Book Report – The Lincoln Highway

The Lincoln Highway is a book where the destination (the end of the titular Lincoln Highway) isn’t the important part of the journey. It gives the characters a goal, to be sure, but this is a novel about the obstacles and potential growth of the main players of the story.

Let me start by saying that I enjoyed the book overall. It definitely falls into that “Great American Novel” category which is one I don’t read very much (or at least not since college). However, there were some choices the author made that made me think about how novels and movies are structured and had me pondering whether or not they were techniques that added to the story or not.

So in that sense, this will be less of a book report and more of me pondering if something worked for me or not.

I definitely like to read for “enjoyment” purposes, but I’m also always looking for things that other authors do that I can learn from. One of those things that Amor Towles did in this book was he had two main POV characters: Emmett and Dutchess, but he wasn’t afraid to occasionally give one of the other characters the POV for a chapter or two in order to illuminate the story from a different perspective. Now, this ends up doing a couple of things, he’s able to show us exactly how others see our main characters and allows us to see a larger part of the world he’s trying to build.

The only problem with this is that in doing this, by spending that time on these other characters, do you gain more than you potentially lose? For example, in the book, one of the characters we meet is the author of a book on mythological and real (legendary) characters in which Emmett’s 8-year-old brother is obsessed. At one point, Billy ends up meeting this author, and it is a very cute scene. However, it ends up leading to a short chapter where this author is the POV character (showing where he ends up after his meeting with Billy). Again, it is a nice scene, but had it been a movie, I would likely expect such a chapter to end up on the cutting room floor.

Of course, books are able to dwell into such things, they have the space to “breathe”, but I’m always wondering (when I’m writing) whether the chapter is advancing something? Is it advancing the overall plotline? Is it advancing a character arc? Or is there another purpose altogether? When I’m making edits, are these beats something important to the story or is it leading us down a tangent?

The Lincoln Highway had me asking those questions (among others) a couple of times. These side characters, while important to meet and understand, may not always need to have their own chapters. Especially when you consider there were 4 leads. Could some of that information have been shown through one of them? And if not, is the moment worth having?

The other thing Towles did was not use quotation marks when separating dialogue from the rest of the narrative.

Normally you might get something like this:

“He shot him.” Terry wrapped his arms tightly around Jimmy.

However, in The Lincoln Highway, we get this:

-He shot him. Terry wrapped his arms tightly around Jimmy.

Now, when 99% of the things you read do things one way (use quotations) and suddenly you come across a work that does something completely different, it can be very jarring. And while I was able to effectively ignore it as I read along, I couldn’t help but wonder why change something if it isn’t broken. Because not having the quotation marks there sometimes made it awkward when you have a sentence like:

-What do you think you’re doing? Jimmy asked me. I wish I knew what was going on.

In the above sentence, the portion after the period… is that continuing Jimmy speaking? Is that inner narration from Terry?

Who knows? Because it effectively could be read either way.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Jimmy asked me. “I wish I knew what was going on.”

Or

“What do you think you’re doing?” Jimmy asked me. I wish I knew what was going on.

So, I’m not sold on using new notation to do something worse than what we currently have.

Finally, and this is a spoiler, so…

***

***

The book is set up as a journey to the end of the Lincoln Highway and a potential reunion with Emmett and Billy’s mother. And we never get there. In fact, we travel the other direction for the entirety of the book, and only effectively start at the New York City end of the Highway. Throughout, Emmett has a lot of inner turmoil involved with how he views his mother (who abandoned them before the book begins). And yes, had we gone to the end we might not have had a satisfactory meeting with her either. But it is another odd choice to build something up and then not deliver on the implied promise. It makes me wonder if there was a point in one of the drafts where the boys did reach the coast, and they did get their reunion. Maybe he just could never make it work?

Something else to keep in mind.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

 

 

Repost – Unfinished Business

 

As I’m trying to finish up a writing assignment, I thought a look back at this idea of mine of just not throwing ideas out. Or more to the point, never giving up on the ideas. With In Our Dreams Awake taking over 15 years to finally see the light of day, the pack rat in me was right on that one!

***

Weirdly, in the aftermath of running a successful Kickstarter to get a project I’ve been working on for years, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about unfinished projects sitting on my hard drive. How for every file and folder that lies dormant on the computer, I will soon have something that is somewhat “complete”.

It was due to these incomplete projects that I created the Gilded Age the way I did in the first place. Too many comic book projects had gotten started only to fizzle out. It was very much the idea that the Gilded Age might only last 1 issue and I had a full 4 issue story-arc planned. What do you do with that? How do you get around the fact that 1 issue could very well be the only thing anyone ever sees?

In fact, there was a while there where Egg and I would email back and forth about 1 issue comic ideas because that was something we could see actually being done and finished. It was something concrete whereas the many talks about 50 issue comic storylines might (only might) have been a little beyond any of us.

Yet, even with those constraints, so many of them never saw the light of day.

And I’ve been thinking about them.

They say you are supposed to Kill Your Darlings as a writer. Basically, when you are writing, even if you love a scene or a paragraph or even just a sentence – you have to be willing to cut those just as easily as anything else.

And there is also some saying about always moving forward (I think). If something doesn’t work out, then toss it aside and start on the next thing. Something about ideas not being precious. That any creator worth their salt can come up with 100 more… and then 100 more.

Yet, I look through the files and remember things I’d forgotten. I see that there was potential within these projects. I see that there could still be potential within so many Lost ideas.

Maybe it is that Kickstarter success that suddenly has shown me a finish line is actually possible? Has it got me convinced there might be a way to bring those things back to life in some form or fashion?

It’s not about the business of the pieces… not yet at least. That will come. The questions about what does this particular thing being brought out of storage actually accomplish. What if by focusing on these older toys, I don’t give enough focus to newer ones?

I’m caught in a weird time loop of my own doing. Lamenting what should have been out a decade ago if only I’d have pushed the right buttons. How I could have been further along whatever path I currently make my way down.

But mistakes have been made along the way.

So what do you do about those old things? I’m a collector. I don’t throw things out without good reason. I believe that ideas are very precious, but I know that more will always be forthcoming. I could never just be rid of them. Do they represent too much thought, too much work, too much… growth?

Without each word, line, paragraph, half-finished script, or even finished scripts that never became comics… my current work wouldn’t exist. Without every pain of trying to pull or get pulled across a finish line, my couple of books, The Gilded Age, and a handful of short stories would not exist (or at least they would not exist in the way they do today).

So I don’t push delete on these things. I don’t erase them from my mind or my flash drive. I don’t purge the emails of random thoughts and nuggets of storylines… for they offer me a glimpse at all the paths I’ve been on until today.

Sure, they may frustrate me that they didn’t get there, but they might have helped me get there.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

The Reason Why – Piece By Piece

My writing brain doesn’t work right.

You see, other writers and writing groups will tell you short of having some book just magically become a HIT, the best way to make it all work is to write a series, not stand alone. As a corollary, I would suspect that if you were going to write a bunch of stand-alones, it might be in a writer’s best interest to write those individual novels in the same genre. That way when you get someone to actually read your book, and they like what they read, you have an easy place to point them.

“Hey, you liked Book 1 so much, why not check out Book 2… and Book 3… and…”

OR

“Hey you liked that Horror novel I wrote, well, why not check out the 5 other Horror novels I’ve written?”

But, my brain doesn’t work like that.

If you’ve paid any attention to the writing I’ve done or followed along with any other of “The Reason Why” posts, you’ll readily see that I definitely don’t play favorites when it comes to genre. Dark Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and Science Fiction for the novels, and then on the comics side I might be a tiny bit more consistent with some form of Fantasy (Steampunk influenced). Overall, I kind of go where my fancy takes me when it comes to developing ideas and stories.

I write the types of things I would like to read (so at the very least, one person is happy with the product).

However, I do get ideas for things that could act as sequels with the characters I create. So I decided to dip my toe back into the world of The Dark That Follows and write a short story featuring the lead character: Jason Mills.

***

Jason Mills is no ordinary Fortune Teller. As opposed to most of his brethren, Jason can actually see the future. And his latest customer wants to push that gift to its limits.

Piece By Piece shows what Jason Mills does when he’s not worrying about the end of the world.

***

Where The Dark That Follows is certainly a dark (horror) urban fantasy that deals with death, black magic, and otherworldly creatures, I wanted to focus a bit more on Jason Mills powers of seeing the future. The idea was that he used his powers every day for random people just looking to see if their lives were going to be a little better than the day before. It didn’t have to always be a matter of life and death. Though it probably did need to be a somewhat interesting.

What if he had someone come to him that needed to find something, and figured that if Jason actually was the real deal, there might be a way to use those powers to get him what he wanted (and pay Jason a boatload of money in the process).

Like I said, just dipping my toe back in that world. Plus it allows me to have that short story to give readers a taste of the character I created. And maybe if they discovered Piece by Piece first, they might go and check out The Dark That Follows.

***

If you want to check out Piece by Piece, you can download it on your Kindle right here.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

The Reason Why – The Crossing

Along with Time Travel stories, Parallel Worlds are one of my favorite science fiction subjects. I think we all have had moments in our lives where we wish we could see the path not taken. Those What If moments can plague us if we aren’t careful. It’s very easy to believe you are in the Darkest Timeline if you look for the right (or better yet, the wrong signs). To find a way to peer beyond the veil of our world to see where things would end up. To know if we really did make the right choices. Or perhaps we were just scared.

The idea was that Robert Jeffrey and I would come together to co-write a comic book. So we each brainstormed some ideas and then met up to start breaking them down. Mine was a futuristic apocalyptic comic about surviving after the end of everything. A sort of Mad Max in space.

Robert proposed an idea about hopping parallel worlds.

Really, that’s all it took for me to be on board with the premise. A sort of “you had me at parallel” moment.

You see, even before we’d ever met, the two of us shared a love of a television show that somehow managed to make 5 seasons across two networks: Sliders.

And yes, it was goofy at times, trying to come up with some random worlds that could possibly exist, running into your doubles (a fair amount), and just stumbling through the multiverse.

But…

But… that idea is a good one. And our mutual love of those types of stories led us down the path to developing this story around a pair of fathers and daughters. An idea based around wanting to protect the ones you love, but not always being able to do everything that you can. We looked at it as asking a few fundamental questions:

How far would you go to save someone you loved?

How far would you go to get your loved one back?

How far would you go to prove yourself?

How far would you go with your lies?

We built everything from there. Assembling the building blocks to the point where we could get the amazing artist Sean Hill involved with the project. It was then about bringing all the love for the world jumping and wrap it in this grounded, human story. Luckily for us, 133art thought highly of it as well.

And while it is a little slow going with releases, it doesn’t mean we aren’t pushing things as much as we can. This is a story, I feel, that will be worth the wait.

***

Fugitive Dr. James Kincaid is running for his life. Years prior he was the most accomplished physicist in the realm of Crossing, but due to his own mistakes (professional and personal), he lost everything. Now, in a last-ditch effort to fix things Dr. Kincaid runs afoul of powerful US Senator Christopher John Rice. Kincaid steals Crossing tech and escapes into the multiverse. However, Sen. Rice will stop at nothing to get what he wants, so he enlists renowned Crossing physicist Jun Patton and FBI agent Kayla Cooke in a covert mission to hunt him down.

***

The first issue of the Crossing can be purchased here: 133art.

The Reason Why – The Gilded Age

It was always supposed to be a four-issue story.

Back then, that’s where my brain went when talking about comic books. “What’s the 4-issue storyline?” You gotta be able to sell it to a publisher and since no one knows who the hell you are, well, at best you might be able to squeeze 4 issues out of them.

Well, actually that’s not true. There were many days when I would collaborate with a friend on what should end up as the 60-issue limited series for some comic storyline. Now, it should be pointed out that one should walk before they run, but where is the fun in all of that? It’s much better to create a world where you would need all that space to convey your true message to everyone who was reading.

Right?

It wasn’t until I got together with the Terminus guys and gals that more bite-sized ideas began to emerge. You know, 8-page stories. Maybe, if we were feeling a little bit crazy we could go to 10 pages.

There is truth in determining a four-issue storyline might be the key to actually getting something published by some company willing to take a risk on an unknown (this is pre-Kickstarter that we’re talking about). Egg and I began working on something that would eventually become In Our Dreams Awake (the first issue of which was just funded this year). However, in Egg’s early comic convention travels he came across an artist who he thought might be a good fit to work with me. I looked through his artwork and discovered a shot of a cowboy with a metallic arm, and I had my idea for a steampunk story.

