Worldbuilding Part 5: Monsters, Aliens, and Evil Androids an Exploration of Fear and Anxiety

Fantasy, Spirit, Nightmare, Dream, Dreams, Haunt, Alien

Recently I have been wrapping up a book project with a fellow Anthropologist by the name of Kyra Wellstrom. The book is called, Build Better Worlds: An Introduction to Anthropology for Game Designers, Fiction Writers, and Filmmakers. The purpose of the book is to use real anthropology to help people create better worlds and more authentic characters based on the actual science and data on culture. What follows here is one of the final chapters of the book (which is now in Beta Testing) and will be out this fall.

You can find the other blogs on worldbuilding here

Chapter 21

Monsters, Aliens, and Evil Androids an Exploration of Fear and Anxiety

What is a monster?

It has been stated by numerous philosophers and ethnographers that monsters are simply the embodiment of cultural fears; our anxieties made flesh and blood. We see these reflections and patterns across cultures and over again and for good reason. The monsters a culture believes in often shed light on the things they fear most, and monsters that emigrate to new cultures often change their form in their new surroundings. Monsters represent a fascinating blend of the familiar and the foreign; easily recognized but alien enough to terrify. Many monsters possess elements of humanity and exemplify the very worst elements of culture as a form of hyperbole. Their faces are what changes most easily. It is the bones, the marrow of the spirit of what a monster is, and the fears that they embody, that reflect the heart of what it means to be human.

Like our anxieties about death, monsters often follow patterns that reflect our collective fears as a species. Just like we see in every horror movie, monsters attack in lonely places, in the dark, and in our sleep. They reflect the anxieties we have about our natural environment and they come from the water or caves or the night sky. Demons and spirits come for us when we are weakened by illness, childbirth, or impending death. They target the isolated, the frail, and the young. They can often appear human to gain our trust, only to reveal their true forms when it’s too late to escape them. They can lure or entrap us through promises of food, or comfort, or money; playing upon our moral weakness and greed.

Think of how often a monster’s teeth are discussed. Monsters often feed off humans, either in a spiritual or a literal sense. Vampires suck blood, zombies eat brains, dragons and sea monsters devour virgins. Even in modern monster movies, monsters nearly always eat defenseless humans. Giant animals like sharks or snakes, aliens that feed us to their young, or giant kaiju that eat us like popcorn. They are discussed with terms like “fangs”, “razor-sharp teeth”, “drooling”, “sucking”, and “crunching”. Hell, even killer clowns from outer space cocoon us for later consumption.

When you consider our species, these fears appear logical. Imagine early humans, alone on the African plains, surrounded by frightening animals that lurked around every corner. These monsters were very much real, but this did nothing to lessen their terrors. We were small, between three and four feet tall, we had terrible night vision and no claws or fangs to help defend us. We were prey to birds and leopards that could drop from above. Snakes grabbed us from holes in the ground and lashed out with sharp poisonous fangs. Lions and hyenas slunk through the darkness just beyond the edge of vision, shadows out of the corner of our eyes, and crocodiles and hippos lurked in rivers and lakes making people disappear beneath the surface. Our only protection from the creatures that wanted to consume us lay in the light of day and our campfires, in our culture and its defenses, and in each other. The darkness, the water, and isolation became a natural reservoir for our terror.

Modern monsters

Most of the world now lives apart from these real monsters. The megafauna that hunted us like any other prey are gone and the remaining large predators are dwindling in number and range. The vast majority of humanity has nothing to fear from large beasts. However, our fears remain. A tremendous number of monsters are described as being “prehistoric” or pre large scale human civilization.. We find these descriptions from as far back as we have writing. Many monsters that haunt religions are described as being from the time before their deities created peace and order in the world or before the world was civilized. Writers of weird fiction and cosmic horror like H.P. Lovecraft write of “antediluvian terrors” and “prehistoric nightmares”. It’s as though we as a species have some lingering genetic terror of the time when we were small and vulnerable. Coupled with our gifts as a species to spin tales and exaggerate for the purpose of entertainment, many of these creatures became larger than life when they filled our nightmares.

Many monsters also reflect the fears we still face in the modern world, despite our cultural advances in the last 3 million years. We can still all too easily be carried off by disease or poison, by other people, or, worst of all, by unknown causes. These very real and very human fears are interpreted through a cultural lens. Numerous cultures speak of spirits that will steal a woman’s life away during childbirth if attracted by her cries. This is particularly common in foraging cultures where the margins for survival are slim and medical care is an at-home affair. Cultures with a focus on purity (Catholicism and Malaysia are good examples of this) have demons that possess the body and cause their vessel to break the laws of the society, causing bouts of violence, sin, and general bad behavior. Industrialized nations tend to have human monsters, serial killers, zombies, or criminals, that reflect the unease we feel when surrounded by strangers, as well as anxiety about dark crowded spaces.

To die, to sleep…

Sleep is one of the reservoirs of fear for humans. Sleep makes us vulnerable as we lay unawares in darkness for hours on end. Sleep also exposes us to the world of dreams, which are as likely to be horrifying as they are to be pleasant. Many cultures have tales of beings that can drain the life from a person while they sleep, often while the person is awake but trapped in a horrifying state of sleep paralysis. People’s sleep paralysis nightmares almost always follow patterns; in the US, sleep paralysis monsters have passed through different phases. In the 1990s, when the cultural zeitgeist had become fascinated with aliens, sufferers often reported little gray men with giant eyes performing tests on them. In the early 2000s, when there was a spate of demon-child films, people began to report nightmarish children crawling on to their beds as they slept. Suffers from southeast Asia tell stories of a horrible old hag with white skin who sits on their chest and slowly chokes the life out of the sleeping person while they lie awake and unable to move or cry out.

This monster, the dab tsog in the Hmong language, became widely known in the 1970s and 80s when there was a rash of deaths attributed to it in the United States and Thailand. More than 100 Hmong refugees in the U.S., almost exclusively men in their 30s, died in their sleep from unknown causes. Some men reported nightmares about the dab tsog at the time. Men became terrified of sleep and would try desperately to stay awake. The story so intrigued director Wes Craven that he went on to write A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. Instead of the white-skinned hag, however, Craven changed the face of the monster to that of a disfigured homeless man who had chased him as a child and changed him from an evil spirit to the ghost of a murderer.

Stories of night hags may be so common in southeast Asia because of a very real genetic condition. Brugada syndrome causes electrical abnormalities in the heart that can lead to Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS)[1]. This syndrome is found most commonly in Southeast Asia, particularly Laos and Thailand, and predominantly affects men, with most deaths occurring between 30 and 40 years of age. A monster that kills men in their sleep is a much more palatable explanation, especially before the era of electrocardiograms, and no explanation at all. A night hag may be terrifying, but not nearly so terrifying as the unknown.

Sometimes monsters are used to explain myriad, nebulous fears; things we could hardly put into words. The wendigo is a perfect example of this. Territorially, the wendigo is one of the most widespread monsters in the world; it’s spoken of in the mythology of a collective of First Nations groups all across subarctic Canada, stretching from the Rockies to the Atlantic coast and down into the northern United States[2]. While there are slight variations in the story between the various groups, the stories all agree on the main features of the monster. The wendigo is a fascinating monster because it is a curious mix of a physical creature, a possessing spirit, and a culture bound syndrome (see chapter 10). The physical body of the wendigo is towering and lanky, with enormous clawed hind feet and paw-like hands. Its breath starts off howling, icy winds that blow with such force that they can blow down trees and even start tornados. Its heart, and sometimes its other organs too, are made of solid ice. Its most distinctive feature is its insatiable desire for human flesh; so strong that it eats off its own lips in its hunger, baring its pointed teeth.

Wendigos were once human. Once the wendigo gets hold of you it changes you into a monster like itself. This is where the wendigo begins to shift its mythological form. I can get hold of you in a number of ways: through dreams, visions, possession, physical force, or even through your own thoughts. If it catches you physically, it does so while you’re out hunting. Those who venture off into the forests in winter and never return are thought to have been taken by the creature. It captures you and transforms you into a monster like itself. If it catches you though your thoughts or dreams, it has worked its way into your head through your hunger and cold. When a person dreams of a wendigo, they begin to have cannibalistic desires towards their own family. Most cultures believe that a person in the early stages of wendigo madness can be stopped and cured, although often the cures are horrifying enough, but if the person actually consumes any part of another human being, they are done for. There’s no hope for a person who has gone wendigo and the only course of action is to kill them for the safety of the group. There are numerous recorded cases of wendigo killings in tribal and legal records throughout the 19th and into the 20th century. The diagnosis of “wendigo madness” is found in psychological papers throughout this time as well as a way to explain a temporary psychosis with a focus on cannibalism.

Look at the main features of the wendigo story: a monster of cold that lives in the wild spaces and feeds off hunger. It drives people to cannibalize their family and turns them into cold-hearted monsters. It will ultimately separate you forever from the people and civilization you love and strip you of your humanity, leaving you to wander alone in the freezing wilderness. These fears are easy enough to imagine in subarctic Canada, where temperatures that go well below freezing and isolation caused by snow and weather can lead to starvation and madness over the long winters. It’s the same set of vague fears that drive Stephen King’s The Shining or John W. Campbell Jr.s Who Goes There?. The wendigo is a single, corporeal manifestation of these fears. It groups them all into one grotesque form and gives them shape.

