us, a cloud of fear and steel. Philok roared when he went in, and Aios growled. Leuk and I didn’t make a sound, but we were ready. Our blades were as sharp as any in the world. And they should’ve been, for we’d never used them.

But there was nothing in the room.

No caretaker.

No bodies.

No sea of bones or carpet of skin.

Philok looked disappointed. Halting in the sunlight, he rapped the butt of his spear on the floor and glared at everything. As for me, I couldn’t help but be relieved. I let my sword sag and my shoulders droop. After all, the sunlight in the tower’s top was warm and soothing. It swam over me, gliding in from each of thirty windows, sparkling on the giant glass lens in the room’s center.

I figured it was the last time I’d ever feel warm.

No. I didn’t figure. I knew.

“It wasn’t ever up here,” cursed Aios. “We’re idiots.”

“We still had to check,” argued Philok.

“Yes…well.” Aios shook his head. “We checked. And nothing. So now what?”

“Costas’s caves,” said Philok.

I could tell Aios had expected Phi to say it. “No. Not yet,” he grumbled. “Breakfast first.”

Too soon, we abandoned the warmth of the lighthouse’s top. I felt sad to leave so quickly. Halfway down into the dark, I realized I’d never even taken the chance to look out across the sea.

At the bottom, Aios prepared breakfast for us. It was hard tack and fried cakes softened with hot water, same as most mornings. It didn’t much matter. Cooking had always calmed Aios, so we never complained.

With only a rotten beam of lighthouse timber to burn, Aios’ kindling of choice that morn was Nikolas’s satchel. Nikolas didn’t need it, after all. But just as Aios snared the leather bag and began cutting it to shreds with his knife, I stopped him.

“Wait,” I said, “Something’s in there.”

Aios made a face. “It’s just a book. Tear out the pages. It’ll save us from sending Leuk out to collect things to burn.”

“No…” I grabbed the bag and pulled the book out. “Just use the satchel. Let me keep this. I want to see what Niko wrote.”

Aios squeezed his eyes shut. He looked like he wanted to kill me. “Fine,” he muttered. “But remember; the dead can’t read.”

While Aios cooked and Philok rummaged through the rest of Niko’s things, I sat in a pool of sunlight and cracked the book open. It was well-made, a far finer thing than Nikolas had any right to possess. I couldn’t believe that with all my hours of watching, I’d never seen him with it. And then, when Philok grunted that he’d found a quill and a vial of ink, it hit me. I understood.

Nikolas had been keeping a journal.

The book has the Master’s mark on it.

Niko had always been a lazy soldier.

But he’d learned to write far sooner than the rest of us.

The rest of the world fell away, and soon it was just me and the journal. I read dozens of entries. Nikolas had done his work well. He’d catalogued how much food we’d had, our movements beyond the Citadel, the people we’d questioned, and the names and ranks of the soldiers that had vanished. He’d even written the dates they’d gone missing.

I skimmed across as much as I could. Most of it was trivial, but the deeper I read, the more I saw of Niko’s personal comments.

And the more I was filled with dread.

He’d written things like:

One soldier from Camp B gone in the night. Left his armor and sword. No blood. Same night: A man from Camp C swore he saw a shadow moving. The camps: an hour apart.

 Rained hard last eve. Saulos’s tent-mate was taken. Grigora says he found tracks in the mud. Not one set, but two. Not sandal prints. Bare feet.

 Another gone last night. Bibi – Captain, 1st Company. But Camp D, upon returning from the city, says that Veni lost someone that same eve. It’s always been one a night. But maybe this was more.

Does it mean two Ghouls?

 Occurred to me that we should look beyond our borders. Ask if others have vanished on the same dates. I know we can’t – they’re our enemies in the North and West, but still.

More than two Ghouls?

 Why is it hunting only soldiers now?

 Does it know we’re coming?

 Will it stop?

 

I closed the cover. I couldn’t read any more. Aios dropped a wooden bowl in my lap and snorted. “Boring read?” he chuffed. “Books are for scholars, Cos. Now give it over. We’ll use it to make a fire for tonight’s dinner.”

