Water Under our Bridge

The year is 1992.

It’s raining now, just like I hoped.

In the heart of July, an afternoon that would otherwise be insufferably hot finds itself laid low by an unseasonably cool wind. The storms roll in from the north, dumping rain into the woods behind my tiny house.

Summer vacation. Can’t beat it.

As I stride between the maples and swaying pines, I know I’m living a different life than other sixteen-year olds. Most kids who attend Parkview High come from wealthy families, and are off vacationing at faraway beaches, mountain retreats, and golf resorts.

I don’t know anything about those places.

I’m right where I belong.

By the time Liam shows up, I’m thoroughly soaked. We hardly greet each other – just a shared grunt and a nod. We decide the day is too wet to enjoy our usual pastime of cul-de-sac Koosh ball, but far too perfect to flee inside and play video games.

“What should we do?” I ask Liam.

“Wanna play rain volleyball?” he says.

“Nah.”

“Wanna see if Tessa’s home? I know you like her, but she doesn’t know, so it’s—”

“Nah.”

“Ok.” He says with his hands on his hips. Liam’s a year younger than me, but at least four inches taller. He’d be imposing if he weren’t so skinny. “You got any other ideas?”

“Yeah,” I say. “See the creek over there?”

“Yeah.” He glances toward the narrow waterway trickling beneath a nearby bridge.

“Let’s dam it up,” I say.

He’s all in.

It begins. Without reservation, Liam and I descend to the creek. It’s a pitiful little thing, just eight feet across and six inches deep. Below the bridge, it trickles toward us through two huge concrete pipes. The pipes are big enough for us to walk through, but the dangling webs convince us we’d best stick to our side of the creek.

For now.

And so we do.

The thing about north Georgia is that it lies in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains. The soil is mostly clay, and rocks are everywhere. Big granite stones mixed with quartz are strewn across the entire northern third of our lovely state.

We’re going to need some of those rocks.

That afternoon, Liam and I get the best workout of our young lives. We move hundreds of rocks, including several small boulders. We don’t have any tools. It doesn’t matter. The soil is rain-softened, meaning we’re able to pry rocks out with ease.

In just one little day, we build a two-foot high wall. It’s at least twenty feet long. The shallow creek slows and deepens. The water is up to our knees.

The hours slide past.

The outside world doesn’t exist.

We’ve never had so much fun in our lives.

“Again tomorrow?” Liam says.

“Definitely.”

Over the next few weeks, we meet below the bridge almost every day. Our parents don’t care – or really know. We’re both latchkey kids. His mom and my dad both work multiple jobs.

We’re as free as two teenagers can get.

Better still, it’s the wettest July we can remember. The rain crashes down on a daily basis, keeping the rocks loose and the creek flowing.

Our dam grows:

Two feet deep.

Three feet.

Up to our chests.

Deep enough to swim in.

We finish one dam only to start on a second. We’ve got a little waterfall going, tumbling from the tiny lake we’ve built into the pond we’re constructing below. Fish start showing up. Frogs, too. No one else in our neighborhood sees what we’ve built. The trees on either side on the bridge are too thick.

Sometimes I think this is as close as we’ll ever get to living meaningful lives.

Instead of planting ourselves in front of video games or getting into mischief – which Liam and I are known for – we’re building our own world in the woods. It costs nothing but our time, which we’re glad to give.

We expand our journey. We follow the creek into the woods. We even brave the pipes, using big sticks to clear away the giant spiders’ webs. We find a real lake downstream, complete with a snapping turtle. We claim a two-mile stretch of creek as our own.

And then one day, as we’re wading in our self-made pool, Liam looks as me with horror in his eyes.

I figure he’s just messing with me. We’re master pranksters, after all. It’s what we do.

But then I see what he sees.

A water moccasin, slow and serpentine, is in our pool. It’s swimming atop the water, winding its way between us. The water moccasin, otherwise known by its deadlier name – cottonmouth – looks calm.

But we’re frozen all the same.

The five-foot snake heads to our waterfall and slithers into the shallower pool below.

We survive.

After that day, we never stack another stone atop our dam. We never wade in its shallows again. And while we occasionally stroll along the creek and journey deep into the woods, our little lake is forgotten.

The school year begins.

The rain ends.

It all happens so fast.

* * *

Not all that long ago, I braved a trek back to my old neighborhood. Rocky Hill, it’s called, in the quiet suburb of Lilburn, Georgia.

Our dam was still there.