Fears of domination, experimentation, and colonization

In the pantheon of monsters, aliens are relatively new. In some ways, they are just a new face on the same stories people have been telling for millennia. Space, after all, is just a combination of those things we fear. It’s cold, dark, isolated, far older than our little planet, and almost completely unexplored. Aliens are often just monsters from this final frontier rather than our own backyard. Many aliens fit the mold of grotesque, slobbering, man-eaters, or shape-shifting deceivers. Even stories of alien abductions, lost time, and mysterious lights are nearly identical to stories that people have been telling for centuries about fairies, will-o-the-wisps, and the little people of the hills, all of which can lead you away and trap you in another world.

But aliens can embody fears that other monsters cannot. These fears, like all others, are reflections of the time and culture in which people live. Aliens as colonizers, as invaders, and as dispassionate scientists are all reflections of the fears that stalk people in the industrial age. H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (1895-97) was written after the author and his brother discussed the terrible disaster the Tasmanians suffered after their invasion by the British[3]. Wells was musing about what would happen if someone did to the British what they had done to the Tasmanians. In fact, there were many “invasion” stories written at that time, although Wells was the only one to use aliens as his aggressors. Britons were worried that their military might was waning and the increasing armament of Germany and France stoked anxieties that the British would face the same treatment they had given their colonies.

Throughout the Cold War, science fiction featured alien invaders, either working secretly or in open displays of aggression, trying to take over the Western World. Endless troupes of aliens landing on the White House lawn fill the fiction of the 1950s and 60s. Change “aliens” to “Russians” and you have a nearly exact mirror of what Americans feared happening at the time. Many aliens are often a gestalt consciousness, a shared mind, or can manifest as a kind of extreme conformity and the end of the individual as seen in the famous Star Trek villains, The Borg. We can also look at the protagonists in these films and see the kinds of qualities they embody and how they reflect the morals and values of our society like a modern myth or morality play.

Many science fiction stories from that time also reveal an uneasiness about the level of violence and aggression the world was experiencing. In the 1950s the 20th century was only half over and had already seen two world wars, half a dozen genocides, and the invention of weapons that could unleash destruction on a level we had never dreamt of. Many films in the 1940s and 50’s, perhaps most recognizably exemplified by The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), feature aliens as advanced beings, capable of great destruction but also of nearly miraculous feats of science and medicine, who come to Earth to warn us away from a path of violence. Klaatu, the alien emissary, warns all of Earth’s leaders that  “Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration.” People around the world, after decades of violence, nationalism, and xenophobia, were afraid. They feared that the ever-mounting aggression would eventually lead to a conflict that no nation could win.  

“I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen…”

The famous words of HAL 9000, the evil artificial intelligence that coldly murders it’s crew in the sci-fi book and film 2001, demonstrate another one of our fears made manifest, our fear of the dangers of technology.

On August 6th, 1945 the world entered a new age, an atomic age. After the first atomic bomb was used on a population in Hiroshima, our relationship with technology changed forever, and with it, came the rise of a new kind of monster, one of our own making. To be sure, humans have always had anxieties about new technology, and with the industrial revolution came literature about automatons (what we now call robots) and other technological wonders that sometimes turned against their masters. One of the earliest examples of modern science fiction, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, explored the potential and dangers, as well as the deep philosophical questions surrounding electricity. Shelly set off a wave of stories, that even to this day still discuss the idea of our technological creations getting the best of us.

As Anthropologist Willie Lempert explains in his article, Navajo’s on Mars [4] humans have developed countless films, like The Matrix, 2001, and Terminator, to highlight our fear of technology. Even the new Star Trek Series: Picard features a plotline surrounding evil ‘synths’ and questions about the humanity of artificial intelligence and it’s compatibility with organic life. Part of this has to do with our religious worldview, the idea that in most of western European based culture, there is only one kind of intelligence, humans. As we talked about in the religion chapter, other cultures have multiple kinds of intelligence. Further, our fear of AI may stem from the idea that only the Judeo/Christian God has the true power of creation. Ultimately though, fear of AI stems from the fear of what we do, to what we consider to be inferior species.

As we entered the 1980s and 90s, aliens changed slightly. No longer were they brazen colonists landing on our shores, they were shadowy and subversive, often entwined with the murkier branches of government. Aliens and the government branches that studied them would abduct people and experiment on them. They would implant people with tracking devices, create alien/human hybrids, and mutilate cattle in their ruthless quest for data. They were cold, unfeeling scientists that existed outside of human empathy or compassion. The declassification of wartime documents about Nazi scientists, exposure of government experiments like MK-Ultra, and a number of dubious psychological research projects like the Stanford Prison Experiment were increasingly making people uneasy about science and scientists. The perpetrators of the experiments seemed, to regular people, just like the inhuman aliens from another planet. Add this to a growing dissatisfaction with the government nearly everywhere in the world and the X-Files style alien/government conspiracy became not just a popular element in fiction, but also an integral part of the mythology of the time period.

When you are creating memorable monsters or antagonists in your world, it’s important to consider the core values of your fictional culture. Remember the chapter on Imagined Past, Myth and Cultural Purity? The core lessons of that chapter are essential to creating a creature that challenges the core values of your characters, and readers, world view.

Chapter Exercises

Things to consider when creating monstrous beings in your world:

– What are the most significant fears and anxieties of the culture?

  • What are some memorable features of your creature? What keeps people up at night?
  • How does your creature tie into the myth structure of your world? Sense of purity?
  • Is your monster/creature sentient? How are it’s goals similar or different to your main character?
  • What arenas of your culture does the monster most impact?
  • What’s at stake if your protagonist fails to subdue the creature?

Works Cited


[1] Human Molecular Genetics, Volume 11, Issue 3, 1 February 2002, Pages 337–345, https://doi.org/10.1093/hmg/11.3.337

[2] Monsters David Gilmore – University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc. – 2009

[3] What The War Of the Worlds Means Now Philip Ball – https://www.newstatesman.com/2018/07/war-of-the-worlds-2018-bbc-hg-wells

[4] Navajo’s On Mars William Lempert https://medium.com/space-anthropology/navajos-on-mars-4c336175d945





Worldbuilding on the Cheap: A recording of the panel at CoSine (Colorado Springs) January 2020

Last weekend I was on a panel with three other awesome authors discussing some of the core points on Worldbuilding in fiction. With permission I recorded the panel for anyone to listen to. You can play the recording below.

Recording of the Panel Worldbuilding on the Cheap January 2020

The Panelists:

Michael Kilman is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado at Denver. He is the author of The Chronicles of the Great Migration and coauthor of the forthcoming book (August 2020) Build Better Worlds: An Introduction to Anthropology for Game Designers, Fiction Writers and Filmmakers. He is also the host of the YouTube Channel Anthropology in 10 or Less you can find more resources on worldbuilding on this page at Writing and Writing Advice

Stant Litore is the author of Ansible, The Running of the Tyrannosaurs, The Zombie Bible, and Dante’s Heart. Besides science fiction and fantasy, he has written the writers’ toolkits Write Worlds Your Readers Won’t Forget and Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget, as well as Lives of Unstoppable Hope and Lives of Unforgetting, and has been featured in Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. He has served as a developmental editor for Westmarch Publishing and holds a Ph.D. in English. He lives in Aurora, Colorado with his wife and three children and is currently at work on his next novel.

For more info check out https://stantlitore.com/ and his Patreon Page

Jim Henderson is a writer of fun, varied, and technically sound science fiction adventures that also explore the human condition. A long-term Air Force veteran and cybersecurity professional with decades of experience in intelligence, communications, computers, and cyber operations, he has been a life-long aficionado of science fiction in almost every form – books, movies, TV, and games (role-playing, tabletop, and computer). When not mentally exploring the universe, he lives with his wife, stepson, and two dogs and enjoys hiking in the mountains of Colorado.

Find out more at https://mantissaga.space/ https://www.facebook.com/JimHendersonMantis

Mantis Saga on Amazon

Charles McLean Redding is an artist and author local to Colorado Springs, as well as an active member of the local theater community. His Wasteland Bears have turned heads at conventions throughout the region over the last few years, and his upcoming works include Western Steampunk, Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy, and Asian Mythic Fantasy titles, as well as his ongoing Snack Pack: Raptor Comics.

Check his stuff out at Facebook and on his Patreon Page

Creating Tension in Writing

One thing that can really make or break a piece of fiction (regardless of format) is the tension. It’s often is missing when something goes horribly wrong and (for me at least) it was the what was seriously wrong with the final two seasons of Game of Thrones. So, I thought I would throw together a few important things to consider in writing and building tension. A warning if you are sensitive to talking about sex, this is going to be an R-rated blog.


1. Building Anticipation

Tension in storytelling is a lot like really good sex. It’s really rare to have great sex that is just the, let’s stick it in variety. Instead, like fiction, there is teasing and touch and playing with the body (reader). You reveal just a little bit at a time, building anticipation and pleasure until your partner (reader) absolutely needs to go all in. You take your time, but you move with a kind flow and rhythm, you let things rise and then pull back, rise and then pull back and then there is a point in your story where it is, indeed time for full steam ahead and you go for it.

