Writer of comics and novels. In 2006 his first short story "The God That Failed" was published by Terminus Media in their debut comic Evolution Book 1. Since that time he has had stories published in Terminus Media's Evolution Book 2 and Evolution Special, Kenzer and Company's The Knights of the Dinner Table, and Four J Publishing's The Burner #3. Currently he is eagerly awaiting the digital publishing of his first creator-owned comic The Gilded Age #1 to be published online as well as his first novel The Dark That Follows later this year.

A Free Short Story by John McGuire – The Secrets of Storytelling Part 1

 

A few years back I had the opportunity to write a short story for an anthology collection Beyond the Gate (Free!) taking place in the world of The Dream Engine (by the guys from the Self-Publishing Podcast, Sean Platt and Johnny Truant) which was a Steampunk novel set in a place where a great Fog surrounded the islands where the book takes place. Those who can avoid it, for within is a collection of nightmare creatures from the stories of old.

 

Anyway, my story was “The Secrets of Storytelling”, which focuses on one of the pilots living in this world, someone who is like a Rock-star on our world… and used his mouth and mind to tell the greatest stories.

***

Isaac Parkes twisted and turned through the throng of people gathered around the skyport. All eager to see the ferry shaws begin their next circuit supply run. All hoping for one more look at the ruddermouth pilots before they lifted off.

Isaac raced across the tarmac but not in an effort to be a spectator. He sidestepped an older woman who had painted her face a strange blue hue, nearly causing him to collide with a teenage girl, her eyes full of stars and hope. His satchel slid down his hand in the scuffle, but he kept his grip, leapt over another gawker, and shoved his way past the perimeter guards with a flash of his paperwork, though they did very little to verify much of anything. Too concerned with maintaining the lines for the rest of the mob, it seemed just acting as if you belonged was more than enough to allow you past their blockade.

Only fifty feet to the final shaw, he heard its engines fire up and begin their lift-off cycle. With no one between him and his goal his run transformed into a sprint. Back and forth he waved, trying to get the pilot’s attention. It did him little good. There was a stir in the engine. It would be only a few more seconds before the craft took to the skies, leaving him alone on the empty platform.

Just before the final lift, his hand found the passenger door and slid it open, hopping into the cockpit as fast as he could. His stomach lurched in time with the ascent, but he managed to keep his breakfast down. With a click, the door slid back into place, locked tight.

Now inside the craft he realized how heavy his breaths came and used the back of his sleeve to wipe away the sweat from his brow. Below them, he could see the crowd for what it was. A flash of red hair behind a handmade sign gave him the briefest pause. A memory from another time… then she was lost in the mass of women crying at the loss of their true love. Nearly fifty people saw them off. Their adulation was an impressive sight. Isaac wondered if they only felt that way for tonight’s lift-off or if this was a regular occurrence.

“About left you back there. Another coupla seconds and you’d have started walking.” The pilot startled Isaac. He turned to give the man his sincere thanks and the words wouldn’t come out. He started to stutter out some words again, but couldn’t make his mouth work like it was supposed to. There he was in the flesh. Never in all his years would he have expected to get his lift to Stensue from Lukas Byron. But it was him. The strong jawline, the dark hair with just the barest hints of gray peeking out told the truth of that.

Except once he took a good look at the pilot, he realized he’d gotten it wrong. This wasn’t the Lukas he’d seen two years earlier. Isaac still remembered the smell of the bar, a mixture of cigar smoke and bodies crowded into such a small room. He and his brother Sean arrived hours early, squeezed into one of the booths near the back where they could watch everything and everyone. Then the ruddermouths came in, full of thirst and swagger. He recognized a few of them, but it wasn’t until Lukas came in that the wait had been worth it.

Sadly, something had hidden that man from the world and replaced him with a doppelganger. That Lukas was a star, with his jet-black hair grown long enough to hide his eyes, but not enough to block a full smile displaying a full set of shiny ivory teeth. Apparently the years of long hauls and spinning yarns late into the night was tougher work than it appeared. Replaced by the four-day growth on his face, gray hairs were no longer content to hide from the world, fully announcing their presence. His jacket, worn thin in some places, was stitched together with hastily placed patches that were threatening to pull away from the leather. And while this Lukas still smiled, there was no longer a toothy grin attached. Instead, he gifted Isaac with a forced smile from a shell of a man.

The Lukas Byron he knew, the one everyone knew, told legendary tales, each one more fantastic than the last. He fought river creatures one day before stopping gremlins from destroying his skyship the next. Then there was a dogfight with a dragon, if you believed in that sort of thing. He was a man who made being a ruddermouth a goal to be had, not a consolation prize for those who aren’t picked for skyships or the zeppelins. He’d weaved his way through every city and every port, spinning his lies about adventures to the far side of the world.

Isaac would know. He owned the book. More than that, he had memorized the book. He could have recited the story about the hauntings at Aerohead when a group of ruddermouths were forced to stop overnight and nearly lost their lives.

And here, in this inner sanctum of his hero, he saw the proof. Pinned and stuck to the ceiling were an assortment of clippings, sketches, and fabric pieces torn from dresses, scarves, and possibly other things. These were his gifts from an untold number of fans.

Of course, Isaac knew the stories weren’t true. They couldn’t be anything other than simple tales. But he was fine with it. He’d always been one for stories and the like. When he was no taller than a doorknob, he’d lose himself in his father’s study. Books lined the walls, some stacked in the corner, and each time he touched a book a plume of dust lifted from its home. Each one held those old stories. His father liked to refer to them as Alterra’s old secrets. He’d say, “In those books you’ll get a picture of how things were.”

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

“You mean monsters and elves used to run around?”

“No. I mean you can understand what people believed many hundreds of years ago. Those are just stories. Stories your mother might kill me over if she knew you were reading.”

The shaw hummed through the night’s sky. Lukas rummaged in the front of his jacket and produced a flask. Isaac saw a tint of green liquid leak at the edges of the man’s mouth before he offered his cargo a sip of Thunderclap. Isaac shook his head.

“So, why’d you join?” When Isaac didn’t immediately respond, Lukas filled in the silence for him. “It’s going to be a long enough flight, and I’ve never had a partner up here before. Might be nice to have someone to talk to.”

“I suppose. Well, I-”

“Wait! Let me guess… you fell for the campaign didn’t you? That whole ‘Come and see the world’ bit. Am I right?”

It was a question Isaac found himself pondering many nights when he couldn’t sleep. He’d yet to find a satisfactory answer, so he countered, “Why’d you join up?”

“To see the world.” Lukas said the words without any hint of happiness or sadness. It was a matter of fact. “I was never going to see Waldron’s Gate or Yon or Stensue where I was. Grew up in a small village in the middle of nowhere. Just was never going to happen. Being a ruddermouth was my way out.”

Isaac found himself nodding. Maybe he wasn’t different from this man. Both of them thrown into situations because of circumstance more than anything else.

“The women don’t hurt either.” This time he gave a full-toothed smile, and Isaac couldn’t help but return it.

Isaac shifted in his seat beside the pilot. All the gears and instruments clicked and hummed as the shaw made its way through the air. “I’ve heard almost all your stories. I even have the book.”

“Book?”

“I’ve always wondered what part of flying opens your mind up to weave those tales. I mean, I know it must be lonely when you are making your runs. Especially when you’re going from Yon to Waldron’s Gate. No disrespect to the Builders, but you do what they do… just in story form.” Isaac wished he’d stop gushing, but he couldn’t help it. There were so many questions he’d had since he’d first started reading about Lukas. He saved every clipping from the papers, watched every news story produced. Now he was riding in a ferry shaw with the man.

“Oh that. The writer ended up listening to my stories and a bunch from other pilots. Took ten and slapped my name on it. I don’t honestly know which ones they used.”

“Are you saying they aren’t your stories?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, I am pretty entertaining when I need to be. Ruddermouths always got stories to tell. Everyone knows that.”

Lukas stared out at the night. Below the cloud line they could still see the slow rolling fields underneath them. For some reason it reminded Isaac of what Jonah the Whale God’s ocean might be like. The grass swayed in time with the wind.

“Things are changing, though. Routes that were once sleepers… there’s a threat around every turn of a mountain or valley. Every…” Lukas trailed off. “I shouldn’t say anything.”

“What? What shouldn’t you tell me?”

“Let me ask you a different question first. Where have you been?”

“All over,” Isaac said.

“Waldron’s Gate?” When Isaac shook his head, Lukas continued, “Then you haven’t been anywhere. But it’s alright. You’ll be there soon enough.”

“Mayday! Mayday!”

The squawkbox lit up the cockpit with its flashing glow. The voice on the other end reached out through the air to try to find an anchor to someone. Static cut the words into broken pieces. “Something hit… going to try…”

Lukas touched the box. “Where are you?”

“Thirty miles out… on the way to Thestic.” Static ate the rest of the communication.

“Do you know where that is?” Isaac asked.

“Damn fool, trying to cut his route short after I warn him to stick to the tried and true ways. Yeah, I know good and well where he is.”

Isaac clenched his hands, tightening his grip on the dashboard, knocking off a random keepsake. He leaned forward in his seat, as if the movement would allow them to travel faster. Lukas shook his head at the gesture. “Oh, you’re a romantic… that’s why you want to be a ruddermouth. Well, with those doe eyes and full head of black hair, the ladies are going to love you.”

 

***

Isaac saw the crash site first when they came over the ridge. Flying low to the ground, above the treetops, Lukas pressed the shaw harder to get to the crash site. Not that it was possible to miss the blaze as it contrasted against the white-gray mist. The fallen shaw had carved a long trench, before coming to a stop at the edge of the Fog, half in and half out. Strewn pieces littered the ground, cogs and gears, as if someone had taken the Builder’s toy and destroyed it, turning the metal into nothing better than scrap.

“Hoped they’d not be this close to that blasted thing.”

No matter where you lived in Alterra, the Fog surrounded you. Maybe if a person happened to live where it intruded, it might occupy their thoughts a bit more. For most it was like the Crown or Jonah the Whale God; it just was. To Isaac, though, this was something else. He’d spent so much of his life away from this edge of the world. Horrible things pulled and probed at a person’s psyche from within that great unknown. He’d seen it firsthand.

Lukas pointed at the white curtain. “You’ve seen it before?”

Isaac croaked a reply, “Yes.” He’d seen it many years earlier.

“My sister… Penelope.” Isaac wasn’t sure why the words began to flow. Something about the pilot seemed eager to hear another story perhaps. “She was fearless. Always calling me out when I didn’t want to go exploring in the woods near our home. She’d always pick the highest tree and climb it. I can’t remember who dared the other one first, but it didn’t take any convincing. She walked right up to the edge of the Fog and reached out to touch it. That was all she was supposed to do. And then, for some damned reason she turned and looked at me… flashed me that smile of hers, and her red hair trailed her into the mists.”

“By the Crown,” Lukas muttered.

“I called for her. I screamed her name into the nothingness.” Lukas nodded and Isaac continued, “I lost track of the time… maybe it was a minute, maybe ten minutes. My voice was hoarse when she finally reemerged. I didn’t notice at the time, but there was something different. Like she’d lost a piece of herself. The light behind her eyes had grown dull.

“We didn’t notice it immediately. But all the same something was different. She was a little off. Not big things at first. She forgot things. Time suddenly didn’t concern her. Where before she’d always hated being late to anything, instead we’d find her wandering around the farm without a care.

“One night we found her hiding in her closet with a knife. She was screaming about the darkness becoming alive. I thought maybe she hadn’t taken her Crumble, but that wasn’t the case either. She was slipping. And when she attacked our brother Sean two nights later… that was the end.”

Isaac took a deep breath, but his voice cracked anyway. “We had no choice.”

Lukas said the words for him, “Joffrey Columns.”

Isaac nodded and wiped the wet from his face, long repressed emotions resurfacing. Lukas placed a hand on his shoulder. It was an awkward movement, though the meaning behind it was well intended. The final descent jarred both men back to reality and the burning ship below.

***

Check out Part 2 next week.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Building A New World

I recently finished the first draft of what I hope is the first of many more books in a series.

I want to start writing the outline for the second novel, but it isn’t coming as easily as I thought/hoped. I’m stuck on the big ideas and not on what knew things/new stories/new worlds I could be creating. Instead, the blank screen with a cursor stares at me with the occasional blink to let me know that nothing new has been written.

***

You see, my brain doesn’t work the way it should in this writing game. The rule is that the best way to succeed is to create a series of books to write about. That way, when someone finishes up your first book you lead them on to your next one. You set it in the same world/universe and that way you can show your readers that if they want the latest Urban Fantasy series or Sci-fi series or whatever, you’ve got them covered.

This isn’t nefarious. It’s called giving the readers what they want. My first novel, The Dark That Follows, is about a Fortune Teller who sees no future for one of the people who come in to get their future read. In the process of trying to help this person, he finds himself involved in dark magics, other mystical places, and dealing with beings from beyond his understanding. It is strictly set in modern times and would fall cleanly into the Urban Fantasy genre.

There has been more than one person who read the book and asked when book two might come out.

Yeah, about that…

See this is my problem. I like various things. I’m not just a Fantasy reader. I’m not just a Sci-Fi reader. I like a bunch of different types of stuff. I love Superheroes, but I also love things that are more down to earth.

I’m a genre hopper. I can’t help it. And I write things that I’d like to read. This means that on those days when I want to watch or read something that is Horror, it’s great. Or when that Steampunk movie comes out, I’m interested.

And I don’t think I’m alone in that.

Now I know that there are plenty of people who may like one genre and they stick to it and only it. Anything else might just be a distraction for the briefest moments. My Step-Father-in-Law doesn’t like fantasy or sci-fi stuff. He is more of a historical fiction type guy. And that’s great!

But it also means that he’s not checking out that Urban Fantasy series. He’s not in it for a 5 book series about the colonists traveling the stars.

***

What do you do when your brain wants to write one thing but you know you should be writing something else? I think that’s where Writer’s Block begins and ends. Because your brain knows what you should be doing, because you know what you should be doing (whatever that is) and you are preventing yourself from doing those things in the hopes of… what, exactly? Someone on the internet told you different than what you wanted to do?

Maybe it is time to trust yourself?

Maybe if you do that then the writer’s block will begin to lift. Maybe it will show you the path you should be on?

Or perhaps you should start brainstorming, taking every idea that could be related to this and everything else that pops into your head and put it down on paper. Writers are excavators, after al. It doesn’t take much to find the shimmer of gold buried under all that dirt and rock.

Or maybe I just need to embrace it, stop fighting myself, and see where the roads take me.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

The Darkest Timeline?

In the episode of Community “Remedial Chaos Theory”, they use dice to simulate 6 different outcomes according to who had to go pay the pizza guy. It was a funny play on the multiple timelines idea. What struck me the other day was that in one of their timelines, everything went horribly wrong. People got hurt or died. All from one random roll of the dice. And while I’m fascinated by multiple timelines and parallel worlds and whatnot, that idea of a Darkest Timeline resonates even more.

And then there are sports.

If you follow any sport, you might have a superstition about your favorite team or player (or driver or…) and how you might watch. Maybe you have to sit in the same spot on the couch every game. Maybe you have to wear the same shirt. Maybe you have something more elaborate that involves turning around multiple times when the other team scores.

It’s a crazy idea that one thing that we do while watching things will have any real tangible impact on the contest we’re observing.

Right.

Right?

However, what if it only didn’t work because you were already in the wrong timeline? What if the reason your teams never win is just a simple thing:

You’re living in the Darkest Timeline.

***

1991

It’s game 7 of the World Series. Both the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves have gone Worst to First and find themselves tasked with trying to win a final, winner take all baseball game. John Smoltz is pitching a masterful game and there is a chance within the game where Braves outfielder Lonnie Smith could possibly put himself in scoring position (or perhaps even score). Instead, he inexplicably holds up. Never scores.

The Twins win in extra innings.

1996

After coming back from 3 games to 1 deficit in the NLCS, the Atlanta Braves find themselves up 2 games to 1 over the hated New York Yankees. In Game 4, they lead 6-3 and are ready to put a complete stranglehold on the Series and give the city of Atlanta back to back World Titles.

In steps Jim Lehritz…

The Braves won’t win another World Series Game in this Series or in any since.

1997

Game 5 of the NLCS.

Eric Gregg is behind the plate calling balls and strikes. And honestly, he pretty much calls the worst game anyone has ever seen. And it is all one-sided. Florida Marlin’s pitcher Livan Hernadez has the greatest game of his career when balls are strikes and strikes are strikes. Florida will go on to win the World Series.

1991 to 2005

The Braves will win 14 straight division titles. From 1991 to 1999 they will appear in 5 World Series and only win 1 time (for comparison, the Boston Red Sox have appeared in 4 World Series since 2004 and have won each time.

Since 2001 to Current, the Braves have not won a playoff series.

2011

The Atlanta Braves have an 8.5 game lead over the St Louis Cardinals on September 6. They lose their lead and the playoffs spot on the last day of the season in one of the worst September Collapses by a Baseball team… ever.

2013

Trailing 2 games to 1 in the Divisional Series, the Braves hold a slim 1 one lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 8th inning. They have arguably the best closer in the game. With 5 outs left to get to send the Series back to Atlanta, our Manager decides NOT to bring Kimbrel in so that he can watch with the rest of us as the next batter puts the ball into the stands… and the Braves lose another series.

2019

Game 5 of the Divisional Series, the Cardinals score 1 million runs in the first inning (it was 10, but same difference)… something that almost never happens in the history of baseball.

***

And that’s just my Atlanta Braves (the fun we could have with the Miami Dolphins, I’m sure).

Is it a curse? Curses are sexy. Curses are something “out of your control”. Curses can bring a city together in their misery. When the explanation for something improbable happens, we think that the gods/God/karma/etc must be against us.

But I don’t believe it is a curse. What could be the instigating moment? What spun things out of control? We don’t have a mysterious goat in our past. We don’t have one of the greatest players in the history of the game get traded. So what could it be?

Not, it’s not a curse… we just are in the Darkest Timeline.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Primal – A Review

My first thought after watching episode one is that I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything like it before… and that it might be the best thing I’ve seen in a long time.

I just finished the last two episodes from this first five-episode season (called Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal) and my opinion hasn’t changed one bit.

For those who might not know, Primal is an animated series about a caveman and a tyrannosaurus who find themselves paired up due to tragedies that occur to each of them. That description is terrible and doesn’t even begin to describe the depth and breadth of this series. It reminds me of Heavy Metal in the weirdness factors, in the settings and the monsters it portrays throughout the series. Like some 70’s cartoon on crack.

Each antagonist a foil to show you exactly why you should be cheering for our heroes “Spear” and “Fang”. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

Yes, there is this thought that how would a dinosaur and a caveman pair up… why would that work, much less be something I’d want to spend time on? The answer is very simple – because you get to see why these two are together. You get to feel their losses and understand why they need each other. And you buy into it. It is a simple enough idea that the show actually does a great job in pushing you to see why this pair both works and perhaps doesn’t work as well. That they need each other as a coping mechanism at first, and then they simply need each other.

There is no dialogue spoken within the show… and yet, there is a grace and depth to these characters where words would only undermine what it was we were watching. We don’t need to hear anything more than the sounds of the world. The grunts and shouts and roars of the two as they work their way through the world, fighting for survival… fighting for each other.

There are moments where it got a little dusty in my living room. There are moments where I cheered out loud when one of the pair saves the other. There are moments where I let loose a series of curses when things don’t go so well for our heroes.

And there are moments where the above Bat-Creature appears and I’m more than a little worried about Spear and Fang.

Honestly, I’m sort of at a loss for words with this show. I feel like the more I say the more likely I give some cool moment away. But I also feel like if I say nothing then I’m not pushing you to go watch it (and you need this in your life).

I didn’t know what it was that I was getting into when I started watching this show, but now I can only wonder why this show doesn’t have more episodes out.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Kickstart the Comic – Mine To Avenge: Book of Layla #1-3

Independent comic books offer us a chance to hear new and different voices tell new and different stories. I know that without Kickstarter, the ability to reach new readers is hard. Even with something like Kickstarter, the opportunity to be a one and done is both very difficult and extremely easy. Which can be frustrating for those authors who wish to tell a longer story. They put so much trust in their readers in the hope that not only will they be there to support them when the very first issue drops, but also carry them through each subsequent chapter in the story.

With Mine to Avenge, we’ve reached the third issue, and with that we push toward Robert Jeffrey’s complete story with every single issue. As a reader, I’m glad that such an opportunity exists at all.