“No.” I pushed his hand away. “I’m going to finish it.”

“Finish it?”

“Yes. Reading it. And writing it.”

“Why? You’ll be dead soon.”

“I know, but—”

“Fine. Keep the damn thing. Whatever helps you die better.”

I ate in silence. I say silence even though Aios talked the entire time. He rambled about how our lives had become meaningless, how our deaths wouldn’t matter because we had no children, no lands, and no possessions beyond our weapons and armor. Maybe it was true. Maybe we were dead men no matter what we did. But when he said meaningless, it didn’t sit right with me. Whether the Ghoul killed us for sport or the Master hung us for being failures, it seemed wrong to just let it happen.

I have to make it meaningful, I thought.

The journal. I’ll finish it.

Maybe someone will find it.

After breakfast, a deep quiet overtook the four of us. There was no fleeing for the Citadel now, we knew. Unless the Ghoul abandoned his hunt, we’d all be dead within eight days. And so we sat there for a time, sharpening our swords needlessly. I like to think we dwelled on the purpose of our lives, the good things we’d seen, and all the glory we’d hoped for.

But I knew better.

Philok dreams of destroying the Ghoul. Of being heroic.

Aios dreams of how he’d have done it if he were the Master.

Leuk dreams of the life he wanted. Of what might’ve been had he finished his twenty years of service.

And what do I dream of?

Death.

And then it ended. Philok stood, spear in hand, and looked at us. We didn’t say anything to him. We gathered our swords, strapped on our armor, and doused the fire. In a short, ragged line, we trailed Phi out into the sunlight.

And for all the glamour of the great blue sky, we felt the shadow upon us.

We left the lighthouse and walked to the cliff’s edge. As the tower fell behind us, I looked over my shoulder at it. The edifice was white as death. Its sides were smooth and ashen, its outer walls seamless. The old thing looked like it had sprouted right out of the cliffs. I was glad to be rid of it. I don’t know why, but I promised myself I’d write about it in Niko’s journal.

“Costas.” Aios’ voice pulled me out my daydream. “Wake the hell up. We can’t get down from here. See?”

I gazed over the cliffs and onto the dark ocean. The water boiled over the shore far below, the waves black and foaming. I imagined if one of us fell over the edge, we could’ve counted to ten before we hit the rocks. Aios was right. From our vantage, there was no way to reach the shore.

Or the caves. 

“We’ll have to go—” I began.

“To Veni,” Philok grunted.

In hindsight, I should’ve suggested we find another way down. A quicker way.

But Veni it was.

We marched.

And marched.

And marched.

That eve, tired and sweating, we descended out of the cliffs. Veni lay before us, sprawling and fresh beneath the violet sunset. It wasn’t a big city, but it was still beautiful at twilight. Strands of hanging lamps lit its rooftops the same as the stars. The waves were too rough for sailing, but I could see the masts stark against the sky, and I could hear the people’s laughter. I envied them. But I knew as soon as we soldiers were gone, the Ghoul would go back to hunting at random.

Some from the countryside.

And some from Veni.

“We shouldn’t go in there,” I said to the others.

“Why not?” Aios stared at me.

“We’re bad luck. We’re hunted men. Veni knows us. Even if they don’t kick us out, we’ll not be welcome.”

“The Master’s soldiers can’t be refused,” Aios argued. “If they deny us, it’s under pain of death.”

I looked down at the dirt path leading into the city. Sandy scrub and lonely trees pocked the twilit way. The sky was cloudless; no rain threatened us. There were a thousand places we could camp if we liked.

“I just don’t think we should,” I said. “The city can’t protect us. No one can.”

Aios looked ready to split me in half. “Fine. We’ll stay the night out here,” he said. “In the sand. In the dirt. If the Ghoul comes, you’re first.”

I almost hoped so. Not because I wanted to die. But because I wanted to know.

Beneath the endless stars, we made our silent camp. No one from Veni noticed us. Or if they did, they didn’t care. I’d rarely seen a night sky so bright as that eve. A million white pinpricks in a perfect black sheet, it seemed. Leuk and I stared at it for a long, long while.