If you think about it, that’s what a master of storytelling does. They give you glimpses and foreshadowing of what’s to come. The set the frame of your mind and they control the narrative. This is particularly important in genres like horror. An example of really effective tension building is the film Paranormal activity.

Image result for paranormal activity

Sorry… but it’s been quite long enough for spoilers! If you haven’t seen the film you can always leave now and come back later…

The great thing about this film is how each night is an event that ramps up the tension a little. Virtually no scene is wasted and there is a great interplay between what the characters experiencing each night, and then reliving it through the following day. Each day the tension builds just a little, until the shit hits the fan in the last fifteen minutes of the film.

The story itself offers almost nothing unique. It’s found footage, it’s dealing with a lineage demon, and of course ultimately there is a possession. But the writer and filmmakers give you just enough in each scene to slowly and gradually ramp up the tension and the creep factor. You aren’t bludgeoned over the head with something outrageous the moment it begins. Instead in the first few minutes of the film, you wonder to yourself where this could possibly get creepy. Half-way through the film, you can feel your heart rate increase every time you get some of the bedtime footage and ultimately the payoff is great. But without the tension, this film would have been slow and boring.

2. Framing and Foreshadowing

But what about films or books that have a lot of downtime, that take a bit of world building to get to that good tension building?

Jurassic Park is an excellent example.

Head over to YouTube for a moment and watch this scene if you aren’t familiar.

The scene itself foreshadows what’s coming. The first thing you see after the credits is something rustling through the trees. Just like later when the T-rex makes it’s first deadly appearance. In this scene you see the creature watching the man walk on top of the kennel (shipping container, whatever you call it) as they try to move the Raptor into position. The key to this scene, the great foreshadowing it does, is that you have dozens of men with guns, you have a number of precautions taken to prevent the dinosaur from hurting anyone, and yet, still, ‘life finds a way’ and things go horribly wrong. Notice the kinds of camera angels, the key dialogue, the set design, lighting, and everything else. All of it creates this perfect tension where you just know something is about to go wrong.

Image result for t rex jurassic park

After this scene it takes some time to assemble the characters and get them all in the right place for the real story to begin. Mixed in there you have the science behind the story, the introduction to the wonders and beauty of the park itself and how the characters fall in love with the idea of meeting real dinosaurs. But in the back of your mind, that opening always looms, all that foreshadowing, frames your experience. And each piece of dialogue seeks to serve a contrast between wonder and terror.

If you know you are going to have a slow build, framing something big in the beginning can be a powerful way to start the tension rolling while giving the reader something to think about. Speaking of which…

3. Sustaining the Tension (Give them something to think about)

One thing that I think many films and books struggle with is sustaining tension. One way to do that is, even in moments where this is no apparent tension in place, creating tension can be successfully done by leaving unanswered questions or creating a state if disequilibrium for the characters. Did you leave a character in real serious mortal danger at the end of a chapter? Did you drop a philosophical bomb on your audience and leave them pondering it while you diverge into another character or area of the book?

Image result for the black prism

This happens a lot in books like The Light Bringer Series by Brent weeks. In moments where there won’t be tension and he has to get a character from point A to B, he often leaves off the previous chapter with some large revelation, some grand conflict, or some serious question that the character must address. This makes your reader turn that page, even if the current chapter isn’t as intense. Why? Because you’ve instilled a kind of artificial anxiety in your reader and that makes them want to know just what the hell happens.

This is actually why, despite some readers hating cliffhangers… I still use them all the time. All of my favorite books and series utilize these tools and it’s one of the reasons I love them. A good story keeps you on edge, keeps you anticipating all the time… but…

4. Never give them everything they want.

Okay, maybe not never, but if you always keep things predicable and similar, if the character always get’s out of danger, or their assumptions are confirmed, your boring the hell out of your reader and probably out of yourself writing it.

Cliffhangers don’t have to resolve in ways we might expect. You might leave your character surrounded by what they think is an enemy, but maybe they are allies in disguise? Maybe they are an enemy but they can’t recognize the main character? The point is, if you always use cliffhangers in the same way, if you foreshadow too much and make things obvious, it will kill the tension.

Tension is about keeping the reader on their toes, about giving them another reason to turn the page. But, if you use too much tension you also risk overwhelming your reader. Find the flow or rhythm, let your pages breath a little, not everything has to be constantly tense.

What are your favorite ways of building tension? What books do you think do it best? Comment and let me know.

World Building Part 4: Six Things To Think About When Constructing Myth In Fiction

Fantasy, Goddess, Mystic, Serpent, Snake, Woman, Myth

Myths are fascinating and interesting arenas within cultures. Every culture has some kind of myth story (but not all cultures have creation myths i.e. the Piraha) that helps us to understand what in the world we are supposed to be doing as human beings.

But here’s the thing. There are a lot of video games and fiction out there that just throw in cute myth story for no apparent reason. The myth is fascinating but doesn’t have any weight in the character’s lives. The culture gives it a nod here and there and it holds no real consequences in the society. This is a major problem. This is where many fictional worlds go wrong. So here is a list of things about myths that you should consider in order to create better cultures and better worlds.

Note: You may want to check out Worldbuilding parts 1-3 over here

1. Myths aren’t just about religion. They aren’t all false. They are repositories of knowledge a culture uses to interpret reality.

Every country has a myth about it’s creation. In the United States we tell a story of the Founding Fathers, a group of men who fought for liberty against the tyranny of the King of England and ultimately won out. Upon the granting of our independence, a sacred document was penned to replace the faulty Articles of Confederation that tenuously held the colonies together. This document is called the Constitution.

Every American grows up hearing this. We interpret these stories and this document over and over when new ideas, technologies, court battles, as they come into our culture. That document and it’s amendments structure the values of our society and so, there are endless debates and interpretations of what those men wrote. This is a very active and powerful myth structure.

When you create your myth structure, be it religious or secular in nature, what impact does it have in society? How do people debate the meaning of those myths? Are their other myth structures at odds with the dominant one? For example, how do the Christian myth structures support or conflict with that of the Founding Fathers and the formation of our country? We see constant debates on laws and rights based on these two competing (and sometimes overlapping) myths. This is an arena in fiction that is rife with making authentic and interesting conversations that your characters and cultures have.

2. Myths structure our idea of purity

Mythology also tells us what good and bad things are in society. Not all myths are concerned with simple binaries (regardless of what structuralists might think). But many of them identify what things are good and bad to have in a culture or give prescriptions for the kind of mind, body, or spirit to cultivate.

Returning to the American example, the political myth of our country includes a number of concepts about what kinds of governments are good and bad. Who should have the right to vote (which has changed over time) and with the Bill of Rights, attempts to map out the rights of citizens that are required to keep maintain a working political system.

Myths may or may not include the following

  • What things are we supposed to eat/avoid
  • What are good/bad/ideal sexual relationships or practices
  • Marriage patterns
  • Clean and dirty parts of the body and when or why you should wash
  • Important dates
  • Important people
  • How we mark or think about time
  • What kinds of intelligences are there (does nature have a will of it’s own? Is there an all-knowing being in the sky? Does a fox have human intelligence? ect.)
  • How many genders are there? Which one is in charge or are they equal? Are there more than two genders (recall part 2’s conversation about the Native American Two-Spirited system with up to five genders)
  • How was the world created?
  • Will it be destroyed? When? How?
  • What about disease? Is there germ theory? Is, like in the middle ages in Europe, smell associated with disease?
  • How about the question of suffering? Is there a being that makes suffering? Is suffering from ignorance? Is suffering a thing at all?
  • Is there free will?
  • How many lives do we have?
  • What words are sacred/dangerous?
  • Is there a certain style of dress or attire or tattoo or body modification that is considered sacred or taboo?
  • What is reality? Are we living in a giant theater performance? Do we live in a simulation like in the Matrix? Is there a better place to go when we die? A worse one? How do physics/magic/will structure reality?

You don’t have to include all of the above but you should at least consider them and their ramifications. Lots of tension and conflict in fiction can, like in the real world, arise for competing myth structures or provide interesting limitations that characters have to work with.

3. Myth legitimizes the present social order and system of power

Myth often offers an explanation for why people have the life conditions they do. In Hinduism for example, the Hindu caste system, and the breakdown of wealth and poverty is addressed in numerous Hindu texts. People are born into certain conditions because of consequences of their past lives. In Christian Europe it became popular for Kings to claim that they had a Divine right to be in their throne. In China, an emperor was thought to have a “Mandate of Heaven.” These are a mix of religious and political myth structures that allow those in power to continue to consolidate their power and claim a legitimate right to their station. Similarly in the United States we have the bootstraps myth, the idea that with hard work, you too can one day be wealthy and that often, the poor are lazy and unworthy of success. This myth goes back to Benjamin Franklin. (Check out this podcast “Poverty Myths Busted” on why it’s more complicated than the bootstraps myth suggests and also as an interesting study in myth-making and consequences.)

Your fictional world should include myths that have consequences related to power. Manifest Destiny was the myth structure that justified the Europeans conquerors actions during the 15th – 19th century. It claimed that God wanted Europeans to civilize the world and spend Christianity far and wide. That had some really deep and pretty awful consequences for non-Christians and non-Europeans. Empires always spread their myths. Even the Mongol empire which had freedom of religion and a secular state, still spread it’s myth about the mighty Genghis Khan and the legitimacy of their power.