(Plus, the book is very nice!)

 

***

Mine to Avenge: Book of Layla #1-3

Creator/Writer – Robert Jeffrey II

Artist -Matteo Illuminati

Colorist/Letterer – Loris Ravina

 

Kickstarter Campaign ends on Wednesday, November 27, 2019 at 10:02 AM EST.

***

The Pitch:

The  history  books  call  it  a  house  of  horrors.  A  testament  to  the  true  depravity  that  inhabits  the  souls  of  man.  

 

The Story:

The  little  girl  who  escaped  the  demonic  forces  which  occupied  the  LaLaurie  New  Orleans  mansion  on  a  sunny  day  in  1833,  though,  called  it  something  else:  the  site  of  a  rebirth.  The  little  girl  swore  on  that  day  that  she  would  never  be  anyone  else’s  victim,  and  so  began  a  centuries  long  campaign  of  bloody  revenge.  The  Retribution  Cabal  (RC)  was  born,  protecting  only  those  descendants  of  America’s original sin.  

Now  on  a  cyberpunk  stage  where  technological  wonders  leave  no  place  for  creatures  of  legend,  the  LaLauries  and  their  denizens  reappear,  continuing  their  blood-soaked  quest  for  obtaining  ultimate  power.  Time  will  tell  if  the  remaining  members  of  the  fractured  Cabal  can  stand  as  the  bulwark  between  humanity  and  the  rising  hordes  of  darkness.

 

John’s Thoughts:

If you like stories that stretch across time, from the 1800s to the 2100s…

If you like monsters and dark powers…

If you like being the chosen one…

Then maybe this book if for you.

The Rewards:

It’s only $10 to catch up via PDF or $20 if you want the first three issues in their physical form. Past that, if you’d like a collection from Evoluzione’s Horror Comics, then the $45 level will get you a whole bunch of books to scare you. Lastly, there is the always cool pledge of $100 to get a cameo in the next issue. Maybe one of the monsters can “get” you!.

 

The Verdict:

Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m going to see more than an issue’s worth of story. That isn’t going to be a problem here. They have already had two Kickstarters fund and this one is about 1/3 of the way there with 3 weeks to go. I’d say give it a shot, but then again, I have the first two issues already!

***

To find out more about Mine to Avenge: Book of Layla #1-3, check out the Kickstarter Page here.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Lucifer – An In-Progress Review

I broke my wife.

When the show first came on, I watched it because I love shows which feature an interesting version of the Devil. I don’t need the pure horror version. I want a version that has a particular viewpoint or agenda… one that makes some level of sense within the world they exist. Maybe that means they are true and pure evil or maybe it means they have a job to do whether they like it or not.

Which brings us to Lucifer. I watched it right away and occasionally Courtney would wander into the room, watch half an episode and say “I think I’d like this show, but…” This continued for about a season and a half before I got too far behind on Lucifer and then they canceled the show – so no reason to catch up, right?

Still, weird things happen for shows these days. Sometimes they get to have a second life and when Netflix is calling, you go ahead and answer.

But now the show becomes this thing that I’ll eventually catch up on. I mean, there are a ton of shows I’d like to be watching, but I also have to keep my cats in the manner they’ve grown accustomed. And that’s where I left the show, in the limbo of wanting to see it but not having enough time.

Yet, somewhere along the way, my wife decided she needed a new show to watch. And the notification on Netflix mentioning the fifth season popped up. And soon she was binging like no one’s business. 4 seasons were done before I really knew what she was doing. And now she is after me to catch up. So now I must put other shows on the back-burner so that I’m caught up before the next season pops up on Netflix.

Rewatching season 2 (and some episodes in Season 1) reminded me how well the show was put together. The case of the week formula is nothing new, but the underlining plot lines of the seasons have enough of the mythology to keep you guessing about where exactly they are going to end up. About the time you think “we haven’t seen this thing” is about the time they push that storyline to the forefront.  With each episode, they build the secondary characters up a little more so that you not only understand their value to the show but also are pulling for them to continue to grow their own story-lines. When we get the odd pairings and see characters interact in ways we haven’t seen before… that’s stuff I really like to see.

And of course, there is the lead player himself. This version who has left his post in Hell for the sunlit skies of Los Angeles… he sees manipulations of his father behind everything. He only wants to be his own man, make decisions for himself, and yet he feels foiled each and every time (whether it is true or not). The idea that he is assisting the police because he is all about punishing the guilty – does that truly make him evil or not? What value does he have to his partner? To the people around him? And what value do they have to him?

I’m beginning the 3rd season, well into episodes that I’ve never seen before. And where last season had the ongoing storyline with his Mother (yes, that’s right) which wasn’t overly dark or sinister; this season has a bad guy with the name of Mr. Sinner. Someone who seems to have it out for our resident Devil.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Retro Post – Hitchhikers

We started this blog thing about 6 years ago now, and I was thinking there were probably a handful of posts from those early days that might be worth another post. This will go down as possibly the single dumbest thing I’ve ever done. But it is certainly appropriate for Halloween.

I originally entitled this “I should have paid more attention to C. Thomas Howell”… if you’ve ever seen the Hitcher, you’ll understand.

***

The year was either 1997 or 1998. Now a Junior in college, I had driven up to the Georgia Tech Student Center to pick up my mail and was on my way back to my car (and then my dorm room) when I heard a woman’s voice call out to me from the dark Atlanta summer night.

“Excuse me, sir? I was wondering if I could ask a favor of you?”

I turned around and saw an older woman, maybe late forties, but most likely in her early fifties. Regardless of her actual age, she was someone who had that look where life had never really cut her a true break. Through cigarettes and alcohol, she might be able to numb the pain of existence, but she was destined to be one who, from cradle to grave, would work until her fingers became little more than nubs. Stick thin, her leathery flesh hung off her bones.

I felt sad for her immediately.

“Can I help you with something?”

She moved a little closer to me and nodded, fully emerging into the parking lot’s light. “I hope so. You see, I’m supposed to go and get my younger son from the baby sitter. And my older son was supposed to give me a ride, but he’s not in his dorm room. I can’t seem to get a hold of him.” She glanced down at the watch on her wrist. “And the sitter is done at nine and it’s already eight-thirty.”

I didn’t immediately respond, even though I could tell where this was going. When you live in downtown Atlanta, you get used to people coming up and asking you for spare change or various other favors. In my first year living downtown, I probably (read: definitely) ended up giving too much money to the random homeless who crossed my path. But that bit of humanity had been stamped out by the bank account of a college student living a few years on his own.

I braced myself for the question.

“She’s only a couple of miles down the road. If you could give me a lift,  I’d be forever grateful.”

Now my mind and mouth normally do things in agreement. Mostly the mouth waits until the brain has finished its various calculations or what-have-you and then when it gets the proper instructions it spits out the correct sequence of words.

Not this time.

“Uh, yea, I guess I could do that.”

Immediately my brain rebelled. Why had I said that? I don’t want to give her a ride. What the hell am I thinking?

Her face lit up, and I was suddenly glad that I had said yes. This would be my good deed for the year. Heck, for the century possibly.

“I’m right over here.”

As I moved over towards my 1990 red Pontiac Sunbird, I didn’t notice her wave to another person. Another beaten down by life person, but male. Same tanned leathery skin… in his late forties, early fifties as well. He wasn’t rail thin like his wife, but there was only the slightest beginning of a beer belly hiding under his shirt.

“This young man is  going to take us to the sitter’s.”

Now this is the point I should have said something like “no” or even “hey I’ve got something else I need to get to that I just remembered”, because now the numbers were not in my favor. With just her in the car she’d be in the passenger seat beside me. I’m 6’5″ 275 lbs and all of 21-22 years old. I could take on the world with the side benefit that being that size, no one typically bothered me in the first place.

Yet, with him along for the ride that meant someone would be in the back seat.

Behind me.

Where I couldn’t see what he was doing. Not a good idea.

I think my brain was on strike that night because it only barely fazed me. My southern hospitality was going to get me killed. And there is even a saying for a situation like this. Don’t pick up hitchhikers. I mean that is the number one thing right up there with “Don’t take candy from strangers.”

What is wrong with me? My parents taught me better than this!

Sure enough she moved into the front passenger seat, and he sat in the back, straddling the middle so that I could see him in the rear view. But not really see what he was doing back there. I turned out onto North Avenue going West. My eyes darted from her to my rearview mirror to see him and then back to her. I barely remember the road, driving on instinct.

urban-legend-killer-backseat

“So, where is it I’m taking you?”

The woman answered quickly. “It’s only a couple of miles up the road.”

“Actually, we don’t need to go to the sitter’s. She’s taking the baby back to the house.” The smoker voice from the back jarred  me to the core. What the hell? Now I’m taking them home?

“Oh, then just continue on North.”

Again, I should have found a way to get them out of the car. But I was stuck taking them home. Somewhere my screams wouldn’t be heard by anyone.

I’ve been in three fights in my entire life. Two of them were won pretty quickly. The other was a losing battle, one of the few times where the other kid had been a little older and a little stronger. Mostly I observed what my grandfather had always told me: I better not ever start a fight, but I damn well better finish one that someone else started.

Those thoughts drifted into my mind while I tried to determine my best course of action. If they had a knife or something similar I might be able to put a hurt on one or both of them… if she had the blade. If he had the weapon, then I was going to need something of my own. But what else was there? A passing car’s lights illuminated the interior of the car and my eyes flashed to the keys dangling from the ignition. Rough edges of a weapon. It wasn’t much, but it might be better than naked fists.

Still I tried to think things through. I figured as long as I don’t do anything to set them off, or show that I know I am in trouble, it has to be in their best interest to wait until I get them to wherever their true destination was. Otherwise they might risk the chance that I drive the car off the road and try something now.

They made idle chat with me. A decade later, I couldn’t tell you what we talked about. I’m pretty sure that the most that escaped my lips was Yes, No, or I don’t know. I was too busy putting that math side of my brain to work trying to analyze the angles of this situation I’d gotten myself into. Plus it was hard to hear what either of them were saying due to my heart echoing throughout my body.

We drove and drove and drove, more and more minutes piling up on the odometer. Now I’ve taken North Avenue east many times on my journeys to hang out with friends, but I had never gone this far west on the road. Everything had long since become unfamiliar and I kept waiting for them to say something, to have me turn off, but more time passed and nothing. I had no idea how far we needed to go before I got them “home”, but I kept on, sure that terrible things awaited me.

Finally, at some point we turned off North and then worked our way onto some of the more back roads.

For those unfamiliar with the layout of Atlanta, if you are in downtown and you drive more than about 20 minutes in any direction you will run into an interstate. Worst case you’ll hit the perimeter I-285. This is a road that loops around the city, encircling it.

Base Map 285

Yet, we had driven far enough and still, I didn’t see a sign for the highway, nothing. Somehow I was in the backwoods of Georgia while still being in the city. It was as if they had managed to take me to a part of town where street lights were only a suggestion and not required. Long stretches went by with only my Sunbird’s headlights to show that the world outside the car even still existed. And I was driving these two random people up these roads I didn’t know existed.  And these roads were the type where I don’t even know how there was nothing on them. Very few houses. No restaurants or gas stations. It was like I’d crossed over into the Twilight Zone. Nothing made sense in my head. My heart pounded in my chest, threatening to explode.

dark road

What was I supposed to do? Call their bluff? Point out, ever so nicely, that I had only agreed to take one of them “a couple of miles” to their younger son?

I spotted a small cluster of lights in the distance. As we got closer I could see it was a convenience store, and then the night took a turn.

“Do you think we could stop up here? I need to get some cigarettes.” The way the man said the words and the paranoia in my brain combined to make me wonder whether it was a question or an order. So I pulled over.

“Would you like anything? A drink or something?”

Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do, let you get me a drink and somehow put a drug into it and then I’m missing a kidney or I’m dead or something.

I locked eyes with him in the rearview mirror. “No, thank you.”

The man exited the car, and I held my breath that the woman would follow. I slid my hand very casually so that it was resting on the gear shift.

They both get out of the car and I’m gunning it.

She didn’t budge. “Hey honey, get me a pack of smokes too while you’re in there.”

They were just playing with me now. I know it.

He returned a few minutes later and I wondered if the old guy had gone in and robbed the store (sometimes I still wonder this). They might already be ready to kill and eat me, but there was no telling how far they might go.

Hmm.

We journeyed for a bit longer. Again, I would say the exact amount, but I lost track. I think I’d been gone from Georgia Tech about 40 minutes by this point.

They both pointed out a side road to turn down… it was dirt. “Ours is the one on the end.”

Of course, it is. Where else would you live but off a dirt road within the Atlanta city limits.

I stared out into the darkness, but couldn’t really find the beginnings of a structure to know where I might be going or for how far. My car’s shocks protested the potholes and each bump caused my two passengers to shift in their seats. We began to climb a fairly steep hill, and when we finally came over the crest I caught site of their double-wide home.

This thing might have been nice looking once upon a time, but now, through either the elements or lack of caring about what the shit-hole looked like, it could only remind me of something that should be condemned. Various bits of junk littered the yard and every redneck stereotype crept into my thoughts.

“Home.” My voice may have cracked with the hope that this was the end of our voyage. My own fight or flight on high alert.

The old man shifted in the backseat. “I just feel awful about making you drive all this way. I have some money in the house. If you could wait a minute I’ll run in and grab it for you.”

I shook my head. “That’s OK. I’m just glad I could get the two of you home.”

Liar! Just get the hell out of the car and let me go!

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Have a good night.”

They seemed to pause at that. And to this day I’m not sure about what they were thinking. Maybe this whole thing was just them trying to get home without needing to take the bus. Maybe they really had a son at Tech who they’d come to see. Maybe they had a younger son who they needed to get to, but then the sitter decided to bring him home instead of waiting for them to arrive.

Or maybe they had been planning on killing me the whole damn time.

Until I told them to have a good night. And that was the point they had a change of heart.

The two of them got out of the car, but before the wife could shut the door the man held it open and stuck his head back into the car.

Just gun it!

“You know how to get back?”

I nodded in the darkness even if he couldn’t see my action. “I’ll figure it out.”

“Alright. Take care.”

And with that, he shut the door and I turned my car around and headed back to the paved streets. It was only then that I saw a sign for I-285. I may have taken it to just get my bearings (I honestly don’t remember). My body began shaking, the adrenaline pumping through my system for the better portion of an hour finally began to wear off. In a daze, I somehow managed to guide my car back to more familiar streets and then back to the dorm.

Somehow still alive.

I may not have slept well that night… or the next few.

So there you have it, The Stupidest thing I have ever done. My last good deed, ever.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

You Haven’t Seen It? – Alien

This series is based on movies that my wife should have seen at this point in her life but somehow has failed to do so…

Until now.

Plus, with it being October and all, a proper horror movie was needed to cross off. Which brought us to seeing Alien as part of Turner Classic Movies’ 40th anniversary showing last night.

Pre-Movie

What do you know about this movie?

It has Sigourney Weaver… it has an alien… doesn’t an alien come out of her stomach?

I can neither confirm or deny any of these things.

(The pre-movie was running Alien trivia) Do you know what the tag line was?

(She looks at the 4 choices.) In space, no one can hear you scream.

Nice.

 

About 10 minutes into the movie

I’m a little worried about the cat.

Post-Movie

That was really cool. I thought it was going to be more about it hunting them, but it was as much about them hunting it. And I thought it was going to be Ripley vs. the Alien for half the movie.

So let’s talk about it. What did you like? Didn’t like?

Lambert. I didn’t like her. I don’t think we’re supposed to like her though. She seems super pissed at the world. Someone who remains on edge the whole time. She seemed to know bad things were about to go down… even when they first arrive.

Yeah, she says multiple times while they are out there “ok, let’s go back to the ship”. She’s a real fraidy cat.

Oh, I loved that Parker got in a lick on the alien.

Before he died?

Yeah.

Overall, I thought it was excellent on the suspense. It kept a good balance that so many horror movies don’t do a good job on. It had big moments and then the smaller moments.

Favorite character?

You’d think it’d be Ripley. But I really liked Dallas. His whole demeanor with Ripley. Do you think he was hitting that?

Huh, I had never thought of that.

Maybe it was more of unrequited love? There were looks he gave her. There was underlying respect with a tinge of passion. Would they have been together back on Earth?

Well, he did put himself in harms way over her multiple times… so, maybe?

So how about the big stomach scene?

It’s my favorite. Fantastic.

Did you know what was about to happen? I mean, you kinda knew something with a chest-burster was coming and it is such an iconic scene.

No, I wasn’t thinking that at all. I didn’t think Kane had ingested it. But then the baby comes out.

Baby?

Well, that’s what I’m calling it. We know what the alien looks like fully grown, but you can see it this creature.

Plus he had a cuteness to him.

Disturbing.

That entire scene, them having to hold him down. That’s family right there. No matter how much they scabble in the first scene, this is their people. So it is agonizing.

Did you think it was over there at the end?

No… mostly because of the score. I felt like there was something up. Something else was going to happen. What about you? When you first saw it, did you know there was another scare?

Hmmm… I probably was 12 and watching it on tv. I don’t think I thought there would be more. So it was a big surprise to see this thing that blends in so well, and then to wonder how in the world she was going to get out of that.

Any last thoughts?

Just that this might not be the most epilepsy-friendly movie there at the end with all the flashing lights and whatnot.

Oh, and I’m looking forward to Alien 2-

It’s not Alien 2.

Right, Aliens. But let’s not wait until 2026 to see the 40th anniversary of that one.

Deal.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

The Immortal Hulk

I’ve never been a “Hulk” guy.

Sure, I watched the old tv show with the sad music playing at the end as he hitchhikes across the country. I actually think of those types of shows as “Incredible Hulk” style shows, with the story or the week, the guy helping people in a town, etc. I’ve waited for him to say “Don’t make me angry… you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”. I’ve seen the tv Hulk movies (not much to write home about, though I’m pretty sure Thor and Daredevil appeared). I dug the Ang Lee “24” version up until the end of the movie. The Ed Norton one was ok at best.

And then there have been the Avengers movies where it just works.

You see, in the comics, he was an original Avenger. He was there for all of like 2 issues. That was it.

Because, the dumb, Hulk Smash version of the character isn’t really a “team player”. In fact, in those early days, he was a bit more of a bad guy when he popped up in some of the comics. But, that version never much appealed to me.

However, I have a friend, James, who is a Hulk guy. He has hundreds of issues. He’s read it when it sucks and he’s read it when it has been really good. So when the newest series: The Immortal Hulk came out over a year ago, James immediately raved about it. But it wasn’t that it was just a Hulk book that was good. He talked about it like it was a Horror book.

Uhm, what?

So, after much talk about it, I picked up the first trade and read that first issue.

It’s a Horror comic.

In fact, if it had been a Tales from the Crypt episode where instead of the Hulk rampaging and breaking a bunch of bad people it was a random monster… you wouldn’t even question it. Or maybe a dead comes back to life story… like this:

“At a gas station in the middle of nowhere, a desperate man ends up killing a trio of innocents in a robbery gone wrong. Three bodies were delivered to the morgue this afternoon. By morning, only two remain. And the ones who killed them are dying or broken.”

I mean, that is the plot to an undead creature movie.

Even the way that Joe Bennett draws the Hulk… this isn’t a dumb Hulk and this isn’t a Hulk where Bruce Banner is in charge. This is something else. Something with a sparkle in his eye when it is time to do some damage. An avenging devil? Or something worse?

Al Ewing even starts off the comic with a thought about human nature. It’s the idea that everyone is two people:

“The one you try to be.”

“And the one you try not to see in the mirror.”

The answer he gives tells you everything and nothing at the same time.

It tells you that this isn’t a regular Hulk book. This isn’t just another superhero story. This is something different. Something which ties to ideas in the past. Something which allows Al Ewing to use the character in a way that hasn’t been done before. What does it mean to have a Monster inside you? All that power… and yet, the character has mostly feared it. Maybe due to losing control and hurting someone. Maybe due to not wanting to understand his own duality.

And now, just maybe, the monster within has some other ideas…

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

I Remember Halloween

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. I love how the weather (normally, just not this year in Georgia) cools off and Autumn greets us. I love that for a month we allow ourselves to get scared… just a little bit. A month where adults are allowed to act a little like the children we used to be.

But I also have a weird time with the holiday.

You see, I was raised Jehovah Witness, so the number of Trick or Treat nights I got to go on was about 2 that I remember. As a teenager, it was too late to make such trips along the neighborhood and apparently I must have been “too cool” to actually use my younger siblings to gather up some excess candy.