By the dying campfire, I wrote my first words in Niko’s journal:

We make for caves east of Veni. Four of us left: Costas, Philok, Leuk, and Aios.

 We don’t hope to find anything. We’re going anyway. If nothing’s there, it’s my (Costas’) fault. I convinced them to do this by a feeling in my gut.

 And there’s something else.

I think the lighthouse is made of bones.

I closed the journal. I needed to focus. We’d agreed to do a double watch: Leuk and I first, then Phi and Aios.

I worried I’d fall asleep.

But it was Aios who drifted off during his watch.

And Philok who went missing.

I woke with Aios’ boot in my ribs. It hurt. I squinted into the early sunlight and saw him standing over me. He scowled, Phi’s spear shaking in his grasp. He’s gone mad, I thought. He’s going to save the Ghoul some trouble and run me through. But he didn’t. He just glowered and spat in the sand.

“Get up,” he said.

I complied.

“The caves. Take us now. Let’s finish this.”

“But—”

“It’s fine if nothing’s there. I won’t blame you. I might kill you, but I won’t blame you.”

We didn’t eat breakfast. We didn’t mourn Philok. Walking ahead of Aios and his spear, Leuk and I led the way down to the shore. At the ocean, a lone child saw us marching. He stood in the foamy shallows, throwing rocks into the water. He smiled at us, watching us long enough to see us pass into the shadow of a stark and terrible cliff. I thought it strange to see the boy all alone. He reminded me of myself, of all the mornings I must’ve spent doing the same as he.

We walked into the shadows. And he was gone.

“I dreamed last night,” I said as I walked on the narrow strip of sand between the ocean and the cliff.

“No one cares,” answered Aios.

“I heard a woman laughing.” I ignored him. “She whispered something in my ear. She had dark hair. She was beautiful. I didn’t want to wake up, even with you kicking me.”

“A shame you’ll never meet her,” he mocked.

Maybe I will, I wanted to say.

We marched. Was it for many hours? Or much less? I couldn’t have said. The ocean crashed against the rocks and swirled at our knees, drowning out all the world’s sounds. Guarded by the mighty cliff, the sunlight never quite reached us. But the shadows and the cold couldn’t slow me. I slogged on, convinced I was going to my doom, certain I still had some part to play.

This is what madness feels like, I thought. All these years of not much talking, and now the loudest voice is in my head.

And then we came to it, a great dark hole in the cliff wall. The ocean roared in and out of it, and the rocks like teeth crowned its top and sides. Twenty men standing side-by-side could’ve marched into the cavern’s mouth.

And all of them would be eaten.

“Fucking lovely.” Aios marched past me. He still had Phi’s spear in his grasp, and he was wet up to his chest in seawater. The salt stuck to him, and us, in powdery white patches. We were miserable. We hadn’t eaten all day.

“Got a lantern?” he spat at Leuk. Leuk shook his head.

“Torches,” I murmured. “Just three.”

“We’ve got some daylight left.” Aios pointed Phi’s spear into the darkness. “Let’s go kill this thing. Just think…we’ll be heroes.”

I fired a torch, and in we went.

We were fifty steps deep when I realized what we’d gotten ourselves into. The ocean’s rush faded at our backs, and the absence of light swallowed us. I squinted in the dark and saw other tunnels, black branches trailing into the underworld. I remembered a story someone had once told me about such places, and why no one should ever go into them.

“Four different tunnels.” Aios saw them, too. “Wonder how deep they go.”

I wished Philok had still been alive. He’d have known which tunnel to choose.

“That one’s half underwater.” Aios nodded at the farthest tunnel. The black hole gazed back at us, smiling as if aware of our fear.

“So we’re going into this one.” Aios pointed his spear at the nearest cave. It sat above us, its archway crusted in ancient limestone. A pile of broken shells sat beneath its mouth, deposited by the sea. It was the narrowest of the four.

And the darkest.