4. Myths Explain The Nature of Reality

Myths can sometimes act as a kind of proto-science, that provides explanations for the state of reality. In the absence of scientific investigation (and even with it) Myths can provide us with the story of where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going. They can explain why man has two legs, why some creatures have different kinds of tales, what are good morals and values to have and provide limitations on what can/can’t do or can/can’t know. Myths can be flexible and empirical, based on the observation of individuals and experience, but they can also be fanciful and strange or even non-nonsensical to outsiders.

In writing your fiction, remember that even in a secular state, there are many competing myths. We still have creationists in the United States who argue the world is only 6,000 years old, along side scientific evidence that the world is 4.5 billion years old. Which leads me to…

5. Myths mark In Groups vs Out Groups and for the In Group bring Unity

Myths not only structure the way that people see the world and the elements above, but they also make clear cultural distinctions about who is a part of a group and who isn’t. Sometimes this can be as simple as, hey, I subscribe to that belief so I am part of the group. Sometimes, it can something like, in my mythology this particular group of people has different color skin because they are punished by god(s) (yes that’s a real myth story and has some obvious and very dangerous consequences). Myths can tell us, who is allowed to join in the community and who is a pollutant (back to that purity stuff) and a danger to the society. Thus, in your fiction, it can be a source of conflict. Perhaps the origin story of one group states that another group was created by an evil being hell bent on taking over the world. Enter your main character who suddenly finds themselves working with a person who they thought were inherently evil their whole life because of the myth structure they were raised on. Again, myths are a lens from which people see the world and how they order society.

And one final thing…

6. Myths are not monolithic

If you write a world where you have hundreds of thousands or millions of elves and they only have one myth story… you’ve got a serious problem. If you write an alien planet that has only one religion/language/myth/culture… you’ve also got a serious problem. Look around at all the myths in your own culture. How many religions are in the world? How many flavors of each of those religions that use different myth stories to justify their existence? If your cultures only have one myth and everyone agrees on it… that’s lazy and bad writing… unless you do it on purpose. If you do this, you will have to justify why you did it. Maybe there was some event in the past that forced everyone to agree on the same thing? But that has to be one hell of a justification. There are currently 42,000 denominations of Christianity in the world and some of them are very different from the days following the death of Jesus. Over the course of time, myth and politics and religions change. If you are doing one myth as social commentary, or a purposeful reason, make sure you have a good reason for doing it, otherwise it will just come of as lazy and/or bad writing.

If you are going to spend a lot of time creating a myth for your fictional world, make sure it has consequences. Nothing shows poor writing more then an amazingly well built myth structure that doesn’t impact your characters lives or adventures. Myths have weight. They are another arena to build good tension. Use them wisely.

Happy Writing!

Oh and Also, if you like sci-fi check out my books!

The Gathering…

Tree Tunnel at Daytime

Recently, I signed up to take part in a Flash Fiction Contest. The contest gave us a genre, a word, and and an action from which we had to build a 250 word or less story on. My Genre was Suspense/Thriller and here is my story…


The Gathering

“It’s called the Gathering.”

There was venom in that smile. Lips peeled back, revealing wide sharp teeth.

Angela didn’t like Rein. He was an arrogant, self-serving asshole from the moment she met him.

 “The Gathering?” she asked. “What kind of meeting is it?”

She felt a chill.

He considered. “It’s a place where power is recognized.”

He licked his lips. “Would you like to come with me tonight?”

Angela’s stomach tightened. “I… guess so.”

Tired of her assigned fluff pieces, she needed a story that would give her the recognition she deserved at the newspaper. She had a feeling this might be it.

Rein dug in his long brown trenchcoat, and from the depths of his pockets, he pulled something long, soft, and black.

“You have to put this on.”

He put the cloth in her palm. Silky but cold.

“A blindfold?”

He nodded.

She took a deep breath, tied the cloth around her head, and the world went dark.

It was almost an hour’s car ride before they reached their destination. There was a long walk on what felt like cobblestones and then, a change from the cold damp of the autumn air to the warmth of indoors.

“Take it off.

Angela did.

Coldness and fear gripped her as she saw the women tied up, near-naked on crucifixes. There was agony, and there was a gathering around each.

Behind her in a whisper, Rein said, “And now it’s your turn.”

Angela fled.

Rein laughed and pursued.

Serah of the Runners Chapter 3: Serah’s Search

The third chapter of my fourth novel, Serah of the Runners, is now live! You can now read A Shadow on Luna. This second chapter follows Serah who has some hard choices to make in the aftermath of the battle with both Saud and the Children of Gaia at the end of book 3.

You can find my first three entries to the series here

Serah of the Runners is due out October 17th 2019!

Chapter 3

 

Serah’s Search

 

Another building burned. Fire crews and emergency vehicles scrambled to reach the wild inferno. The city was in a state of panic. Designated day and night didn’t seem to matter much now as the sun blazed non-stop. Before, there was at least a dimming in the shield marking the difference between night and day, but like all else, everything had changed. The earth grew smaller and smaller with each passing hour. But the city moved at a snail’s pace towards some unknown destination.

From a distance, Serah watched the chaos from the second level of a building. Her flaming red hair hung down to the middle of her back, and she wore a recon EnViro suit, with her helmet off. She knew the Recycled were still out there, and she’d be damned if she was caught unawares, at least for now.

Exhausted from all of her efforts to keep the city from boiling over into a full-fledged panic, she had finally given up soothing. She was never very good at it anyway.

She wished all of the sisters were around, all of them soothing the city, but most were dead and the few that might be alive were missing and scattered. The Order of the Eye was shattered. Miranda had won.

At first, people were timid and shy about looting shops. For a few days, everyone had stayed indoors in fear that the EnViro shield might collapse and they would find themselves cast out into the vacuum of space. But now that it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, or at least if it did happen there was little they could do about it, people had taken to the streets, realizing that the old order of things had collapsed.

“Should we help?” Shannon walked up next to Serah. She too was wearing a suit. They were probably the only two Runners left alive.

Serah shook her head. “No, looks like the fire crews have it under control. It seems like the water pressure is back to normal.”

“I don’t understand. Why would someone set fire to that building?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Shannon didn’t say anything, so Serah continued.

“It’s a bank. Someone wants to reset the credit system. They think that the Uppers would only store their credit information in one place. It’s a foolish thought, but I guess I can’t fault them on it.”

“It is? But those records are stored somewhere, aren’t they?”

“You’d have to kill the AI. It keeps everything backed up in all of the city’s systems.”

“How do you know all that?”

Serah shrugged. “I used to be one of them.”

“One of who?”

“An Upper.”

“What?”

“It was a long time ago. Look, Vala’s around here somewhere, but she’s not responding.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to be found?”

“Of course, she doesn’t. If I had been in the library when those things came in and survived, I’m not sure I would want to be found either.”

“How many survived, Serah?”

“Do you mean in the assault on the library?”

Shannon nodded.

“Well, we know that Alexa wasn’t part of that group because she had run off somewhere with Runner 17, though if they were outside the city like we think, well, they might as well be dead if they aren’t already. We know that Mimi wasn’t there…”

Serah stopped herself from saying more. She swallowed hard. Shannon was the last person who needed a reminder of the last moments they had seen Mimi.

The image of Mimi reaching out to them as the Recycled closed the massive door flooded Serah’s mind. She hadn’t been able to escape it, nearly every moment she had thought about Mimi, about how she had stabbed her to stop her from using the red veil, how Mimi had killed indiscriminately and then how the Recycled had taken her. All of it was her fault. She had told Mimi to do something, anything and then she had run Mimi through. In the end, it was her, who had let the creatures take her beyond the door. Now she was dead, or worse.

“Serah?”

Serah blinked.

“She’s not dead. I know it.”

Serah didn’t say anything. For the last three days, she and Shannon had argued over and over about it. She didn’t want to rehash the same old argument. She changed the subject.

“Well, as far as we know, only six sisters haven’t been accounted for, including Vala.”

What they had found in the library was disturbing. It was the kind of image she would dream about for the rest of her life. Even if she lived a thousand more years, she would see the leftover carnage of the library in her nightmares.

“Do you think we can find them all?”

“Well, Vala at least. She keeps searching for other sisters, but then she vanishes again. Every time I try to reach out to her and ask her where the hell she is, she disappears.”

“Why would she do that?”

Serah turned and looked right at Shannon and didn’t say a word. She skimmed Shannon; the girl didn’t really seem to understand the gravity of what happened in that library, even though she had seen the aftermath with her own eyes. Shannon was barely sixty and had spent more than half of that in an alcove; of course, she couldn’t comprehend the gravity of the situation.

“Shannon, if you had been in that library when the Recycled came… well, let’s just say you’d never be the same again.”

“So you think something’s wrong with Vala?” Her voice was soft and timid.

“I think she’s probably in shock. We have to find her before someone hurts her.”

“Who would hurt her?”

Serah bit her tongue. She and Shannon had trained together off and on for forty years. How did she never notice how naive she was before? But then, she only saw Shannon for a few hours a month when she was training her, and they had a specific focus. So, she supposed, now that Shannon was out and about, she was seeing another side of her.