But I do have some good October memories:

1 – I remember being about 10 and spending the night at a friend’s house and somehow getting permission to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street. I’m not sure if I actually had nightmares, but I knew that if I did I needed to keep such things to myself, otherwise Mom might not allow me to watch those types of movies anymore.

2 – I remember watching the old creature feature style horror movies on late night. The Creature from the Black Lagoon probably scared me the most even while I still felt bad for him.

3 – As a teenager, three of us sat in the front row of Nightmare on Elm Street 6: Freddy’s Dead. At the end of the movie, we stood up and chastised the audience by saying that they needed to give Freddy a moment of silence.

Image by Simon Wijers from Pixabay

4 – The multiple times over the years of going to my friend Lee’s house to watch any sort of horror movie. They range from some classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Fly to Dead Snow and Teeth.

5 – I brought Teeth to the party. I actually thought there was some good there. I was clearly the only one who appreciated it.

6 – I may still be mocked today.

7 – Those nights were how Courtney and I watched the first 3 Paranormal Activities. Back to back to back.

8 – I did get to dress up as both Batman and Darth Vader over the course of 2 years.

9 – During one of those years, I split my pants and had to hide my issue with the cape included with the costume.

10 – I went to a costume gathering/party as Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Basically a white t-shirt with the words “ho ho ho, now I have a machine gun”. Mostly because it was last minute… and I’m lazy.

11 – The last time I dressed up was as Fry from Futurama (complete with the pizza box!) probably 4 years ago.

12 – I do have a “scary” mask upstairs that flashes a glowing light. I may have worn it once for about 10 minutes (it is not comfortable).

13 – But I think my favorite memory is that one October night where my mom made pigs-in-a-blanket and we watched Disney’s The Headless Horseman on tv. A story which is still one of my all-time favorites.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

You Haven’t Seen It? – Neverending Story

While at Dragon Con a few weeks ago, I caught sight of a group of three people in costume. I quickly realized that one of the women was dressed as the Empress from The Neverending Story. So I looked across the table to where my bride was eating her lunch and said:

“Cool. Neverending Story.”

And she replied:

“Never seen it.”

I immediately posted on Facebook that my world had been shattered by this type of news. How in the world could she not have seen that classic from the 80s? We’d just finished season 3 of Stranger Things and there is a whole thing with the Neverending Story song… it never occurred to me that she might not get that reference.

I had to fix this situation. So on that Monday night, we found that Vudu had the movie for free (with limited ads – honestly it was better than watching it on tv. There were probably only about 6 to 8 minutes of commercials total for a 90-minute movie). So we watched it. And of course, because she’s not a crazy person, she loved it.

But it got me thinking about the various movies I grew up on that for some reason Courtney had never seen. I mean, there was a point where she was 20 years old and had never seen Star Wars (blasphemy). For a long while, she’d never seen The Wizard of Oz (what was happening on Spring Break – they show it every year).

I had an idea. We made a list of movies that either she hadn’t seen but probably should have by this point or just movies that she hadn’t seen but kinda wanted to see. Then I would talk to her about the movie and get her thoughts as an adult. I did this with Neverending Story, but it’s been a couple of weeks so it isn’t quite as fresh.

You Haven’t Seen It?

 

John – The Neverending Story is a classic. I joked that perhaps you were spending time playing outside while the rest of us were watching movies, but then one of your best friends mentioned she’d seen it (and thought she’d seen it with you). So what gives? Why didn’t you see it back then?

Courtney – I actually wasn’t sure if I’d seen it or not. Images from the movie pop up every now and again, so sometimes I think I’ve seen it and then other times not so much. I will say that you know I’m not a big fan of LONG movies, so if you’re calling it The NEVERENDING Story I’m probably going to assume it is going to be a very long one.

Of course, when we started watching it, I quickly realized I hadn’t seen it at all. When did you first see it?

I was 8 when it came out. I think I saw it in the theater, but it is just as likely that I saw it on HBO. They’d run the same movies over and over and over during the summer.

Prior to our watching it, did you have any clue what it might be about?

All I knew was that it was in the fantasy genre. Maybe some kind of quest. I had no idea it was a story within a story.

How about the movie itself? Did you end up liking it?

Oh, I knew right away that I was going to like it. Immediately the whole bit with the characters like the Rock Guy-

Rock Biter.

Yeah, and the elf-guy.

The Bat Rider?

I don’t know his name. Turn it on.

I load it up and fast forward to the scene with the Rockbiter, Snail Rider, and Bat Rider. Courtney immediately picks the Bat Rider as her favorite of the trio.

Rewind it to the beginning, with the bullies.

Did you notice that Major Dad was eating 3 raw eggs? He was hardcore from the beginning!

<10 minutes pass as we watch the scene with the bullies and Bastian hiding in the bookstore and then stealing the book.>

So let me ask you this: do you think the bookstore owner wanted him to take the book?

Of course.

So here’s a thought that will wrinkle your brain: did the bookstore owner know Bastian was going to come into the store?

What do you mean?

Well, he was reading the book as he comes in, but later we find out that Bastian is a character in Fantasia’s larger story. So was the whole beginning of the movie stuff that was actually in the book already?

Hmm… I don’t know…

<The swamp scene appears on the tv.>

I loved the fact that he could live through Atreyu, who was young and underestimated. Both people who lost someone close to them.

The horse!

You kinda spoiled that scene for me. I mean, it still got me, but you dampened it a little bit.

Sorry.

It’s OK.

But you can see that was something that could have scarred you as an 8-year-old. Good lord.

That was the scene that made me definitely know I’d never seen the movie.

Alright, other favorite characters? I personally like the turtle!

The Luck Dragon is absolutely my favorite. I love that he’s a big dog. It just takes any potential fear you might have of this massive beast and puts it to the side. The ear scratching moment! He was great!

And how about the story within a story aspect?

It was awesome. Just like the bookstore owner said, he had real stakes within the story and wasn’t just a bystander.

Finally… what did you think overall? Did you like it?

Yes! Yes! Yes! I actually would love to see it with our 8-year-old niece and see it through her eyes. But, yes, it was great!

***

So a success! I’m hoping to get a horror movie in at some point during October. She’s never seen Alien…

 

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Hollow Empire – Free Chapter – Cassidy

Hollow Empire exists as this experiment between Jeremy and myself to see if we could build this medieval post-apocalyptic world together in a serialized format. And I think the set up of him choosing a pair of characters and me doing much the same worked really well. It is a story and characters I’d like to get back to soon. In fact, I have part of what could be Episode 9 completed (assuming my co-writer doesn’t drop another chapter before then.

But, in order to get in the right mind-frame, I need to go back and reread… so here’s my second chapter from Season 1 (and if you want to read the very first chapter featuring my other Point of View character, you can get that here):

 

Cassidy

 

 

 

What once had been two living, breathing men now swung in the soft breeze. Though this area along the road did not possess much foliage, the outlaws had chosen one of the larger oak trees with its thick branches to support the display. Stripped of clothing, the dead skin baked under an autumn sun. A trio of crows roosted on the two bodies and pecked at the exposed flesh. It would only be a matter of time before they picked the corpses clean.

Cassidy rode closer to the bodies, and the air turned sour with death and decay. His stomach seized and contracted, but he fought the urge to vomit. When he was within an arm’s length of the once-men, he shooed the black birds away. They had devoured three of the four eyes thus far, but it was not enough to obscure the men’s identities.

“Damnit.”

“Is it Hadrian?”

Isidora’s voice broke through the stench. Though her horse seemed to have reservations about being so close to the dead, Isidora trotted up alongside Cassidy and studied the deceased men’s faces.

Cassidy shook his head. “No, it was Darius. Didn’t realize he’d been put on this hunt as well.”

Isidora guided her steed over to the other swinging corpse. She reached out with her gloved hand and spun him around.

“Wasn’t this one of their men?”

Cassidy looked up. “Lichy, maybe?”

She continued to twirl him, the rope tightening with each revolution. “No sores, no blackness along the fingertips, and no bleeding gums. He’s clean.”

“You think he wore out his welcome? Though, I suppose finding anyone other than Hadrian is welcome news. Perhaps he’s managed to remain in their good graces.”

Turning back to his corpse, Cassidy rotated Darius one more time. Aside from the battle scars, and a few bruises, the man might have been in good shape, other than being deceased. As he pulled back from the body, he caught sight of the scar. The mark of an eye, no larger than the width of a finger, rested on the inside of Darius’s wrist.

“He has the Brand.”

She backed her horse away and twisted in the saddle to scan the hills around them. “A warning then.”

“For who?”

“Us. Our kind.”

“Lovely thought. And here I figured they didn’t make us in Tolem.”

“Obviously your ability to maintain a low profile could use some work.”

Cassidy ignored the comment and pulled a folded map from his pack. He marked their position with one finger and then traced the long black line, the King’s Road, with his other. Ahead, the line wove between the foothills before turning northward to skirt the mountains. A series of small scratchings along the road indicated the occasional village.

Isidora dropped down from her horse, took a few light steps away from the execution site, and squatted. Cassidy had observed her perform this bit of artistry more times than he could count. She studied the rocks, the dirt, and the very dust, nothing lost before her vision. He had watched her pick up the barest of markings after a rain. It was rumored that she might have been the finest tracker in all of Othis. They were wrong. She was better than they could imagine.

“We’re close now,” she told him. “Tracks no more than a day old and they lead east.”

“Old Welkwood is nearby. Maybe two or three miles ahead along the road.” He marked the sun’s progress in the sky. “We ride hard, we can make it prior to dusk.”

He nudged his steed forward on the road. Isidora remounted and flanked him. Then without a word, she put her heels into her mount and charged off ahead.

* * *

Cassidy looked down over the shell of a village. From their vantage point along a small rise in the ground, it stretched out in front of them. In its prime Welkwood might have been a proper town. The King’s Road cut through its center, lined with what would have been a blacksmith’s forge, a stable, a tavern, or any number of other businesses. Now those same positions were marked by decaying framework or the occasional stone wall. A large statue still stood in the center of town; though weeds and vines threatened to overtake it. He suspected it was one of Lord Rowan’s visages. At the statue, the road split and divided, and from that point, everything radiated outward along a pair of smaller roads. Four larger buildings, more stone than wood, flanked the midpoint.

He glanced at Isidora. “Looks as though those four are in the best condition. One might be an inn or larger tavern. Seems as good a spot as any for them to hole up in. Can you take a look?”

She nodded and closed her eyes. Each breath steadied into a rhythmic pattern. Her body swayed from side to side, threatening to tip over at a moment’s notice. Cassidy made no move to steady her; he did not dare interrupt her gift. Just below her neck, the faint, telltale glow of her Brand began. He looked at her face and saw her eyes rolled up into the back of her head, her eyelids flickering.

A survivor of the Lichy, she was one of the so-called lucky ones. When the madness of the times came, her parents left her on the doorsteps of the church. The priests and sisters found her; the dark heart of the disease clutched her to its breast. This frail little form, barely strong enough to lift her head for the soup they provided to her. She was given a day, no more than two, before she would expire. Yet on the following day, she could talk. On the second day, she stood without any assistance. By the time a week passed, she showed no signs of the plague, save for the small crescent scar on her lower neck.

Not one out of the hundreds who found themselves with the Lichy sores survived. Entire towns ceased to exist over the course of a few weeks. Yet this small girl survived, with only a mark to distinguish her from every other person, a lingering reminder that she was now the stronger breed.

It was only later she learned about the other aspect the disease left. She’d been blessed with the gift of second sight, or perhaps cursed with it. Cassidy never knew what she saw; she only gave him enough information to accomplish whatever task lay directly before them. Still, her foreknowledge saved his skin more times than he could count.

Isidora gasped for air beside him and rolled onto her side. Her body shook like a spastic ragdoll on the grass-patched dirt carpet. He instinctively reached out and placed his hand on her side to keep her from injuring herself while the shaking occurred. Her dark hair, usually shorn close to her head, had begun to grow out, a consequence of the hunt. He pressed a cloth to her forehead and blotted the beads of sweat. A small amount of blood leaked from her mouth.

Her tongue will be sore on the morrow.

He blotted her cheeks as well.

Soon the shaking subsided, though her eyes had not yet reopened. They still danced underneath their lids.

Cassidy never knew if his presence helped to bring her back to the present, but it made him feel better. Not that he would ever voice it to her, but in these moments after she used her gift, the intensity and the scowl, which normally accompanied her face, disappeared. In those moments, she seemed at peace with herself, with the world, and with him.

He pressed his canteen to her lips, and she drank as if it were the last drop in all of Othis.

He whispered, “Did you see how many there were? Do you know if Hadrian is still alive?”

Even with the water, her voice scratched and strained, “You need to go into their lair. You must confront them. It is the only way.”

“Very well, we will hold here until your strength has returned. Then when you are ready-”

“No, you don’t understand. You must do this. Only you… alone. I will have the horses ready for a swift ride back to the capital once it is done.” Her eyes pierced the darkness. “But you are to do this alone.”

* * *

The half-moon’s light illuminated the abandoned trail as Cassidy crept down to the outer structures of Old Welkwood. No potential sentries roamed this portion of the fallen town. At the bottom of the slope, he pressed himself against the broken stone wall and peered around its edge before sprinting along to the next barrier.

Now, in the middle of it, he saw the signs. Once it might have been a thriving burg, yet when the first infected showed up, many chose sanctuary in the larger cities. They hoped the abundance of doctors and apothecaries might spare them. Families left sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and even children behind. They flooded to the largest churches and prayed to God to spare them, as if a change of scenery would have made any difference.

They were left wanting.

He turned his focus back on the ruined town. Everywhere he saw the marks of the Lichy, and suspected it had run through this place like wildfire. Mounds of ash and bone on the west side of the town marked the last remnants of the doomed, revealing how little time the citizens had to put the dead in the ground. Up close, he could see that the buildings were not simply abandoned or destroyed by the wind and rain, but put to the fire a long time ago. A choice made to head off the plague before it consumed them all.

Glancing back up the hill to their perch, he saw no sign of Isidora. He only hoped that he would have the opportunity to make his way back out to her. He trusted her gift, and the glimpses she saw of things to come.

Cassidy weaved through the buildings’ husks towards the town’s center. Charred and blackened frames surrounded the main street. A small church sat in ruin, the holy spire long since collapsed, spearing the remains of the structure below. Slowly, nature had begun to reclaim her land. Vines climbed and squeezed a few of the standing walls, threatening to pull each down to the earth.

At the very center of the town was the old Rowan statue. One arm outstretched in each direction, a symbol of the vastness of the empire Lord Rowan had amassed all those years ago. This one no longer had either of its limbs. The head was only a partial head, storms or vandals having ripped the missing pieces from it many years earlier. Here again, the vines and weeds worked their way upward, tying themselves into knots around the legs, up the torso, before finishing around his neck like the hangman’s noose. Flames from a small fire cast shadows up and down Rowan as it spat and seized, threatening to expire.

No one tending it.

He crouched behind the last of the stone remains and waited. To his left, he could hear the whinny of their horses. He counted to one hundred before he felt sure no sentries were patrolling.

No one is mad enough to enter this area, even if they didn’t know who was here.

Across from him stood the one building not in complete disrepair, and from his vantage point, he could see a soft light coming from inside the lower level. Cassidy darted across the street and positioned himself just outside the entrance. An ancient sign of a woodpecker drinking from a mug creaked in the wind above his head. Coming from inside the shell of a building, he heard grumbling and shouting. A quick glance showed him six… no, seven men.

He unslung the crossbow from his back and loaded a quarrel. Cassidy exhaled and swung the door open.

“I’m here for Hadrian.”

The entire crew halted their drinking, their card games. One fellow even paused his pissing in mid-stream. They all took a long look at him. One of them rubbed his eyes to make sure the man before them was not a drunken vision, which presented as a dirty, unkempt, and road-weary Cassidy before them. One of the card players pushed himself away from the table and stood, his skin tanned from many years on the road. His patchy beard matched his shaggy dark hair. A toothy grin escaped from his lips and he cocked his head from one side to the other doing his best to analyze the situation before him.

“And what business do you have with Hadrian?”

Cassidy held the loaded crossbow out in front of him so that all could see. “For crimes against the King, I have been authorized to bring him back to Othis to await judgment.”

“Is that so?” The man turned to look at his men and chuckled. They all joined in. “Well, I’m afraid that you will have to wait for your King’s business.”

“Do you have Hadrian or not?”

Another laugh, full of anger, erupted from the man. “I am in possession of Hadrian. Well, me and the boys in this room.”

“I have been charged to bring Hadrian back to Othis to stand trial. I have tracked him to you and yours. Will you turn him over to me?”

The man moved over towards the partially standing bar and snagged a canteen. He downed the contents in one swift drink, only a small amount of foam leaking at the edges. With a hand, he wiped his beard clean.

“Sadly that is not possible. Hadrian is also accused of crimes against me and mine. And I prefer him where he sits.”

He pointed to the back corner where a little man, who looked like he would have been more suited for scribe work, sat. The top of his head bore small nicks and cuts from where they would shave him. The clothes he wore looked four sizes too large for him, hanging from his body like loose skin. At the mention of his name, Hadrian looked up and Cassidy saw the weariness in his eyes. A defeated look, which said that he had no fight left in him. He would not run or attempt escape. Cassidy doubted he would get very far with the shackles around his legs and the manacles on his wrists.

“Perhaps when his flesh is flayed from his bones we shall let you collect. By what right do you have to take him?”

Cassidy reached under his cloak and revealed the metal disk pinned to his armor. Though faded, it remained easy enough to see the falcon wings crossed by a pair of lightning bolts. “By the law of this land-”

One of the card players shouted, “He’s a Walker.”

His tablemate joined in. “Didja not see the gift we made of the last one of yours who came here? Are you so eager to feel the rope burn your neck as well? Alric, it looks to be another hanging!”

“This place, Walker, this place is ours. Your kingdom no longer exists for the likes of us. We are a free people who want for nothing. We drink, we fight, and when we find women, we screw. We live by our own code here. That one,” their leader, Alric, pointed to Hadrian, “that one is a rodent of the worst kind. He possesses no honor, no code, and the limit of his depravity begins and ends when the coin stops flowing. So by what authority do you think to take that which is rightfully ours? For yours, in this room, is severely lacking.”

Cassidy studied the room. He did not miss the various movements of his opponents throughout the exchange, subtle as they attempted to be. Five feet in front of him, the two at the card table had relieved their blades from the sheaths at their feet. The pissing man in the back now stood near the other side of the bar, his hands below the crest. Two of the men he had first thought too drunk to stand held gnarled clubs in their hands, waiting on his right. The third drunk Cassidy had pegged correctly; his head had not risen from the table near the middle of the room.

Alric, for his part, leaned against the bar to Cassidy’s left, his anger replaced by calmness. He had made no move to secure a weapon. That worried Cassidy more than anything else he saw. Even on his best night, with no road weariness, he would not be able to take on the other five. He might fell three before he finally succumbed to their superior numbers.

The math did not add up.

I trust Isidora’s gift, my Lord. I place myself in your hands.

He turned his crossbow and leveled it at the man behind the bar. The bolt whistled through the air before it buried in his throat. Cassidy let the device slip from his grasp, replacing it with his sword. The two card players came at Cassidy and he darted between them, his sword parrying each of their first attacks with ease. Steel clashed with steel, the small fire casting a shadow of the combat onto the far wall.

He observed their techniques, which were rudimentary. They used brute strength and superior numbers more than any real tactics. He slowed his breathing, slowed his mind, and watched their movements.

Anticipate the next blow, move your enemy, make them strike where you are not.

Another blade imbedded in a nearby table, barely missing Cassidy’s sword arm. With his enemy exposed, he severed the bond between sword and man at the wrist. A scream followed, and the man crumpled to the ground, his hand dangling, held on by only bits of sinew and splintered bone.

A bolt slammed into Cassidy’s chest and he stumbled backwards. While the leather took the brunt of the impact, he would have a hell of a bruise on the morrow. Alric stood on the backside of the bar loading the next shot into the crossbow. When he raised it again, Cassidy reached out to the first card player and spun him around to act as a shield. The man’s eyes grew wide in conjunction with the sickening thud as Alric struck true, just late.

Cassidy’s instincts told him to roll to the ground. Sure enough, a gnarled club occupied the air where his head had been. He kicked out and the man’s knee buckled under the impact. Above him the other club-bearing beast of a man stood, his weapon ready to crack Cassidy’s skull.