Leuk and I didn’t argue. We clambered up the shells ahead of Aios. At the tunnel’s mouth, I held the torch into the darkness and saw that it went down. Way down. Aios climbed up beside me, snared the torch from my grasp, and smirked at me as he marched straight into the blackness. “Three men wide,” he laughed at us. “It’s perfect. Not scared, are you?”

We were, but it didn’t matter.

Down, down we went into the cave. I couldn’t believe any place in the world could be so dark. The ocean’s crash fell away to nothing. The only sounds were the torch’s snaps and our rotten boots squelching on the stone.

We walked for what felt like an hour. Then two. The tunnel never narrowed, never widened. The air tasted stale. White powder sloughed off the walls wherever we touched, and our boots left footprints in places no other men had ever been. I was sure night had fallen outside, but I’d have given anything to be back out there, to let the Ghoul steal me from sleep instead of moldering away after a long, slow walk to the world’s bottom.

Our first torch died. We lit another. Moments later, we slunk out of the tunnel and into an unthinkably vast grotto. It was truly massive, the cavern we’d found. Our torch felt like a candle in the great darkness. Far above, a lone shaft of moonlight cut through a hole in the ceiling and pooled in the grotto’s center.

“What is this place?” I whispered.

“A cave. Big as Veni.” Aios’ gaze was wide and black. “A giant, empty coffin.”

“No. Not empty,” I observed.

I’d seen caves before. In the mountains east of the Citadel, we’d walked through tunnels and grottos. They’d had growths in them, daggers of lime and ancient rock. There had been beauty in those caves, elegance in the way nature had carved them.

But the shapes in this cave were different.

They were sculptures.

Something had made them.

We didn’t say a word. We were too scared to talk, and too weary. Wandering out into the pool of moonlight, we gazed at the many hundreds of pale, ghostly statues standing on the grotto’s floor. They were graven of white stone, and in my heart I knew they were made of the same stuff as the lighthouse.

Bones.

Human bones.

Most of the statues were of people. We glimpsed beautiful maidens holding decanters. We saw smiling children, some holding hands and standing in great rings, others all alone. As we walked through the pale, silent gallery of thousands, we saw old men and venerable ladies, soldiers and wealthy lords, beggars, fishermen, and stoic hunters. The sculptures were beautiful in a way. Whoever, or whatever had carved them had a talent like no other.

Somewhere in the midst of it all, Leuk tapped me on the shoulder. I looked back and saw horror in his eyes.

“What is it?” I felt myself turn pale.

He pointed at a row of sculptures removed from the rest. I took Aios’ torch and forged into the dark. We came to it, the part of the cavern struck least by the moonlight, and we stood there with our mouths open.

“Monsters,” I exhaled.

“Demons,” we heard Aios whisper.

The sculptures in the shadows were not of men or maidens, children or village elders. They were of monsters, malevolent and skeletal, with talons in place of hands, pale knives instead of teeth, and faces made of nightmares. Some had horns. Others had tails. All of them had strange writing on their skin, words and sigils from a language none of us knew. But the true terror lay in their empty eye sockets, which were huge and full of evil.

As I stood there, breathing not at all, I believed in my heart these statues mimicked creatures that must have existed. “How else could they look so real?” I uttered without knowing it.

Aios pointed his spear at one of the horrific sculptures. He looked wild with fear, sweating and cursing beneath his breath.

“We have to destroy them,” he hissed.

“How?” I argued. “There’s thousands. Tens of thousands.”

“Fine. We have to find what made them. Find it and kill it.”

“What if…” I looked up at one of the horrors. “…what if these are what the Ghoul looks like?”

“All the more reason to kill it,” Aios growled.

I didn’t know where to start. My fingers went numb, and a chill crawled down my backbone. We stood there, the three of us, gazing into the grotto, stricken still with our terror.

It would’ve taken us hours to search the cave.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to look at all.

The first thing I heard was the patter of footsteps. Aios and Leuk heard it, too. Bare feet, I thought. But…small?

Aios waved his spear in the direction of the sound. He crouched, looking deadly and afraid. And then I saw it, a little boy darting between the sculptures. He was naked, pale as a fish, and faster than any child had a right to be. At ten paces, he climbed atop a sculpture and leapt from its head to another, smiling all the way.