“Looters, rogue security, there are tons of people who might hurt her. Under normal circumstances, Vala could take care of herself. She’s pretty formidable. Hell, Noatla assigned her to that crazy ass Senator for a reason. But I don’t think she’s right in the head. Every time I skim her, her mind’s a jumble, a series of horrific images from what went on in the library and all kinds of other strange images mixed in I can’t understand.”

“So how do we find her?”

“Around this time, for the last three days, she’s reached out looking for her sisters. I don’t know what it is about mid-afternoon, but for some reason, she’s trying then. If we can get her to give us a clue as to where she is, we can probably track her down.”

“Why this spot?”

“Well, I figure this is as close to the center of the city as we can get, and from a floor up we can see what’s going on in the street without getting hung up by a bunch of crazy looting assholes.”

“You don’t think they will try and come up here?”

Serah looked at her for a second.

“Oh, right, your skimming thing.”

“And?”

Shannon glanced down. “And I guess they would be afraid of two people in EnViro suits after the battle?”

Serah nodded.

For a while, they watched the fire crews put out the old banking building. It seemed as if the looters were giving a wide birth to the firefighters and focused instead on other buildings and shops along the block. Perhaps they weren’t completely mindless animals. Maybe they had specific goals and targets in mind? But that troubled Serah more. Was someone organizing this? Of all the riots she had ever seen, she had never seen them stop simply because emergency crews arrived.

There was a pulse of transmissions, a wave of connection. Serah recognized at once what it was.

“Vala?” She spoke it both out loud and also reached out. Each sister had a unique feel to their mind, the way that every person had a unique voice. It was definitely Vala.

Shannon said, “Is it Vala? Is she trying to connect to you?”

“Shhh.”

Serah waited for a response. There was only the hint of pressure on the forefront of her mind, only that sense of presence. It was as if her missing sister had forgotten how to speak, how to reach out properly. Serah wondered, and not for the first time if there might be head trauma or something worse. It certainly wasn’t impossible, given the state of the library.

“Vala?” She reached out again, this time putting a bit of extra will behind her transmission.

Vala seemed to vanish, seemed to disappear into the nothingness. A deep sense of frustration rose in Serah. She clenched her jaw. Some other minds tried to crash in nearby, but Serah, with centuries of training, silenced them and moved past them to search for her sister.

Then she was back again, this time strong and clear.

“Serah? Serah is that you?”

A smile bloomed on Serah’s lips, and so Shannon could hear what was going on, she spoke both through mind to mind contact and out loud.

“Yes, Vala, it’s me. Where you? We’ve been looking for you.”

“It’s dark, Serah. It’s so cold down here.”

“Okay Vala, but can you tell me where you are? We’re coming to get you, coming to bring you into a warm and safe place, alright?”

“Nowhere is safe from them.”

Serah could feel Vala’s tears, hear the desperation in her transmission.

“Shhhh. Vala, let us come find you. Let us help you.”

“Oh god, they tore her in half. Oh god…”

Serah turned to Shannon. “Shit, I’m losing her. She’s worse than I thought.”

Shannon frowned. “Maybe you should try a different tactic.”

“Like what?”

“What do you do when you want a sister’s attention?”

“You mean when everyone is called to assemble?”

“No… Mimi told me about some kind of saying you all have.”

Serah thought for a second… saying? What could have Mimi meant about a saying… unless.

“Vala?”

A sensation of weeping again.

“The Eyes Come Open.”

No response.

Serah pressed on.

“The Sleeper Wakes. The Wheel Turns. As Above…”

Vala said, “So Below.”

Serah smiled and turned to Shannon. “It’s working, Shannon you’re brilliant.”

Serah said, “As Within.”

Vala replied. “So Without.”

“The light passes and time squints allowing the faintest glimmer of wisdom.”

Vala replied, “But Fear is the little death, The one that brings an end to hope.”

Serah said, “Fearlessness is the key that unlocks all things.” But instead of going on, she said. “Vala, Vala are you there? Are you with me?”

“Yes, Serah.” Her thoughts were weak, but they were clear.

“Where are you?”

“District 6. Sub Level 4. Near…”

She disappeared. But it was enough. That area wasn’t huge, and with a few hours of searching, they would probably find her, especially if she was bleeding or left tracks behind. It was a wonder, though, all the way up in District 6. How had she made it so far in her state? Had someone or something helped her? For a strange moment, Serah thought of Noatla but then thought twice. Noatla was dead and gone, they had found her lifeless and cold outside the front of the Library, and they had taken her body and the others, even the parts, back to center of the reserve runners where Shannon had spent the last forty years of her life. They had cremated their remains; after all, no sister would ever want the slightest chance of becoming recycled.

It was no wonder she was having trouble reaching Vala: District 6 was the edge of Serah’s limit to reach out. If she hadn’t come to the center of the city, she may not have found her.

“What happened? What did she say?”

Serah turned to Shannon. “Come on, we’ve got a long walk ahead.”

 

 

 

  1.  

 

Several hours later, they found her. It hadn’t taken long to find a trail of blood. Serah was grateful it was just a few splotches here and there, but it was easy enough to follow.

There in the corner, just outside an old storage unit. Vala lay huddled in a corner, her head buried in her knees. She knew they needed to get her back to the reserve core and into an alcove immediately.

The smell of shit and piss swam in circles in the room. There were a few traces of leftover food, but mostly there wasn’t much around. Where Vala had found food, Serah couldn’t be sure, but she seemed to have enough awareness to feed herself, though she guessed that she was using the corners for the bathroom. Rats and roaches scurried around the edges of her vision. They were waiting, hoping for a meal, but Serah wasn’t going to let that happen. For a moment, she thought sensed a kind of disappointment in them, but that was crazy, no one could skim animals, it was one of the first things that Noatla had ever taught her.

Shannon walked over and found a panel for the lights. She switched it on, and as the brightness caught Vala’s form, Serah could see that her gray dress was stained with brown. It took Serah a moment to realize what it was: the blood of her fellow sisters, crusted and dried. Some of the stains were shedding flakes and collected around her crumpled form. Vala must have fled down here just after the slaughter began. 

Vala looked up and moaned. Her eyes were sunken, and the large bags beneath them made her look half-dead. Dirt and grime and a crust of dried, brown blood matted her hair and cheeks. She scrambled backward as far she could go, only inches, but still it made Serah’s heartache.

“Please don’t hurt me…” said Vala.

Serah moved toward her, but it was Shannon who got there first. She wrapped her arms around her.

Shannon said, “Shh, Vala. It’s okay now. Me and Serah are here. We’re going to take you to a safe place. It’s a place where we can protect you, and nothing can happen to you.”

Vala sniffled. “You don’t understand. She’s everywhere, everything. She’s going to make us all do our part.”

Serah frowned. Was Miranda still in the city or not? So far, nothing had happened since the creatures retreated behind the door, and Serah wasn’t entirely sure why. The city was in absolute chaos. Now would have been the best time to strike and destroy the city. It wouldn’t take much to crash into central security after so many of the SO’s had been killed or were recovering in Medical Alcoves. Things would only get better once the SO’s could retake the streets and establish order again. So why wasn’t Miranda acting?

“Vala?” Serah moved closer and got down on her knees just before the two women. She reached out and hugged her tight. “Listen to Shannon; everything is going to be alright now. You have to trust me on this one.” Serah paused a moment, and tried to skim Vala to see if it was okay to ask her questions. But the sad reality of it was that Vala was near total emotional collapse. It had only been three days since the library, and it was unlikely she had slept much.

“Vala, is she still using the red veil on you? Is she still pushing on you? Miranda I mean?”

Vala looked up at Serah for a moment. They were the eyes of a ghost. The eyes of someone who has seen something they can never unsee. Serah knew those eyes. They were perfect mirrors, the ghosts of the night when she had seen something so vile that it had broken her. Only Noatla had saved her from madness. Only her sisters had eased her anger.   

Vala shook her head. It was slight, but Serah could tell it was a monumental effort.

She pushed on Vala, mixing soothing with a lie. Serah was good at pushing lies; it was part of her specialty. This one was going to be hard to sell though. She wished she hadn’t asked about the red veil, but she suspected that Vala might be confused enough to buy it.

Serah transmitted. “Vala, she’s gone now, out of the city. We are so far away from her now she can’t possibly reach us. Do you know where we are now?”

Vala shook her head.

“Come on; I’ll show you.”

Shannon helped Vala stand. At first, she was reluctant to move, but Shannon had a way about her, something that people responded to under crisis. She supposed that was why Mimi had fallen in love with her so easily. Serah had to admit, after spending more time with Shannon, she was both attractive and kind, which was an unusual combination for a street kid.

Slowly, they lead Vala to the exit and out into the street.

Vala screamed and dove to the ground.

Serah and Shannon both had a similar reaction when they had first surfaced from the subway tunnels three days before. To see the change above, the EnViro shield was a lot to take in. 

In the sky, the Earth was still large. Looking up at that Earth for the first time gave you vertigo, it gave you the sensation that you would fall right back into it.

“What’s happening?” Vala was weeping on the ground, beside herself.