The Guilded Age

And that original story, called Machine Heart, is literally still ready to be drawn up and become The Gilded Age Issues 5 through 8.

However, like many such things, nothing became of it, and it became another file on the computer, threatening to be lost to time.

And then, Terminus decided they wanted to do more than the occasional anthology we were putting out roughly once every year. So Robert Jeffrey, Tony Cade, Pete Mitchell, and me all came up with story ideas. I dug through my files and came across Machine Heart. That was going to be my pitch.

At the same time, I was reading Sandman for the first time. Enthralled with the series, I noticed, especially early on, Gaiman had a lot of self-contained issues. They told a story and then they were done. It also occurred to me that if it took us a year to put out each issue, it might be difficult to actually have a coherent story for someone (anyone) to actually read and follow. What if, instead, I did 4 self-contained stories which would feature different characters – yet still connect in some way.

Trying to find its own way in this world, the Branning Troupe, made up of actors and carnival folk, moves throughout Europe performing its acts night in and night out. For some, the Troupe offers a direction to their lives; others seek the adoration of the crowds.  For all, it represents a fragile, simple refuge from a world which has cast them out.  They are a new family.

And each member has their own desires and secrets…

I wrote the first story featuring the two leads from Machine Heart. The second issue would see that metal-armed cowboy come to life. The third was a bit more of a horror story. And the last trying my hand at mixing fantasy and oddities together.

Each issue would let me tell the types of stories I wanted to tell while building the world in a very organic (hopefully) way. It allowed me to learn at a slower pace. Worry about the 22 pages instead of all 88 pages. That freedom was great, and in retrospect, I think was the right approach to take as it was years (more than I would have expected) before all 4 issues were done and collected in a trade.

Probably the other big thing to come out of it was that I gained a level of confidence. So many times as writers we are not sure if the piece we’re creating is ever going to see the light of day, and my limited time in comics has only reinforced that thought process. So to have a completed piece was amazing and gave me hope to push on other projects down the road.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

The Reason Why – Hollow Empire

Some of the best times I’ve had as a writer is during those initial days of an idea. Where everything is available to you and you’re not sure exactly where you are going to go with it. Most of the time, I’m bouncing ideas off my own subconscious, allowing the ideas to percolate while I’m doing other things (or many times when I’ve laid down to go to sleep… that’s a good way to miss out on a ton of zzzz). When you are working with another writer, those same ideas begin generating a momentum that is hard to even know or expect.

So it went with Hollow Empire.

You see, Hollow Empire was the result of a random comment to Jerermy. We’d been talking about projects, and I’d mentioned a podcast (Selfpublishing Podcast) where the hosts were talking about doing serialized fiction. And I wondered if I’d be up to the task of having to turn things around in a somewhat rapid fashion. The next day Jeremy sent me an email saying he was IN if I was.

Could it be that easy? Just do it, as the marketing says.

With a land (world) ravaged by a pandemic (we were looking back to the Black Plague, not trying to be prophetic), some of those who managed to survive the virus would get a power. A bit of magic, if you will, that was their “reward” for making it through the otherside. Hollow Empire was always a way to write a superhero story set in a medieval time period. But we put many other things in there.

Zombie creatures.

Dark cults.

Assassins.

Bounty Hunters.

A coup.

By co-writing the book we’d reduce the amount we’d need to write to something a little more manageable (while Jeremy is a machine, I like to go to sleep once in a while). We mapped out a little bit of the story. Against the backdrop of a coup (the Night of Knives), we’d take our pair of characters through this world and see what happened. It was a mixture of plotting and pantsing as we had a very rough idea of where we might end up, but I don’t believe either of us had our full stories at that point in our head.

The goal was really to entertain ourselves. Maybe put forth some surprises for each other. And expand this idea as best we could through these weekly episodes.

And that’s exactly what we did. We wrote our chapters and then swapped the stories for edits. I joked that my job was to curb a bit of Jeremy’s descriptions and his job was to get me to increase mine.

The nice thing about the series was that by having 2 authors, the voices were going to be different. And since we didn’t know where the other was going, some of those surprises would cause us to adjust our own writings. Plenty of emails were “hey, I really liked that thing you did with XXX, I’m going to reference that in my stuff.” In my mind, that’s when I knew things were clicking the way we wanted it to.

Eventually, we finished those 6 episodes. Eventually, we put them out into the world. And it has become an itch for me because Jeremy has written a couple of follow-ups to his characters while mine are a bit in limbo. I have one additional story written, and I have ideas for some more, so perhaps we could see more of the Hollow Empire in a Season 2?

***

In the aftermath of a horrific plague, the nation of Vhur teeters on utter annihilation. Its cities lie in ruin. Its king hides in his tower. Its people rot in their graves.

Surrounded by death and suffering, four survivors struggle to live their separate lives.

But the lords of Vhur have different plans in mind for them.

For soon must come the Night of Knives.

Image by Twighlightzone from Pixabay

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

The Reason Why – The Dark That Follows

The way the story goes, I’d been thinking about writing something for a long while. Dating back to college I talked about various ideas I had. Sometimes they were for comic books and sometimes they were for movies and sometimes they were for short stories or novels. Mostly they ended up being little more than notes in a folder on my computer. Maybe, if I was really dedicated, I might get a whole two or three pages into something before running out of steam.

After college, writing wasn’t anything that seemed like a thing I would do. And it wasn’t until I fell in with the Terminus Media guys that I decided to push myself to write a television script (which I talk about here). And then I was writing comics.

But books felt like they would be too much. Too much time. Too much effort.

Just too much.

And then I got laid off.

***

At dinner, doing my best to distract myself from the looming task of trying to find another job in an economy and industry that didn’t have very many opportunities, I pitched my wife an idea for a story (I wasn’t sure exactly what it was going to end up being). The pitch went something like this:

The story is about a fortune teller who can actually tell the future. One day he has a client come in and get a reading, but he doesn’t see anything for him… no future, and he realizes the guy is going to die.

That was it. Literally that’s all I had. A very rough pitch.

My wife said something to the effect of “You should write that.”

“Oh, I’m not going to write that, I don’t have any idea what the story is actually about.”

“Well, you have time.”

Image by moritz320 from Pixabay

***

I had time. During the day I would proceed with my searches of every job website or journeying down to unemployment to get that process rolling, but at night I had time to write.

I had no idea what I was doing. No idea if this was going to be another thing that would just peter out and become another partially written file on my computer.

I opened up Word and started writing.

I had no idea what this thing was supposed to be, but slowly, Jason Mills began to take shape in my head. Here was a former cop, divorced from his wife, an alcoholic, who, for some reason, had the power to read people’s futures. He had to be a little theatrical about it, play up to the visions we have in our head from television about how he’s supposed to act. He needed it to feel both real and fake at the same time.

For four months I wrote pretty much every night on this novel. I’d write and then the next night go back and read what I’d written the night before. And sometimes I’d be a bit proud of a section or a turn of phrase. And other times I would want to break my fingers to ensure that this writer didn’t do that again (I managed to just edit those sections as a compromise with myself).

It became a story about trying to save the college kid who came in. It became a story about Black Magic and other worlds and demons.

4 months, nearly to the day, I finished the first draft. I think it clocked in at around 60,000 words. The following morning I’d start my new job.

Talk about timing.

***

It would still be a couple of years before the novel was ready for the world. I leaned on my friends to give it a read. Chad Shonk and Egg both wrote me a bunch of valuable notes about both the story and some of my crutches in the writing itself (those are things I try to keep in mind when I’m writing anything nowadays). Three years and 3 months later, I published The Dark That Follows on Amazon.

And the nicest thing about that was having finished the project. Having people (strangers) read the book. Having other people ask if there was ever going to be a second book (it is self-contained, but I would like to revisit Jason Mills at some point).

Because when you put your story out there… it’s beyond terrifying. You spent months and months (and years and years) working on this project and up until you hit Publish, it really doesn’t exist. It can still get stored away on your computer and be the thing you open a couple of times a year and tinker with it, and then close the file again.

Without The Dark That Follows, there would be no Hollow Empire or The Echo Effect (or the 3 other books I have drafts of currently). This book showed me that not only was it possible to “just write it”, but that I had other stories ready to come out as well.

And I never looked back.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

The Reason Why – The Echo Effect

When I attended Free Comic Book Day last month, I had to remember my pitches for my comics and novels again. When you are at conventions, you need your one to two line pitch for each of your products because the window you have to catch someone’s attention is measured in seconds sometimes. And since it had been a little while, I needed to practice a little bit as the day progressed… which hopefully meant that I got a little better at it each time until it was closing time.

The other aspect of this event was that, for the first time, I was selling copies of The Echo Effect. And I didn’t really have a 2 line sentence to pitch the book. This is what’s on the back of the book:

 

In the world before, Aaron Anders had a different life with a different family…

Until the White Light washed them away.

A select few know the truth about our world: every time the calendar approached the year 2025, the world resets and creates a new Earth, with a new history for each of us. The Awakened remember their previous lives, and throughout history, many of them have done their best to ensure that the world proceeds on a particular path.

The lucky few.

Aaron didn’t feel lucky. Trapped in this loop, forced to live again and again in half-remembered lives, his current reality was spiraling out of control. His wife and his best friend thought he was losing his mind, and the worst part was they might be right. Another existence filled his head, mixing false memories with his real ones until he wasn’t sure of the truth.

And the only one who seemed to know anything was a stranger convinced “They” were after both of them.

 

That’s not the easiest thing to potentially sell someone on for the handful of moments you might have their attention. But as the day went on, I tried a different tactic. I hit them with something like this:

“We’ve all had that experience where we walk into a room and things are a little out of place. Or those conversations with friends where they talk about an event like you were there, and you have no idea at all.”

When they nod or say “yes”, I tell them “That’s what this book is about. Helping me to deal with exactly those sorts of moments that have happened in my own life.

***

And here’s the thing – that is the reason why I wrote The Echo Effect. It directly stemmed from 2 incidents (one which appears exactly in the book and one is somewhat in there):

One day after work I went into our master bathroom and all of my things had been flip-flopped with my wife’s things. But it wasn’t just the counter space on top, no, the cabinets beneath had been completely changed. Now, obviously, my wife had decided to make the change for better functionality or just whatever worked better for her, but it also meant for a couple of weeks I would go to the wrong sink or look for the towels in the wrong place.

The other incident went back to sometime in my 20s. A group of us were hanging out one day and because we’re all big nerds we were talking about Atlantis. At that point, Mike looks at me and says “I’m still mad at you about that.”

“What?”

“Yeah, that book we checked out on Atlantis, well, I ended up getting a late return fee on that. And the only reason I borrowed the book was because you told me to.”

I looked at him completely dumbfounded. You see, I have zero memory of such an event. ZERO. He was convinced that I was to blame no matter how much I protested I had no idea of the incident at all.

***

Now, taking these as just two random incidents would have been fine, and I likely wouldn’t have made any connection, but something stuck in my brain. This idea of someone who lived multiple lives and dealt with these incidents all the time. How would he deal with such things? What would it mean that they weren’t just the randomness of the universe, but potentially something bigger at work.

And what if he wasn’t alone in living through it.

I’ve come to realize that writing, for me, is mostly about trying to work through my own thoughts about the world, my life, or just weird events that I’ve experienced. It’s a weird form of therapy to take these oddities and put them into a fictional format. Yet, I think it helps on some level to think that while I might not be reliving my life over and over, maybe there is a reason for the weirdness.

Who knows?

All I know is that I will have to write another book the next time it happens.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Getting Scolded

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Tonight, I was scolded by both my wife and my cat. My wife gave me the “John!” phrase with a side-eye to round out the effect. And all I had to do was use that old favorite “That’s what she said.”

(Really, as cheesy as it is, it works in almost any situation.)

<That’s what she said.>

My cat scolded me for any number of reasons but the biggest was that I hadn’t opened a window for him to start looking at the birds and squirrels who roam in our side yard. In fairness to him, he likes to chatter at me for any number of things. Sometimes it is because I’m up too late and he feels like it is time for bed. Other times it is because I haven’t moved quickly enough to feed him. Lastly, he is a stickler for ensuring that both my wife and myself take breaks throughout the day. If we’ve worked too diligently on the 9 to 5 jobs, he’ll let us know it is time to get up and move (and maybe give him a treat or two).