I shouted. Leuk pulled his daggers out.

The boy. It’s him…the one throwing rocks on the beach, I thought.

We were too slow.

The boy leapt from atop the statue of a milkmaid. Aios spun, screamed, and jabbed with his spear. He missed. The boy landed on Aios’s head, and Aios started screaming. I don’t know what happened to me. As they struggled, I just stood there with my sword in one hand and the torch in the other. It was like I knew:

No matter what I do, we’re dead.

I never expected Leuk to be the brave one. Never. The boy clung to Aios’s head, clawing and snarling. As Aios squealed, Leuk stuck his dagger into the boy’s back. For a single breath I allowed myself to hope.

Leuk’s done it. I backed away. He’s saved us.

No.

Three times Leuk plunged his dagger between the boy’s ribs, and three times he drew it out. If the boy felt anything, I saw no sign. No blood oozed from Leuk’s steel. The boy’s skin opened up like dry, cracked parchment, but knitted itself closed within moments. I didn’t understand how such a thing was possible. Nothing the Citadel’s wise men had told us lived up to the truth.

With one of Leuk’s daggers still in its back, the boy-Ghoul leapt off Aios’ head. He looked up at us, still smiling, as Aios collapsed dead on the cavern floor. I saw no blood. I couldn’t conceive how so small a creature had killed one of the Master’s warriors. I was paralyzed. My sword felt as though it were made of paper. My blood felt like water in the last moments before a long winter’s freeze.

The boy-Ghoul dragged Aios into the shadows. Leuk stared at me, and then went after them. I swallowed so hard it wounded my throat. I knew what was about to happen. Somehow, someway, I knew. And when I heard a second set of bare feet pattering, and when Leuk cried out his last breath, I sank to the floor in a puddle of my own fear. Perhaps it was cowardice. I knew my sword wouldn’t matter.

So I didn’t even try.

Many thousands of breaths went in and out of me. I closed my eyes, and the world went dark. I don’t know whether I slept, but at some point I lifted my head from the floor and gazed into the darkness. The second torch had burned out, and so I fired another. It burned beside me as I sat there, a red whisper in the vast darkness.

There was but one thing left to do.

I opened Niko’s journal, dipped the quill into the last of his ink, and wrote:

There is more than one Ghoul. There may be dozens. Or hundreds.  

In a cave east of Veni, they hide.

They’ve been here for thousands of years, I believe.

They sculpt whatever they kill. Murder is their art.

They made the lighthouse.

They made the cliffs.

They took Aios and Leuk last night.

Tonight they’ll come for me.

 

The ink was almost gone. I only had a few strokes of Niko’s quill left. I don’t what made me do it, but I stood and walked to the most terrifying of the Ghoul’s demonic sculptures. I wasn’t as afraid anymore. I stuck the torch in the creature’s hand, held Niko’s journal before me, and started drawing the strange symbols and words graven into the sculpture’s skin. The words were old, old things. Maybe they were magic, if such a thing existed. I’d already shut the boy-Ghoul out of my mind, but for him to have survived Leuk’s knives meant something I’d never understand was at work.

I drew as many of the words and symbols as I could. When the ink ran out, I hunkered down and gazed into the dark. I left the book on my lap. I had the foolish hope someone would find it one day. The shaft of moonlight was far away, not enough to see by. I knew when my torch burned out, I’d die even if the Ghouls never came for me.

I didn’t have to wait long.

Within a hundred breaths, I heard their bare feet on the cavern’s cold floor. The boy came first. He was naked and ghostly pale. White powder, surely bone dust, coated his arms up to his elbows. His fingernails were crusted in dried blood. He’d been sculpting, I was sure.

My sword lay beside me. I didn’t bother to pick it up.

And then the second Ghoul came. I didn’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t her. Naked and beautiful, she walked into the yellow sphere of light made by my torch. Her hair was raven, her eyes pale blue lanterns. She wasn’t terrifying at all, at least not yet.