The whistle of an arrow’s flight broke the silence and hit the man square in the chest. He took a step back, unsure where this new threat came from. Two more arrows embedded themselves in his stomach. He staggered, blood oozing from his lips, before toppling over, his strength no longer able to support his great form.

Cassidy sprung to a crouch and scanned the area before he spotted her at the rear of the room beside Hadrian. Isidora notched another arrow and let it fly at Alric. Again and again, she fired on his position never allowing him to gain an opportunity to respond. Cassidy sprinted to the back of the building, leaving the wounded and dead.

Isidora motioned to Hadrian. “Grab him and let’s be gone from this place. There is an entrance behind me. I’ll be right behind.”

Cassidy nodded and grunted as he lifted the prisoner and tossed him over his shoulder. Outside he found three horses: his, Isidora’s, and a third, stolen from the outlaws. He loaded Hadrian onto the back of the last one before he mounted his own. A moment later, Isidora rushed out of the building and vaulted onto the back of her horse.

The two of them shouted at the horses in unison, “Go!”

* * *

The three rode as hard as they dared under the moonlight for the next hour. It was only when heavy clouds began to obscure the orb’s radiance that they slowed the pace. Cassidy watched for any signs of pursuit.

“How far behind do you think?”

Isidora cocked her head to the side as if doing calculations in her head. “Hard to know. What survivors there are will have to locate their horses. I stole one and scattered the rest to the night.”

“Beautiful.”

She continued, “Most are injured or dead. My guess is that unless they have more we did not see, they won’t have the will to give chase.”

Cassidy nudged Hadrian. “How many are there?”

He coughed. “Water, please.”

Cassidy retrieved his canteen and held it just out of reach from his prisoner. “How many?”

“You don’t want to know the answer to that.”

Cassidy leaned in closer, so that he could look into the man’s eyes, “How many?”

“Fifty.”

 

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Dragon Con 2019 – Review Part 2

Part one can be found here.

***

When last we left our hero (me), he was suffering from an unknown allergic reaction to Aleve.

Sunday

After a full day of not doing much more than applying cold compresses to my eyes and staying firmly on the couch, I awoke on Sunday nearly 100% back to normal. Which really meant a morning full of deja-vu as we headed downtown to the convention via MARTA again, had to go purchase a Sunday day pass (luckily there was virtually no line again) (though, not sure why we couldn’t go ahead and get a Sunday pass on Friday and save ourselves a trip), and then attempted to get into one of the 10 AM panels. However, unlike Friday and David Tennent’s panel, we were able to make it into the Lucifer panel.

Lucifer is one of those shows that I love the concept. I knew it was a comic, but aside from his appearances in Sandman, I’ve not read any of the issues. Still the idea that the Devil takes a vacation just checks off so many boxes. And the idea of sewing that onto a police procedural with the weekly crimes works fairly well. The panel had D.B. Woodside and Aimee Garcia and the two of them had excellent chemistry up on stage. You always wonder if the cast members actually like each other, but with the two of them, there was no doubt. They had plenty of stories to tell and (since I’m a little behind on the show) only one real spoiler that I caught.

Next up was Zachary Levi’s panel. We managed to snipe that one without needing to wait in an insanely long line (always a risk). Inside the room, I noticed that there was no table or mics set up for him and a moderator. There was really no need as he stood and took questions one after the other. He was funny and had great stories, but also had an underlining message of mental health. He talked about it for himself and then elaborated on it with regard to his mother.

The whole hour might be the best hour I’ve ever seen at Dragon Con, he was that good. Heck, he was good enough that I kinda want to see Shazam (and I am not a fan of that character).

An excursion to the Art Show and Tessera Guild’s own Amanda Makepeace was in booth number 1! If you haven’t checked out her work before or it’s just been a while, go here and let your eyes get a good look at what an extremely talented artist (and better person) can do.

And after the convention was over, I found out she won Best SciFi in the DragonCon 2019 art show for “Saturn’s Twilight.” (her 3rd year in a row!)

Saturn’s Twilight by Amanda Makepeace

With every Dragon Con comes the big panel… the one I crawled out of bed for: the Venture Bros Panel!

Given that we are in-between seasons. And given that seasons take 2 years to come out, I wasn’t sure what this one would bring. I knew the two creators wouldn’t be there, but I also knew the voice actors can be extremely amusing. And that was definitely the case as they answered question after question from the fans. Then, with about 20 minutes left, they got Doc Hammer on Skype, and he had a puppet of Dr. Mrs. The Monarch on his arm. While the connection was spotty for most of it, it was a real treat to have him there virtually. Hopefully, they can all come out next year and really show out.

With all the fun and games mostly done, it was time to journey back to the Dealers’ Room again. On Friday we’d seen 3 of the 4 floors, so it was a moral imperative to venture up to the last floor )(comics and pop-culture). Yet, that pesky line was an issue again, save this time it wrapped around part of the America’s Mart Building 1 and then 3/4 of Building 2. The whole process was about 25 minutes (faster than I would have thought). Considering those early Dragon Cons I went to had a strong presence, it’s just good to see the comics being embraced again after so many years of not being cared about.

After hurrying through that last piece, we had one last panel on Webcomics to go and watch. Robert Jeffrey (Route 3 and many things on this site) and Tony Cade (Editor-in-Chief of Terminus Media) were both on the panel, so I figured it was a good idea to be supportive! After listening to the questions by the audience, I think that the biggest take-away from that panel or really any writing/art panel is that you just have to sit down and start doing your thing. And then, at some point, you need to finish that thing and put it out there for people to see and read. So many people have these half done or barely started projects (me included) that really just need to get completed.

Dinner with Robert followed as we talked about comics and the convention. Normally, that ride/drive back home is a bit more melancholy as I reflect upon another year in the books. This ride home was more of a celebration of the con, the projects Robert and I have worked on (and are currently working on). It made the ride pass far too quickly.

Just like the convention itself.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Dragon Con 2019 – Review Part 1

This was a slightly different Dragon Con Experience. Normally we have a 4-day pass (although, Thursday is now a hopping place and people are really getting things going on Wednesday. Soon it will just be a whole week of debauchery!). This year we didn’t have the 4-day and made the executive decision to buy a Friday and a Sunday pass (and go ahead and pre-purchase the 4-day for 2020). This means we are going to need to cram 4 days into 2 days.

As it turned out, this was probably the best decision we could have made… but more on that below.

FRIDAY

One of the nice things about doing the day passes was that there was nearly no line on either Friday morning (around 9 AM) or Sunday (9 AM as well). Maybe it got busier as the day progressed, but it did seem off that the day-of line would be so little, but the pre-purchased might have a longer line (or at least it did on Thursday for some people).

I normally go through the schedule and pick about 3 to 4 panels to go to every hour. This way if something has too long of a line or they cut the line off we have a back-up plan (and sometimes a back-up to that back-up). It also comes in handy on Sunday when your legs don’t want to do much more walking and the next panel is 4 hotels away:

“Hmmm… what’s happening in THIS hotel?”

I’d went through the schedule and found a handful of things on both days. There wasn’t so much Courtney “centric” things that she saw, but since we both watch most of the same things, it works out. First thing, we tried for the David Tennent line. Now, while I have watched Doctor Who, I have not really seen his Doctor (yes, I understand this is blasphemy… hey, Netflix removed them just as I was starting to watch). We were in line about 30+ minutes and was told the room was full.

Great way to start the day off!

This actually threw off our plans since we were going to do that and then head over to be one of the first for the Dealer’s room, but this meant we had an extra hour to kill. So kill it dead, we did by hanging out in the gaming room, grabbing food, and then having to walk around America’s Mart in order to get into the Dealer’s area.

Image by Emilie Farris from Pixabay

They were on 4 floors this year (2 years ago they were on 3). They had the comics/pop art on the 4th floor and I’ll give them credit when you actually support the funny books, you can get a nice turn-out. Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, Demattis were there (to name a few). The only companies were Aftershock and Scout (I think that’s right), but I was impressed considering it wasn’t so long ago they were in the closet.

It took us about 45 minutes per floor. They had the usual stuff. Not much in the board games, which I’ve seen CMON there in the past and I don’t think they had a booth. A couple of 1/2 trades places. A couple of older comic book dealers, and then some guy who had “grab bags” of comics. Look, I don’t understand the Mystery Box thing, but do your thing, right? So Court saw the booth and asked if I wanted to take a look and I said, it’s grab bags, I’m good. And the owner is right there and does the whole “No, they’re great. Guaranteed a variant cover, blah, blah, blah.”

Yeah, I’m good. I don’t need random variant cover for a funny book I didn’t want in the first place. I’m sure it’s great. It’s just not for me.

Courtney managed to find a bunch of decals related to Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, and Firefly that she got for her car. I didn’t buy anything… nothing grabbed me hard enough. Plus, I was counting on some additional time on Sunday (mistake!) to potentially find some comics.

We had a panel at 4 or 4:30 on Indy comics. You know, one of those panels where I’m hoping to glean some additional knowledge from the panelists on steps to take or just some general tips. And while there were some good ones, it was a little disheartening to hear from more than one of them that the best way to get an Indy book is to work for Marvel and DC first.

Blink… blink…

That’s not all they said, but it was kind of funny that a couple of them agreed that’s how they got into the correct position to do an Indy comic.

Then we went to an Arrow/Legends panel where only Paul Blackthorne was there (even though 2 others were on the list). They never made any mention of it. I liked him in Arrow. I really liked him in Dresden Files. But it was just odd that it was only him.

However, this is when the strangeness happened:

I learned something un-Con related this year: I’m suddenly allergic to Aleve. During the Indy comic panel, I took some and within an hour my face looked like Sloth from Goonies.

Aleve is something that I started taking for aches and pains and headaches for about 10 years now. When we were playing a ton of softball maybe 5 years ago, I was taking it every other day some weeks. Never had a problem. About 2 or 3 months ago, I had my lip swell up. This is something that I sometimes get over the years (Courtney does not believe this even after I’ve explained that it was only enough swelling that I noticed, no one else really would). The swelling would happen, and in a couple of hours, it would go back down. Mostly, I never thought anything of it. Occasionally, I would think “I wonder if I ate something I’m allergic to” but then forget about it. Anyway, I had an episode where the swelling was enough for Court to see. So I recorded everything I ate that day (I didn’t think about the Aleve). Maybe a month later, it happened again, but none of the same foods, and I didn’t think about the Aleve. During Gen Con I actually took Aleve at least once, but I don’t remember having a swollen lip.

Anyway, about 3 weeks ago, I had a reaction where my eye swelled up and it was in the back of my mind suddenly. Then I took some at DCon, on an empty stomach… and yeah, my Friday night and Saturday was pretty much me on the couch with a cold compress on my eyes, waiting for the swelling to go down. I talked with my mom (a nurse) because I wasn’t sure if this was something I needed to go to an Urgent Care or whatever, but she said that as long as I saw it getting better over the course of Saturday, I was good.

This happened about 6:30 and we got some Benadryl from one of the hotel stores and then headed home. Fun stuff. Being allergic to Aleve means I’m pretty much allergic to Asprin and Ibuprophen products, so it is Tylenol for me only now.

Just weird how it has occurred over the last couple of months, during a time when I haven’t been taken pain killers all that often.

***

Next week we can find out if the swelling did go back down, or if I just embraced my new “swollen” look!

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

I’m the Problem

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

I’m the problem.

I’m supposed to be out there, trying new things.

Sampling the comic books that are worth sampling.

And I do.

Sometimes.

***

Except there is Comixology.

Did you know that pretty much any comic book that you buy in print for $3.99 is very shortly thereafter going to be about $1.99 for the digital copy? Oh, I don’t know the exact timeline on such things. You see, $1.99 is still far too much for me to pay for that thing I want to read. So I wait for better sales. Hey maybe when it gets down to $0.99 an issue, THEN I’ll give your book a try.

What’s that? You are about to package the first 6 issues together in a trade and offer it for $3.99? Well, that sounds like a deal.

***

Your new independent comic is coming out through Image or Ahoy or Aftermath or Boom or…

So you need those early issue sales, right? I mean, if I want to REALLY help you out I should get my local comic book shop to order me a copy of issues 1 through however many you are going to print. That’s where you are going to make your money and show the big wigs that your comic is the one they should bet on to go far.

Because the way comics work for as long as I can remember, is that you have to have good orders on Issue 1 so that when you get to the dip that happens with issues 2 and 3 and 4… you can survive the fall. Survive that for long enough to get to issue 6 and the 1st trade. Which might buy you another 6 issues.

Might.

***

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Except there is waiting for the Trade.

Because I don’t know if you really are going to make it. I have a couple of long boxes full of the NEXT BIG THING that sputtered out. Plus, I don’t know how you are going to tell your story. What if you really want me to read it over the course of 1 sitting… why would I get those individual issues when I can have them on my shelf as a trade? If I want to potentially read them all together, it would be nuts to buy them in any other format.

Right?

***

It is the best time to be a creator. You can do anything right now. You can build new worlds. You can show us what is inside your mind. There are no limitations.

That’s what is happening out there. Kickstarters are firing up at an awesome clip. People offering their ideas to a world and you don’t need any of the other companies. You can be your own company. You get to effectively do a pre-order of your comic. Hey, buy my issue one and hopefully, I raise just enough to find issue 2 and slowly this thing will grow to the point where they can continue forever.

I even got in on the Kickstarter (and now Indiegogo thing) with Gilded Age.

So all I need to do is help you on this issue 1 and HOPE you come out with an issue 2. But without my support, you may not even get that much. Well, sign me up!

***

Except, maybe I should only get your digital stuff at first. Or, maybe I’ll WAIT FOR THE TRADE… something even more suspect that the more traditional way we get our comics at the store.

***

But I’m the problem. I have the core books I want to read. Those Batman or Flash or Avengers comics (Walking Dead, RIP). You know, those books that will definitely, absolutely make it to a trade. But then I see something like The Wrong Earth (from Ahoy Comics), it about superheroes in parallel worlds and Tom Peyer was a great writer on the 90s Legion of Superhero books. This is a comic I need to support.

And I say – “I want that in a trade format.”

What is wrong with me?

***

I’ve convinced myself that it is two things:

Space & Money

***

The Space issue. My house is only sooooo big. The life of a part-time author doesn’t pay enough to do that add-on basement. So I think about whether adding another longbox a year is the way to go, or… perhaps, the better way is to make use of bookshelves for the comics?

Again, I don’t know if that solves any kind of problems or not.

***

You see, the price of comics continues to rise. When I was 16 and had a job at Kroger making $4.25 an hour, I could buy an infinite number of comics at $1.00 each.

And I did.

I probably got 90% of what Marvel offered at the time. The longboxes upstairs share that reality very well. Today, even though I don’t make $4.25 an hour, I probably spend double on comics for a quarter the titles. As things move to $3.99 and then $4.99, I’ve found that I stick with what I like and I try the occasional thing… once in a while. So the way I can try more and stretch my dollars is to find the sales and the trades instead of the brand new stuff the moment it comes out.

I’ve convinced myself that maybe supporting things a little bit is better than not supporting things at all.

I don’t know if that is true or not.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Dragon Con – Everything Pop Culture

My wife heard an advertisement on the radio today about Dragon Con which said that its focus is “Everything Pop Culture”.

I guess that is true. Or maybe, that’s become true.

There are a few ways to look at it. I immediately jumped to the idea that Dragon Con has grown (for better or worse) into this Convention Behemoth. In my previous Dragon Con reviews, I’ve mentioned that I’ve been going for probably 25 years at this point. I’ve watched it twist and change and contort itself over that amount of time. And really, it doesn’t share those old focuses anymore. Whether it is the idea of not supporting comic books for the better part of a decade (at least) to the point that the amount of “artist alley” folks could fit into what really was a glorified closet… or whether it is pushing some of the roleplaying related things out as well (tons of companies used to be there). Those things were traded over time to focus on other things. Things that were still very much “nerd culture”, just in the form of cartoons and tv shows (think Xena and Battlestar Galactica) and movies that only those of us there had ever really heard of (Firefly, Dresden Files). Even embracing the costuming/cosplay people with open arms, giving them a place to fly their own geek flags.

It’s all been about changing from what it was way back then.

And don’t miss the mark- this isn’t one of those things where the old man goes off on how things were “better in my day”. Do I miss some of that stuff? Yeah, sure, but I don’t dislike what it has become either. The fact that it is now showcasing things which are considered “Pop Culture” and it isn’t said in a derogatory fashion. It’s crazy.

Courtney, upon hearing this, took it to mean exactly that. Being able to go and see the actors from your favorite shows/movies, but still having the ability to showcase some of the “other” stuff in there as well. She would have never enjoyed that mid-90s version of Dragon Con. She likes the stars and the panels where they talk to us about their current projects and what might be coming down the line.

And that’s great.

I also love that authors are beyond welcome at Dragon Con. That many of them make it a specific point to venture down to Atlanta for the show. I can’t count the number of panels with novelists and RPG creators I’ve sat in on trying to glean some pieces of insight. That’s not an opportunity every convention can offer.

Or what about that lost decade for comic books and related panels? With the Marvel movies setting records over and over, the comic books have been let back into play with everyone else. They now have a whole floor at the Apparel Mart where the artists can show their wares.

Really, what it gets back to is this idea that everything doesn’t have to be for you (me in this case) to enjoy it. But to have things you do enjoy being embraced by this convention in any fashion only will create more possibilities in the future. One of my co-workers sees the convention entirely differently than I do. He and his girlfriend don’t really get going until the late afternoon. They are there for the concerts and the late-night festivities. I wouldn’t know what any of that even is.

And that’s the beauty of Dragon Con.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Gen Con 2019 Recap – Part Two

To read Part One, click here.

***

When we last heard from our heroes, they’d gone from the highest highs to back to back not-so-much-fun games. We had a couple of hours to kill after the last game, which of course meant another visit to the Dealer’s Room… which really meant trying to remember where we’d left off the day before so that we could ensure seeing all that we could. Personally, I wasn’t really looking for anything, in particular, this year. The last two times I’d ended up buying a game the last day we were there (and haven’t played either), so while there were a ton of games I might have liked to scoop up, I managed a bit of self-discipline (at least for now). After dinner and a stop by the room, we ventured into the realms of Space and Horror.

Alien

Alien was the best game I played at the convention. Hands down. It is still in the final stages of the playtest, and the adventure was a part of that (I’m pretty sure that’s right). When we showed up, the two Game Masters ended up taking 5 players each and running the session for us. In an odd twist, Egg and Lee played under one GM and I played under another… which, I wasn’t sure how that was going to work out since part of the reason we go to these things is the “shared” experience. Still, we pressed on.

One of the cool things is this is another of the games from Free League Publishing and uses the Year Zero Engine (a d6 system). Having played Tales from the Loop at my first Gen Con as well as playing in a few sessions of Mutant Year Zero, it was pretty comfortable. This was supposed to go from 10 to midnight, though the GM warned us it could go a little over. It went until about 1:30 (the other GM finished up maybe 10 minutes before my group).

The slow burn of the game was very apparent. The players knew that they were in for it, but our characters were clueless. One interesting thing we had on our character sheets were “secret” motivations. It could be that you are really a Synth or you are a spy or you are out for revenge. Mine was to ensure that word of what was happening on the planet (you know, with the aliens running around killing all the humans they can) never get out. After a long adventure, I was forced to leave my commander behind and escaped the planet as the only survivor.

After the game, we stayed up waaaay too late and talked about the Alien movies and Lee started laying out his idea for an actual campaign (which I’m very much looking forward to playing).

Day 3

Geist 2E

Last year we signed up for a Geist game, got confused, and then ended up playing a 2-hour demo rather than the actual full session. Not falling for that again, we made it to our real session at 10 AM. If Alien was my favorite game, Geist has me as my favorite setting from the convention. Playing someone who nearly died, you end up making a deal to fuse with a Ghost. This provides you with some supernatural abilities, a way to observe the Underworld, and a voice in your head from time to time. Now your job is to help those ghosts who cannot move on.

The setting reminds me of Angel, Dresden Files, and The Frighteners (especially the Frighteners). As we were playing the session (where an acquaintance of our characters had been falsely executed for a series of murders he did not commit), I couldn’t help but write down ideas for a potential game. Later that night, I pulled out my notebook and filled 3 pages with various bits and pieces and questions for myself. I’d love to build a campaign for the world (heck, I’d love to write books in the world!).