All of this had me thinking and reflecting on how easy it is to scold ourselves for our “lack of progress”. So many times we set goals and then lament when we don’t reach them. Or we decide to compare our output against someone else when that is never very constructive.

But, more importantly we don’t celebrate our accomplishments. We don’t take the time to stop and look at what we’ve done up to this moment.

It applies in my own life all the time and probably even more so in my writing life. Two weeks ago Issue 1 of In Our Dreams Awake funded on Kickstarter, and I think I allowed myself a whole 5 minutes before I started thinking about the next step, what else I needed to do, etc.

Honestly, it probably wasn’t until I was at the table for Free Comic Book Day that I was able to recognize (at least a little bit) that slowly and surely, I’m creating more and more works. Whether they are comic related or novel related, my table was full of things which contained words I wrote. Pages and pages of words that have somehow seen the light of day so that other people can also read them.

Does that mean I want to rest on my laurels and not push to do more, to write more or simply create more? Does that mean that I can’t identify errors I made in the Kickstarter campaign? Does it mean that everything will go smoothly the next project I sink my teeth into?

Of course not, but…

But… if we are never happy with where we currently are once in a while, then we’re setting ourselves up to be unhappy.

So, maybe instead of scolding ourselves all the time, we allow for a small celebration. A look at where we’ve been and where we’re going. And maybe, just maybe, take a second to enjoy the ride.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Behind the Comic: – Anatomy of a Panel – In Our Dreams Awake #1

 

We have about a week left to go on the In Our Dreams Awake #1 Kickstarter, so be sure to check it out!

***

Taken as a whole, a comic book represents the input of multiple people, multiple perspectives, and multiple skill sets before the final product is created. I’ve said many times in the past that one of the reasons I love the format is exactly for that reason. You get to feed off of the creatives who you work with. And what begins as one thing can become something completely different in execution (and making the overall comic that much better).

 

In Our Dreams Awake #1 – Page 7, Panels 7 & 8

The Team

Pencils – Edgar Salazar

Inks – Genaro Olavarrieta

Letters – Egg Embry

Writer – John McGuire

 

Concept

This pair of panels represent the end of a larger conversation within the issue. So much of this world that Jason Byron lives (dreams?) in is dictated by the mages who control everything. They ensure the chaos technology threatens to bring to the people can never exist again. They are Order.

And to go against that would mean going against everything they stand for… and that way lies madness.

So what do we see? We see that Edgar made a choice to not allow for any other colors within these two panels, but instead presented them as a pair of black and white moments. Two men, representing opposite beliefs about their world, are separated by the small table.

 

The Script

Page 7 Panel 7

Annoyed by Peter’s accusation, Jason pushes himself away from the table as if to get up.

Jason – I know all of this, Peter.

Peter – So ask me your question again.

 

Page 7 Panel 8

Same shot as Panel 7 (Jason is still sitting). Jason pauses. No words are needed.

 

Breakdown

As you can see from the script, I actually made a slight mistake between the two panels. In Panel 7, Jason is frustrated/annoyed and pushes himself away from the table. Edgar followed that showing him standing up. His body language is very tense. However, when we come to Panel 8, I note that “Jason is still sitting”…

No, John, he is not.

But Edgar went with it, and I think it actually works in this visual context because of the artist’s choice to make these mirror images of each other (in regards to the black and white). Where Jason was angry in the previous moment, he has sat back down. But instead of either of them furthering the conversation, the darkness envelops them instead pointing two the very ideas that they stand for can not exist alongside one another.

It even mocks the prompt from Peter in Panel 7: “So ask me your question again.” Panel 8 answers that prompt with silence. There is no need to push the issue any longer.

There are no shades of gray here in this place.

***

But perhaps there is another world for Jason to find peace? One he can visit while he dreams?

***

Please check out the current Kickstarter for In Our Dreams Awake!

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Setting Realistic Goals

The title should be followed by a question mark: Setting Realistic Goals?

Because it is something that I know I’m not always the greatest judge on how much time something should take to do when it comes to my writing projects. At the beginning of every year, I try to sit down and figure out the various writings I have swirling around in my head and try to get them in some discernable order. The ones that I’ve been working on for months and months or years and years. Is this year a doable thing for this particular work?

You see, in January everything is still ahead of me. Literally, anything can be possible in those cold and gloomy days of winter. What are you going to do, spend time out in the cold, or maybe you use that time to finish up some projects in 2022? Maybe that project you were supposed to finish up last year… this is the year I get it out the door.

But that’s always been the thing about this process. I see other authors who are able to be machines in their processes. They trim the time from their lives without regard to anything else. They are singularly focused on getting to the next finish line, sometimes at such a speed, I wonder if they actually had any time to sleep or eat or bathe during that time.

I have lofty goals, but I also know (based on experience) that sometimes overextending my reach is going to just make me depressed. Depressed about missing my self-imposed deadlines. Depressed as I get lapped by other people I see doing their best to hustle. Depressed because I have dreams and aspirations, and sometimes it feels like none of them are attainable.

But I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one who has this problem. I see it all around me. Over the years I’ve listened to the various day jobs I’ve worked as they lay out their projected goals for the coming year. You know those meetings where they want to have some level of growth year over year that boils down to a number (likely a percentage). And nearly every time I sit there wondering who came up with the numbers they were talking about. They are these pie in the sky type of plans where you’d need everything (and I mean everything) to go perfect to even have a smallish chance of meeting the goal.

You see, it’s one thing to reach for the stars, but I think it is important to have attainable goals. Otherwise, there is a lack of hope that you are doomed before you even get started.

So I try to keep it in mind. I try to see what might be a good amount.

I’m been working on getting another Kickstarter Comic out into the world.

I feel like I’ve been working on it for a full year, but really it has been even longer than that. And over the next few weeks, as we countdown to the launch, I’m going to have plenty to talk about the origins of how the comic came to be, why it wasn’t done years (decades) ago, and how sometimes it is worth it to revisit those stories that never got their due. Because, if I had realistic goals when it came to this property, it would have never gotten this far.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Eight Years and Counting

 

Where last week I took a second to look at my writing releases and set goals for this upcoming year, I also like to take a minute to take a look back that this thing I do on a weekly basis and highlight those blogs that I’m particularly proud of, or maybe had a big impact on me, or just ones that I like that I think should get a second look (or a first look in many cases).

Love’s Labour’s Liabilities – Postscript

I always like learning about how other people’s Kickstarters have gone. Normally you can glean one or two things that they did that either you can “steal” for your next campaign or avoid. Sometimes you can get a better idea of why they made the decisions they made.

That’s what this blog post was all about, looking at our second RPG Zine’s Kickstarter and talking about why we made the decisions we made, and whether they may or may not be the best decisions (and what we might do in the future).

A Love Renewed?

I love Spider-Man. I grew up on the character. I have hundreds (if not thousands) of comics where he is featured. I’ve read through the good (great) stories and some of the worst and continued with my guy.

And then one day, I had to stop.

And then, many, many years later, I read Spider-Man again (only it wasn’t Peter Parker… and it wasn’t Miles Morales).

Karnivool, My Pandemic Band

With the world gone mad, I turned to music to help get me through the rough times. That same music will keep me company late into the nights where I’m writing. Sometimes you can find a band that just speaks to you in a way that you hadn’t felt in a long time. Their songs become a part of you so quickly that before you realize it, you’ve listened to their albums multiple times over the course of a day… every day of the week.

Westley

All my life I’ve found connections with my pets, each of them special in their own way. But this last November, my little cat passed over the Rainbow Bridge, and I had to write down everything I could about him so that in the years to come, if I’ve let some little piece of our history slip into the recesses of my mind, this post will pull it all back.

As I say at the beginning of the piece, “I want to remember it all. I need to remember it all.”

 

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Turn the Page on 2021

The problem with this writing gig is that almost all of it happens behind the scenes. It becomes a topic of conversation from time to time:

“What are you currently working on?”

Yet, it’s not always one or two or three things, but a bunch of projects that you might be trying to take across the finish line. Each of them at various stages of completion. Some are maybe very close to the end and others feel like they are never going to get out there at all. It can be frustrating to not have things come out, to not have a release of anything that you can point at, and have that physical thing to point back to in order to show everyone that you’re actually working on “things”.

This last year follows 2020 where I had a handful of releases and in comparison, it looks quite… non-existent. Then again, going through my year, I had completely forgotten about a couple of these, so maybe I was more productive than I thought?

Love’s Labour’s Liabilities

So after the pain and suffering of putting out a RPG Zine, somehow Egg convinced Lee and me to give it another try with all the things we’d learned on the first one. The biggest of those was to have the whole thing completed before the Kickstarter ever started. It was nice to have something that could be not only put out into the world immediately after the campaign ended, but it also acted as a bit of a make-good for those people who had supported our first Zine’s Kickstarter and had to wait over a year for it to be finished (we gave those original backers a free PDF copy of the new Zine).

I wrote a Postscript about the Zine here.

 

M.S. Wordsmith Interview

It’s always an honor to have someone actually want to interview me about the writing I do. I had the opportunity to talk a little bit with the good folks over at M.S. Wordsmith back in March.

You can find the interview here.

 

Blog Posts

Unlike 2020 where I broke my continuous blog streak (on accident), I managed to get a blog out every week. One of the things I have been doing (probably once a month or so) is to repost some of the older blogs from the first couple of years of writing on Tessera. The first benefit is to have content on those weeks where maybe I’m not entirely sure what I should be blogging about. The second benefit is that I’m able to shed a light on some of those writings that I really liked and many people have never seen.

 

Not a lot of things going out there into the world. But that’s partially because of the whole “behind the scenes” stuff I mentioned above.

 

Looking Forward

 

As we are just into 2022, my goals are all in front of me…

In Our Dreams Awake

I journey back into the realm of comics with a story I co-created with Egg Embry that has sought to see the light of day for over a decade. We’re putting the final touches on the book and the Kickstarter page in the hopes of launching the first issue toward the end of this month.

 

S.O.U.L. Mate

A novel I’ve been working on for far too long. I spent much of the last year finishing up the first draft, editing, and then realizing I needed about 5 additional chapters to help flesh out characters, plot points, etc. I’m nearly there and believe (maybe naively) that I can have this one finished up and released later this year.

 

Short Stories

A recommitment to try and find a home for a few of my shorts. I’m going to redouble my efforts to submit them, while also finishing up a few others that I’ve been working on over this last year. My hope would be that a couple do see the light of day this year.

 

The Untold Series

The one thing I’ve really done wrong from a writing point of view (ok, not the only thing) is that I don’t have any series. I have 2 standalone and even S.O.U.L. Mate is a standalone (so I don’t learn no matter how much I say I will). However, I’ve been working on a series, and I have big plans for it. I have 2 full novels written, with the hopes of 4 more (not this year) and a series of 12 novellas to also expand the world(s) I’m creating. I don’t think I’ll be releasing anything from this series this year, but I hope to set myself up for multiple releases next year.

 

***

Some years I have a ton of stuff to focus on and other years it is a bit more streamlined, but I know if I keep at it, good things are coming.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

A Love for Everyday – 9

Many years ago, I gave my wife a homemade gift. Yes, those are cheesy and many times it is a cop-out to giving a “real gift”. But I decided, partially inspired to the multitude of Jeremy’s various Question books, to go through and look for quotes about Love, about how I feel about her, and still embrace my own nerdiness – so it included lots of bits and pieces from various media that we both love.

I called it A Love For Every Day, and set about trying to find the right words for each day.

Let me tell you, it is not as quick and easy as you would think. Especially as I tried to include little nods to the actual day if possible – sometimes those being birthdays or anniversaries or just plan old holidays… many times the quotes play off of that as well.

As these holidays come to a close, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites from these 365 days.

January 1

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.

Nicole Krause, The History of Love

February 2

Love is the answer to everything. It’s the only reason to do anything. If you don’t write stories you love, you’ll never make it. If you don’t write stories that other people love, you’ll never make it.

Ray Bradbury

March 16

Have you ever been in love? Horrible, isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life… You give them a piece of you. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore.

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman

April 19

Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam… And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva…

So tweasure your wuv.

The Princess Bride

May 4

I love you.

I know.

The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi

June 19

You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I’ll be waiting.