“I dreamed of you,” I said to her.

She didn’t flinch.

“Are all of these your work?” I regarded the thousands of sculpted dead.

She shook her head. Only some of them, she told me without words.

I sat, limp and sweating, and looked at them. The boy was her ward, her student, or maybe even her child. She tousled his hair, and a plume of bone powder drifted into the torchlight.

He’s the next in line, I thought.

She’s teaching him.

Just like another taught her.

Without moving any other part of my body, I extended my arm and set Niko’s journal into the nook between two sculptures’ feet. I left my sword where it lay. It occurred to me that I’d never once used it. Ever.

The Master would’ve stretched my neck just for that.

The boy-Ghoul started for me, but the woman held him back.

And then she showed me what she was.

With her fingers, she pried the flesh back from her cheeks. She tore like sackcloth; the sound alone made me sick. Next she peeled back the flesh from her arms and collarbone. She was one of them, one of the monsters so perfectly sculpted behind me. Her true fingers were boney claws, her real face a horror of white bone. She had no blood in her. She was all sinew and marrow, a skeleton wrapped in human skin.

I understood why none of the missing soldiers had cried out.

She’d probably never shown them the creature beneath her skin.

All they’d seen was a beautiful woman or a handsome little boy.

And when she killed me, it didn’t even hurt.

*

* * *

If you enjoyed The Skeleton Sculptor, consider reading The Hecatomb or leaving a review here.

Thank you,

J Edward Neill

The 10 Best Book Covers of All Time

Obviously, this list will be super subjective.

With that in mind, I won’t comment on why I believe each cover to be among the best.

I’ll leave that to you.

And I’ll let the art speak for itself.


 


*

And then of course…there’s these.

Nadya the Deathless – A new short story by J Edward Neill

Mother to a slain child…

Hunted for her power…

Some fear her…

Others adore her…

Those who know her best have named her…

Nadya the Deathless

Episode 8 in the Hollow Empire series

Now available on Amazon.

10 WAYS TO EXERCISE WHILE DOING EVERYDAY ACTIVITIES

You’re busy, right? Really busy.

Aren’t we all?

What you need are ways to squeeze in a little exercise into the gaps of ordinary life.

Here’s ten simple exercise solutions. Try a few or do them all.


1. Park in the Farthest Spot Available

It’s funny how people operate. The fittest guy or gal, even when driving to the gym for a vigorous workout, will usually pick the closest, most convenient parking spot. It makes zero sense when you think about it. Forget about driving around the mall or the airport trying to find the best spot. Park way, way out there, and burn some calories on your way in/out of wherever you’re going.

Another bonus to this tactic: never having to fight with other drivers over parking spots.

 

Look at all that exercise waiting to be had. 

*

2. Take the Stairs Instead of the Elevator

Three floors up? What’s the problem? Bypass the herd waiting outside the elevator doors and sprint for the stairs. As far as time spent, taking the stairs will cost you…what? An extra 5 seconds per floor?  Instead of standing idly inside a big metal box, you can stretch your legs out nicely.

Bonus: Carrying luggage while scaling the stairs.

*

3. Take the Stairs Two at a Time

Ever notice how close stairs are to one another? It’s almost like they were built to accommodate children and octogenarians. So why are you, a robust thirty or forty-something, taking them one at a time? Come on, man! Move those legs and climb at twice the speed!

Bonus: Taking stairs two at a time…while on an escalator

I’d climb stairs with her ANY day.

*

4. Do One Set of Pushups Every 20 Minutes (while doing household chores)

Stop. Drop. Give me twenty.

You’re doing laundry? Do a set of pushups after hitting ‘Wash’ on the machine. You’re waiting for pasta to boil on the stove? Do another set. You’re waiting for your computer to boot up? Drop to the floor and knock yet another set out. I’ve been doing this for years, and sometimes at day’s end I look back and realize I’ve banged out 500 pushups. You don’t have to do 500. Just do what suits you…while setting aside only a fraction of the time you would have for an actual trip to the gym.

Bonus: Set weekly pushup goals. Then shatter your own records.