“We… we’ve left Earth. Something happened, no one really understands what it is, but there was an explosion, and then the whole city was falling… and then we weren’t. It’s okay Vala, it takes some getting used to, but stand up and you’ll see it’s okay. Besides we don’t have to go far.

Tentatively, Vala reached up and took hold of both Serah and Shannon’s hand. She stood, but as they walked, Serah noticed a limp. She looked down and saw that a large chunk of flesh missing from Vala’s right calf muscle. It was scabbing over, but it was oozing.

“My god, are you in pain?”

Shannon looked down and saw the same thing. She said, “Oh, Vala. We need to get you to alcove right away. Serah, we should carry her. She shouldn’t walk.”

 Together they lifted Vala, Serah under her arms and Shannon by her thighs. Shannon took care not to touch the wound.

 

 

 

 

3.

 

They entered the reserve Runnercore. Around the center of the room was the alcoves where Shannon had slept off and on for the last forty years, but now, with the Runnercore decimated, the AI virtually disappearing, and the city in total chaos, Shannon hadn’t needed to return to the alcove. She could walk about freely. So, they took Vala to the shower that Runners used to clean off after the alcove and stripped Vala naked. Together, Serah and Shannon washed her and gently cleaned the wound. Vala flinched a few times, but didn’t say much.

Serah was hesitant to put her in the alcove. Sometimes, after a significant trauma, the alcove would amplify the event; it would make you relive whatever was going on in a mixture of your conscious and subconscious mind. It wasn’t sleeping exactly, but something between dream and waking. So, Serah worried what being inside the alcove would do to Vala, who was already in a fragile state of mind. But there was little they could do. They had to help her heal or she would lose that leg, or worse.

After Vala was clean and dressed in the usual undergarments for the alcove, they placed her inside one.

“Here you are Vala,” said Shannon. “We’re going to let you heal inside this for a few days okay?”

Vala didn’t say anything. Her face was pale, and Serah was concerned she was about to lose consciousness. How much blood had she lost? But it didn’t matter. She sealed the alcove and activated it. It filled with the stem-cell fusion mix in just a few moments, and then they walked away.

“I don’t think she’s going to have a very good time in there.”

“Why not?”

“You know what it’s like in there, the half-sleep state. Imagine if you just had something terrible happen to you just like Vala has.”

Shannon said, “Oh gods, I didn’t think of that… but what can we do? She has to heal.”

“I don’t know, but I can skim and check in on her semi-often. She probably has to be in there for a day or so before we could let her out if we needed to. The wound probably wouldn’t be healed by then, but it would be safe enough to take her out if she needed a break. If we had other sisters around, we could take turns soothing her, but since it’s just me… I don’t know if there is much I can do.”

Shannon frowned. “Okay. So, what now? Find the others?”

“Yeah, I was hoping some of the others would come to find us. I just hope they all aren’t as bad as Vala.”

Shannon nodded.

Serah watched her think of Mimi again. She didn’t mean to skim Shannon, but she was worried about her. The love of her life was just taken through that door by the Recycled, and somehow Shannon was holding it together pretty well.

“Shannon… how are you holding up?”

Shannon leaned against one of the alcoves. “Fine. I… I’m worried about Mimi, but… I know we’re gonna get her back as soon as we get the remaining sisters together, right?”

Was that what she was thinking about all this time? That they were going to go on some rescue mission? Should she tell her the real reason they were looking for her sisters? Or should she lie to her? She considered for a moment, but it didn’t take long to make a decision.

“Yeah, once we get them together, we can go after Mimi.”

“Good, just like you guys rescued me all those years ago, right?”

Serah couldn’t help but recall Shandie and Leahara dying in that rescue, but she wasn’t about to point that out to Shannon, who was already struggling to stay afloat. The truth was, Serah wasn’t doing so well herself. They needed to find Fatima. She would have to take over the Order of the Eye. No one else could. The other four were too new, and after Fatima, Serah was the oldest member still alive, and there was no way she felt comfortable as Matron.

“Look, Shannon, I am going to head to a few places where I know the other sisters sometimes hung out when they weren’t running an errand for the Order. We are going to have to make this place a bit more comfortable, maybe use some of those old scavenging skills you learned living on the streets, huh? We need to get beds in here. Luckily, there is at least the bathroom, shower, and two food dispensers already. We just need to make it a bit more comfortable. Maybe you could head out and do that while I am searching for other leads?”

Shannon nodded, and Serah skimmed for a moment. Shannon was happy to have something to do. Serah would have to try and keep tabs on her throughout the day, which meant she couldn’t get too far out of range. But for now, they both had something to accomplish.

“Maybe it’s best if you kept your suit on?”

“Don’t worry, Serah. I might be a bit rusty, but I survived on the streets for a while before Mimi found me, and even without my suit I have that muscle augmentation and years of training with you, right?”

Serah nodded and watched Shannon go. She had to reassemble the Order of the Eye, even if it was just a few of them. If Miranda came back before they were ready, no one would be safe.

Serah turned and looked at Vala inside the alcove. Her eyes were open, and her face strained with whatever she was seeing. Serah reached in and soothed her the best she could and saw a Vala’s face relax. It would have to do for now. She hated leaving her, but there was nothing else to be done. Serah also needed sleep, but it would have to wait, at least for a little while more.

Serah of the Runners Chapter 2: A Shadow on Luna

The second chapter of my fourth novel, Serah of the Runners, is now live! You can now read A Shadow on Luna. This second chapter delves into some new characters that are going to significatly influence the fate of our heroes (and villains). But you spoilers still!!! If you have not read The Battle for Langeles you may want to do so first.

You can find my first three entries to the series here

Serah of the Runners is due out October 17th 2019! Preorder coming soon!

Chapter 2

 

A Shadow on Luna

 

“So that’s it?”

Kirka stood looking at her console. Her brown hair held streaks of gray and her short slender form shaped by the low gravity of Luna and a lifetime of food rations hovered just above her chair. Her sharp nose and hollow cheeks deepened the power of the gaze for her gray eyes.

“That’s it,” said Loni.

Loni was her opposite, short with darker skin and light hazel eyes. Everything about Loni, was round. Kirka had always wondered how, despite the lack of gravity of Luna, Loni had stayed so healthy and thick. Most Lunites were thin and wispy, but Loni, considered one of the most beautiful women of Luna, had her pick of all the men with her curvy feminine form.

The end was coming now, the image on the screen showed streaks of light, flaming arrows ready to end their world in fire. Most of the Lunites had no idea of their fate. But now, Kirka and Loni did. There were rumors, of course, hints that ROAM’s hostility had finally reached a critical point. Doomsday prophets preached from every corner that Kirka would let them. Of course, with such a small population, people didn’t pay them much mind, especially since the commons was only a twelve hundred meters long in the underground of Luna.

Kirka said, “Dammit, how could do they do this to us? After all we’ve done for them. They wouldn’t exist without all of our efforts. Centuries of work and neither of us have anything to show for it.

Loni said, “They’re jealous; they’ve always been jealous Commander.”

“I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming. I should have been suspicious when our delegation never arrived at their destination.”

“You don’t think it was an accident, do you?”

“I had my doubts, but now I see that all they wanted was our Solidonium.”

Loni said, “I don’t think most of ROAM knew what was happening and, well it’s not like we could skim that Asshole Ithica from here is it? He was probably planning this the whole time. Maybe only a few in his inner circle knew. Most of the Martians seemed open to long-standing trade, and I know at least a dozen people who were ready to migrate over there.”

Kirka shook her head. “We should have known when Ithaca won that election. All that talk of purity and now…”

Loni said, “I can’t believe there’s so much hate for telepaths there.”

To say that there was hatred for telepaths on ROAM might have been an understatement. When they had first learned that nearly a quarter of Luna 1 and Luna 2 were telepaths, and that the entire power structure of Luna surrounded telepathy, ROAM had stopped transmitting to Luna for two months. It seemed in that time that the key issue of the bi-annual elections on ROAM centered around what to do around Luna. Of course, it was Luna who needed ROAM more than ROAM needed Luna, especially now that all of Luna’s ships were filled with Solidsonium and more than halfway to ROAM. It was if the moment they had launched aid to their neighbors, the doors had closed. Those ships were supposed to be coming back filled with parts to upgrade and repair both Luna’s alcoves and food dispensers, something that all Luna desperately needed. But now that the ships were more than halfway, there was no turning back. Even if they reversed course, it would be 37 months for return with the remaining fuel and the pilots didn’t have enough supplies to survive that long.

Kirka said, “AI, How long till impact?”
“Commander, at their current velocity, the rockets will impact Luna 1 in 13 months, 5 days and 12 hours and Luna 2 thirty-four minutes later.”

Loni said, “Should would turn the ships around?”

Kirka thought long and hard, so long, that Loni repeated her question, but in direct mind to mind contact, as if Kirka hadn’t heard.

“I heard you. There’s no help for us. The ships would never make it back in time, and even if they did, they could only accommodate a few hundred, not even a third of our population. Plus, there are the pilots to think about isn’t there.”

Loni frowned, “What do you think they’ll do to Darsee and Collin when they get to ROAM?”

“Neither of them is telepathic, so they might be okay. It’s certainly better than dying of starvation, isn’t it? If the ships had an alcove, then maybe it would be worth turning them around.”