Peter Pan

July 16

If you have just one,

Let me be that love

If you have lots of others,

Please let me be

Please let me be one

Let me be one

Jonah Matranga, Crush On Everyone

August 13

I’m afraid that once your heart’s involved, it all comes out in moron.

Gilmore Girls

September 30

You can learn all the math in the ‘Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she’s hurtin’ ‘fore she keens. Makes her a home.

Serenity

October 31

My dearest friend

If you don’t mind

I’d like to join you by your side

Where we can gaze into the stars

And sit together now and forever

For it is plain as anyone can see, we’re simply meant to be.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

November 8

I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can play together all night.

Calvin and Hobbes

December 29

I thought our story was epic, you know, you and me.

Epic how?

Spanning years and continents. Lives ruined, bloodshed. EPIC.

Come on. Ruined lives? Bloodshed? You really think a relationship should be that hard?

No one writes songs about the ones that come easy.

Veronica Mars

***

Hope you have some great holidays with those you love.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Ramblings about Anne Rice

This past weekend Anne Rice passed away, which has gotten me thinking about Vampires (of course).

I was a teenager when I first read Interview with the Vampire (around the same time as when the movie premiered back in 1994). It’s hard to believe that my picture of vampires up until that point was pretty singular in the black and white Universal monster version of the monster Dracula or the more recent version of the book by Francis Ford Coppola. This singular entity that was either evil or misunderstood or possibly both of those things was my picture of the myth.

Then came Interview.

And while it obviously leaned into the romantic idea of the creature, it focused on this person who was at odds with his true nature. Louis (our narrator), walks us through his life with a remorseful look. Here was someone who no longer relished their eternal life, but instead saw it as it truly was: a curse. He was not a part of humanity any longer, but was forced to endure alongside it.

It seems hard to even think about the idea of the reluctant vampire as something groundbreaking now. We’ve had decades of versions who are the bad boys, the mysterious strangers, the reluctant heroes, and the monsters underneath that they dare not expose anyone to. Whether it is the Vampire Diaries, Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or True Blood (or probably a hundred others I’m forgetting), you can draw a straight line from Anne Rice to these versions of vampires being depicted now. I’m not sure there has been anyone as influential since Bram Stoker wrote Dracula almost 125 years ago.

It seems a weird thing to think about that an entire genre can be effectively reoriented by one person, but that’s really what Anne Rice did.

***

The only one I immediately can think of that might challenger to that idea is Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which looks at the vampire “problem” from a very scientific idea rather than a mystical one. Strangely, it draws its line to Night of the Living Dead and our modern Zombie movies and television shows.

***

30 Days of Night might be the other one in that it is leaning instead to the sheer monster/horror of the legend.

***

Without Anne Rice, White Wolf roleplaying wouldn’t look the same as it currently does. I’m sure it would still exist in some form or fashion, but there is no doubt in my mind it is what it is because of her contributions to the genre.

***

I hadn’t realized she had written 13 books in the Vampire Chronicles series. I think the last one I read was number 4, Tale of the Body Thief. In fact, I’ve been looking at her Bibliography in amazement. She has written about vampires and mummies and werewolves and witches and genies and…

The focus on those creatures who we might view as monsters, she decided to go in and look at their souls (what was left of them) and show the reader that there was more to them than teeth and claws. They might haunt our nightmares, but it was they who were living the nightmare.

It’s an incredible way to put the mirror up to our own faces. Show us the creature who resides in each of us. And to do that for a generation of readers is a great gift. Thank you for the reflection and the stories.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Repost – Just Finish It

I’ve gone to plenty of writing panels over the years hoping to discover, like Ponce de Leon looking for the Fountain of Youth, the secret formula to their success. How the heck did they manage to get up there with their book, comic, etc? Most of the time I do learn something, some nugget of truth that makes the trip worthwhile (maybe a technique or some obstacle they managed to overcome). But there really is one thing that separates them from those of us in the room:

You want to be a writer?  Then write, sure, but FINISH the task.

Too much I get caught up in the idea of writing. Make sure that I get my WORDS in for the day, or make sure that the latest chapter gets revised.

w-b-park-finish-it-why-would-i-want-to-finish-it-new-yorker-cartoon

 But at some point you have got to get to “Pencil’s Down”. This is something I have only just now begun to understand, and I am not even close to where I want to be.  I have only scratched the surface of this for myself and constantly have to fight to get there.

There is a difference between “Wanting” to be a writer (nevermind the great) and “Being” a writer.

It is the “Doing”.

In everyday life there are people who WANT to do, be, have something.  How many of them take the time to sit down (or stand up as the case may be) and actually do it?  How many distractions can one person have before their WANT simply becomes their DREAM and then later their REGRET.

Dreams Road Sign

 

This is the mantra I have to keep telling myself over and over. When I get tired or don’t want to sit down at the computer, I repeat it.

It seems so simple. It seems like one of those things that you read and say “Of course. What else would you think you needed to do?”

Even knowing it isn’t enough. It’s never that easy. How many ideas do I currently have sitting on my computer or flash drive that are waiting for me to finish them?  Dozens.  How many are finished?  Not nearly enough (not by a long shot). So why can’t I get there every time? What’s the hold up?

Sometimes it is the FEAR. The FEAR that what I’m writing is not going to be liked. I’m just as worried that by finishing said story or script or novel or whatever that people will read the FINISHED product and not like it and then where did my work get me?  What a waste, right?

ed-dans-ed-wood-de-tim-burton-10967401cmebh_1713

Really? Worst film you ever saw. Well, my next one will be better.

I have to convince myself that it isn’t a waste. That with each word that I write (and rewrite and edit and then even the ones I cut) means I am one inch closer to where I need to be. I get to that million words and beyond.

So that unfinished thing is doing you so much good then?  Sure, you can’t get hurt if you don’t finish it, but I have to say, putting that final word down on the page and knowing that you have actually completed something.  That’s got to be worth something.

Right?

When somebody posts their finished piece of art or script or whatever, they are 1 million times ahead of me with my dozens of unfinished products.  It doesn’t matter how much better of a writer I THINK I am because they have already lapped me 4 or 5 times.

I know plenty of people (I am one of those people sometimes) that start a project and get bored and then jump to another project, get bored, wash, rinse, repeat.  At the end of a year, they have enough stuff that you’d think they’d have a Finished Product, but instead, it is spread out over ten different things. Ten different UNFINISHED things. Ugh.

It’s an odd thing that really in the last year I feel like I’ve started to have real successes on the writing side of things, but even those are still not quite finished. Sure, issue #1 of The Gilded Age is complete, but I think I allowed myself about 5 minutes to enjoy that it existed in a tangible format before my brain started spinning on when the next issue would be finished. Same with Tiger Style #1.

The greatest thing about comic books is that it is a collaborative process. You need a writer and an artist and maybe an inker and a colorist and a letterer and an editor before the whole thing is ready and done.

The worst thing about comic books is that it is a collaborative process. And that you need to have those other people because when anyone point slips, the whole process comes to a complete halt. I don’t get the artist the next issue’s script, well I guess that is going to delay the book. The inker doesn’t get the pencils by the deadline… now we have another delay. And so on.

It can be maddening. It’s one of the reasons I started writing a novel in the first place. Finally, something that is totally on me and only me to get done.

Only. On. Me.

Gulp.

Yeah, so now who do I get to blame when my next chapter isn’t written yet? Who do I get to blame when that second draft is still waiting to get done?

Oh, that would be me.

Even now as I seemingly crawl through the last bit of editing on my first novel, The Dark That Follows, it doesn’t really exist until it is done. Before that it is just another unfinished project hoping for me to put the time in and get it out the door. The serial I’m working on with J Edward Neill, Hollow Empire, has many chapters completed in various forms (some in needed of editing, some ready for a read through, etc.), but until Episode 6 is complete and edited and out the door it just is another thing “I’m working on”. The next issue of The Gilded Age or Tiger Style or whatever else is coming down the pipeline.

So I repeat my mantra and put my butt in the seat and start typing.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Piece by Piece – The Dark That Follows Short

From the world of The Dark That Follows comes a short story featuring the main character, Jason Mills.

For those not familiar with The Dark That Follows, it’s the story of a Fortune Teller who can really see the future. He has a client come in and when he peers into what is going to happen to him, he finds nothing but darkness. Through the course of the book, he finds out there are larger forces at work trying to bring about the end of the world.

Piece by Piece focuses on something a little less “end of the world”. Jason is approached by a client who wants to find an inheritance left to him… he just isn’t sure where it is. It’s a use of the Future Sight power I’d not seen really before. If you’d like to check it out for free, you can find it on the Tessera Site here.

 

PIECE-BY-PIECE-COVER

 

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Repost: Roleplaying for Fun and Profit

It’s not a secret, not really. I wasn’t embarrassed… not exactly. Much in the way that many things I have done in my life which fall under the heading of “geeky” or “nerdy”. Before the days when telling people about comic books was shunned.

I mean, I keep hearing about how the nerds won. As if it was for the very soul of the world. That they’ve done what we all predicted would happen when that first “nerd” started messing around with the family computer. They have overthrown their jock-overlords and have claimed the top of the mountain.

Rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!

Rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!

Throughout middle school, through high school, and college, and for some time afterward I role-played. And I think it has made me a better writer.

How’s that? Well, let’s see.

Character Creation – One of the biggest things in role-playing is that initial character creation. Maybe you are trying to balance out the team that already exists, or maybe you’ve had the nugget of an idea swimming in your head for the last few weeks and now you get to try it out. Sure there is the rolling of dice for your stats, and you would love to roll well to get them higher. But the character is something more than just numbers. There is a history there. A personality that you want to play with and figure out. Sometimes it is tropes, the disgraced knight, the reclusive wizard, the thief who walks the line between good and evil.

But the best characters are those ones who begin to mold themselves as you play them. As your Game Master puts you through the paces on an adventure. As the other players begin to speak with your character… a true personality emerges that you could have never expected… not 100%.

In writing, at least for me, I’ve found it is much the same. I may have the barest idea of how a character will react to something, but time and time again, when that moment comes something crazy happens.

The character surprises me. In the same way that those characters I role-played needed to act a certain way a month after I created them, so too does the written character need to be true to themselves. In fact, I sometimes learn more about them in that moment than I did in any of the moments previous to it (and then I have to go back and tweak a couple of things to help seed that “turn” or “moment”).

ddi_characterbuilder

World building – A lot of times this is the domain of the Game Master, but a good player can help develop the world in lots of different ways. Through their personal histories: maybe your uncle is a local lord (what is he the lord of? are you in line for his property? would someone want you dead to get their hands on it?), perhaps your best friend died in a conflict across the great sea (was it a conflict or a war? is this the first volley or the last? ), or maybe the village you came from was burned to the ground (who did it? why? are they still coming?).

I’ve heard that writing for comic books is a lot like playing with someone else’s toy box: you want to leave it with more toys than it started with. A good Game Master will take these toys from you and weave them into their world, creating more cohesion, and more stakes for the players.

Heroes – Most of the time I have played the hero (or one of the heroes) of the story. And in that, I push the villains as hard as I can. I want to escape their death traps, foil their master plan, and save the maiden. But if I’m paying attention, I can see the obstacles that the Game Master is throwing in my way. You see, it is his job to not quite let me win… at least not for a while. Small victories will keep you going until that final big battle.

In my writing, it is the same way. My job as the writer is to figure out what my character wants to achieve and then put as many obstacles in the way of them succeeding in their goals. In overcoming those setbacks, I learn more and more about how my characters think and feel and maybe even what it might take to completely break them.

Villains – I’ve played a couple of villains through the years. And it is fun. It is fun to mess with the other players and sometimes even catch the Game Master off guard with a line of play. Mostly I’ve found that while sometimes the Game Master isn’t looking to flat-out kill your character, another player who is opposing you has no such qualms. That’s where fast thinking comes in handy. But it is also the point where you can fill a villain with more traits than just “he’s evil”.

Not that there is anything wrong with that!

dice

The End – I’ve played in epic novel-length campaigns. They have that feel of a good book series where the heroes get a victory towards the end of the book, only to have something else happen which will propel the series forward for books 2 and 3, and 4. So I can identify where a good breaking point for a chapter, a section, and even the end of the book should be. It is a more subtle thing, but I believe it is there all the same.

Plus it never hurts to end something so that later you can get those heroes out of the mothballs and send them on their one final adventure. Everyone likes a last-ride story, right?