I wonder if the snake ever came back.

*

*

The above short story will appear in my upcoming book – Reality is Best Served with Red Wine.

It’s part memoir, part philosophy, all entertaining.

For each story within, I’m drinking an entire bottle of wine.

…just to loosen up my memory.

*

J Edward Neill

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy

Painter of Shadows

The most anonymous memory ever

Quite by accident, I stumbled upon a story written by a young woman.

I remember the woman’s name, but she didn’t sign her story. She left it on a wrinkled piece of paper atop a blank canvas. I probably wasn’t supposed to find it.

The woman is gone. But the story she left behind made me wonder who she really was.

This is what I found:

***

There are many variations to the story.

Even from birth, circumstances surrounding my entrance into this world seem to be a fluid variation of fact. I no longer try to separate out one version from the next. Instead, I allow my mind to melt each version together…overlapping layers of possible realities.

Despite not being born yet, I could see all.

My aerial view of the camper gives me the ability to see everything. Hear all. Feel everything. I don’t exist yet, but I am the collection of memories that will later be told to me…the texture of my own childhood to come. I fill in the blanks with rich color and smell. Disembodied, I float above the bed my mother lies upon. Bright swatches of velvet and satin fabric hang on the walls. The smells of bay leaves and rosewater perfume mix with my mother’s perspiration. 

This is home.

Her cries of childbirth are gently hushed by the mirages of the midwives huddled around her bed. Their phantom limbs carry damp cloths to her head, soothing her discomfort. The conflicting stories of whether my mother was alone during my birth has given these three woman a transparency that allows me to give them life or melt them back into the camper’s upholstery. The story of my father’s reaction to seeing me for the first time is a gentle whisper floating in the air.

“She looks more like a cauliflower than a baby…”

I can detect a hint of garlic cloves and olive oil on his breath. A tabby cat slumbers in a corner of the camper with a dead snake it caught in a strawberry field. Some versions of this memory give life back into the snake, flinging it upon the bed in which my mother cradled me. The cat is filled with pride over the present it’s gifted to the newborn. It flings the snake’s wriggling body across the room by a screaming woman, where it dissipates into the wood…and where it becomes a faint outline in the rough grain.

***

I want to know more, but her story ends here. Perhaps I’ll find her one day and ask her what happened next.

J Edward Neill

Storysmith and Painter of Darkness

 

Evaluation M-047

I have something different to share this week–a Throwback Thursday. Not an image, but words. In 2011, I wrote a short piece of fiction (flash fiction) for StoryADay. It won honorable mention in a contest they held that year. I always intended to return to this story, to breathe more life into the world and characters. It’s an odd feeling reading something I wrote five years ago. I have to stop myself from editing the little eyesores. So many things scream at me when I read this piece. Maybe it will be incentive to dive back into the words.


Evaluation M-0147

Evaluation M-047

She wouldn’t break eye contact. A film of anxiety glistened across her forehead. In her hands she turned over a small trinket, again and again—a good luck charm. She’d need it. The baggy hand-me-downs didn’t hide the frail condition of her body, nor her spirit.

I glanced at the paperwork in my hands.

Mary Emerson – 8 yrs – Sole Survivor of Glendale

Eight years old is too young to be a trainee, too young to be sitting the across the table from me tonight. I’m the evaluator. I’m the one who gets to choose who will stand watch in the night. It’s the job no one wants.

Each evaluation begins with a simple statement: This is not a test. But the young are eager to please. When I was a child pleasing our elders involved passing Math, or cleaning our rooms without being asked. Now, childhood ends when you can aim and shoot a target at fifty feet. This ghost of a girl wasn’t ready.

I made motions to cross her name off the list, when her small voice broke the silence.

Chocolate!”

That’s what you miss the most?”

Chocolate. I tried to hide my amusement. When was the last time I’d had chocolate?

No, wait,” she said. “Batteries!”

Better answer. Why?”

Because, batteries generate electricity and we can use them to power machines, like flashlights and Thomas’ defibrillator.”

Eager and intelligent, she could be a malnourished version of me ten years ago. I’d been twelve and eager too. I’d sat with a group of ten other children, in the rain, shivering, waiting to be called inside. The room had been dark, like this one, but instead of a single candle there’d been a single dim light bulb.

Damn. I miss those generators.

Okay, next question. You’re on the wall. You spot Leuks. What is the first thing you do?”

Her fingers squeezed the life out of the trinket in her hand. I’d had one of those too, a lucky rabbit’s foot. The silly souvenir was a gift from my father.