Dragon Age

I’m a big fan of the video games, and while we’d played one session with the rules, I was interested in seeing how things played out when you were with others who really knew the system. This was a session with level 16 characters (I believe that is correct), which was cool since I don’t normally play in campaigns that last until those power levels (normally the story is over around level 10ish). The one hiccup is that when you have the more powerful folk, it means you have more options… so there is a little bit of a learning curve.

Regardless, the GM was full of energy (even if she did occasionally lose her train of thought – then again, it was Saturday evening at Gen Con, we were all losing our trains of thought). She ran a great session, did a great job of laying out the scenes. And was obviously a big fan of the video games (and the written material of the world). To top it off, the other player running around with us was a writer for the “Faces of Thedas” supplement – Jamie Wood.

 

We had another gaming session scheduled for 8 to midnight, but we made an executive decision to bail on the game. It isn’t something we like doing, but we were completely worn out from the late-night sessions going over… and we had the handy excuse that Dedren Snead (who is a comic book writer/creator of Sorghum and Spear as well as about 50 other projects – he makes me feel very lazy) had found us and was experiencing his first GenCon, so we grabbed dinner and walked around for a bit, soaking up that last night.

Day 4

A final trip to the Dealer’s Room had us run into Danny O’Neill (of Hammerdog Games). Danny had run a Call of Cthulu game for us at my first Gen Con and we’d been friends ever since. He was on a mission to secure artists for his next project, so we followed him around for a bit, gleaning what we could, and seeing the world through his eyes for a bit.

The last trip through the room is always a bit sad. You know it is only a small amount of time before you’ll be back on the road and then back to your normal lives. And so, in keeping with tradition, I did end up buying a game on Sunday: Shipwreck Arcana. It is a cooperative logic and math-based card game that I bought mostly on a whim after watching about 2 minutes of a demo. The artwork is very cool, and, in the days since the convention, I can actually say I’ve played about 5 or 6 games with Courtney and we really like the game!

***

Another year of way too much laughter and fun (well, you can never have too much). I’m still glad that Egg and Lee convinced me to start going to this convention. Makes me wonder what possibilities we missed all those other years!

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Gen Con 2019 Recap – Part One

For a third year, I managed to make the pilgrimage up north to the great state of Indiana and another installment of how many hours of sleep does a person truly need.

Also known as Gen Con 2019!

This year we stayed at the Westin, which was amazing as we were directly across the street from the Convention Center. It meant we could sleep in another 10 minutes or so, and when it came time to walk back to the hotel, it wasn’t a 15-minute walk, but more like a 5 minute one.

Day 1

Heroic Dark

Thursday began with a 10 AM game of Heroic Dark, which was developed by the same guy who did the Sythicide game (of which I ran a short campaign of around 10 to 12 sessions last year). Heroic Dark comes with an interesting premise in that the group gathered to play end up coming up with the setting and genre that they are going to play. The Creator mentioned that he’d game mastered a previous game where it ended up being Sailor Moon style girls fighting the big bad. Basically, each person has the opportunity to add something to the game based on some categories laid out before you: Monsters, Magic, Races, etc. So you could end up with anything from a Fantasy world to a world where, due to the development of some wickedly awful technology, humanity is now using demon parts in order to build their mechs. And the Angels have had enough, vowing to terraform the planet in order to start over.

We’d laid out a bunch of thoughts: Demons, zombies, mechs, terraforming, angels, and so on, and that’s where we ended up. Then, the GM had about 10 minutes to come up with some kind of story to run us through. Talk about putting yourself under some pressure. But he managed to bring together an adventure where the spare demon parts were disappearing, and it was up to us to figure out what was happening to them (turns out the Angels were purifying them and then using the now holy parts to fuel their own war machines).

The game is currently available in playtest form, with a Kickstarter likely due next year. You can find the game here!

Mutants and Masterminds

Normally when it comes time to pick the games, I leave it mostly to Egg, as he is the game guru. However, since the very first year, I’d wanted to find a way into a Mutants and Masterminds game. I’d read and heard, over the years, that if you wanted to play a superhero roleplaying game, it was the one to go to. This session ended up being a jaunt back in time to the Golden Age of comic books. A time when the Flash was not Barry Allen or Wally West, but a man named Jay Garick. A time where Superman leaped over buildings rather than fly.

Running as the Justice Society, Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl (yours truly) attempted to save a woman wrongly convicted of murdering her husband… but we only had a handful of hours before she would be sent to the electric chair. Mobsters were rattled, giant robots were battled, a train was stopped from going over the edge of a ravine, and the mastermind foiled!

Using a pre-generated character was interesting, but it also meant there were TONS of stats to navigate through. All three of us liked the game but wondered how easy it would be to pick up if you were starting a new character using the system.

 

It was finally time to sneak over to the Dealers Room, which was just as enormous as it had been in previous years. It always seems like the first time in that room you are just trying to get a foothold on where some things are located. Throughout the weekend, Lee and I managed to make it through the whole thing probably twice, which is our best run at it so far.

After dinner, we ventured over to Lucas Oil Stadium to play on the field.

Amber

I kid Egg about diceless games, saying that they are Communist. Mostly I prefer games with dice… then again, I don’t have the horrible luck he does (seriously, it is odds defying). Amber is one of those diceless games that’s been around for decades, but none of us had ever played. Based on a series of novels I learned a few things about the game.

First, the people who are into Amber, are REALLY into Amber. Think of your favorite series of books (probably Game of Thrones or Dark Tower for me) and then multiply that love you feel for them by a hundred… and you’d still be short. They know everything about the world… everything…

Which can make it a little bit to penetrate such a thick history. The story seemed to trump everything throughout this session, which I’m not sure if that is how most Amber games go, or just more of a GM preference. I must admit that this one didn’t work for me. In addition, it ran over by 2 1/2 hours, so we didn’t get done until 2:30 in the morning, which threw off our schedules a bit for the remainder of the weekend (that lack of sleep starts here).

 

Day 2

Song of Ice and Fire

Sleeping as late as we could, our next game was to see the Song of Ice and Fire game system. However, when we arrived we realized that this game wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be when we selected it. Using the roleplaying game’s rules as a base, it was really a LARP (Live Action Roleplaying) which meant that you moved around the room and interacted with other players while a Jousting tournament was going on.

I just wasn’t in the right mindset for this one. Maybe it was the experience from the night before or just not getting locked in with my character, but I wasn’t feeling it. The session was interesting enough though, and some of the moves people did during the game turned out to be very interesting. The final recap at the very end opened my eyes to some of the possibilities I might have been able to explore had I been a little more engaged.

***

That’s the end of Part 1, next week I’ll finish up Day 2 and reveal the best game I played all weekend (by the same company as a Best game of Gen Con from a couple of years ago!).

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

On the Road Again

This weekend is one of the largest gaming conventions, Gen Con, takes place in Indianapolis, Indiana. Along with Egg Embry and Leland Beauchamp, it will be my 3rd year of playing way too many games, walking all over downtown Indy, and trying our best to get a couple of winks of sleep in there as well.

I never know what is going to happen. I have a couple of predictions though:

If Lil’ Egg Embry has to miss a gaming session, it will either be the “Best Game of the Weekend” or at least feature “Some Cool Mechanic that we need in our games!”.

We will be cramming our faces with food because we don’t know how to schedule a true “break”.

We’ll all be very sad and tired on Sunday to leave…

Since I’m in the process of packing tonight, one of the things that this blog has provided is to help remind me of the moments that might get lost in the maze of my mind:

Gen Con 2017 Reviews – Part 1 and 2

The Best Game I Played at Gen Con – Tales from the Loop

Gen Con 2018 Reviews – Part 1 and 2

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

A Long Time Ago

I don’t binge tv shows. As much as this day and age means that the moment a show comes on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu I see people on Facebook talking about having watched a whole season by the end of that day. With all these shows appearing, you do just about have to binge them in order to keep up. Because while Stranger Things is released one week, the next might be the Next Star Trek and then the next is another Marvel TV show.

This weekend I got to experience the mad rush that is binge-watching a show. Veronica Mars, my wife’s favorite show of all time, came back to have a fourth season on Hulu. And while she’d taken great pains to clear her weekend schedule for this coming week (when it was supposed to come out), they released it a week early. Which was both a nice surprise and a sudden annoyance as our entire weekend was already packed to the gills.

So what do you do when you have a baseball game, a soccer game, a poker tournament, and a friend’s birthday to go to on the same weekend? You literally fill every spare second with an episode at 1 in the morning on Friday night after the Braves game. You wake up an hour early on Saturday and watch it through bloodshot eyes before the poker tournament. You sneak in 1/2 an episode after the birthday party. Another one Sunday morning before the soccer game.

And so on. It wasn’t so much as binge-watching as it was like racing through a show. There wasn’t any time to savor what we’d seen. And I think that maybe that was mostly due to not really being able to block out a two or three-hour block and do it then. It becomes a whirlwind of making sure you catch everything you can in the viewing. And hope the speed doesn’t cause you to miss something.

***

 

The show though?

It was really good. I was a little surprised at how well things flowed from one scene to the next. Character rhythms and interactions with old characters and brand new ones felt like they made sense. It was an adult version of this character. If the movie, dealing with the ten-year high school reunion could really be seen as the pivot point for the character. She chose to stay in Neptune (her home town) and try to make a go of it there. And now the show picks up some five or six years later. Our main characters are not in high school, they have bills to pay, they have adult issues to deal with, and yet it all feels like the characters we hung out with all those years ago.

While I know that they got to do a movie a few years ago, doing a brand new season made it where you could have the longer-form storytelling that we were used to from the first three seasons. And while this was only 8 episode, that meant that there were no wasted scenes. Plotlines wove between each other, overlapping at times, connecting some characters to others in unexpected ways.

And like any good noir, there were multiple points where I had it all figured out, and then I didn’t have a clue, and then I had it figured out again. And then I was wrong. And then…

You get the picture.

I want to avoid any real specifics on this one right now since I hate when people who’ve watched the show in record time then want to tell you “every cool part”, but then make sure to say “I’m not going to spoil it, but…”. Instead, I’ll say that I hope that it does really well because I need to see what the 5th season might look like.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Hollow Empire – Free Chapter – Vadim

Hollow Empire exists as this experiment between Jeremy and myself to see if we could build this medieval post-apocalyptic world together in a serialized format. And I think the set up of him choosing a pair of characters and me doing much the same worked really well. It is a story and characters I’d like to get back to soon. In fact, I have part of what could be Episode 9 completed (assuming my co-writer doesn’t drop another chapter before then.

But, in order to get in the right mind-frame, I need to go back and reread… so here’s my first chapter from Season 1:

Vadim

 

 

The splintering door shattered Vadim’s peaceful sleep. A booming voice ripped through the early morning tranquility.

“You slept with my wife!”

His instincts took over, and he threw himself to the floor beside the bed in an effort to avoid the oncoming blow… that never came. Furniture exploded, a man roared again, and yet Vadim’s room lay seemingly undisturbed. Daring himself to peek at the carnage, he raised his head up so that his eyes were above the lip of the bed, just over the edge of the sheets.

And saw only his guest from the previous evening…

Hilda? Rayne?

She met his blue-eyed gaze, “Is there something amiss, milord?”

“I thought…,” Vadim caught a glimpse of himself in the full-length mirror along the wall beside him and observed his predicament; his manhood exposed and him cowering on the floor. No way for one of the King’s Men to behave. He stood up allowing his six-foot frame to come to its full height. It was not the nudity that brought awkwardness, but his stumbling and fumbling about on the floor. In fact, he never had any complaints about his appearance. The other Long Riders often teased him for his boyish grin, his bright, blue eyes, and his shaggy blonde hair. All of which resided on an untouched face, somehow free of any scars or wounds in his years journeying the Circuit. “This is rather embarrassing. I thought perhaps that which is happening next door was instead being visited upon the two of us. It’s not occurring in this room though, is it?”

“No, milord, it is not.” The freckled young woman stifled a giggle and ran her hands through her long blonde hair attempting to excise any tangles she found there. Vadim paused and stared into her deep green eyes trying to light a candle, which would be her name.

The wall behind the bed shuddered. Pieces of the ceiling flaked off and fell to the floor. Next door, a woman screamed.

Vadim searched for his trousers and found them tangled with his tunic and his consort’s skirt and blouse, all of it abandoned in a pile the night before. As he pulled up his trousers, he heard another crash, this time away from their shared wall. Then came more shouting from the hall and additional voices joined the chorus with the first.

Vadim glanced at… Sara? Trianna? and raised a finger. “One moment.”

Tightening his belt, he moved towards the door. Through the wood, he heard the shouting continue. There were calls for blood, pain, and then a slur of unmentionable deeds described by someone who must have been the original injured party. Vadim ran fingers through his blonde hair before gripping the handle. Preparing himself for the carnage, he took a deep breath.

When the door opened, he bore witness to sheer chaos. How the inn’s hallway could support the volume of patrons who watched, cheered, and shouted at the two combatants, he could not be sure. They crowded each end of the corridor, some stood just inside their open doorways, but all wanted to see these combatants duel. However, the word duel invoked images of two men squaring off in agreed-upon combat. This stank of something else entirely.

Vadim caught glimpses of the two men, flashes between arms and legs of the mob until he made himself a place in the crowd. It was only then that he could see the fight for what it was. Spittle erupted through the barrel chested man’s full black beard with each roar. A giant of a man, but not one someone might call attractive. His eyes appeared a bit too close to each other while his forehead seemed to slope until it gave way to a receding hairline. He appeared to have a full foot on his opponent giving him the reach advantage, but it seemed the smaller was adept at using his quickness to slip under the devastating blows. The two stumbled, the sea of bodies parted, and they crashed to the floor in front of Vadim.

“Jericho, how goes your morning? Rest well?” Vadim shouted above the din of the crowd hoping to catch his oldest friend’s attention.

Jericho looked up from his assailant. His red hair clung to the side of his face. Blood leaked from various cuts and lacerations on his head. In fact, red appeared to be the only thing that covered him.

Vadim smirked and shouted again. “Did you notice you don’t have any pants on?”

Jericho struggled to keep the large man’s blows from colliding with his body. “Perhaps you’d like to lend a bit of help?

His assailant bellowed, slamming a fist into the floor, just missing Jericho’s head, denting the wooden planks. “My wife!”

The two twisted and scrapped, each trying to gain some kind of advantage. Jericho managed to regain his feet and pushed away.

“He says you slept with his wife. Is that true?” Vadim asked the question through the din of noise, but did not give Jericho time to answer, “Tsk, tsk.”

A wild swing and another dodge.

“Vadim! I promise you, that was never my intention.”

“This gentleman would beg to differ on that point.”

“She never spoke anything of having a husband,” he spoke first to Vadim and then shouted it again at the large man, “I didn’t know!”

“It was our wedding night!”

Vadim whistled at the revelation, “Doesn’t seem like this man is all that eager to issue forgiveness. And even if he was, your explanation is not going to cover it.”

Jericho awaited the oncoming charge and slipped to the side under the brute’s undisciplined swings. The giant rammed into some of the crowd, toppling them in a mass of arms and legs.

“Even so, a little help?” Jericho screeched the last before sidestepping another missed blow.

Vadim nodded, “Right. Uhm… one moment.”

He turned back into his room and shut the door, muffling the roar slightly. He strode towards the partially dressed… Pia? Selene? woman sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Terrible thing, my mate is out there getting his head bashed in by a rather large, angry fellow. Something about sleeping with his wife. A pity. Still, it now falls to me to save the… wait; you’re not married, are you?”

She blushed and shook her head. “No, milord.”

“Right. Brilliant. Wouldn’t want to have a similar exchange as those two out there.”

Vadim scanned the room for the remainder of his belongings. Sunlight glinted off the small emerald gem sealed inside the pommel of his sword, which was resting in the corner alongside his pack.

He fastened the weapon around his waist before sliding his cuirass over his head. With one hand, he reached into his small pack and fetched a silver coin from a pouch within.

“You were a sheer delight, and I would love to spend another glorious evening with you when I return from the Long Ride in…,” his brain struggled with the length of time he would be away, “a few months’ time. If that would please you?”

A smile appeared as she blushed again. “Indeed, milord, it would.”

Vadim moved close and pulled her off the bed into him. Their lips met and she engaged his tongue with her own. His free hand explored her exposed right breast with one final squeeze before relinquishing its touch. He felt the familiar stirring in his trousers. He heard her moan softly and the bed creak as she lowered herself to engage him elsewhere. Yet it was what his ears did not pick up that troubled him. Only muffled sounds of the fracas filled the air to the point he could not be sure there was a fight left. He released his grip on her and slid back to the entrance to the room. A quick turn of the handle and an empty hallway greeted him.

“For your breakfast,” he turned and flipped the silver to her, “though I might wait until the festivities ran their course. Farewell…” Rachel? Miranda? “milady. Until I return!”

The hall was in disarray. The door to Jericho’s room hung lazily from one hinge. Shards of broken wood lay scattered, marking the path of destruction, a trail of crumbs leading him downstairs into the main area of the inn.

Vadim took the stairs two at a time. Jericho was the one man in the company he did not want to see injured. Of all the King’s Men Vadim had ridden with, Jericho was the only one who always had his back, whether it was when they were under fire from bandits or dealing with the strangeness of the infected. The man knew no fear, and never hesitated to rush in alongside Vadim. His other brothers never showed that kind of loyalty.

Now he hoped that he had not misjudged the threat his friend was under. As he made his way around the last corner, a mug exploded on the wall near him. Remnants of someone’s coffee leaked down the paneling. Those patrons from the second floor filled the dining area. They had pushed the tables and chairs up against the walls and out of the way. Their faces contorted in a frenzied desire to observe more pain.

“Kill ‘im!”

“Break his face!”

Each time Jericho tried to cut a path through the crowd they held fast and did not part. Instead, they tossed him back into the center. Vadim watched another tankard fly through the air, but this one found its mark and glanced off Jericho’s forehead. While not an incapacitating blow, it was enough to stagger the naked man. Jericho reached out to steady himself against a nearby spectator who shoved him down. Tree-like arms slipped around Jericho’s throat. It would take only one quick snap and the fight would be over.

The large man raged, “Most of you know me, but for those who do not, I am Otto Wilmot. My family has lived in Racein since before the Lichy. When everyone else fled to the larger cities, the Wilmots protected them and theirs. And when the plague had run its course, they helped rebuild with the rest of the survivors.

“Yesterday I married a woman before the town center. Under the statue of Rowan, we proclaimed our love as truth. The party which followed last night was a grand one indeed.”

The crowd bobbed their heads in agreement.

“And I must confess that both myself and my dutiful bride managed to imbibe much of the fine ale provided. I fear, in my drunken stupor, I failed to realize that my new wife did not return to my bed last night. She stumbled throughout this inn, clearly beyond her mind and this man… no, this wretch… he chose that moment to strike. He charmed her, brought her upstairs to his room, and defiled her!”

Jericho wheezed trying to explain but his captor tightened his grip.

“So I ask you, good folks of Racein, how do I answer this affront to the sanctity of my vows? Should I be content to extract my vengeance in bloodied knuckles and broken bones?”

Many in the crowd murmured amongst themselves. The early morning fog must have gripped them still, as they did not seem to understand the sermon’s purpose. Vadim understood all of it. Otto was not merely asking whether it was acceptable for him to kill Jericho, but asking the crowd to demand that satisfaction.

Vadim slipped through the throng, who had parted in an attempt to get a better look, and slid behind the combatants. Another stein, long since emptied, sat on the table beside him. He reached out and gripped the makeshift weapon. Otto continued,,, oblivious to the presence behind him.

“What say the lot of you? What judgment for this sinner?”

Vadim could see a few of the men did not care what the outcome was, but more of them were starting to realize the stakes presented to them. They might be a mindless lot, but they would never condone murder. But it only takes one…

From the rabble someone yelled, “Kill him! Teach a lesson to all the outsiders that our women are not their receptacles. We show them our hospitality and they abuse it for their own base needs.”

“Yeah!”

“Split his ‘ead open!”

Otto nodded. “Thank you, brothers. I am grateful you see the truth of the matter. If you deem it to be righteous and just I will act as your implement of destruction.”

Otto looked down at Jericho, whose face was tinted red as he groped and gasped for release. The enormous muscles flexed and seized around his neck.

“The Lichy may have spared your whore mother, and may have allowed you to enter this world, but I shall be the instrument that forces your exit. This insult will be met with righteous just-.”

Vadim brought down the large stein and shattered it on the back of Otto’s head. The blow was not enough to fell the giant man, but it did cause his grip to loosen. Jericho slipped out and crumpled to the floor, gasping for breath.