I take those old sessions to heart. What might have been cool and what moments might have caused groans. Either way, I continue to sift through my memories to see if there is more buried treasure somewhere in there.

I’d like to think there are tons.

 

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Is It Enough?

When is enough, enough?

I’m in the process of doing an edit on my current novel: S.O.U.L. Mate and am approaching the finish line with it. Well, relatively speaking, I have about 25% of the book left to edit. And once that’s done I’ll have all the notes from my Alpha reader (Courtney) to address certain deficiencies with the current draft.

This book has been a little different than my other books in not only the subject and the style (first person is something I’ve only played around with in some of my short stories). It is also one that I went through a bit of writer’s block to the point that I set it aside and actually wrote an entirely different book before finally coming back to it early this year.

It is still a little incomplete if I’m being honest.

You see, I had a rough outline for the book. I’ve tried the write by the seat of your pants way and I’ve tried outlines, and outlines work better for me. It provides a bit of a roadmap, but it doesn’t tell me every stop along the way. It makes sure I reach my final destination but also doesn’t limit what exits I might take. It- you know, I think you get it.

But even with the outline, there were things missing. And I actually mean “things”. A very vague and non-specific amount of things. To the point that I had to tell Courtney, I knew things were missing from the draft, but I had no idea what they might actually be. So I asked her, begged really, to tell me what was missing. Where had I ignored something that she expected to read about within the book? Had I neglected any characters (yes, it turns out, I really had). Was there moments we needed to see (absolutely missed a couple of perfect moments that I’ll need to go back and finish up or add a new section/chapter).

The weird thing is thinking about what needs to be added when normally at this point in the process my job is to trim things. It is to make the prose tighter where possible. Say something in 5 words instead of using 10. That sort of thing. But this book has been different because I’m using writing muscles I don’t normally use.

I’ve been thinking about the idea of pencils down recently. It has popped up in my day job where certain reports have been edited and edited to the point where we are taking sections out in review 5 that we added back in review 3 because they no longer work. Which, to me, is an indication that we need to stop trying for perfection. Perfect is the enemy of done.

So I think about that, and then think about the editing and wonder, when is enough, enough? When will the work be ready to put out into the world? When will I be ready to have it out there?

And then I also think about the idea that nothing is ever really finished.

Or maybe the thing is finished when I have put all my best efforts into it?

Or maybe it’s finished when the missing pieces are all filled in. If writing a book is like a puzzle, I only need to find the missing parts and then add them into all the blank areas, right?

So, I’m not there yet with this one. I still have a little ways to go, but it is getting closer with every chapter I print out, with every word I change or cut or add or tweak, and it is slowly becoming the end thing I’ve been trying to get out of my brain and onto the computer.

Soon.

Well, soonish.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

 

Free Short – Til the Last Candle Flickers

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.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Free Chapter – Hollow Empire – Cassidy

If you enjoy this sample chapter, you can get the full Season 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 writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Repost – Forget Me Not

I wrote this blog during the very first year of doing blogs, and it hit upon me as I was looking over it that I was just getting into the book that was released last year: The Echo Effect. This idea of how memories may mean different things for different people, and how we are all just made up of our own memories.

Normally when I’m writing something, there is a piece of me in there I’m trying to get a handle on. Or there is some need to write a type of story because it is the type of thing I would want to read. I’m not sure if The Echo Effect helped me get a handle on something specific, but it did help scratch that itch of Time Travel and Groundhog Day storytelling. Of course, having written about it once only means that I now have a half-dozen more ideas in similar veins.

***

People seem to ask writers one common question: “Where do your ideas come from?”

writing-letter

And while I’m still in my early writing career it is a very easy question for me to answer. It comes from answering what drives me as a person.

I’m obsessed with perception, memory, how time can distort both things, and what that means for a person (I am obsessed with other subjects as well: Time Travel, the future, alternate timelines, the supernatural, but I digress).

One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is how my own memory contorts and changes as I get further and further from an event. Now, I assume that for most people this is the case. Especially if it is not the most important of events it is very easily forgotten (though I seem to retain the most useless of knowledge, a gift from my Father I think). Perhaps it remains in some recess of our minds, waiting for a trigger to allow it to rush back to the surface of our mind, but mostly I think our brain just deletes that old, unused data. Kinda like my wife’s pack rat solution she (attempts to) employs upon me. “If you haven’t touched it in 6 months, then you can throw it out.”

Here’s the problem, there are moments in my own life that I have a different memory than those of my friends and family. Sometimes they have been instants where I wish it had been me there because the person feels like we’ve shared this moment and are closer because of it. So I typically go along with it, hoping that at some point it does loosen the old memory and then… but it doesn’t happen.

I can never figure out if it is a ME problem or a THEM problem.

And unless there is audio or video recordings of the event, who is to say that they are right or wrong about these things. If someone tells a story that features you in it, you have already bent in their minds to fit their version of events. Given enough time and enough retelling of that story, why wouldn’t you suddenly adopt it as a part of your own narrative? At what point would you no longer be able to know your own truths compared to those of the story-tellers around you?

Is it gaps in my memory or is he just remembering the event wrong? What do I not understand about my own self? Which is the better outcome for the both of us?

In the mouth of madness

One of my favorite horror movies of all time is In The Mouth of Madness (really, ask my friends Lee and Egg about watching this movie late on a Sunday night and Egg refusing to drive home to north Georgia because of the “guy on the bike”) (I also did not go home that night – dude on the bike is waaay creepy).

For those that don’t know, aside from being a John Carpenter flick (he of The Thing and Halloween to name only 2 classics), the main reason I love this movie, though, is that it postulates a very important question: If the majority of the world suddenly went mad, what would that mean for those of us who still had our sanity? Or, to put it another way, if reality is only this thing that we all have agreed upon, and then a large group no longer shares our same perspective… what happens then? When the inmates run the asylum, then are the remainder of us really the insane ones?

So does that mean that my reality is shaped by others because they remember things about me that I don’t? Should I take in their ideas of me and… and… what? What would I do with them?

These kind of thoughts keep me up at night, furiously typing away on the keyboard, trying to make some sense of my own world through the creation of new ones. Worlds populated with people that I can create and mold. Maybe through them I can try and work some of my own angst about this concept so that perhaps, somehow, I can find a small amount of solace in my own reflection of reality.

winter-reflection-mirror

So yeah, that’s where I get my ideas from, rantings and ravings from the inmates within my own brain.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

The Ideas Are All Around Us

Something I hear from time to time is this weird idea that writers get ticked off when someone asks them what they do and when they respond “I’m a writer” the other person says “I’ve always wanted to do that.” And then they make a similar statement about doing surgery or flying a plane or whatever. The point of the cartoon or meme is supposed to prove that writing isn’t just something you can decide to do one day. That it is a difficult thing and the people shouldn’t demean them by assuming their job is something just anyone can do.

And there is a lot there I can understand, and I can agree with.

However…

Here’s the thing…

If you want to be a writer or a pilot or a surgeon the secret is that you can certainly do it. If you make the decision tomorrow to change your path in life, you have that power. We all have that power. In fact, I think the thing that holds most people back isn’t the act of trying to be a writer (for example). It is actually extremely simple to be a writer. You simply have to sit down and write. That’s the big secret. You just have to decide to do it.

But the thing that stops people is the Fear. The Fear that whatever they write won’t be good enough. That they won’t be able to finish their great American Novel. That they will run out of ideas. That it will be a terrible read. That they’ll be laughed at and told that they don’t have the talent for it.

The second secret is that EVERY SINGLE WRITER FEELS THIS WAY. And every artist feels this way. That Imposter Syndrome is a very real thing.

So what separates those that “could be a writer” and those who are writers?

Discipline? Passion? Drive? Time? Life? Talent?

Yes to all of those things, but Fear is what ties it all together.

When you are working late at night or early in the morning or on the bus or train or in your car or wherever your writing takes place, it is you against the blank page. It means that sometimes you are going to sit down and the words just don’t flow. Or they flow but it all comes out terrible. Or it comes out alright but then you realize you’ve put it in the wrong tense. Or you’ve used too many descriptions or you haven’t used enough.

And so on and so on.

But you have to tell yourself its ok.

There have been all manner of times when I am editing something I’ve written and get disgusted at the style. It makes me sad to see certain words repeated over and over like a crutch. “This guy can’t even write” types of thoughts roll through my brain.

And yet… and yet there are also those times where the words I reread shock me a little bit. A turn of phrase here or a description there or a playful bit of dialogue… all of those things can make me perk up. They are little proofs that while I’m still learning every day (hopefully) that occasionally it all connects exactly the way I want. It is in those moments that I really do feel like a writer.

But it doesn’t mean that the random person who has always thought about doing it is wrong to think that way. Because there was a time when you didn’t know anything about how to do it. You had so many started and stopped pieces on your harddrive or in a notebook. At some point it became a passion, and you learned. And you practiced. And you got better.

I read something a long time ago which said that every story has already been written. So most of the time you’re not breaking new ground. However, YOU have never written that story before. The world may need to read YOUR version.

So keep at it. It’ll come together.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Free Chapter – Hollow Empire – Vadim

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 writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

New Interview Up At MS Wordsmith!

I’ve obviously done my fair share of interviews on this site, but it’s always a bit crazy to find myself being interviewed by someone else. I never know if I’m saying enough or not enough or if the interviewee is going to need to take a hacksaw to whatever my answers are just to get it into a form that someone might be able to not only read but perhaps even glean some information about me.

Then of course there is always the whole “imposter syndrome” bit. Why would anyone bother wanting to interview me followed quickly by why would anyone ever want to read such an interview? I have to remind myself that little voice in the back of my head doesn’t always know what the hell it is talking about (maybe). I have to tell myself that you want to have people read these because then they might actually learn about your books.

So I want to thank Mariëlle Smith over at M.S. Wordsmith for taking the time to talk to me and ask me questions about some of my books and my writing process. I truly appreciate it.

You can find the interview here!!

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Chapter Preview – The Echo Effect

In the world before, Aaron Anders had a different life with a different family…

Until the White Light washed them away.

A select few know the truth about our world: every time the calendar approached the year 2025, the world resets and creates a new Earth, with a new history for each of us. The Awakened remember their previous lives, and throughout history, many of them have done their best to ensure that the world proceeds on a particular path.

The lucky few.

Aaron didn’t feel lucky. Trapped in this loop, forced to live again and again in half-remembered lives, his current reality was spiraling out of control. His wife and his best friend thought he was losing his mind, and the worst part was they might be right. Another existence filled his head, mixing false memories with his real ones until he wasn’t sure of the truth.

And the only one who seemed to know anything was a stranger convinced “They” were after both of them.

The Echo Effect is currently on Amazon.

 

Please enjoy the following preview chapter of

THE ECHO EFFECT

CHAPTER ONE

 

The shadow of Olympus Mons stretched beyond Lieutenant Aaron Anders’s sight. Its false darkness obscured the Martian soil beneath him, the rocks underneath his boots clicking and scattering while he surveyed the latest outcropping.

Identified to offer the easiest access to older samples, this area held many promising models. Coming to the end of a long day of collecting, he went to wipe away the trickles of sweat inside his pressurized suit. His hand tapped on the glass of his solar visor, and he shook his head at the wasted motion.

The helmet’s light illuminated an odd shape in the formation to his left. Of course, these rocks should be odd and alien to him, the result of millions of years of wind and sand having taken their toll. But while wind abrasion could provide some strange results, this was something else.

He ran his hand over the area, surprised by its smooth definition.

The crackle of static followed by a familiar female’s voice jarred his daydreaming. “Lieutenant Anders, what’s your status?”

Aaron paused in his excavation, pressing the radio control on his suit.

“Captain Reyes, location’s approximately a kilometer from the ARES site. Currently collecting the last of the Zone C samples near the southern base of the mountain. Found some curious formations.”

He continued to work on the flat area in front of him, bringing out one of his brushes to sweep away the dust and sand. The more he worked on it, the more curious he was to see if anything interesting lay beneath.

The radio popped again.

“Go ahead and make your final measurements, then return to the ship.”

A short pause and before he could confirm the order, she spoke up again. “You should make note that in two hours, we’re going to be ringing in the New Year with all the formality of an Earth gathering.”

“Sir, you do realize that we’re still the better part of a week away from that particular day? Unless I have my calendar dates wrong.”