I confirm with my binoculars. If there really are Leuks, I ring the bell four times.”

I pretended to make a few notes. There was no right or wrong answer, only reactions to measure.

Next question. Leuks breach the wall. What do you do?”

Tomorrow could be the day. A raid now would obliterate this settlement. I wish my brother were here. Were we fighting the inevitable?

Ma’m?”

I tore my thoughts away from what I’d lost and focused on her fear filled eyes. Her need to prove herself had hidden the truth. But now I saw the jagged nails and torn cuticles. Who had she lost?

What is it, Maggie?”

Ma’m, are we are going to make it?”

What?” Then I heard them. The bells were ringing. Shouts and screams began to pierce the darkness. Stay calm.

Of course, we are,” I said and forced a smile.

I pulled a tattered white rabbit’s foot from under my collar and placed it around her neck. We all dealt with the stress in our own way. Some survived. Some became shells of their former selves. Some heard the call of the blood.

© Amanda Makepeace

Behind The Scenes of The Crossing: Moonlit Skies

Machina Front Cover

 

On December 8th, I’ll have a story called The Crossing: Moonlit Skies published in the short story collection, Machina Obscurum- A Collection of Small Shadows.

Before we jump into this, let me give a little bit of background.

Rewind a few years ago: my fellow Terminus Media/ Tessera Guild teammate, John R. McGuire, and I joined forces and each brought a concept for a story to the table, to collab on together.

For a while I’ve played around with the idea of doing a comic book mini-series which dealt with cross dimensional hopping, high-adventure style. 🙂

So during an initial meeting at Appelebee’s (you’ve got to have great food to generate great ideas. I think Stephen King said that….. yeah we’ll go with that), I brought a concept called The Crossing, which delved into the aforementioned dimension hopping adventure concept. I’d fleshed out some characters, a story, and with the awesome writing/ plotting talents of my writing brother in arms Mr. McGuire, we came up with what I think will grow into an awesome comic book mini-series, heck, franchise.

PARALLELEARTHS

 

We’ve currently got a pitch that we’re prepping to get to publishers.

A kick ass artist in Sean Hill.

Two awesome writers.

A dimensions spanning story.

High adventure.

A diverse cast.

Magic. 🙂

But until we find a home for the series, I’ve had an itch to continue to play around in this universe that’s kept me up many nights.

Enter stage left The Crossing: Moonlit Skies. Sort of an “interlude” within the larger story being told in The Crossing, we get a snapshot of the crazy, and tense multiple dimension travels that series our protagonists find themselves caught up in.

QC

Ever since watching Greg Rucka expertly wind his world of Queen and Country between comics and prose, I’ve wanted to try my hand at doing the same. Having an opportunity to expand the larger story of a property across many mediums, with original stories, is a goal that I’ve wanted to accomplish, and The Crossing: Moonlit Skies is the end result.

 Many thanks to Jeremy for allowing me to add this story to the mix of Machina Obscurum: A Collection of Small Shadows.

Dec 8th. Mark your calenedars.

 It’s going to be bumpy ride. 🙂

So What’s He Going To Buy With All That Gold?

Currently in rotation on HBO are all the Hobbit films. And while I’m not the biggest fan of the book, I find I’m watching bits and pieces of the movies here and there as I flip through the channels. However, there is one scene that I must turn to and watch in its entirety every opportunity I get:

Weta-Smaug-Breakdown-1

Smaug.

Smaug slowly revealing himself from under a treasure trove that would invoke Dragon Sickness on Thorin. Smaug talking with Bilbo, toying with him, showing him exactly how impressive he might be. And the extremes he goes to prove that the dwarves will never retake the mountain.

I love every minute of it.

Yet, the other night I was watching these sequences and a strange thought popped into my head:

Why does Smaug (or any dragon) need all that gold? And it isn’t just him – so many of these creatures throughout our myths are guarding a treasure horde. It is a staple such that in Dungeons and Dragons it is not questioned. The only questions anyone has any real concern to answer are: how much is the horde worth? Are we powerful enough to kill the beast guarding it?

But I feel like there is more to this idea.

***

The cavern shone whenever the tiniest glint of light broke through. In those instances, the gleam would bounce from coin to coin, making them sparkle. It would illuminate the lighter colored gems so they became tiny lanterns dotting the golden mound. Under this light the true spectacle could be seen. Appreciated. Gold and diamonds and coins and gems and… a myriad of skeletal forms cooked to a crisp inside their metal armor.