*

5. Buy a Push Mower

Sometimes I peek out my front door and see my neighbor (who’s twenty years younger) riding around his tiny little yard on a $1,500 John Deere mower. And sometimes I see my other neighbor, a former marine, striding slowly behind his self-propelled mower. First of all, these machines cost way more than a typical walk-behind mower. And second of all, these guys are mowing outside on a beautiful summer day…somehow getting no exercise at all. You can get a push mower for $150-$300. Slap on a mulcher (bagging your grass will slow you down) and get going! Studies show that with a medium-sized lawn, you can walk 1-2 miles while mowing.

We have another word for all that walking: exercise

Mow your way to fitness.

*

6. While Playing Video Games, Ride a Stationary Bike

This one is among my favorites. I’m a video game nut (see this and this) and yet there’s possibly no activity in the world that’ll kill fitness quite like plopping on the sofa and not moving for hours on end. Solution? Buy a stationary bike and pump out the miles…while crushing your favorite games. I’ve found that the higher energy level the game requires, the faster you’ll tend to bike. Once, while playing Zelda – Breath of the Wild, I biked for two-and-a-half hours without really even noticing.

And afterward, I’d gotten both a gaming fix and a really satisfying workout.

Bonus: Play Mario Kart while on a bike and pretend you’re racing along with the game. Seriously. It works.

*

7. Take the Printer out of your Office

Humans are always striving to increase their level of convenience. But at what cost? This suggestion isn’t just about printers or other office hardware. It’s about purposely not obsessing about convenience. So you’ll have to get up and walk thirty steps every time you print something? Big deal. Just do it. So you’ll have to carry your laundry upstairs? I’m not sure I see the problem.

Force yourself to move. Get out of your chair. Savor every step you have to take.

*

8. Carry Hand-Baskets in the Store instead of using Shopping Carts

What’s that you say? A shopping cart with just six things inside? Nope. That’s hand-basket territory. You know what a hand-basket is, right? The little things with handles stacked just inside the grocery store entrance.

Bonus: If you must use a shopping cart, push it all the way back into the store rather than into the cart corral

This woman makes me proud.

*

9. Install a Chin-Up Bar in a Household Doorway

They don’t cost much. They’re surprisingly safe. And chin-ups are an awesome way to tone your shoulders and boost your core strength. My suggestion is this: install a bar in a doorway you pass through 5-6 times every day. And then…every single time you pass through that doorway…pump out 5-10 (or more, if you’re buff) chin-ups. Even if you can only do 1-2 chin-ups per pass, it’s fine. They’re quick, and it’s a fantastic exercise.

Hrrrrnnnnggggg!!

*

10. Walk Faster

No, don’t be a fast-walking robot. Just be swift. While taking a stroll at the park, pick up the pace a little. While watching the kids play at the park, walk brisk circuits around the playground. Slogging along through grocery stores, parks, and parking lots is the same as sitting in traffic. Get off the surface roads and onto the highway. Move those feet and get your heart-rate rising!

Bonus: On moving sidewalks, actually walk. (Most people just stand there and let the sidewalk float them into oblivion.)

*

You’ve started exercising your mind.

Now click here and pump some iron with your brain.

 

It’s Etsy’s Birthday, and We’re Discounting ALL Our Art!

June 18 – June 22

Lustrous prints

Original 3D sculpted art

Fantastical & dark paintings

Everything 15% off ALL WEEK LONG!

Visit our shop – ShadowArtFinds – right here.

View a few samples of our latest art right here:

Everyone is a Philosopher

Everyone is a Philosopher

(They just don’t know it.)

 

 

It’s 8:30 PM, and I’m at a party in suburban hell.

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I said, “Yeah, I’m in.” I mean, I’m at least ten years older than everyone else here, probably more than that.

I’m also single. I’m dressed like a douche. I’m tired. And I’m the only one in the room not glued to his phone.

Yeah. That’s the truth. I’m in a house with twenty people, most of them strangers, and everyone except three little kids is nose-deep in their phone. I count four Xbox controllers lying dormant in front of a paused game on TV. I see plates of half-eaten food and abandoned drinks. Even the music, probably something-something by Justin Bieber, thumps a little quieter in the background.