“Understood, but the brass back on Earth wants to pretty us up with the help of a few of their Hollywood friends. They’re talking music to try and make people cry with a great edit. And really, who are we to deny them that privilege? Therefore, they want a little lead time on this. We can all look forward to seeing it for years to come. Regardless, if you don’t hurry up and get back to the ship, all the pretty girls will be taken for the midnight kissing, leaving you all alone on fake New Year’s Eve.”

Aaron paused. Was that an invitation? Not a question he was going broach.

“Copy. I’ll make this one my last.”

As the years of dirt began to clear off, his suit’s trail of light glinted off a piece of the rock. A brush revealed not stone, but what appeared to be metal.

Metal.

Not ore—but processed.

That fact alone sent a surge through him, his brain overloaded with conflicting thoughts. At each new pass with the brush, he managed restraint, careful not to damage this find. Aaron kept a delicate hand with whatever it was he uncovered, even if it wasn’t possible it existed in the first place.

Searching for an edge, he began fingering the metal’s uncovered grooves. His gloved hand traced around the object, and then the brush slipped from his grasp and he stumbled backward. Aaron closed his eyes hard as if being so close to the item tainted his vision.

Yet the piece, its grooves and edges now revealed, remained. His light continued to shine off the metal. No, not just metal, something more than that.

It was a plaque.

A metal plaque mounted on the side of the Martian mountain, with indentations that ran across its face, forming letters and words. Those very letters and words he recognized as English, even when his mind assured him that it could not be. It was dehydration. It was exhaustion. His brain attempted to make sense of it. Even explaining a single piece would be enough to ground him.

It could not exist, and yet…

There it was.

No matter how many times he blinked in hopes it would disappear.

There it was.

 

KENNEDY SPACE CLASS OF 1979

FIRST STUDENT CLASS TO VISIT OLYMPUS MONS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

 

He recoiled and almost toppled over, stabilizing in a half-sitting, half-crouch position. It was as if electricity leapt from the plaque onto his fingers. From this position, his eyes strained to read the message again.

It was beyond impossible. And then his insanity deepened.

“Base, this is Lieutenant Darlington. I have…”

Darlington’s voice cut out. Captain Reyes’ voice broke through the silence. “Lieutenant Darlington repeat that last statement. We were unable to read you.”

There was a moment before Darlington made his reply. “Sir… I’m not entirely sure what I have here.”

Base crackled through. “Lieutenant, what is your current position?”

“I’m in Zone D… at another landing site.”

“Say again, Lieutenant? We’re not sure we understood your last message. Something has happened at your site?”

“Negative, Base. We have found another landing site. I repeat. We have located an additional landing site.”

Aaron froze in place. Minutes before, he’d questioned his eyesight—and now, he worried about his hearing. None of this was possible. Surely, NASA would have let them know if someone else beat the United States to Mars. On the other hand, perhaps this was the reason they assigned their landing to this planetary point.

He needed more than just his eyes for proof and brought out his camera. Taking a myriad of pictures of the plaque, Aaron made sure to note his exact location and began uploading them to the ship’s computer. Once the last picture was complete, only then did he move out to the other landing site.

***

 

Their momentous landing had taken place only days earlier, the world watching them speed across the vastness of space. They’d called them otherworldly celebrities, but Aaron didn’t know anything about that. What little information they’d received from NASA concerned itself more with the instrument readings.

While “third man to walk on the red planet” hadn’t provided the ring the word first conveyed, the moment he’d first stood on the alien world’s surface had left him speechless.

In those seconds, he had found the order of descent no longer mattered to him.

Reaching the perimeter of designated Zone D, he’d spotted five members of the ARES crew. While it was possible the plaque was an elaborate hoax or even a sign of dehydration, this was neither. Its existence meant that now, six people were seeing something that should not exist. Therefore, it was either fact or some sort of crew-wide space madness. Neither thought reassured him.

The scientific side of his brain began to compartmentalize the sights before him. It was clear as he watched the sun’s movement across the sky that it was the area’s proximity to the Mons that concealed this position upon their initial approach. It was more surprising Darlington found it at all, as the years had not been kind.

The lander base lay buried under shifting sands. A large transmission antenna jutted out of the ground, but otherwise, there was very little visible. Random pieces peeked out from their tomb. Had the late afternoon sunlight not glinted off the lander base, it would have stayed hidden. The site itself felt much like the original moon landing must have seemed to conspiracy theorists: a hoax or a galactic trick.

With Aaron moving down the slight incline to join the ARES crew, he could imagine the looks underneath their helmets. Stumbling a bit on his descent, it was everything he could do not to scream. Their brains must have been doing the same level of gymnastics, attempting to process the information slapping them in the face, and endeavoring to reconcile their previous shattered reality with a new one.

Most shuffled about the area as if unsure of what their duty should be in light of this illumination. Ensign Janic stood like a statue, afraid to interact with the zone, almost as if touching it would break the last barrier to this new reality. Something he wanted to avoid for as long as possible.

Captain Reyes took a different approach. Her hands traced along the bits of the lander base. A piece flecked off, and she stooped to pick up the debris, holding it up to the sun’s fading light. Delicately, she rolled it in her hands.

Beside her, Aaron reached out to touch the antenna and found it to be as solid and genuine as anything else on the planet. Yet his mind screamed at the impossibility of it all.

“Theories, anyone?” Captain Reyes’s voice jarred Aaron from his nightmarish thoughts.

Silence greeted the Captain. The rest of the crew looked to each other, waiting for someone to offer a solution.

“Nothing? Surely someone has a theory?”

“Is it possible that this is just… uh, leftovers from one of the Martian Landers missions back in the nineties?” Ensign Janic’s voice had no confidence behind it.

Another voice chimed in. “How long has this been here, you think?”

Aaron knew part of that answer and could thank the plaque.

“1979. Nearly forty years.”

All five turned and stared at him through their sun visors. Captain Reyes asked the question for them. “And how do you know that?”

“I found an… oddity… as I gathered rock samples. Something that didn’t make any sense to me at all until I heard Lieutenant Darlington’s communication. A metal plaque… a marker proclaiming that some kind of class trip made it to Mars. Apparently, it was the first class to visit Olympus Mons.”

“I’m sorry, Anders. You say you found a plaque? Are you sure?”

Aaron pointed around them at the half-buried site. “I am as sure about seeing the plaque as all of you are about seeing all of this.”

The Captain failed to deliver any kind of answer to that thought, and everyone else remained stunned. After a good minute of silence, she began pointing at the five of them and at the site around them.

“Alright, we document this as best we can in the next hour. Our orders have been to avoid venturing out in the Martian night. The sun’s going down, and I don’t want anyone outside after that. Regardless of whatever all of this is, it’s been here for some time, so I think we can safely assume it isn’t going anywhere in the next twenty-four hours. Take as many pictures as you can and upload them to the ship’s computer so we can get the big brains back on Earth to start analyzing it, figuring out exactly what we have on our hands here.”

No one moved.

“Did you not hear me? Double time, people! Move!”

 

***

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

As they huddled around the radio and awaited Earth’s response to the strangeness, Ensign Janic noticed the time. A jittery young man, his dark hair pressed and matted against a head stuck with sweat. His body rocked in a constant rhythm, leg bouncing from excess energy. A contagious sort of nervousness enveloped him.

“Do you realize we’re two minutes from the planned New Year celebration? Or what would have been two minutes if we’d started on time. Now we’re probably a good ten minutes at least from getting to that point.”

The entire crew turned as one, glaring at him. Captain Reyes broke the awkwardness and said aloud what everyone else was thinking. Her shoulder-length jet-black hair was pulled back against her scalp by her perspiration, but it did nothing to conceal her sharp eyes. They pointed like daggers at the Ensign.

“After what we have out on the Martian landscape, you’re concerned with New Years? This is a completely new world we find ourselves living in. Whatever that is out there is far more important than staging a New Year’s bash for the sake of someone back on Earth.” She moved over closer to him, as if her proximity would make him understand. “Literally, everything we ever knew or thought we knew has been upended.”

“Mmm, sorry, Captain. It’s just…” Janic swallowed hard. “…the big balloon dropping on New Year’s Eve is the most normal, calming thing I can think of right now. And even though we’re a good ten days early, it feels like there should be something stable to focus on before everyone else’s world goes to shit.”

Her stern gaze cracked, and the shock on her face melted into a smile. She slapped the back of Janic’s head. “You are an idiot.”

Aaron could see that the moment of levity did exactly what the Captain had wanted. Everyone’s shoulders released a small measure of tension. Janic even stopped bouncing quite so fast in his chair. Aaron turned back to his station.

Increased solar flare activity had played havoc with their communications throughout the last day. NASA had warned them of as much in their preflight briefings, the head brass having debated whether it was worth it risking something going wrong with such a momentous occasion. Yet, if they’d waited for the flares to return to normal levels, they risked missing their departure window to return to Earth. Therefore, they had carried the ARES mission out. Since the initial landing a few days earlier, there had been sporadic contact with Earth. Even though it was unlikely they’d get through consistently for a few more days, the schedule served to keep everyone from freaking out at the isolation.

Their ship was as spacious as had been advisable by the suits back on Earth.

The main area was about the size of two large living rooms, while the sleeping area stood along the sides where their bunks were stacked on top of each other. Much better than anything man sent to the Moon, but a bit cramped when the entire crew was back at base and attempting to move around.

“Anders, any word from Houston?”

Aaron looked up from the radio and spun his chair around to face the crew’s leader. Always strong and in control of her surroundings, it was no surprise to anyone that they’d tasked her to lead this mission. She excelled at the physical stress tests and blew the curve in the mental challenges. Aaron thought he could sense something else behind those thoughtful looks.

“No, sir. We’re still in the dark.”

“Damn, we need to get them word of this.”

Aaron stood up to stretch and moved to near one of the portholes of the ship, taking a moment to reflect on the majesty that was the Martian sky at twilight. Like Janic, he needed to focus on anything other than what those pieces of metal meant. So instead, he concentrated on the mission itself. A short-term solution, his joy of being a part of the first manned voyage to Mars was a little dimmer than the previous evening. His brain raced with questions and possible theories for what he and the others saw.

Massive hallucination, Martian madness, or something even worse…

Still, he strained to see the bright-blue orb that resided out there. Were Samantha and Jacob looking back up at their sky through the telescope they’d bought Jacob all those months ago before Aaron boarded this ship? Today, he missed them more than on any other day so far. The separation sat on his chest even while he moved amongst the crew.

A handheld camera’s sudden appearance brought him back to reality.

Sergeant Tom Willis held onto it in a way that made it the opposite of a steady camera. With his more-and-more-mountain-man beard, he was the perfect choice for a proper director. Or at least, someone who should be behind the camera instead of in front of it, even if his technique sucked.

“Alright, Aaron, do you have anything to say to the good people back on Earth?”

Aaron forced a smile. “I thought we weren’t going to do this?”

Tom shrugged. “Janic’s an idiot, but he’s not completely wrong on this one. Plus, what else are we going to do? We can’t head back out until morning. Pending Houston sending a message, we can only speculate on what seeing that… stuff… means. Which leaves this camera. So, with all that said, Aaron Anders would you like to say anything to your family?”

“Hmm… Happy New Years to everyone back at home, especially my beautiful wife and great son, Samantha and Jacob. Dad will be home soon.”

Tom nodded and then moved on to interview the others while Aaron went back to staring out the viewport. Captain Reyes sat down next to him.

“So, on a scale of one to ten…”

Aaron did not wait for her to finish the question. “One million.”

Claudia smiled and nodded her head. “Same here.”

“You think the brass back at NASA are going to have any clue about what it is we found up here?”

Claudia began to answer and then stopped herself.

“I caught that. What?”

She leaned in close. “Odds are this information isn’t going to be something that’s ever broadcast out, even if they do figure out what the hell is going on. This is one of those things where you have to be on a need-to-know security clearance. And I’m pretty sure none of us will have that level of clearance in our immediate futures.”

Ensign Janic’s voice broke through the ship’s comm as he played the role of Dick Clark for the inhabitants of the ship.

“10.”

Aaron looked over at his Captain and smirked.

“9.”

“What?”

“I remember something about a kiss at midnight?”

“8.”

Claudia laughed. “I did say that, didn’t I? What will Samantha think?”

“7.”

“I don’t think she’ll mind all that much when I’m home.”

“Well then, pucker up.”

“6.”

“A little early, but what the hell, right?”