“And what if they decide to execute them or torture them?”

The lines on Kirka’s face deepened. “Even if we did call them back, Where would go?”

“There’s always earth.”

Kirka snorted. “You really want to go there, don’t you? That has to be the fifth time in the last six months you’ve suggested it. Have you seen any of the latest climate reports? Things are getting worse, not better. Besides, it’s not like anyone’s even alive down there.”

“Underground maybe?”

“It’s moot though isn’t it? It will take the ships twice as long to get back here as it will the rockets. We’re done. It’s over and no doubt the stabilizers will fail, and the moon will end any chance the earth might have had for recovery.”

For the centuries since the Lunar war split Luna into two discreet pieces, Kirka and the other survivors of that war had maintained the Lunar orbit above earth. Luna was on a slow decay and the power required to stabilize the orbit in full was far beyond their reach. They best they could do was delay the orbital decay and hope like hell, their best scientist, Loridian, could find a solution in the long term.

Loni said, “We should give them a choice.”

“The pilots?”

Loni nodded.

Kirka ran her hand through her hair and closed her eyes for a moment. Both pilots knew in advance that this was likely a one-way trip. Both had nothing to live for on Luna, and it was why they were both chosen. They were expecting to start a life on Mars. Still, that was a far cry different from going into what was now enemy territory with no way of defending yourself.

“That’s fair. They deserve to make the choice. AI?”

“Yes, Commander Kirka?”

“The next time we are in broadcast alignment for the shuttles, will you notify me so that I can send a message?”

“Yes, Commander.”

Loni jumped and floated to another consule. This one closer to Kirka.“When are you going to tell everyone?”

“Tell them what? That ROAM, the people that we spent so many months convincing everyone to help has betrayed us and sent rockets to destroy us?”

“Yeah, that thing.”

“I don’t know Loni. You know what it’s going to do to everyone? You know how tense things are already? Thousands of people suddenly told they are going to die? We might tear ourselves apart before those missiles reach us.”

“They have a right to know.”

“They do. But how much time in advance?”

Kirka wished she had the answers, but no matter how many years she served as commander, no matter how many times the council reappointed her, there was simply no easy answer here.

“I have to think about it Loni.”

“And the council?”

“This is a security issue. I am in sole command of security. All those five will do is to complicate the issue. Better to hold out for now.”

“They’ll stick you back in storage if you do that.”

Kirka shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. I am not interested in turning those rockets into another excuse for political theater. You know how Grayson and Sanders get.”

Loni nodded. “Well, don’t think too hard about it. You know that’s not going to help.”

“I need to get some rest. I’ve been on for 18 hours now. AI?”

“Yes, Commander?”

“Keep all information about the incoming projectiles classified until I deem otherwise, maximum security clearance.”

“Yes, commander.”

 

 

 

 

2.

 

Historians Note to the Text

 

Commander Raldaz Kirka had a long record of military service. Officially a military representative of the mid 21st century European Union, she lead the war on Luna for the Europeans and Americans against the Chinese and Russians. During the day of the great split, in which a fusion core ruptured and split the moon into Luna 1 and Luna 2, Commander Kirka was severely injured. She spent nearly a century inside an alcove. Upon revival, she was immediately commissioned to take control of both Luna 1 and Luna 2 which, were on the verge of total collapse from high crime rates, severe food shortages, and two warring gangs. At first, she was considered a poor leader, one of strict and apathetic persuasion, but, when after only a single year, Lunites found peace and stability, her talents were recognized, and she maintained command for centuries until the conflict with ROAM and the beginning of the Great Migration.

 

For more on Commander Raldaz Kirka, including her published works, biography and genealogical relations to Matron Angela, visit library 34n in section 9143.

 

Matron Mariposa Phillips 832.1.6 I.S.

 

 

3.

Three days. For three days and nights Kirka tossed and turned and paced and braced herself for what she needed to do. She needed to tell Luna general, needed to announce to all her people that the end was coming and that death was a certainty. She tried to discover a way out, a route toward liberation, but it seemed certain that there was no path forward. So far, she had only told Loridian, and had then spent nearly every free moment for two days grilling them on possible strategies for saving Luna. Loridian had no answers.

Now she stood on the deck of her command, one of the only spots that had an open view of the surface of Luna 2 and allowed for a view of the greater starfield, and of the earth. She gazed down at the planet. Loni had been right, even a descent into the wasteland on the surface would have given some hope to the people. Even that would have provided them with an opportunity to rally around something, to cradle it and give birth to a chance. But they were denied even that.

“Commander, my long range scopes are detecting something coming our direction.”

“Yes, I know, you don’t have to remind me AI.”

“Commander, this object is different than the projectiles.”

She walked from the window and over to her center console.

“What? Describe it.”

“The object is massive and is approaching at a steady speed from the direction of earth.”

“From Earth?”

“Yes, Commander.”

“What is it?”

“At this time, that is unknown. However, it has adjusted course on several occasions since I began tracking it, which would indicate that it is a humanmade object.”

“How long have you been tracking it?”

“Twenty-three hours.”

“And why didn’t you say something about it before?”

“The parameters you set for detection of an object require that I verify whether it is a naturally occurring or a manmade if time permits.”

“Fine, How big is it?”

“Exact dimensions are difficult to calculate from this distance, but it appears to be more than fifty kilometers in width and fifteen kilometers in height. I cannot tell the other dimensions from this angle.”

“Too large for a ship then. AI whats the ETA of the object?” 

“Commander, at its current velocity, the object will reach Luna 2 in eighteen days, five hours and fifteen minutes.”

“I want you to alert me the moment you know more; anything at all do you understand?”

Kirka’s heart was pounding. She didn’t know why, but something about this object gave her a strange sense of hope. It wasn’t a natural object, so it could it be one of the long lost colonies from the asteroid belt? But that didn’t make any sense since it was coming from earth did it?

“Acknowledged commander.”

Kirka spun around in her chair and moved to her screen for a closer look. The object appeared to be some kind of oblong disc but in the scopes it was tiny.

“AI will you contact Loridian?”

“Captain, Luna 1 will not be in broadcast alignment for 2 more hours.”

“Fine, alert me when it’s time.”

Luna 1 no longer had any way of detecting long-range threats, not after the meteor shower had damaged their scopes a few decades back, so it was up to Kirka to be the eyes and ears of Luna general.

Kirka paced back and forth. Loni was late. She was always late for shift change, and Kirka was growing tired of that. Why had she promoted her in the first place? It’s not like she didn’t have others that she could have picked.

The object intrigued her. If it was making course corrections and coming from the planet, what did that mean?

“AI, what is the likelihood that this is a transport vehicle?”

“Probability is high.”

“Why’s that?”

“During the end of the 21st century, there was the development of technology that would be capable of moving thousands of humans into space at one time. There was also the development of the technology to move entire cities.”

“We know that failed. We know cities never walked and that it was just a pipe dream before the Lunar war made things on the surface worse.”

“Commander, there is no reason to assume it failed. Just because we lost contact with the surface does not necessitate failure.”

What if it was a ship or a transport? Would they be able to accommodate all the Lunites? Could it be Earthlings? They had watched the earth for centuries now and had been certain that if all the population wasn’t dead, that they were at best scattered or more likey underground. But their scopes weren’t that powerful, everything that allowed for long distance viewing and been destroyed in the Lunar War. They had only discovered that ROAM was still around out of sheer dumb luck when ROAM had sent a transmission exactly as their communication array was aligned with the planet a few decades earlier.

For now, though, they would watch and wait and see what the object was. Maybe just maybe, when she announced that ROAM had sent missiles to destroy them, she would have good news as well. After all, it wasn’t as if their situation could get worse than impending doom right?

Serah of the Runners Chapter 1: A Long Way Down

I am very happy to finally post the first chapter of my fourth novel, Serah of the Runners. The book picks up just where Upon Stilted Cities: The Battle for Langeles left off… which means there are huge huge spoilers for this chapter! If you have not read The Battle for Langeles you may want to do so first. You can find my first three entries to the series here

Serah of the Runners is due out October 17th 2019! Preorder coming soon!

Chapter 1

A Long Way Down

 

Frank walked back down the corridor toward his station. It was time to get back to work. With Saud destroyed, the last thing Manhatsten needed right now was a clogged recycling system. Work was good at times like this. There were still rumors of a few of those strange battles on the streets, but any sanitation worker knew the networks of tunnels just below the surface of the city, and so they avoided the conflict. Even when the city was in chaos, sanitation still had to do its job.

Jenny said, “So what do you think will happen now, Frank?”

“Don’t know. Never survived a war between cities before. I ain’t that old.”

Zelda said, “Can you believe how fast we’re moving since Saud blew up? I never knew the city could move like that.”

Then, the motion of the city shifted. Frank grabbed a guard rail and steadied himself. Both of the women did the same. The city was stopping. After several moments of silence, Frank let go of the rail and resumed his trek down the corridor.

“Speak of the devil huh?” Frank scratched his head. “The city isn’t supposed to be able to move that fast, I don’t think. But, maybe someone in the Uppers figured something out.”

Zelda said, “I wonder why the hell they stopped in the middle of a storm warning.”

Jenny said, “Maybe the battle isn’t over?”