Vadim stepped out of the shadows, and pulled Jericho behind him. “This has gone on for long enough.”

The mob, for their part, did not know how to respond. They stood in shocked silence.

Otto did not possess that problem. He unleashed a guttural roar and spun around. In the same instant, Vadim released his sword from its sheath and placed it just under the man’s neck, freezing any further movement.

“My friend is sorry.”

Jericho had coughed his voice hoarse. “So very sorry. It was a misunderstanding.”

The giant rubbed the back of his head and took a step back. “You think you are going to stop me from exacting my vengeance?”

“Well, not only me, but this sword in my hand. Yes, I believe that changes the currency of this situation.”

“There is an entire room of men seeking justice here. Each willing to strike you down with a word from me. How is your sword going to stop them all?”

Vadim took a long look at the group still in the main room. Most of them had cleared out with the change of fortune, but he still counted eight, no nine including the lumbering hulk in front of him. Otto Wilmot might not understand what justice or consummating his wedding meant, but he was not so far wrong in his analysis of this situation.

Jericho’s legs were still a little wobbly, but he held a tankard as his weapon. The two of them, one naked, made for a laughable sight.

Perhaps, if we manage to escape with the better parts of ourselves intact, we could use this as great fodder for many a story in the future. For now, though…

“This sword does not need to stop all of them, only you. And do not doubt my word in that. You will be dead, gutted like a fish, before the first one of them reaches me. That is my promise to you.”

Traces of fear shifted through Otto’s features, but were gone just as quick. Vadim caught sight of it, and watched it vanish. His entire body steeled for the fight.

Emma! That was her name.

“Come on then.”

An ear-piercing whistle penetrated the room. Each and every man, including Otto, Vadim, and Jericho found himself wincing in pain.

“Hold!”

In the doorway of the inn stood the Watch Commander, his King’s armor glistening in the morning sunlight. His wiry frame doubled in size under its weight. The grays in his beard were the only thing that betrayed his apparent age. No one in the company knew his exact age, and none ever felt the need to ask. Around his neck, a bronze chain held the instrument that caused their mutual pain. He let the whistle slip from his lips.

“I believe that I must be witness to some kind of elaborate competition. For that is the only reason I could possibly see citizens squaring off against King’s Men.”

Vadim stared into Otto’s eyes. Even with the Commander’s appearance, he did not dare lower his weapon. The entire room held its breath, waiting to see which way the winds blew this day. When there was no immediate answer, the Commander spoke again.

“Mayhap the patrons are deafened by my device as well?”

Otto spoke through gritted teeth. “I demand justice from this one.” He pointed at Jericho. “He defiled my wife.”

“Is this true?”

Jericho opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, and nodded.

“It appears you have taken the measure of this man through your fists. He is bloodied and he is beaten, what else must you have for your sense of justice to be satisfied?”

“His death,” said Otto.

“Tis treasonous to assault one of the King’s Men. The answer for such a crime is death. You have already committed one crime this day. Yet I am an understanding man and am willing to forget this event in its entirety. Make no more trouble and be content in the knowledge that this man is on his way to the Long Ride, and as such, you will not see him again for many moons.”

The Commander stepped closer to Otto, and Vadim thought it strange that even though the larger man stood at least a head taller, he seemed to shrink when he gazed into the Commander’s eyes.

“Do we have an accord?”

Otto forced the words reluctantly past his lips. “Aye.”

He then began to move towards the inn’s entrance, “Come on, lads. These King’s Men are needed to protect the land from all sorts. Let’s let them get to their business.

“Though, there will be a day between you and I, naked man.” Otto never took his eyes off Jericho until he was out the door. “Believe in that.”

After Otto and his gang were gone, the Watch Commander turned his gaze on the two of them. “All this… the two of you are going to be the death of me, you realize that don’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” they spoke in unison.

“The squad is set to leave. Get your asses outside and on your horses.”

“Yes, sir.”

The Commander moved to leave, but paused and turned back to look at Jericho, shaking his head.

“And for God’s sake, put some clothes on!”

 

***

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

All the Time (Sinks) in the World

This past week on my Facebook feed, a fellow writer was musing about when it might be time to hang it all up. She’s been rolling this boulder up the hills for decades and doesn’t feel like she’s moved up to the appropriate level (I’m paraphrasing here). Luckily, plenty of people, friends, fans, fellow writers made sure to let her know what she probably already knows:

You don’t quit being a writer. Not really.

But burn out is a real thing. Sure it sometimes goes hand in hand with writer’s block, the inability to deal with other people’s BS, or just a need to get the heck away from the day in and day out writing process.

It’s a good thing to take a step back. To take a break for a little bit and let your mind maybe catch up. What’s the old saying “if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life”. Which is true until it isn’t true.

Luckily, I don’t have this problem right now. The current novel I’m working on is fueling the fire quite nicely… although I must admit that it is a daunting task I’ve set in front of me, I know that it is what I’m supposed to be doing.

And there’s the problem… what are you supposed to be doing? Are you beating yourself up when a night goes by that you didn’t get your words in (or morning or afternoon)? Does that guilt compound in your mind that suddenly you are behind on where you should be. Those 5 pages have to come from somewhere, so now I have to do another 10 tonight to make up for the ones I missed out on yesterday. Oh no, I have to get my 25 pages in this week or it just keeps rolling over. Should I go out with my friends? Well, that means that maybe I can’t get the words in…

You see the quandary. Half the time you are writing and the other half you are trying to guilt yourself into writing some more.

And where does all this lead? To burnout… 100%.

There has to be a balance between being productive and enjoying life a little bit, right? I have discovered the secret for not burning out. It’s this device that sits as the focus of the living room for many people: the TV. It has so many options that I’ve subdivided my viewing so that everyone can see where I put my time (waste my time)!

Genre Shows

These are the superhero shows for me, but your mileage might be Star Trek or Sliders or Walking Dead or whatever. Not to mention then needing to follow up on the internet rabbit holes for the various spoilers or guest stars or what’s happening on the Flash next season.

At the very least you can claim to other people that you are doing “Research. Honest!”

True Time Suckers (according to my wife)

Wrestling shows are the big one here. I could probably rot my brain 100 times over with some mind-numbing cartoons, but wrestling shows are where she shakes her head and mumbles under her breath. Yet, these shows are those great guilty pleasures for me when I watch (and currently I’m probably reading recaps much more than watching the shows).

Sports

For those who don’t bother with any of the sports ball stuff… well, you probably have a ton of free time. Even though I am a big nerd and love comics and science fiction and fantasy stuff, I somehow also fell in love with sports. Did you know that baseball seasons are 162 games a year? Or that there are 16 games in an NFL season? Or there are around 30ish games in a college basketball season?

And don’t get me started on Poker on ESPN. Or my true kryptonite: Aussie Rules Football. You sit down, turn that on, not understand anything that is happening, and two hours later haven’t moved from your spot. Brilliant!

Repeats

These are like comfort food. You know the ones: Friends, Senfield, Rick and Morty, New Girl, etc. These are the ones you can watch a hundred times (and have) and effectively turn off the non-enjoyment centers of your mind.

However, if you are my wife, you take this to a different extreme. She watches a handful of shows over and over and OVER. She just started watching Jane the Virgin. It is in its 5th (question mark?) season and once she was through the 90 or so episodes… she started rewatching it. BACK TO BACK!

She’s got problems! 🙂

Things I got lucky with

I don’t watch the Food Network. Or the Golf Channel. Or any of the house flipping/renovation/buymyhouse shows. Or any of the news networks. Those are lines I don’t want or need to cross. And I don’t particularly enjoy seeing Pimples Popped.

Call me crazy.

***

So you see, there is a metric ton of stuff you could do with your time when you are not writing. You can avoid any burnout or really getting anything productive done if you just give it a chance!

***

I’m not trying to make light of the writer’s struggle, more that I’m saying it might be alright to not eat, sleep, and live writing only. That it is ok to take a break. Even if that is a just a simple vacation from your own head.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

A Free Short Story by John McGuire – Til The Last Candle Flickers

I was thinking for the holiday week, a free short might be in order (and give my brain a rest!). From the Machina Obscurum Anthology:

 

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

* * *

Til the Last Candle Flickers

 John McGuire

Dave Simms wished the world would just end already. He didn’t care if it swept away in an enormous tidal wave that washed everything from the land. If a meteor struck his very spot in an extinction level event, he wouldn’t have minded. If the dead clawed their way through filth and earth and wooden coffins into the sunlight with a new desire to eat the living’s flesh, he would sigh in relief.

For then, maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have to put up with people like Steven Kingsley anymore.

“The world’s supposed to end this week, right Dave?” The nasally sound of Steven’s voice boomed across the hunting store causing Dave to gnash his teeth and clench his jaws.

Though, hunting store wasn’t the correct term for this place. Part hunting shop, part grocery store, and part gas station, the Tilly Mill Shoppe sat at the edge of civilization. Old highway twenty no longer roared with traffic the way it might had some thirty years earlier. Like most places just outside the suburban beltline, this area was wilderness for most city-folk. The store would be crowded with customers traveling north to the mountains from Atlanta on Friday evening, their trucks towing a boat, or a camper, or just hunting equipment. Each of them convinced they were recapturing some primal essence long since lost to them in their weekly routine of desks, emails, and deadlines. This place represented the last stop before complete anarchy. Somewhere the strong ate the weak. So the store would be very busy nearly every weekend. Filled to the brim with patrons trying to reconnect to that lost animal inside.

Those very reasons summed up why Dave only visited during the week. A trick he used so that he only needed to deal with the regulars. Maybe give a few of the old timers a nod as they lived out the last days of their lives, sitting outside, swapping stories, and counting every car which drove past.

That was, of course, as long as they weren’t giving Dave grief. Three of them had left their perch outside and followed him in, ever curious about his plans. He’d dealt with their type his whole life. In high school, they were the jocks, the cool kids, and he was the nerd who needed to be pointed at and laughed at for being different. Scrawny, glasses wearing, wimp of a kid, they saw him as weak and it was a moral imperative to ensure that they terrorized him throughout his adolescence.

“Big day for you, huh Dave?” When he made no move to acknowledge the comment, Steven cleared his throat and tried again. “This is the week, right?”

Dave looked up quickly, taking care not to lock eyes with Steven before immediately dipping his head downward again. Under his breath, he muttered. “Yes, sir. Noon on Saturday.”

Steven grinned, flashing his yellowed teeth back at Rick and Sam. “You hear that, fellas? We best be saying our prayers if ole’ Dave is to be believed.”

Rick decided to join in on the fun. “You ask me, the apocalypse happened a couple of years ago. Whole world’s going to Hell.”

Somewhere, along the shelves in the back, Dave Simms examined his shopping list a little closer. In front of the squirrely man stood the shelf with various dried packaged food, and he didn’t need to grab anything that might not sit well with his nervous stomach. His eyes darted from shelf to paper and then back again before he made his decision. His arm shot out and proceeded to scoop a dozen packets into his basket. A few more passes up the three aisles the small store offered and Dave sifted through the basket once more before grunting his satisfaction at his haul.

Rick chuckled and reached into the front of his shirt pocket to find the dip can waiting. Using two dirty fingers, he pinched a piece and set it between his front lip and gums. “Well I got ah question for you, Dave. How is it that about every three months or so you come in here and stock up on all sorts of,” he grabbed one of the pouches from the shelf, “Re-hydro-ized vegetables?”

Sam interjected, “That’s not real food. You know that.”

Dave remained silent, waiting for Rick to finish whatever point his feeble brain was trying to make. He kept his hands at his sides, fighting the urge to clench and unclench them with every word spat his way.

“Every three months you think that the world is going to end, and every three months go by and we’re all still here.”

Dave could tell that a reply was required. “That is true.”

Steven broke into a big grin before pointing to the radio sitting on the counter behind him. “I sometimes listen to those late night shows, you know with the crazy callers about aliens and the like. And they talk about the end of the world too. Ain’t none of them mentioned this particular time though. Why do you think that is?”

Rick poked him in the chest with the pouch. “So how is it that the world hasn’t ended if you’re so sure that this is the time. Last time was the time. And the time before that.”

Dave did his best to keep his expression neutral. “I only have to be right once.”

“What’s that?” Steven cocked his head and for a moment looked more like a confused dog than a man.

Dave spoke the words a little louder, a little clearer. “I only have to be right one time.”

The three men exchanged looks before they each let out a howl of laughter. Dave couldn’t blame them for their reaction. He took their jabs because he knew that it didn’t make sense. None of it made sense.

They weren’t wrong about his previous predictions. A quick bit of math told him that he’d made almost thirty-seven different predictions about the end of the world. He was far past crying wolf. Nobody would believe him, and if he were being honest with himself, he no longer believed it either. Yet he continued to make his weekly visit and monthly predictions.

*

The first message came to him through the direct service his work employed. A cryptic line that only gave the score of the next weekend’s Falcons’ game: 24-10. Dave didn’t pay it much mind. To be honest, he wasn’t much of a sports guy, knowing just enough about the goings-on with the various ball related sports to contribute one or two lines of dialogue to any conversation which might have the misfortune to spring up around him. It wasn’t until he arrived to work on Monday morning that he thought about the note again and rechecked the final score: 24-10.

The next Friday afternoon he received the scores for every football game on the weekend slate, college and professional. They all matched… every single one of them. By the end of the weekend, he was watching the Sunday night game with a measure of both astonishment and disbelief. He cheered as hard as he could against the picked winner. Even if every other game had been right, somehow he just needed one to be incorrect. It wasn’t possible to have that level of accuracy in such things. But when the final whistle blew and he double and then triple checked the scores, they all matched.

He seriously thought about calling in sick that next day.

*

“Hey! You three better stop harassing our customers!” Dave hadn’t noticed the woman behind the counter when he came into the store. The nice thing about small town grocers was that things never changed. The bad thing about small town grocers was that things never changed.

Every week it was the same elderly man, Mr. Jacobs, who sat and listened to the police scanner, a spit cup resting alongside him on a little ledge behind the counter… not quite out of sight of the customers. A heavyset man, Mr. Jacobs never said more than a couple of words in his mixed mumble speak, and Dave was never entirely sure if he actually hated the customers or just didn’t care to engage any of them in conversation.

Dave liked that about Mr. Jacobs.

Yet, here she was, someone new, someone he’d never met before.

“Sorry, Stacy.” Steven cast a dirty look Dave’s way, but led his cronies back out the front of the store.

The woman never took her eyes off the little crew until they were outside. Only then did she turn her attention to Dave. “Sorry about that…”

Dave focused on her. Full face, dark hair that had a little too much product in it, long finger nails, some kind of dark red, and the warmest smile he’d seen since he’d relocated to the mountains.

She took his basket from him and began inspecting his haul on the day. “Do you actually eat this stuff or what?”

Most of the conversations Dave had started much the same way. A bit of disdain dripping from their voice as they tried to wrap their brains around whatever freaky lifestyle they thought he was living. He’d been labeled a Prepper, a Doomsdayer, and a bunch of other names not fit for mixed company. A person tends to become immediately defensive regardless of anything else.

“Yes! Why does it matter?” Dave felt bad immediately upon speaking the words as it dawned on him she didn’t have that sound of arrogance in her voice. Instead, while his brain replayed the question back in his head, he heard something else… perhaps a bit of playfulness. “I’m so-sorry. Those guys, they just-“

“Push your buttons. No, I get it.” The smile returned after its brief vacation, which made him all the more grateful for it.

“So, did something happen with Mr. Jacobs?”

“What? Uncle George? Oh, no. He’s just getting a bit too old to work the full week here. And my aunt is very keen on keeping him more around the house rather than hang out with the…” she pointed to the outside. “Other nere-do-wells.”

“Oh, good then. I mean, not good.” Always stammering and stuttering around women. Dave knew he was doing it again. Couldn’t find the correct words to say if they sat in his mouth and leapt out of their own accord. Still, through it all, she just gave him another smile that calmed him once more. “I mean, I’m glad he’s doing alright.”

She finished ringing his last item. “Seventy-two fifty-five is your total. And I know what you meant.”

Dave watched as she took his card and fed it through one of those old style credit card swipes that created the carbon copy, one for the store and one for him. Stacy grimaced. “I just wish he’d have something from this century for me to use. Something with a scanner and buttons.”

*

The week after the football games, the messenger changed his style. Dave began receiving the communications on his work computer, his home computer, his tablet, his phone, and anything else that could convey the missive. Every waking moment his devices would chirp or beep in excitement at a new dispatch. And they all said the same thing:

I know the future. I know when it all ends. If you want to continue living then you must follow my instructions.

Each time, Dave would press the delete button. Yet the notes haunted him. His dreams twisted under their influence until all he could see were those words. He couldn’t focus on work. He couldn’t focus on the few friends he actually had. He couldn’t focus on entertainment. None of it could distract him from the messages. What they might mean to him, and whether or not they contained any measure of truth.

That was the thought that kept him awake more than any other.

*

Dave took his card back from her, signed the bottom of the store’s copy, and scooped up his bags. “Well, I guess I’ll see you next week then.” He wanted to say more to her. He wanted to find something to talk to her about. He just wasn’t that good at the small talk. For him, small talk was just a way to extract him from the conversation rather than ease into a deeper one. He shuffled along to the front entrance, trying to will something clever to say when he heard her voice again.

“Is it true?”

Dave turned around. “What’s that?”

“Is it true what they said? That you think the world is going to end this weekend?”

What was he supposed to say? Should he lie? Did it even mean anything? If things were about to go to pot, what did pissing off one more matter?

“Yes.”

He waited for the ridicule or the laughter or anything. He shut his eyes, not wanting to see her make fun of him. It might kill the last piece that still believed in humanity. Instead, she spoke with no hint of arrogance or irony, but as someone who was genuinely interested in the potential answer. “How is it going to happen?”

Dave shook off the shock and cleared his throat before speaking. “Have you heard about the N-778?”

Stacy furled her brow. “I don’t think so.”

“It’s a meteor. Well, more than that really. We’re talking about an object in space the size of Alaska.”

She lit up. “Wait! I know about that one. I heard it on the news late one night. Some NASA muckity-mucks have said…” she paused, and Dave could see that she was trying to make sure she got the next part correct. “That it is crossing through a trajectory in such a way that in some of the simulations they run, it collides with the Earth.”

Now it was his turn to smile. She had it, well most of it anyway. “I’m surprised.”

“Surprised that I know something about one of the billions of big objects in the sky?”

“Well, yes, but only because the rest of these people I interact with wouldn’t know a tenth of what you just said.”

“Sorry, not much to do here all day. I like the Science Channel.”

“So do I.”

“Plus considering the lot of them outside barely know how to tie their shoes every morning, that’s no surprise.” She cocked her head to one side. “Still, I’m going to take that as a complement.”

“Yes.” The words flowed from Dave’s mouth in rapid succession. “And do you remember the percent chance of it actually happening?” She shook her head. “About one in one hundred trillion of crossing into our direct orbit, and then another one hundred trillion worth that it could collide with us.”

She sighed, partially for effect. “Yet, apparently you think it is a one hundred percent chance.”

“Well, I’ve seen it.”

*

Dave couldn’t recall the exactly moment when he broke down and answered the lingering message. The days blurred into a molasses of nothingness, as if he were a stranger in his own life. He watched that version of him go to work every day and count the minutes from the time he sat down until the minute changed to six o’clock and he could head back to his home. That cold apartment never greeted him very warmly. The television never did much to enhance his life. And now, he dared not go to the computer lest the bombardment of messages face him once more.

He needed a change. He needed a lifeline. He needed something, but he couldn’t be sure what it was.

So slowly, he came around. Like an addict who had a left-over bottle of liquor hidden away at the back of the pantry. First, he slid over to the chair, his fingertips hovering over the power switch. Oops, suddenly the machine was on again. As it went through its boot-up process he thought about standing back up, unplugging the machine from the wall, and being done with it. But his feet didn’t move. His ass remained in the chair. And when it came time to enter his password, his fingers did not hesitate to type them in.

What do you want?

I want to save your life.

Why? Who are you? How did you know all of that stuff? Why me?

I know when things are going to happen because for me they are the past. You are my past.

Dave stopped typing. Did he believe it? Could he believe it? Was it possible? The person on the other end seemed to be able to read his thoughts.

It is true. It is possible. And I have already proved it to you. Or do you require more proof?

What did he require? If this was the truth, what would it take for him to believe? Why weren’t the scores enough?

I need one more piece of proof.