That same treasure acted as a beacon to some. Bands of adventurers who wove odd stories about how the dragon claimed their birthrights… their home. How every coin buried there was theirs to recover. Indeed, all of it would be restored to its rightful owners.

Yes, the cavern might have once belonged to dwarves or mountain men or even an orc herd, but it was the dragon’s now and had been for decades. It was his home. And more importantly, so were the riches it used as a bed.

For while the previous owners certainly contributed to its girth, not everything was from a singular conquest.

***

Krench moved into the cavern. Ever a creature of habit, he made sure to bring along a lantern, even if the act was worthless. At the outer chamber a familiar warmth ran down his leg. Long gone were the days he might have made excuses for such an action. How it could have been explained away as an involuntary response to the immense fear coursing throughout his body.

If his nephew smelled the urine, he did not show it. For that, Krench was grateful. There was far too much left to teach the lowly creature for them to become bogged down in such a trivial thing.

“The thing that no one understands is exactly what the Great Wyrm does with all his riches. The outsiders believe he simply slumbers on them. They make up superstitions where he extracts some form of nourishment from the metals in the coin allowing him to generate his awesome flame. They suppose he is vain and loves the way the gold and silver flicker in the darkness.

“Does that even make any kind of sense? It is up there with those who claim he stole the entire amount.

book-316391_1280

“Lies! And I have the numbers to prove it.” Krench patted the large book tucked under other arm. “A quick reading of this would inform everyone that of his original horde, only thirty percent was from what the dwarves possessed. Then there was the twenty-five percent in tribute from the lizard men. Another ten percent from random caravans he assaulted when bored. The last thirty-five percent an investment with the orcs that paid him quite well upon their successful campaign against the elves.”

The tunnel tightened enough that they both were forced to duck. His nephew passed through the narrow opening first and took the lantern and book from him while he made his way. Holding the items, the younglings resembled him decades earlier. His mind would be a swirl, a jumble mass of expectations, questions, theories, and who knows what else. To his credit, no questions were posed, but Ketch knew the sermon was far from finished. There was just too much to prepare him for. To explain how the world really worked.

“Once a week the Dragon’s Accountant must journey here to give a full account on all his holdings.” That got the boy’s attention. “I know your question: how would his horde ever change? He’s sleeping on the lot of it.

“And that’s the secret. He’s not. That’s small level thinking. For a creature such as this, who counts his life in decades or even centuries, you must expand on all of that. And this one has holdings as far east as Silverpool, as far north as the great seas… where ever money might exchange hands the likelihood is very high some of the coin originated here.”

“That inn located at the crossroads of Madras and Danan. Where all the caravans stop. Where lords and ladies and even princes have stayed… he owns a fifty percent stake. The blacksmith shop in Butte has worked out a nice living for himself because of a certain anonymous investor.

“A fleet of ships supporting the Merchant Guild in Silverpool.

“And the latest Duke of Parthan, who somehow found enough of a foreign inheritance to afford the new title and the lands which come with it.”

Krench let it all sink in.Watching his nephew’s eyes dart back and forth, a mind at work. After a few moments, a toothy grin emerged.

“Not to mention the coinage itself. Think about it, most of the coinage will be old. Then after a time it will be very old. Then ancient. Kingdoms and empires rise and fall in the blink of an eye (well, from His point of view). They mint new coins, phase out the old ones… and no one wants to have worthless coins. So periodic exchanges have to occur. In small enough amounts not to arouse suspicion, but in enough transactions so that you actually gain some ability to pay for what you want to invest in.”

The first of the outer doors appeared at the end of the tunnel. Remnants of the previous owners. A loose stone along the right side of the door, halfway down, provided the opening mechanism. Krench pushed until he heard the click and the engraved doors shifted open.

“What people don’t understand is dragons are ancient creatures. On a long enough timeline, barring random adventurers stumbling in and murdering them in their homes, they might well live forever. Even the ancient elves appear to wither in the eyes of dragons.

“But forever is a long time. And while they may share more in common with cats in their sleeping habits- they still wish to be entertained. And with the level of money they possess… well, pulling the strings on some of the humanoid peoples is a pleasant distraction.

“More than anything else, he knows history will repeat itself if you let it. So he can push and pull. Nudge things along for the better. Well, for his better.