As their lips brushed against each other, Aaron noticed the blue star that was Earth growing a bit brighter.

“5.”

The light exploded outward. Like a ripple on the water, it grew and grew, faster and faster.

“4.”

Aaron broke the kiss. Claudia could see the fear in his eyes, but Aaron’s voice caught in his throat.

“3.”

“What is it?”

“2.”

He wanted to scream out, to warn everyone, but the light began to obscure the entire skyline.

“1.”

Then his world burned white.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

New Year’s Resolutions and the Easy Button

A new year and a chance to start over fresh. Make your resolutions on how to be a better you. I know many times this has become the moment to set forth on a new diet. Try to get some of those unwanted pounds off, get into better shape, and maybe eat a little better.

As I’m walking or avoiding the snack foods or any various desserts that may cross my path, I can’t help but wonder how technology and science have failed us. And I’m not even talking about the mystical, magical Diet Pill that actually works and just melts away the excess weight… no. I mean, there have to be some other ways for this to work out. There have to be some ways that science fiction might actually predict science and make all our resolutions thing of the past.

So here are a couple of ideas for how this might work… the Easy Button way to get into shape:

Is it impossible to create a machine that allows someone to temporarily gain control of our bodies? Whether our minds just go into a blissful state or maybe it is a true mind swap. The overweight or out of shape person swaps out of their bodies for maybe an hour a day to allow our trainers the time to whip those same bodies into shape (for a nice fee of course). Of course, an hour a day would show some level of improvement, but if you are really serious, then might I suggest our month-long vacation plan? While you get to live it up with a perfect body, our trainers will take your flabby form and put it through all sorts of exercises. These trainers are used to eating right, living right, and will do for your body what you could only dream about. In the meantime, you will be taken to a resort where for those same days you get to live the way you’ve always wanted, in a specimen of a body.

At the end of the month, you swap minds back, and now you get to have that Hollywood/movie star physique for once in your life… and if you manage to slip up, well, we can always do it again next year!

It’s a win-win!

***

Though, thinking about it, swapping minds is probably a dangerous idea since you would never be sure what someone might do with your face, your fingerprints. You’d effectively be living a different life for that time so there is no end to the trouble your body might get into. Would you need to put a freeze on your accounts? What happens if they die in your body? What happens if you die in theirs? Hmmm… this may take a little more thought.

***

Ok, what about this idea:

Matter cannot be destroyed only transferred, right? What if that was applied to all of those with a little extra weight to give? Say I could give someone a pound of my fat for a fee. It could even be set up on an official exchange where you might get paid a hundred dollars to take a pound from someone. Now you have people who are trainers, who again are used to keeping a low fat percentage and allow them to make a little more money. In fact, technically anyone could suddenly make a few extra bucks if they were willing to exercise and do the dieting for you. You pay your money, they get the weight, and your resolution is a little easier to achieve?

Image by HeungSoon from Pixabay

***

Of course, I could see that one allowing for crazy excesses. I could see people getting into debt and the only way they can pay things off is through taking the weight which would/could mess their own systems up beyond anything they might normally be able to adjust to. I mean, it’s one thing to maybe put on a few pounds in a week, maybe 5-10 pounds in a month. But what if you had to take 20-30 pounds in a matter of minutes. The shock alone…

***

Or maybe, just maybe, I could take another walk around the neighborhood…

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

Once Upon A Time…

Once upon a time, there was a guy who knew what he wanted to do but didn’t know how to go about doing it.

You see, he wanted to be a writer… and really what he wanted to be was a comic book writer. Those funny books had enticed him since he was ten years old. He would talk about ideas for comics with his friends, sometimes even writing up rough outlines for the ideas, but nothing ever came from any of them. Those dreams of youth began to fade as he entered the workforce. He was 24 years old and if it hadn’t happened by that point, then it was never going to happen.

Yet, the universe must work in strange ways because one day a friend introduced him to a fellow aspiring writer and that new friend introduced him to another and another until there was a group of six of them meeting in the back of a comic book store. Now, they didn’t think about writing comics in those first few moments. It’s not like they were literally staring at them for multiple hours every Sunday afternoon or anything (they really were). Instead, they brainstormed movie ideas and when the time came for someone to take the first stab at writing an episode of a tv show (Smallville – which I talked about here in the early days of this blog), this guy threw his hand up to write it.

And reality slammed into him. All those various bits and pieces of stories and comic ideas were little more than bits and pieces. Aside from a couple of assignments in high school, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever actually finished one of these stories before in his life. Plus, he didn’t know the first thing about writing a screenplay and barely could work his way through the software in those first hours.

Fear crept in and stayed a while. The blank page stared back at him, that blasted cursor slowly appearing and then disappearing, attempting to mock him or perhaps intimidate him further. It need not have bothered, as he was sure he’d bit off far more than he ever could have. But there were other people who were looking for the first draft, so he wrote and wrote and wrote. And when they read it, they liked it.

The days went by and he tried his hand at other pieces, other ideas. At the time they were still focused on movies or tv shows, but at some point, someone suggested doing a comic book. In an hour he wrote his story for the anthology (The God That Failed). And then when the pages came in from the artist, his mind was blown. Each one became something more and more magical. Holding the printed version of the anthology in his hands, that 10-year old yelled and cheered. For a moment, he had accomplished something.

That moment, that high, is fleeting in a way for the writer. Because there was now no excuses other than the ones he made for himself. He brainstormed other ideas that would fit into an eight-page format. He collaborated with friends on an impossibly crazy comic book series lasting 60 issues in some cases. The comic world only needed to let him get a big toe in and he’d be able to wow them.

But comics are like that. They depend on a team of people. They can be slow to happen. They can be just like Lucy with the football. The guy has a list of projects which were destined to happen over the years, yet somehow got derailed. He’d learn to temper his excitement for things because he didn’t want the lows of the disappointment each time. More and more everything felt like a “that’s great… if it happens”.

Somehow during all of this, he decided to try his hand at prose. Suddenly unemployed, he had time on his hands. Within four months he’d written the first draft of the book which would be published a few years later (The Dark That Follows). One book turned into a second (Hollow Empire). And all the while he continued working on comics (The Gilded Age) and (The Crossing). Until finally he released another book in 2020 (The Echo Effect).

***

What’s the point of the above? Is it persevere and you get everything you want? Is it hard work pays off? Is it be too stubborn to quit?

As I look forward to 2021, I have found that with every story that gets written, every novel I write, every comic which sees the daylight… I am more hungry than I was before. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a struggle for time or money or effort or finding the right people to work with. It means that there is so much more to create and develop. There are so many blank pages who mock me that I must populate them with strings of words until they beg for that same mercy and find me lacking any.

What’s the point? The point it is time to begin the next story, the next comic, the next idea…

It’s the only way to go forward.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Chat and Spin – Radio Interview

I never know what it is I’m doing in this whole marketing of oneself. It is a labyrinth of trying various things that mostly seem not to entirely work. Or you half fall into an opportunity and it works out better than you could have thought. Which, I guess, means that you must keep yourself open to any and all opportunities as they come along… without knowing where they may or may not lead.

As it so happens, I had the opportunity present itself this past Friday night via the good folks over at Chat and Spin Radio. From their website:

“We are a 24 hour, not for profit Internet radio station broadcasting over 7 years, covering the UK National & International audience. Giving you MORE MUSIC and MORE VARIETY. 

We Broadcast National, throughout the UK & Internationally to many listeners per week. We interview Book Authors / Bands / Singers / Charities / Businesses / Groups. If you would like FREE PUBLICITY and to come on our station for an interview, then please contact us for more information.”

I found out about them through a somewhat random posting in one of the many Facebook groups I’m a part of where they said they were looking for authors to interview, an email back and forth, and before I knew it I was scheduled for last Friday.

Prior to the actual live interview, they had me come on via Skype and I chatted with Ron Clark (Station Owner). He walked me through the interview and basically prescreened the questions on me, which I believe helped as once we actually got on air, I felt pretty comfortable in doing it. Afterward, I spoke a bit more with both Ron and Ian Johnson (co-owner and advertising manager). And potentially, I should be able to get back on for another interview sometime in January.

So while I don’t know what will come out of the chat, I am grateful for any and all opportunities that may come my way.

***

If you’d like to take a listen to the interview, it’s about 6 or 7 minutes beginning around the 47-minute mark at the following link: Chat and Spin

***

And if you are an author, artist, or any other type of creative, reach out to the guys over at Chat and Spin for a potential interview yourself!

***

John McGuire is writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

Free Short Story – And I Feel Fine

In honor of everyone’s favorite month of scares and strange… and only a couple of days late, I present:

 

 

* * *

And I Feel Fine

 John McGuire

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 11, 2019.

 

Huh… I guess the Mayans were right after all.

That was my first thought when the end times came. You might have expected screams or crying or begging… basically any of the five stages of grief. But no, that’s not how I work. I’m too worried about ancient prophecies coming true rather than the immediate need to extract myself from the situation.

Typical.

Oh, sorry. I should probably be a little more official in how I do this. I mean, I activated this recorder for a reason right? My grandmother always said that when you cut corners you only hurt yourself. Or was it when you skip steps you bounce… no, that’s not it either. Damn, can’t remember. I guess it doesn’t much matter.

Still, always better to be official.

 

End log.

 

 

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 12, 2019.

 

Seven years after the big one. Though, you might say that’s a bit of a misnomer. Really, I should say seven years after the first one. That would be much more accurate.

So why am I so calm?

It’s a question I ask myself all the time, honestly. I should be a screaming mess, running around, panicking… or whatever it is a person is supposed to be doing. This, if you think about it, is the strangest thing you could possibly even think. I’m saying I should act normal… when the world hasn’t acted normal in quite some time.

Either way, once you lived through a dozen or so cataclysmic events in your lifetime, what’s the difference? Wait, what am I saying? You probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

I guess.

I mean, I’m not yawning about it, but if it is my time… well, what the hell am I supposed to do about it?

I remember that first morning after it happened. Heaps of clothes on the ground, cell phones lying on top of the piles, drinks and food once being enjoyed now serving only the scavengers and ants. News spread fast, and all over the world it was the same scenario. People had just up and disappeared.

Nothing brings out some religious nuts like a good mystery so we heard lots of claims about how God had finally had enough with us screwing up the Earth. That he had taken his faithful up to Heaven and abandoned the sinners.

Maybe that was what happened. The rest of us poor schmucks biding our time until the absolute end.

I always thought it strange that things got back to normal so quickly after that. Don’t get me wrong, there were still tons of things we had to deal with. Family members lost and gone and all of that. But it was a shared grief. Everyone knew at least one person who disappeared…

It bound us together.

And when you think about it, percentage wise, there weren’t a lot of people taken. Then you had that scientist make the claim that it was spontaneous combustion. Had all sorts of charts and graphs to back up his theories. Like anything else, you can get scientists to say anything if you pay them enough. And I gotta believe the governments of the world didn’t need some kind of religious fervor let loose… hence the combustion theory. I didn’t buy it, but it seemed to calm a lot of people down.

People just want to believe.

I was never a big one on the Bible, but I have wondered, how many people survived the flood? I remember that he brought two of every animal, but he also brought his family.

Is that right?

Well, it couldn’t have been all that many. We may be getting down to that number here shortly. Assuming we haven’t already reached it.

To be honest, I’m not even sure who this message is for. For all I know the amount of humans left in the world could be down to a few dozen. And I think that I read somewhere that you’d need a minimum number of potential breeders to be able to restart the human race. Something about genetics and inbreeding.

What really sucks… ok, what really sucks more is that you know it is coming, but there is nothing you can possibly do to stop it.

And folks thought Global Warming was bad. Oh no, we’ll be dead in hundreds of years.

I’d kill for Global Warming. I could do it in my sleep.

 

End log.

 

 

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 13, 2019.

 

It was a zombie uprising last year, and I have to say, putting down Johnny in front of his mother may have been one of the least happy days I’ve ever had. Man, did that woman have a set of pipes on her. My ears still ring sometimes when I’m getting ready to go to sleep. For most people they get the ear ringing from loud music, me, I get it from the unholy screams of a woman whose son you just killed.

For a second time.

Whoever is out there listening to me blather on about all sorts of horrible things… I just want to say that I don’t mean to be so callous. I really don’t. Mostly I blame others and that seems to get me through the days.

Dreams of alcohol get me through the nights.