*

“You’ve seen it with a telescope?” Dave set his groceries down on the floor and moved back over to the counter. Stacy leaned against it.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I spotted it two days ago.”
Stacy pushed back from the counter. “So if it is going to happen, why would they say that it wouldn’t?”

“They?”

“The NASA muckity-mucks.”

Dave stood and stared at the woman. She noticed his look and blushed.

“But you don’t believe them? You think they’ve got it all wrong?”

“Well, let’s look at it this way, maybe they’re right and it is going to miss us. Certainly is a long shot that we would get hit in the first place. But if they really saw that the damn thing was going to collide with us… that’s the type of information you can never let out, because if they can’t stop it, then there is no point in having mass riots and chaos for two weeks before the event is supposed to happen.”

Stacy stared at him with her mouth open a little bit. After a few moments, she seemed to catch herself and regained her composure. “That’s… probably true.”

“Yeah, so whether it is going to hit or not, we’re on our own.”

*

Within three months, Dave bought the cabin in north Georgia, quit his job, and began construction on the bunker under his house. With the money he made from the predictions, finances were no longer a concern for him. No, the only worry left was survival.

These new days brought out a man from inside him that he didn’t know existed. In the mountain air, he felt invigorated. Without the need to wake up at some god-forsaken early hour, he now chose to be up with the sun. He filled his days with work on the bunker, and his nights reading one of the many books he’d brought up from the city with him.

And when the day approached he was ready for it. He watched the internet and listened to the news from the safety below his cabin home. As the hours ticked by, he napped, calmer than he’d ever been before. Then when the day past into night and then into early morning again, the world continue to spin as if nothing had happened.

The world had not ended.

It didn’t happen.

A pause greeted him from the other side.

Hello. Nothing happened.

Hmmm.

Hmmm? That’s all you have to say? I’ve abandoned my life for this and then nothing happened? I warned the people at the shop I go to.

Why would you do that?

Why wouldn’t I?

I’m only trying to warn you. I’m only preparing you. Remember that.

But…

I was wrong this time. These things are a little fuzzy at times. But you are prepared. And I assure you, it is going to happen.

I don’t understand. I thought you said you knew what was going to happen and when.

I do and I don’t. My brain isn’t what it used to be, my memory gets jumbled sometimes on the big stuff. But I know it is coming soon. That’s why you must be ready.

*

“Show me where it is.”

Dave swallowed hard and shifted the telescope around. Stacy moved back, but not very far. He could feel her sweater brush the back of his arm. The sweetness of her breath filled his nostrils. Night overtook the day and the two stood on top of the store, her telescope focused on the clearest sky he could remember seeing. A small bit of chill in the air misted their breaths.

“There. There it is.” Dave pulled back to allow Stacy room to see. “It’s not much to look at right now, but-“

“Oh, no… it’s beautiful. I can see wisps of light trailing behind it.”

“That’s pieces of it breaking off through its trip through space. Kinda like a comet.”

“And this is the thing that is going to end the world?” This time he heard a little playfulness in her voice, but it didn’t bother him.

“I believe so, yeah.”

“That’s too bad.” For the first time that day, he thought he detected a hint of sadness in her voice. A slight quiver as she said the words.

“I’ve never told this to anyone, and I know that it’s silly, but I’m actually wishing the world would just go ahead and get it over with. It’s the waiting that’s the worst.”

Stacy pulled away from the eyepiece and smiled at him, a small amount of proof that perhaps his joke had the right kind of effect. A gust of wind whipped across the rooftop, and she moved in closer to him… for warmth. “Is this world really so bad?”

*

The world had died. Of course, that happened many years ago, though Dave Simms’ mind no longer could recall the exact date it happened. The years between had not been overly kind to his memories which disappeared as if his brain was run through a colander. Still, he had a job to do. Something to help heal his heart, even if only a little bit.

Throughout the bunker, he did his best to avoid catching a look at any reflective surface. His was a face he no longer wanted to see. Somehow, he knew exactly what he’d find. Gone would be the bit of youthful exuberance that once filled his frame. Gone would be the determination to ensure he had the right things planned out, replaced by the man sitting in front of the ancient terminal. A graying, sad, little man who struggled on his bad days not to open the sealed door.

Not let the Armageddon in.

This place now served as a tomb to the one living person who could still use it. Shelves lining the walls, once packed full of various foods and canned goods, held only dust. He had to make a trip to the far end, through two pairs of doors, to get to the last of his reserves. At last count, he probably had enough to make it through the end of the year.

It was a slow death preparing to greet him. The very reason why opening the door to the outside became more enticing every day. A growing part of him wished to see what the world looked like before his retina’s burnt away.

Beside the infernal machine’s whirling and blinking, a strained effort to keep going, was a lone portrait from the Before. Of all the objects he could have brought below with him, he cursed and celebrated his decision to bring this item. The red-haired woman smiles at him, a small amount of cotton candy stuck to the tip of her nose. Those eyes focused on a younger version of him. Somehow, she was in love with him in a way that he did not know could be possible. At the bottom there was a date, slightly smudged from his fingers. It marked those last days where he… where they were truly happy. Alongside it sat the last newspaper he ever picked up proclaiming the end of all things. Mass chaos… death… fear. The dates were only a few days apart.

Dave settled into the chair, his fingers the only part of his body that still moved with a reckless abandon. Their tips pounded away at the top of the keyboard. He had stopped looking at his fingers a long time ago, but it would do him little good to bother with such an action now. Most of the keys were blank, worn away through his furious use over the years.

Time was all he had since the End came. Dave knew it would be over, and he hoped that he managed to steer his ancient doppelganger in the correct direction for once.

I met a girl.

The words came in pieces across the screen. Dave shook his head at no one in particular and fired a missive back. He wanted to scream at the man on the other end of the line. To grab ahold of him and shake some sense into him.

We talked about this. You can’t make personal connections.

No, I know, I know. You’ve told me not to get attached, and I haven’t, but…

Dave found himself nodding. Finally, some of the words he’d been telling the man had seemed to sink into his skull.

I’m sorry, but that doesn’t really do much for me though. I’m not sure what you want me to do. You’re not right.

More anger. More disbelief. Had he really been this stubborn so long ago?

What?

I’ve lived this way for the past three years. The only people I seem to talk to are you and the few who mill around the store.

That is what you have to do in order to survive what’s to come. You can’t allow your emotions to cloud your judgment. You’ve come so far… and it is ending soon.

You know what? Those people in the store are right. You’ve repeated that same thing repeatedly for all this time. And nothing happens. You’re never right about any of it. The comet missed, the flash-fires didn’t happen. The moon is still shining on us from above. Whole. There were no grand solar flares that emitted EMP and wiped us all out. No mass of lightning strikes. Nothing!

I know, I can’t figure it out either. My brain is still a little bit scrambled, but I know that it is soon. You just have to have a little more patience.

No, I don’t. I’m just the idiot for believing you again and again. For building this shelter. For leaving my life and my job and any semblance of a real future… and for what? Because I’m too damn scared of life?

No! To survive. To find a way to go on living. That girl is only going to haunt you. She’ll be the one you can’t save. She’ll be the one that makes you think about ending it all every day of your miserable life and the one who convinces you to carry on in spite of those feelings.

You say that I would only lose them. That I have to worry about surviving. That I must worry about myself. How would you even know? What does it matter to you?

Dave reread the screen. Since his first contact with his younger version, he’d managed not to answer that question directly. For some reason he worried that it would change things if his younger self knew whom it was communicating with him. He had his reasons. A list of them he long since used for kindling. Now… now, he couldn’t remember one of them.

It doesn’t matter who I am, only that I am trying to help you.

I’m done. I’m finished. I’m done listening to you. I can’t live like this anymore. By myself, waiting for something that may or may not happen. So what if you are right? From now on, don’t try and contact me anymore.

But the end-

I don’t care. If it happens, then it happens. But I’m not going to hide anymore in my dungeon.

Don’t do this. Dave! Listen to me!

The cursor blinked, waiting to be put to use again. Dave watched and waited for a response. He screamed at the monitor, picked up the keyboard ready to launch it across the bunker, and then thought better of it.

An hour, then two, and then four passed him by, the machine’s whine becoming the only noise in the room. It threatened to wash away his thoughts with its anger. Yet he didn’t move. He couldn’t move from this spot in front of the computer. He didn’t dare to-

A last whirl followed by a hiss. The hiss gave way to a series of pops. Those pops crackled in rapid fashion echoing off the metal sides of the tower until they climaxed into a firework finale. The monitor flashed once and clicked off, a small trail of smoke emanating from the top.

The whole process only took a minute. But in that time, Dave saw his own life flash before his eyes. He wasn’t dying, but with this last link to the outside world… even if it had been to an ancient world that no longer existed… even then it was something to look forward to every day.

Pushing away from the desk, he shuffled over to the mirror on the far wall and took that final look at himself. It was as he feared; though, his hair was much longer than he’d realized… a far cry from the short cut he preferred in his younger days.

Alongside the mirror sat his collection of water bottles now nearly empty. From his last trip into the back room, he knew that he wouldn’t find any more there. His filters went a few months ago… one of the few things he hadn’t calculated correctly.

The containment suit felt heavy today, that old easy weight pushing his frame a little lower. For a passing moment, Dave wondered if it wasn’t the suit or his muscles at all, but perhaps the planet’s gravity going on the fritz. Looking at his skinny arms and legs, it was a nice dream to clutch to. A heavy twist to the right and the airtight seal released, greeting him with a hiss. The outside world flooded into the first room, bathing it in radiation.

“There was never enough for both of us.”

The metal groaned as he pushed the door back into place. Another day in Hell, he only hoped that he could find some bit of supplies that he’d previously missed.

But hope was something he’d never been good at.

 

***

I Feel Fine appears in the Machina Obscurum Anthology and can be found here.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Kickstart the Comic – Mine To Avenge: Book of Layla #2

With many of the Kickstarter projects, you are never entirely sure that the thing (comic, game, etc.) is actually going to see the light of day. So it is always nice to see a Kickstarter you supported for issue one get an issue 2. It’s those comics that we should be celebrating.

I wrote about the first Kickstarter here.

***

Mine to Avenge: Book of Layla #2

Creator/Writer – Robert Jeffrey II

Artist -Matteo Illuminati

Colorist/Letterer – Loris Ravina

 

Kickstarter Campaign ends on Thursday, July 4, 2019 at 2:00 PM EDT.

***

The Pitch:

The  history  books  call  it  a  house  of  horrors.  A  testament  to  the  true  depravity  that  inhabits  the  souls  of  man.  

 

The Story:

The  little  girl  who  escaped  the  demonic  forces  which  occupied  the  LaLaurie  New  Orleans  mansion  on  a  sunny  day  in  1833,  though,  called  it  something  else:  the  site  of  a  rebirth.  The  little  girl  swore  on  that  day  that  she  would  never  be  anyone  else’s  victim,  and  so  began  a  centuries  long  campaign  of  bloody  revenge.  The  Retribution  Cabal  (RC)  was  born,  protecting  only  those  descendants  of  America’s original sin.  

Now  on  a  cyberpunk  stage  where  technological  wonders  leave  no  place  for  creatures  of  legend,  the  LaLauries  and  their  denizens  reappear,  continuing  their  blood-soaked  quest  for  obtaining  ultimate  power.  Time  will  tell  if  the  remaining  members  of  the  fractured  Cabal  can  stand  as  the  bulwark  between  humanity  and  the  rising  hordes  of  darkness.

 

John’s Thoughts:

Robert Jeffrey II was a regular contributor to TesseraGuild, where he talked about comics and sci-fi and Sliders (he and I actually did a Sliders panel at a local convention this year!). I know that he eats, breathes, and everything else comics.

Mine to Avenge is letting him really stretch his legs and prove over and over his talent as a writer.

The Rewards:

If you supported the first issue, it is a minor thing to either get the digital copy of Issue 2 ($5) or a print copy ($10). However, if you are catching up then digital for both issues is $8 and print for both is $15. There are different artists covers and $90 gets you everything. But if you’d like to have a custom cover, for $250 you can get one where you design it (an option I’m not sure I’ve seen before).

 

The Verdict:

Ancient evil… a family’s quest and burden… and now, in the future, the evil returns, but is there anyone left to fight it?

Heck, I don’t know, but I’m certainly going to find out!

***

To find out more about Mine to Avenge: Book of Layla #2, check out the Kickstarter Page here.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Stories From Our Future, Youtube Series Review

Now called Stories From Our Future

Stories from our Future is the official name for something that was originally going to be Little Black Mirror. Released on June 10, 2019, to help celebrate the release of Season 5 of Black Mirror, it took three short films (each less than 10 minutes each) that were all told in the vein of the television show.

One thing about these shorts: there is no spoken dialogue. The music, the beat, or soundtrack helps propel the stories along. In addition, there is a bit of text here and there to help push the narrative along. The other thing I just now realized is how the themes of these shorts mirror (Black Mirror?) the episodes of the season.

EP 1 – Getting to Know You

A virtual landscape to escape the drudgery of your daily life. Who hasn’t seen the video games that end up sucking their players into a life that effectively ends up being wake up, work, and then get online to interact with people you may or may not really know. Unless you meet them in real life, what do you really know about their people? How much might you have in common with them? Are they someone you could see yourself with in a relationship?

And what happens in your real relationships? When does your digital world become more real than your physical one?

And does it even matter?

EP 2 – The Healthy Alternative

Addiction comes in all forms and flavors. It could be a type of food, sodas, alcohol, drugs, sex, and just about anything else you could possibly think of.

And while it is very easy to recognize many of the bigger ones, that doesn’t mean the companies who make and sell this stuff aren’t trying on a constant basis to tweak your mind ever so slightly. They are trying to get their names burrowed within your brain so that you don’t see it as something bad or good. It becomes almost background noise to you.

The sneaky thing is if they can convince you that what they are selling is not only good for you but literally can improve your life in ways that you might not even realize.

And in this future, they can always upgrade the system to make sure they are dealing with your every ailment.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

EP 3 – Cure for Loneliness

The rut of our lives. The constant sameness. Day in an day out. You wake up, go to work, maybe you have a hobby or distraction, and then bed before doing it all again. It makes it where you have to wonder if you actually do see time in a linear fashion, or maybe after a few years of this routine, those days do not fall in a real order.

Throughout all of that, if you are doing it by yourself, then comes the loneliness. Being with someone else. Having them share in some of those experiences, no matter how mundane they may be. That is how humans were supposed to see this world. Not through their own eyes, but through someone else’s eyes. That is how we grow and love and make our days just a little better.

This was my favourite of the three.

***

To see these episodes, check them out on Youtube here. I’m not sure if this is a one-of experiment or if it something we can expect to see more of in the future. I hope so.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Black Mirror, Season 5 Review

 

My previous reviews can be found here: Seasons 1&2 and 3 and 4.

As I wrote last time, “For those not in the know, Black Mirror is an anthology show. Each episode stands alone to tell a story about how our technology or something perhaps not too far from our grasp affects people.”

Last time my big complaint to start things is how long it takes for these crazy shows to come out. However, since this was only 3 episodes, I feel like I’m left needing a couple of more just to last until the next season (yes, I know Bandersnatch came out earlier this year – what can I say, I’m greedy!).

EP 1 – Striking Vipers

It is said that Science Fiction stories allow us to confront ideas and themes in a “safe” way. Presented in a container of something that isn’t real, we can allow those statements and questions to be made without instantly rejecting them because they may not line 100% up with our own personal feelings or beliefs. So many of the Black Mirror episodes do this very thing, asking a question about the tech we use, but maybe more important is how that tech affects us in our day to day lives.

And while this episode allows the show to ask some fundamental questions about friendship and love and sexuality, it also doesn’t try and present only one answer. Is it ok to be in love with two different people? Is it ok to be in love with the mind of someone? Is it cheating if it is all virtual? Is it enough to know what you are doing is wrong and still continue to do it?

Or could the episode be about addictions more than sexuality? The idea of every day getting closer to losing ourselves within a virtual shell. That what is on the other side of the monitor or within some game, no matter how life-like, isn’t life.

Or maybe it is just about lying to yourself…

EP 2 – Smithereens

This is probably the most “normal” of the trio this season. The fundamental technology aspect has to do more with a Facebook-style site called Smithereens and how addicted we are to it. That idea alone is probably 5 or 10 years out of date. We all know this and don’t seem to care.

No, what is important about this episode is the lead character who is doing everything he can to “say his piece” about how far this addiction has gone with people and the world. But it is the performance of Chris that really shook me. Something about the pain he was in was conveyed by him in such a way that I was not only fully invested in his story (even if I had pretty much figured out the “twist” on why he was kidnapping this guy). That pain was something we’ve all had to go through… loss of a loved one will make you reexamine everything you are doing.

And it might lead you to do things you might have never suspected.

EP 3 – Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too

The juxtaposition of the pop-singer Ashley O and the teenaged girl Rachel is at the core of the episode. Really it caused me to echo back to my own teenage years, and while I was never a 16-year-old girl, I had moments where I didn’t know how I fit in. That any of us might jump to an artificial toy who can respond and interact to us… had that been available when I was in school I suspect it would have been as big a hit with my peers as it was in this story.

The flip side is a story we’ve seen or heard before about the pop singer (movie actress, famous person) who is just as dissatisfied with their own lives as we are. The proof that even being rich and famous may mean that we have less control of our own lives than those who are struggling to get through another day.

At what point do we take control of our lives and make it what we want it to be? Can we manage to do that when other people are depending on us to be the bread-winner? How do you manage to follow your dreams when reality won’t let you?

***

A short season only means I was able to knock the whole season out in a few hours… so I can finally be ahead of everyone else for just a few seconds!

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Kickstart the Comic – Lineage: Clockmaker Issue 2

Many moons ago I did a regular Friday feature here on Tessera which looked at all things Steampunk. Having written Gilded Age, it seemed a natural match to signal boost some things I might enjoy in that genre. But time gets the best of everyone, and I haven’t done one in a while.

So let’s rectify that…

 

***

Issue #1’s Cover

Lineage: Clockmaker Issue #2

Writer/Creator – Nathan Zwilling

Art – Jok

This Kickstarter Campaign ends on Sunday, June 30, 2019 at 9:03 PM EDT.

***

The Pitch:

Told in two parts: kidnapping, spirits and the genesis of the Clockmakers in fog-shrouded Victorian London, a haunted house, malaise and a hidden evil in the Clockmaker’s present as super-heroic royalty. Uniting both is a centuries-old curse that dooms each generation of Clockmakers.  

 

The Story:

“Interested in the world of dark magic and the occult? A fan of maniacal villains and bold heroes battling across timelines? Then this is the story for you! In Chapter 1, we join Albert Zillinger and his grand-daughter, Anna, in 1880s London as they battle the curse of the menacing Black Jack with help from Albert’s invention, the Clockwork Man: a mysterious man comprised of complex gears and concealed weaponry. Meanwhile, Chapter 2 propels the reader to present-day London and the adventures of Caylin St. Croix, the latest focus of Black Jack’s curse.”

(from a review on the Kickstarter page for issue 1 by Alyssa Ryan)

From issue 2’s Kickstarter page:

Told in two interconnected parts: In Victorian London, the legacy of the Clockmakers takes an unexpected turn when the Clockwork Man becomes part of a murderous plot that ensnares Anna and Albert with disastrous consequences. In the present, The Curse is poised to end the line of Clockmakers forever.

 

John’s Thoughts:

One of the things I’ve learned about myself is what things jump out to me when I’m scrolling through the comics on Kickstarter. And this one had that kind of artwork which is both stylized but seems a perfect fit for a kind of Bonzo Steampunk story. It’s the type of thing that even if I don’t have a clue what’s happening in the book for that particular page – I really WANT to know what is going on in the book.

(I mean, what is going on here? I don’t know, but it looks amazing!) From Issue 2, Chapter 4, Page 3 – Art by Jok

 

The Rewards:

If you just need this issue, the pdf is set at $8 or if you need to catch up (like me), then it will run you $12. At the $25 level, you can get both issues. And then at the higher end, you have the opportunity for an original sketch ($125) or some Original Art ($300).

Issue 2, Chapter 4, Page 1 – Art by Jok

The Verdict:

Again, it checks so many of my boxes:

Steampunk – Check

Cool artwork – Check

Neat story – Check

A story told across timelines – CHECK!

What boxes do you need to check?