“You see, dragons have gotten a horrible reputation as being evil. But what no one will tell you is the word is made up. They simply don’t realize have the perspective to appreciate everything as it moves and twists and turns. The elves… yes, they might, but the lower races, the dwarves and humans and halflings and gnomes and orcs… the lot of them just don’t live long enough. So they make up new stories to explain the world around them. And more often than not they only have the vaguest of memories as to what came before. The devastation, the wars, the armies… evil.”

They were getting lower now, the tunnel’s slope increased to the point Krench had to hand the lantern over to his nephew. They both stumbled a bit, but neither lost their footing. A hundred feet or so later things flattened out once more, and he took the burden back.

“Of course, they don’t know about the art. Creatives need funding as well. Ancient dragons need songs and maybe stories to be written about them. To be retold for the next generation. And who’s going to pay those bards to make such beautiful art? He is.

“Exotic animals? Seems strange, but my father explained it to me. Some days you want beef and some days you want Minotaur. Nothing wrong with either. And when you exist at the top of the food chain and have this level of wealth…”

Richard_Caton_Woodvilles_The_Battle_of_Towton

Richard Caton Woodville, Jr. [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“My great-grandfather realized one undeniable truth: wars cost money. Conquests. Paying armies to conquer the world. It’s a terrible business plan. First you outlay all of that money on the mercenaries. You pay to feed them. To forge weapons for them. To build the forges. To build the siege equipment. And all of that work and gold guarantees absolutely nothing.

“Up to that revelation, the Dragon’s Accountant merely handed out the sacks of gold to the mercenaries and kept a log of it all in the book. But it was a drain on the coffers, and no amount of caravans would cover the loss. That pile he sleeps on will surely drain until he’s sleeping on stone like some commoner. No! That would not stand! So he dared to pose a single idea: if the Great Wyrm really wished to take over the kingdom, then why not buy it instead?”

Careful to turn the key two times to the left and then once to the right (no one wanted a face sprayed with acid from a trap set to keep the undesirables out), Krench led them into the cavern proper. Pausing to let the younger of them take the sight in, he pushed his spectacles back up his long snout. Long ago the glitter was enough to nearly blind him. Too many restless nights were spent trying to determine exactly how one might extract such a mass from the mountain. When his own father passed the Book onto him, he spent more than enough time to understand how moving even one coin was as important as the whole of it.

Later, when he took a full account of the book, Krench realized some of the investments had gone sideways. A small war between human kingdoms, a great flood, and suddenly there was a loss to report for the fifth year in a row. Such a glorious day filled with fire to signify the passing of duties to the next Accountant.

“Krench…” The Great Wyrm stretched out his name so that it appeared to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once.

The two of them moved over to the large platform where he would deliver the latest news. As they climbed the steps, crafted so long ago by rough dwarvish hands, he pushed the book into his nephew’s arms. There was no need for it anymore.

Dragons were patient creatures, but above everything else they did not like to lose money.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Free Short Story Time: Piece by Piece

I’m trying to figure out this publishing thing. I’ve got the book, got a comic, got a little novella, but I know I need to do more. The chances of anyone having just one thing out there in the void and suddenly hitting it big are pretty low. And that’s fine with me. I know it is a marathon and not a sprint (to borrow that old cliche’). Still, the projects I’m working on don’t really feed the beast of The Dark That Follows. And while I have ideas for the sequel, I’m not ready to really dive in (too many other projects that must get done).

So how do I fix that? How do I get potentially more eyes on this book I wrote without writing another book in the same world?

writing

An aside… when the four of us teamed-up to form this little spot in the corner of the internet we talked about doing a short story for the site. Something that might even be able to use the name Tessera in its title or as its inspiration.

Jeremy jumped in, both feet first, because that man is a machine. Maybe in an effort to make everyone else look bad (jerk!) or maybe to light a fire under our collective asses, he wrote Old Man of Tessera (free on this here website!).

I’d been thinking about a story, but I really wanted it to tie into The Dark That Follows somehow. Have a place where they could get the short for free and if they liked what they read, maybe they’d check out the book. Something extra. And a story began to shape itself in my mind.

A short story.

This is the old two birds one story idea. And while I didn’t name it Tessera or Tesserization or Tesselation or… (well, you get the idea), it does take a little bit of inspiration from trying to see a bigger picture from little bits of information.

PIECE-BY-PIECE-COVER

So without further ado, I present to you Piece by Piece. You can find it here on the site, and shortly you should be able to find it for free download on the various other platforms… but you can get it first!

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and now the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.