It’s as if the Biebs himself is ashamed to be heard at a party at which no one is talking, flirting, or looking up from their phones.

I figure I have three choices:

Leave. It’s not as if anyone will notice.

Drink a ton. And then hope a beautiful woman walks in the room in time for me to make a horrible first impression.

Or option three: wake the zombies from their phone-induced slumber.

The way I see it, one and two are boring.

Option three is where it’s at.

In a room full of twenty-somethings, I clear my throat and crack the overwhelming silence. People I’ve never met look up as if to say, “Who the hell are you to distract me from Facebook?” It’s ok. I’m not shy. I’m running on four Krispy Kreme donuts and three Solo cups of liquid courage. There’s nothing in the universe capable of embarrassing me now.

“Anyone here ever heard of the train question?” I blurt out.

Five, maybe six people nod their heads. Everyone else looks confused.

“You know, the train question,” I continue. “If you pull the lever, a mother and her son get smacked by a runaway train – if you don’t pull the lever, five random strangers get run over by the same train. Anyone know what I’m talking about? Anyone?”

At first, only a few people in the room start mumbling. Sure, they’ve heard of the train question. It’s just that no one has asked them anything philosophical since…ever. In this case, it’s the party’s host and his wife who chime in. Yes, they’ve got answers. She says pull the lever because only two people will die. He says, “Nope. Not pulling it. If I divert the train, I’ve directly killed five people.”

The room doesn’t know it yet, but they’re hooked.

Everyone is a philosopher.

* * *

That was three years ago. The night turned out better than expected. People’s shells were broken. Phones were put away. Conversations – real conversations – happened.

And that’s what it’s all about, right?

Anymore, we spend so much of our time talking about weather, about news stories, politics and television shows, we don’t talk about life anymore. We pay attention to what other people are saying, and we miss out on our own stories.

Just under the surface, we’ve all got a story.

And it’s probably more interesting than we assume.

* * *

Dusk approaches. I’m feeling a little fat after devouring a dinner of pasta and bread with my little one, the G Man. In truth, all the food inside me is a good thing. Like pretty much everyone else, I operate better with a full belly. In this case, a little extra full.

Fatter philosophers are better philosophers.

Maybe.

I’m sitting in my house. It’s a small suburban bachelor pad, all mediocre art and empty wine bottles. Tonight, my drink of choice is a Hook & Ladder pinot noir. It doesn’t have the most nuanced flavor, but I’m a fan nonetheless. Not all that long ago, my favorite bartender Sam suggested I try it, and I was sold from sip number one. Sam’s the type of human I really like. She serves a mean drink, carries conversations better than anyone, and served me cake at her kid’s birthday party.

We should all have a good bartender in our lives.

We should all have a Sam.

Sam’s bar, which we’ll call the M, is more or less my haunt. I’m not sure if people have haunts anymore, and I’m doubly unsure whether most people know what a haunt is. What I am sure of is that I spend a lot of time at the M.

I’m quite literally the guy whose name everyone knows.

The guy who helps other patrons with drink selections.

And the guy who’d prefer to dine at the bar with strangers than at a table with friends.

It’s amongst strangers I thrive. And while plenty of people would disagree, it’s amongst strangers at bars the best conversations can be had. One never knows what kind of person might co-haunt one’s favorite bar. And when alcohol hits everyone’s bloodstream, one never knows what might happen.

In my experience, plenty.

If we exclude the obnoxious types and people who are deadly serious about not being spoken to, we’re still left with a huge population of interesting bar-hopping strangers.

There’s the hopeful loner, awaiting someone, anyone, with whom to strike up a conversation.

There’s talkers, the types who will happily invade your conversation and let you invade theirs.

And we’ll find friendly couples, storytellers, broken-hearted romantics, and slightly-too-tipsy people. Most are willing to offer way too much information about their personal lives.

They’re out there.

You just have to know how to spot them.

* * *

Continue?