 

***

To find out more about Lineage: Clockmaker Issue 2, check out the Kickstarter Page here.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Chapter Preview – The Dark That Follows

A disgraced former cop who possesses the ability to see the future…

A college student whose life has become entangled in black magic…

A girlfriend who is no longer sure who to trust…

And a vision of the future which shows only the darkness of the void…

The only difference between Jason Mills and every other Fortune Teller in town is that when he tells people about their futures he doesn’t need to make anything up. With a touch, his mind is flooded with visions of what may come. Am I going to fall in love… am I going to be rich… am I going to get that promotion… Until the reading that shows him only a void, as if the future has been wiped clean for one person.

As all futures begin to unravel, Jason begins to realize that the young man who began this prediction may be more involved in this Dark outcome than he could imagine.

That his ability is as much a gift as it is a curse.

His gift of future sight had put him on the radar of some very powerful beings.

Drawn into a web of secret societies, Black Masses, and beings of immense power, Jason races to determine the truth behind his visions in order to save his own future from being wiped out.

 

Please enjoy the following preview chapter of

THE DARK THAT FOLLOWS

CHAPTER ONE

Office building. Elevator. Sam from accounts payable. Sip of water. Far office. Jim the terrible boss. New office. Handsome guy. Blush. Smile. Sandwich. Phone call. Tears. Screaming.

Marilyn.

“Are you sure that this isn’t going to hurt?”

Her words snapped him from the trance. Jason Mills watched as the woman fidgeted in the seat across the table. With one of her hands now freed from his, she maintained limited contact with the other.

“Just breathe deep and relax. You came to me, but we aren’t going to get anywhere if you continue to be this nervous.”

“It’s just that, well… I’m beginning to rethink coming here.”

He smiled at her. It was the same disarming smile he’d given to hundreds of other skittish customers who’d come to him. Whatever it took to make sure she remained a paying customer. He reached out with his free hand and coaxed her to regain the connection.

“Release your thoughts and let your mind wander.

“There… that’s it.”

Jason Mills gripped the older woman’s hand tighter while her potential life revealed itself. The sync between the two complete, he began to search out anything within the immediate future.

Through her eyes he glimpsed a corner office overlooking the weeds of cubicles. The man inside smiles while pointing at the nameplate on the desk: Ellen Small.

The words flowed from Jason.

“This is the year when all your hard work starts to pay off. You’ve been biding your time over the last few years. Something you have managed to earn and not just ease yourself into.”

A gasp escaped his charge’s lips. Spurred on by this first fortune, her grip strengthened to match his.

Another day and different images flowed through his mind. Ellen sat alone in a deli, her attention divided between an e-reader on the table, a partially eaten sandwich, and the attractive gentleman sitting three tables over. Jason caught the briefest glance; all she would allow herself to experience.

“New people and new possibilities go hand in hand. You should shed your shyness. Push beyond the nagging voice inside you which urges restraint, and instead open up to new experiences and new people.”

Another shift and another hand squeeze.

Jason delved one more time into her future. Somewhere her cell phone rang, the name on the other end read Marilyn, and Ellen placed it to her ear. Her world spun and twisted. Her words blurred and mixed with anguish. The phone slipped from her hand to the ground, and she slid to the floor after it.

Jason dropped the link and released her hands. Ellen sat before him, eyes wide and leaning forward in her seat.

Jason eased back in the chair. He ran sweaty palms through slicked back hair, the perspiration and the hair gel mixing to produce sticky goo. He let out a deep breath.

“You should take the opportunity to get in contact with your friends and family. They miss you greatly and will counsel you on your most difficult decisions.”

Ellen cocked her head to one side and nodded, whether to him or to herself, Jason wasn’t sure. Either way, he hated this part. Better to have good news… or at least, not bad news to give his clients. It made for poor repeat business. No one wanted to come back to a fortune teller who gave them upsetting futures. Repeat customers were the one thing that allowed him to pay rent.

Terrible news also made his heart ache for them. So, most of the time, he tried to make it vague enough so the person might leave perplexed, a fine alternative to the other thing.

“Someone named… Marilyn… I saw that she might be of great counsel to you in the upcoming days.”

Ellen’s jaw opened in disbelief. Everything else could be explained away. Up until that point, Jason’s talk of true insight into the future appeared just vague enough. Much like the magician who performs his tricks on stage to a captive audience, no one wants to know how the trick is done, because then it is ruined for them for all time. Better to allow themselves to think it real, but know that it is not.

Instead, with one name, he managed to shatter her image of not only him and what it is he’s told her, but the idea that it could be real settled inside her head… a scary proposition for most everyone.

“How? I haven’t…”

“I can’t predict what I am going to see within the vision, but what I have said can push you into the right direction. It is you who has to take control of your life and make the choices. Understand?”

A slow nod greeted him behind which he could see the struggle within her mind. She rose from her seat still bewitched from his words. A slight dazed look lay frozen across her face.

The sign of a possible repeat customer.

*

Image by Uki_71 from Pixabay

Jason Mills had come to realize, in the last three years, the important thing was to live up to the customer’s expectations. No one wanted their fortune read by some guy in a t-shirt and jeans. People wanted theatrics, a story for their friends so they might debate the merits of whether the guy who had done her reading was for real or a fraud. Even then, they do not mind the apparent lies as long as they had a good time. It was something he had struggled with understanding when he first started out. All the bullshit items they gave credence to allowed them to have a connection. So for that reason he dressed the chamber up to match those preconceptions. Something an ordinary person would want to see and experience.

The corner lamp’s light filtered through a purple shade framing the small table. Centered within the pattern sat a crystal ball. The curtains, which surrounded the area, were a royal red. Every piece needed to convey that he was worth giving money to and his fortune reading was as legit as a fortune reading could be. Whether he gave good news or bad, if the show felt wrong, then their experience would match.

His outfit was meticulously picked out. He slicked his dark hair back, combined a simple black vest with a red dress shirt underneath and dark slacks. For the final piece he added an intense glare he mastered a long time ago, in a different life. It helped that his six foot three inch height not only allowed him to stand above almost every customer, but also caused him to look a little more muscular. His size helped him sell the show; it made him more intimidating than anyone else in the room. Had it been Halloween, he wouldn’t have needed to change as he could either add fake plastic fangs and say he was Dracula or forgo that and claim to be a Vegas magic act.

Customers fell into a couple of camps. The two largest groups were comprised of either tourists visiting the Little Five Points area for a little extra spice of Atlanta, Georgia local flavor, or college kids who consumed one too many drinks during the day and thought getting their fortune read might be good for a laugh. Those same rich kids seemed to treat the whole experience as a rite of passage. As if it was their job to expose him as a fraud.

Their business was nice, if a bit unreliable. Still it was the regulars who allowed him to exist day to day. The older woman who searched for something to fill the hole in her heart. The business man trying to get the next big project off the ground, but had convinced himself long ago the fortune tellers knew something he did not. The Goth girl who believed in someone who could see the future, and hoped through her experience with Jason she would somehow become more connected to the universe itself. Inside each a puzzle piece was missing and the prophecies which Jason the Wondrous spouted could make them whole.

So now Jason sat, watching the feet moved past his curtain only to stop and shuffle back. The uncertain pause before a new face stuck his head inside the curtain and got their first glimpse of Jason’s inner lair. Aside from the lamp, only the crystal ball’s light permeated the room. It did its job well. Shadows made Jason look all the more mysterious.

Jason could hear someone behind the lead figure mumble something about going in, and sure enough the young man made a full appearance. Right behind him, two more followed.

The leader moved deeper into the curtained area, and Jason got his first true look at him. One of the few people who would have been able to look Jason in the eyes and from the shoulder length dark hair and complexion, Jason guessed the kid had some island blood in him. He dressed in a polo shirt and khaki shorts. His attire was the standard uniform of male college students when they hit the bars during these summer months.

The other two matched the dress code if not the look. A shorter, stocky guy took his spot on the left. His nose showed the damage of a man who’d won and lost plenty of fights, but from his frame, Jason suspected that he’d won many more than he’d lost. The taller friend flanked the right. He was all legs and arms and looked as if a deep breath would send him to the ground. His whole form looked as if each piece grew at different rates.

“Have a seat, my friend.” Jason used his best movie voice, struggling to channel Vincent Price, always trying to channel Vincent.

Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay

“Uh, alright.”

The twenty-something sat down across from Jason, eyes still adapting to the lower light around him.

“What is it that brings you to me today? Is there something particular you would wish me to ask the spirits?”

“No. I guess, um, just a general reading? Is… is that alright?” It wasn’t fear, but embarrassment which got him stuttering.

“A general reading is fifty. Cash first please.”

Jason learned the hard way that you always needed to get the cash before giving the reading; otherwise you end up chasing your rent money down the sidewalk at eleven o’clock at night. Add to it the fact that Jason grew closer to forty than to thirty every day; any chase was something in which he no longer possessed any confidence.

The young man motioned for the taller man to produce the cash. “This was your idea. Pay the man.”

Taking money from the friend, Jason stared into the customer’s eyes. “Your full name?”

“Terry Soone.”

The shorter friend added. “With an ‘e’.”

“I don’t think he needs the spelling, ass.”

“Alright, Terry, I need you to place your hands face up on the table. As I touch you, clear your mind of all thoughts.” Jason used this moment to unlock eyes with Terry and focused on his two companions, “You must all do this. Any additional stray thoughts will cloud the reading. You must be a blank slate for it to work.”

It was a lie. Jason did not need them to do anything other than stay somewhat quiet. It was more for the mood than the actual reading. Still it added to the mystery. Once again, it was the little things. He needed to make sure they got their money’s worth.

As his friends chuckled behind him, Terry put his hands on the table, and Jason reached across, focusing back upon him. He took a deep breath then grabbed the young man’s palms.

The room, the lights, the crystal ball, and the speech were all a lie. The tourists did not want Jason Mills, they needed the Wondrous One. Regardless, the gift was reality.

Chips. Raise. Fold. Brandon can’t hold his liquor. A redhead girl. Front porch. Face stings. Black robes. Candles. Smiles. Knives. Knives. Knives.

Blackness.

The images slammed into his mind. They blurred and morphed from moment to moment. When Jason tried to explain the readings to anyone else the best he could come up with was to compare it to the old style movie projectors. Every image those machines showed the audience consisted of many individual frames. At the speed it ran, one frame in ten might be seen. It was the same with any readings. Jason saw a movie, but the images moved so fast he couldn’t comprehend anything. It was a blur. Thus the first step was to get a connection. That was the easy part. The second step was to slow the movie down and take a look at the individual pieces, the frames.

Jason took another deep breath, concentrated, and the images came into focus:

Terry sat at a table wearing the same clothes he did now. More friends sat around him looking none too pleased as Terry raked in another stack of poker chips. Someone threw up on a fake plant in the corner. Still, Terry pulled in more and more cash.

Seeing cash was easy to explain, everyone’s thoughts drifted to money, and as such, Jason picked up that information quicker than any other issue the customer might have.

“You will be coming into wealth very soon. Cash won is much sweeter than money earned. It appears your friends here are not good poker players.”

The short stocky friend spoke with disgust. “Standard. They always say something about money.”

“Quiet please.”

With the next image, Jason watched a young redheaded woman slap Terry across the face. He stood in the doorway, too stunned to respond or even make an effort to fix the perceived slight he must have visited on the female. She did not allow him the time anyway and slammed the door in his face.

“You will have some bumps in your love life in the near future. Whatever it is you do, try not to piss off the redhead any more than you already have”

“Obvious, relationship stuff… this guy is a joke.”

Terry shifted his grip at the mention of the girl. Jason struck the correct cord.

The scene dissolved into a shadowy place where a robed man placed a hand on a kneeling Terry’s shoulder.

“A,” Jason needed to search for the word, “ceremony… in the days to come…”

The moment disappeared into emptiness.

You are not welcome here.

The connection severed, and Jason released Terry’s grip.

“Is that it?”

Jason wiped palms on his vest before reaching out to grip Terry’s hands once more.

“No… it is just that… I’m not sure you are concentrating on this. Without your cooperation, this is not going to work.”

Terry nodded and clenched his eyes shut.

Focusing, Jason rewound the vision to try and lock onto it.

Jason strained, sweat rolled down his face, but he saw more of the same.

Robes. Candles. Knives. Blackness.

This differed from anything he experienced in a reading before. For one to stop on its own accord…

He rolled the mental picture back to the last clear image: the ceremony. Through Terry’s eyes he looked up at the robed man who stood in front of him anointing his subject. White flashed from beneath the hood. A bright light filled his eyes…

Undesired. Interloper. Begone.

Again the connection severed.

An electric spark seemed to leap from Terry into him. Jason jerked free.

“Whoa, what happened there? Did you see something else?” The obnoxious friend leaned in close, trying to scan Jason’s face for any hint of what happened.

Terry pulled back from the table and rubbed his hands. Jason guessed the electricity had not been a one sided affair.

“Do you have a buzzer underneath the table?”

Jason composed himself as best he could. He needed to remain in character and not betray the fact he did not know what had occurred.

“I have no such need for parlor tricks. Check under the table for yourself if you do not believe me.”

That invitation was all the unconvinced friend needed. He squatted down beside the table and lifted the table cloth. Jason watched as he felt around for anything that might have explained the jump.

“Whatever it is you felt was both true and powerful. In the coming days you are going to be presented with an important choice. One choice made in darkness will bring great light, but…”

Jason searched for the right words.

“It will not be without its dangers. Choose wisely, your next step, for the futures of many will be at stake… not just your own.”

Terry sat there for another second, either to contemplate what Jason told him or to determine how they had been ripped off. The two friends, who had enough of the show, grabbed Terry on the shoulder urging him to leave.

“Let’s get out of here. I told you this was a scam.”

While they were unconvinced, Terry’s face betrayed his own concern. Jason couldn’t be sure if it was due to the strangeness of the reading, or if Terry understood more of the reading than even Jason did.

The three men left the curtained room muttering to themselves, but Jason did not give them any more notice. He lifted his hand up and found it trembling. His heart sounded off within his chest.

The absence of an image…

Still Jason could not shake the images he saw. He visualized many things in the few years since he discovered his gift. Some were standard beats, like Terry’s money or love life; those were common links between all humanity. Those are the things that subconscious minds dwell on. Will I find love? Am I going to be rich? Those were easy as Terry’s friend had pointed out. The blackness… that was not normal. It seemed there was only one way to interpret it:

Terry Soone was going to die.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

The Last Game

(Obviously spoilers for anything and everything Game of Thrones.)

We sat down last night to watch the series finale. It was Monday night, so everyone else in the world who cared about such things were already neck deep in talking about the show, lamenting the decisions of the writers, loving other decisions, and struggling to determine whether or not they liked even other bits and pieces. As I wrote last week, it isn’t an easy thing to write the ending to a short story or a 22-page comic, I can’t imagine how you’d go about writing the end to a series that’s lasted 8 years.

I watched it.

I absorbed it.

I may need therapy. 🙂

I wrote an email to some friends this morning that summed up my immediate thoughts all of about 12 hours later:

I’m still not sure how I feel about everything. I couldn’t go to sleep last night because my mind was playing things from the episode over and over. I know that there was no way that Danny could stay on the throne after what had happened in Episode 5. Regardless, my mind kept trying to find an “out” for her other than what happened. I had one hope that perhaps… just perhaps, once she gave the Big Victory Speech, that maybe she’d continue on her quest to liberate the world and need a Regent to defend her claim in Westeros. Which would leave Jon Snow serving his Queen and helping the lands of his forefathers. You’d get a “good” ruler and you still would have Danny out there killer the evils of this world.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I know, I was stretching things as far as I could.

So I watch and I become a little sad that Danny doesn’t win in the end. And I watch and I think that Tyrion’s solution of Bran the Broken was both out of left field and inspired. I watch and I think that Arya going to explore past the end of the map is perfect. I watch and I think that Sansa has become a character worthy of Queen of the North.

And I watch Jon Snow, broken, beaten… betraying the one he loved, the one he served, and instead of death (not entirely sure how Grey Worm didn’t just end it for him) he gets to go back to the Wall. Back to where he started all those years ago. Back to a place where he will no longer bother anyone in the Seven… er… Six Kingdoms again. He’ll have to replay all the moments of his life to see if perhaps he could have found a better way.

Did this path get set upon because he told his sisters? Had he kept that much a secret could there have been someone to walk Daenerys back from the brink? Could he have found another way once that information was out? Seen what the others were beginning to see?

I don’t know if there is an answer out there for him. Maybe he’ll find peace north of the wall.

***

With the show over, my hope is that George RR Martin will finish his story finally. Not because I want a different ending. And not because I think the show didn’t do a good job. But because I wonder about the other characters he’s been setting up for decades. Characters that never appeared on the show, but still have their impacts in the words. I wonder if he’ll look at this ending within the show and tweak anything now that he’s seen the reaction to it? Do you use millions of “Beta Readers” opinions to shape the tale or do you continue on whatever the path is regardless of ruffling a few more feathers? Or maybe change things a little “just to make it mine”.

If it were me, I might be tempted to do just that.

***

The last thing is now what do you replace this with? What tv show could put these types of ideas on the screen as successfully? It’s been with us for 9 years…

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Before the End of the Story

<This has spoilers for Game of Thrones… sorry.>

How do you stick a landing on a long-running tv show?

We’re a few days before the end of Game of Thrones. A show that opened to a little fanfare, but has built upon itself into a show that people can’t seem to help themselves from spoiling in the minutes after the latest episode airs. I normally don’t watch the episodes until Monday, which prior to probably Season 7, wasn’t much of a problem. Now it feels like people want to try to be clever in not saying anything but actually saying a ton of stuff about the show. And heaven help you if you go onto Yahoo or something and scroll through the articles on the front page. They will put the big moments in the damn title of the article.

But I don’t want to rant about spoilers right now (that’s a post all on its own).

As we approach this ending, it’s gotten me thinking about other shows I’ve loved and how they ended. And then it got me thinking about the actually act of writing an ending to some epic story. You see, I’m currently writing a draft of what will be a 5 book series at this point. So endings are important even all the way at the beginning. Do you set up the last scenes as soon as you put the first words on the screen? Do you have a vague idea of what the plot points should or shouldn’t be in that last book when you still need to discover what happens in books 2-4? Just how much do you need to know and how much should you wing it?

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

And here’s the other problem: your readers/viewers have a decent idea of where they’d like to see the story end up. Sticking with Game of Thrones, after I’d seen the first season I fully thought that this was going to be a show where I expected the last shot would be of Danny sitting on the Iron Throne. That regardless of where the other dozens of characters ended up, that needed to be the constant. She would have earned it through the way Kings and Queens in this world earn it – she took it, but she did it through alliances. She’s managed her allies – the Unsullied, the Dothraki, the Queen’s Hand, the Dragons, etc. She was one of the BIG heroes for this show. And in a world where there weren’t a ton of heroes, that seemed important.

But this is a world of greys. Not black and whites. And now that Season 8, episode 6 approaches, I no longer know if that is how it is going to end… or even if it should end that way.

So is that a bad thing? Is it a bad thing to potentially NOT deliver on what some people have expected. And note, I’m not talking about quality here… that is another debate. This is strictly about moments which have built up in my head as things that need to happen. It doesn’t mean they have to happen, but I believe they will make my enjoyment all the better.

Yet, in this last season, they have subverted a couple of things already. I’d not expected Arya to be the one to kill the Night King. So much was made of the Lord of Light and his champion that it felt like Jon Snow HAD to be the one to end him. When the time came, I realized it needed to be Arya. That’s how this was all framed and set up. So when the moment came it was a good moment… a good outcome that still wasn’t exactly what I’d expected and that was fine.

So reading the 5 books, watching 7 seasons of the show has led me to some thoughts about where the characters are going to end up. So in this last season, the question for me becomes – what did I think/want to happen, what actually happened, does it still work for me. I like pretty much everything they’ve done, it just makes certain choices, when they don’t match up…

Again, how do you make sure you serve your own vision of the series while not alienating your potential fans?

And there is one other problem: if you are too predictable. What then? People are going to complain because “they saw it coming from the second episode” (or some such thing).

Where is the line? That happy place between predictable and unpredictable. Does it ever really exist? And for those of us who watch the shows or read the series what do we want to see when we get to the end? That the creators did their best? That they played it completely safe? Or that they went balls to the wall and surprise us with something (or many somethings)?

Is there a right answer?

I loved Breaking Bad’s ending. Buffy’s ending. Angel’s ending (might be my favourite). I loved Lost’s ending moment. You’re the Worst stuck the landing.

With this last episode, we’re going to get an ending. For better or worse.

Image by TanteTati from Pixabay

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com