The thing they don’t teach you in school is how to be all right with it all. We study history, but what is history? Just a series of horrible events, and then we answer questions about dates. But, we never learn what it really means. Those people who died in the Black Plague, we know the numbers, but what about the survivors? When they thought the world was ending, did a bunch just take a knife to their throats and end it all? Those that didn’t, how did they find the internal stamina to keep going on?

This is the stuff that keeps me awake at night.

I need a drink.

 

End log.

 

 

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 14, 2019.

 

The worst part is the waiting.

Or maybe the worst part is the loneliness?

I mean you really can’t trust anyone these days. I get a knock on the door, hoping it is the pizza delivery order I put in a decade ago. Maybe the guy just got lost? But no, it’s some random scavengers.

Oh, they tell you they’re nice, but sure enough, it is just more of the same crap. They’re trying to take your stuff, or they want to infect you, or whatever.

Hey! It’s not as if it’s my fault Dad was a nutbag who not only stocked his shelter, but had a shelter to begin with. What did you expect? They had to have bomb drills when he was in elementary school. Duck and cover or some such shit. Like any of that would save you from the mushroom cloud shape filling up the horizon. But it was something for them to do, and I have to think doing something is better than doing nothing. My grandfather raised him with plenty of stories about the Soviets, which would be enough to make any kid a little nuts.

So he went out of his way to ensure that this place, this bunker, was full of everything you would need to survive whatever came. Food stores, a way to replenish the water supply through extra deep wells, exercise equipment, all sorts of entertainment, and just about anything else you could think of. He didn’t know if he would need to be down there for a year or ten, so he prepared.

I want you to know something; I did my best to save everyone I could. I invited the good ones in, and I invited the bad ones in.

No matter what, I learned that people end up as bad ones most of the time.

Except for Ian.

 

End log.

 

 

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 15, 2019.

 

You know I am making up these dates, right? I have no way of knowing what the real date is. This camera says May 15, 2019 on the little display, but how do I know it hasn’t been reset or rebooted? There aren’t any new patches to update the damn thing, that’s for sure.

They say that in a nuclear Armageddon the only survivors would be cockroaches. I think that statement is wrong and sells us short. The real answer is always cockroaches and humans will find a way to survive. Though I suppose, at this point, humans are effectively cockroaches.

So maybe the original statement works.

 

End log.

 

 

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 18, 2019.

 

I buried Ian six days ago.

One week. That’s how long it has been. One week. I don’t know how to go on.

My constant, my love. My…

I’m sorry, I can’t… not today.

 

End log.

 

 

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 19, 2019.

 

This must be cabin fever kicking in. Heh. I’m actually surprised that it took this long.

Ok.

Let’s try this again.

Deep breath.

I buried Ian eight days ago.

I don’t know what I’m doing here anymore.

This was not how it was supposed to be. My family had the shelter since back during the Cold War when everyone either had a bomb shelter or hoped those old videos about crouching under a desk were going to be enough.

They should have called those old things ‘Better get ready to kiss your ass goodbye!’

It was a lark, a goof. We used it as a teenaged clubhouse.

Back when I was nine one of the houses in the neighborhood went on sale and somehow, one of the teenagers managed to get in the locked house. And then he told a friend, who told their brother, who told me, and soon enough we had a fully functioning house to hang out in. It was the perfect place to just get away from everyone else.

You know, just how every little kid needs their own house to really reflect on the rigors of elementary school.

Anyway.

It made us think we were older than we really were. And yeah, the older guys hated that us youngsters where always there, but they couldn’t kick us out because then we would have told on them and poof the whole thing would have been gone.

Mutually assured destruction.

Of course, no matter what there is always some dumbass in the neighborhood. Some kid or pair of kids who think they know better or think they are cooler than they really are. Yeah, we had those kids in our neighborhood. We had those two idiots. You want to know what they did?

They were playing in the house without anyone there. No supervision whatsoever. These two first graders who decided they were above it all.

Yeah, mistake number one. Not like they murdered someone. Very forgivable.

But then the dumbasses made sure that whatever it was they were doing in the house occurred in full view of the front kitchen window. Suddenly every person out for a walk in the neighborhood could look in as they passed the For Sale house and see one the neighborhood kids in the window.

You can guess how that turned out. Locks were changed, windows sealed up, and the clubhouse became a distant memory.

But it was a fun two months.

That’s what the bomb shelter was supposed to be. I mean, sure we were teenagers and no one knew we were going to be down there… uhm… mixing it up.

We’ll I don’t want to get graphic about it. A lady never talks.

So yeah, that’s why we’re down here when the shit went down the first time. When things went sideways…

All five of us.

Wait. Stop.

It just occurred to me, every one of those horror movies begin with the five teenagers and then one by one they end up dying or getting killed or…

Having to kill one of their own.

Yeah, life can be funny. But mostly it has a really sick sense of humor.

 

End log.

 

 

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 20, 2019.

 

Jimmy and his mom arrived in those early days. This was after the people disappeared, of course. This was just the next thing.

We were too scared to venture out. Too scared about what the broadcasters were saying. Then one by one, they disappeared from our screens. But we had the internet to tell us about the chaos. And it told us more than we wanted to know. It told us about the fallout in Russia, that New York had sunk into the ocean, the fact that one of the missiles diverted to the North Pole… the heat from the bomb caused glaciers to melt. The ocean rose…

We’d sent out emails, to family, to friends, trying to let them know we were somewhere safe. I wanted to go get my dad, but he told me not to bother. Both he and Mom worked downtown, and the city had taken the worst of it. Still, he thought there were a couple of places where they’d be safe enough. Maybe even make it to us if things got any better.

So I stayed put.

But Jimmy and his mother came because of the emails. And it was good. Ian and him had lived across the street from each other since they were five, but I think his mom never liked Ian. And when you start to get that cabin fever after a couple of months. When the fear kicks in and every moment of every day is full of worry.

Well, that’s when those little whispers begin to get the best of you.

 

End log.

 

 

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 21, 2019.

 

It was Jimmy’s mom who let the new guy in. He’d begun pounding on the door and would not stop. She screamed at him to go away, and when he didn’t move she opened the hatch and let the bastard in.

Yeah, it only takes one idiot to ruin it for everyone else.

He wasn’t right in the head. The radiation or the solar winds or whatever it was that week swept across the nation and gotten its hooks into him. He’d turned like most people do when they have nothing left to live for. He’d become a creature even if he wasn’t actually infected with anything. Whatever it was, it was enough.

Somehow, Jimmy stepped in the way, got bit. Infected. The disease transmitted itself to him.

If it is any conciliation, and I’m not one hundred percent sure there is, he did it to save his mom.

Ian put them both down. Because even if Jimmy tried to save his mom, she still got the sickness too.

We burned the bodies in the incinerator, and then hoped that we weren’t infected too.

 

End log.

 

 

 

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 22, 2019.

 

Someone decided we needed to go out. I’m not naming names, but it was Rick.

Have I mentioned Rick up to this point? Sorry. Rick was the fifth member of our little group. The odd man out. The one who secretly hoped he could use the friend zone as his way in with Kelly or me if we broke up with Daniel or Ian.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Rick. Just not in that way. He used to spend the night at my house. Heck, he spent more time at my house than he did at his own most days. Not that I blame him. His parents were real pieces of work. His dad was constantly on his case about college and his grades. Never mind he had the highest grades in the school twice over. I remember asking him how far ahead of the second place person he was, and he told me that he could have skipped his last semester of senior year, gotten zeroes in every class and still been our school’s valedictorian.

So, pretty smart.

But it can be a bit lonely in this place, as I am beginning to find out. And now I feel bad for Rick. At least we had someone to cuddle with at night. Someone who we loved was right there with us. That personal connection is a huge thing when you are not sure what tomorrow is going to end up bringing to you.

Cabin fever though, it’s a real thing. I was beginning to wonder if it was the last stage of the Earth trying to kill us.

Rick wanted to go out. To see if he could find any survivors. To see if anything of the old world still remained. Maybe it was the cabin fever. Maybe it was that he needed to know what happened outside our four walls. Mostly I think that he needed to either find someone for himself or die trying.

I begged him to stay put. We all told him that there was nothing left for any of us. That the world out there was the past and we just needed to deal. But he wasn’t listening anymore. He waited until we were asleep and left.

I…

God…

Sorry, I don’t mean to break down on you like this. I’m supposed to be giving an account, but I never realized how much I would miss him. It’s been three years since he walked out the door. I really do hope he found someone else out there. That he is with the love of his life doing all sorts of naughty things that you are supposed to do when the world ends.

That’s what I hope for him.

 

End log.

 

 

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 23, 2019.

 

Kelly and Daniel. I wanted to say a little bit about them, but I’m not entirely sure how to frame it. They were Ian and my friends.

Well our couple friends.

You know the kind that you can do everything together and not get bored. But you never are on your own with one of them. Ian called it playing two on two defense. That’s the only way it could work. Otherwise, it becomes one of them bitching about the other, and you’re stuck in the middle.

I mean, how many times can you tell me about some horrible slight Daniel has done to you and me telling you to break up with him and you not doing it has to happen before I stop hanging out with you altogether?

We had reached that point before the world went to shit. And after two years’ worth of it, the whole time Kelly wanted out of the relationship. I mean, you’re stuck with this guy you now hate. You could see it with the two of them after about six months. They no longer cuddled at night. Soon he was sleeping on one side of the bunker and her on the other.

I thought that might be the opening for Rick to make his move out of the friend zone, but it wasn’t. Thought Daniel might have killed him if he had tried, so I didn’t push it.

But when it was just the four of us… it got to be too much.

I wish I knew when it really turned. What was the last step that pushed them over the edge? Was it this idea of their not being anyone else out there for them? Was it Ian and me, still happy, not sharing in their misery?

I wish I knew. I might have been able to stop what had happened.

 

End log.

 

 

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 28, 2019.

 

I awoke to Kelly standing over Daniel with the knife in her hand. He was gurgling on his own blood, and she had the spray all over the front of her shirt. Her eyes were glazed over, like someone who couldn’t see anything anymore.

And that smile…

Her smile.

I sometimes see it when I dream.

Ian did his best to approach her. He talked to her in that calming voice he has. A voice that would say everything was going to be all right if only she would give him the knife.

For a second, maybe not even that long, I saw something in her eyes. The glaze melted away, and she saw the knife, and she saw Daniel, and the smile didn’t leave her face.

Madness.

I don’t blame Ian for what he did. She went at me with the knife, and he stopped her. He stopped her the only way he knew how.

When it was finished, we clutched each other, just the two of us in this place.

I don’t know what terrified me more… Kelly’s actions or Ian and I being there by ourselves.

 

End log.

 

 

Begin log. Sarah Knotts. May 29, 2019.

 

I’m at the end of things now.

The food has nearly run out. It was a good run. I can’t complain about that. Ian really did me right on that accord. Almost makes me…

No, I told myself that I would be strong about this. I’ve collected every spare bit of whatever I have around here. I don’t know if I’ll need it. Maybe the problem with being a pack rat is that even now, of all times, I can’t let the old shit go. My bags are packed. I’m ready to step outside, for whatever that is worth. I may not last five minutes out there. There’s actually no way to know what a person might encounter out there. It literally could be anything.

Anything.

That’s a difficult thing to prepare for. What was it last year? It all runs together these days. Plague I think. Some unknown horror left behind by the CDC or some terrorist organization?

It makes a girl wonder if maybe the Earth is trying to tell us something. Dad had an old stereo, which actually could play albums. Yes, even long after the days of cds and then mp3s he loved that thing. More than that, he’d go out and get these great comedy records.

Pryor, Murphy, and Carlin.

George Carlin had a whole routine about maybe the Earth invented AIDS in order to wipe the humans out. Now, I’m pretty sure he was joking with that one, being a comedian and all. Then again, when you have one extinction level event and you survive… maybe he was onto something. Maybe, just maybe, the world is tired of us and now wants to weed out the undeserving.

So what do you call it when you’ve survived five of them?

The air may be on fire out there. There could be an asteroid streaking towards us right now, and I wouldn’t know. I’d be stuck in this fucking box, staring at the empty shelves, dingy furniture mocking me from the corner, the entire world would incinerate, and you know what…

I’d probably survive that as well.

Only the strongest survive? I got news for you; I’m not all that strong.

Or maybe I don’t care about surviving anymore.

 

End log.

 

***

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

***

John McGuire is writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com