Frank said, “What do you mean? Everyone saw that blast from Saud. They’re just mopping up the few that got inside now.”

Zelda stopped in the middle of the hallway. “Frank.”

Frank turned. Jenny was several steps behind Zelda and also paused. “Yeah?”

“Frank… have you ever heard of a city blowing up like that before?”

Frank thought about it. He thought of all the stories and the vid screen films about battles with other cities. He thought about how they used those giant guns and how they took shots at each other’s shields. But now that Zelda had pointed it out, he couldn’t remember a city ever becoming a giant ball of light and disappearing all at once. He was sure he wouldn’t have believed it himself if he hadn’t seen the thing with his own eyes.

“No… No, I don’t think so.”

Zelda frowned. “Something’s wrong Frank. I can feel it in my gut. Why else would we stop in the middle of a storm warning? Ain’t never happened before as far as I know.”

They fell silent and resumed walking and entered central sanitation. The dank air was familiar and comforting to Frank. A lot of people complained about working in sanitation, but he loved it. Did he wish the pay was a little better? Sure, but the job was just fine. He didn’t mind getting dirty. It was a job worth doing, a job to feel useful; a job that if it didn’t get done, it would cost lives. A man couldn’t ask for a job more important than that. He was necessary, and that was satisfying.

They only needed to do a routine check. There was a full crew working already, but with the battle, Frank wanted to be sure there weren’t any other hidden problems. Michael, Andrea, and Scott were working hard. When they saw the trio, Frank asked, “How’s it going down here? Any surprises?”

Michael shook his head, and his long beard waggled back and forth below his chin. “Nah. Everything’s running like clockwork. Andrea had to climb up into one of the pipes and deal with a blockage, but other than that, nada.”

Frank glanced over Michael’s shoulder at Andrea, who looked surprisingly clean for climbing up inside a pipe.

“How’d you get out clean?”

Andrea’s dark eyes regarded Frank. He knew she hated his guts, but he couldn’t understand why. Might have been something to do with the fact that she had the sense of humor like an angry hedgehog. “I already went through decon.”

“Ah. You lose a toss or something?”

“No, I volunteered.” Her words were sharp and curt.

Frank nodded and looked around. “Jenny, will you head back and check on the bio recycler?”

Michael said, “I think Scott’s back there already.”

Frank said, “Yeah, doesn’t hurt to have two eyes on it, though, does it?”

Michael shrugged. “Sure thing, boss.”

For a little while, Michael and Frank caught up while Zelda and Jenny double-checked everything. There was tension between the two teams; there always was. Michael liked Frank okay, but he hated Zelda. Andrea hated Frank, and Jenny, after bawling her eyes out over Jose, had slept with Scott and the aftermath was less than ideal. He was hoping that sending Jenny back with Scott would force them to talk things out a little, but that was probably unrealistic.

When Frank was satisfied that everything was in order, he called Jenny and Zelda and bid farewell to the other team. The three of them would be back on the clock in another nine hours again, and so there was no point in lingering too long.

The trio walked up the corridor for several dozen meters in silence. Frank took the lead. He thought maybe Jenny would have something to say to Zelda about Scott and wanted to give them both a little room.

It was Jenny that broke the silence, “I’ve been thinking…”  

In the silence of Jenny’s pause, Zelda said, “You and Scott get things figured out?”

Jenny’s eyes were glassy but cleared for a moment as she looked up and over at Zelda. “What? No, nothing to do with that. Scott is… Never mind.”

Frank turned and, walking backward, said, “What then?”

Jenny said, “I was thinking about what we were talking about before, been thinking about it a lot. A city shouldn’t blow up like that. It’s not right.”

Frank said, “Why’s that?”

“We learned all about city combat in scholar school.”

“You went to scholar school?” asked Frank.

“Yeah… but I dropped out. I was… I studied city mechanics. I wanted to be a shield engineer; you know, one of those people who jumps around on those harnesses checking the shield ribs for energy fluctuations? But well… there was an accident when we were up one day… and I couldn’t go back…”

Jenny leaned against the wall, grabbing for something to hold on to, as if the terrible thing was happening all over again. Frank had seen that look before in Jose’s eyes, how they grew like deep wells of pain overflowing with something dark and sticky, something he couldn’t ever really escape. He supposed maybe that’s why Jenny had liked Jose so much; she saw something familiar in him, a shared experience of horror and trauma.

Zelda changed the subject. “So, why shouldn’t a city blow up like that?”

The light came back into Jenny’s eyes. She blinked. She said, “Because cities are too big to blow up at once… unless…”

Frank said, “Unless what?”

“Unless they destroyed the core.”

“The core?”

“Yeah, you know, the power core that makes all cities function. Our professor told us it’s like a miniature sun. But, she also said that it was near impossible to destroy.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because the architects planned for just about everything. She said that another city could shoot at the core’s location for a year and they would never get to it. The whole core is encased in Solidsonium and a second internal EnViro shield. You’d have to destroy both things at the same time, and that’s supposed to be impossible from the outside.”

Zelda said, “So wait, what you’re telling us is that Manhatsten didn’t win the battle?”

Jenny said, “No… at least not by attacking from the outside.”

There was silence for a moment. Frank felt his gut clench.

He said, “Jenny, what could destroy a core?”

“Our professor said that only two things could destroy one. The first was a critical overload. But, you’d have to be an architect for that, only they know the codes and the exact sequence required to start the process. And we only have one architect left, and I don’t see him going over to Saud in the middle of a battle with no way back, do you?”

Frank and Zelda shook their head in unison.

Zelda said, “And the other one?”

Jenny said, “It’s also not possible.”

Zelda said, “Why not?”

“Because you would need an atomic weapon and you’d have to detonate it inside of the core past both the Solidsonium and the EnViro shield. But that can’t happen.”

Frank said, “No?”

“Well again, you’d need to have access, so you’d have to be a high ranking person inside the city in the first place. Second, no one has even seen an atomic weapon in a thousand years. We think maybe the architects purposely made sure they were gone and buried before the cities started walking. They didn’t want humans lobbing nukes at each other once the inevitable conflict started. They were trying to get the environment to heal, and a weapon like that would make things far worse.

Frank opened his mouth to speak, but it Zelda cut him off. “But what if someone found one?”

No one spoke for a moment. That tightness in Frank’s chest grew. Then he said, “You don’t think there’s one of those on Manhatsten do you? Like, if we did that to Saud, couldn’t they do it to us?”

Jenny said, “I don’t know. I mean, we are the good guys, aren’t we? Didn’t Saud attack us first?”

But no one ever had the chance to answer that question. The whole of the city shifted. It was as if some angry deity had picked the city up and lurched it hard sideways, shaking all the domed contents within like a snow globe. All three slammed against the wall, and Frank felt a blinding pain on the side of his head. Everything went black for a moment.

He scrambled around, his hands clawing for something to grasp. Frank grabbed the rail leading up the stairs. The whole of the city shook. With Saud gone, what the hell was happening? Was it the core? Was the same thing happening to them as it had in Saud? But that didn’t seem right. Saud had vanished almost instantly, and the fragments had scattered to the four winds.

Something was wrong with the city. The floor was tilting, and he felt the weight of gravity tugging at his back. He didn’t know how he knew, but the city was falling. Something had knocked them over or had destroyed the legs.

“Zelda!”

“Right here.” Frank looked back and saw the familiar outline of Zelda’s thin, birdlike form. She was clinging to the railing now too.
            “Is Jenny back there?”

“Here, Frank.”

Good, we gotta get out of here. I think the city is falling…”

Neither of the women contested this point. It was the only explanation. A massive jolt and suddenly, the floor shifts? The only thing that could do that was the city falling over.

The tug of gravity grew, an irresistible mistress. It took all of Franks effort to hold on. The stairway had disappeared below him. He was dangling; the pull on his large belly was immense.

Jenny screamed, but Frank couldn’t turn around. His entire focus was on holding the railing. He had no idea how much longer he could hold on. The angle grew deeper with every passing moment, and it was all he could do to keep from falling back into the long corridor that led to the heart of central sanitation. How far was he from the door that led inside? He didn’t want to find out.

“I got you,” said, Zelda. But again, Frank couldn’t look back.

“Zelda, you gotta get you and Jenny around me somehow. I…”

“You’re not gonna fall, Frank. We won’t let you.”

“Yeah well, you always warned me this gut was gonna get me killed, and it looks like you’re right. I can’t hold on much longer, especially since it’s almost a straight drop now.”

Frank knew if the city was falling, it didn’t matter. They could all die now, or they would die later when the shield failed, or a storm came, or in a hundred other terrible ways. But the survival instinct in Frank made him hold, made him grip tight. If nothing else, he wanted to see his wife one last time before he died and he couldn’t do that if he let go.

Frank felt his fingers slipping.

“Dammit, ladies. You gotta get around me or get to the other railing or something. You don’t want to be underneath me if I fall.”

Jenny wept. Frank was glad to hear it, it meant she was still there, still alive, still holding on tight.

Zelda said, “No, Frank. I’ve been at this too long with you. If you go down, we go down together.”

Jenny’s sobs increased, and through mumbles and tears, she said, “I don’t want to die.”

Frank tried to adjust his grip, but he lost one of his hands off the railing. Later, he would wonder how the hell he managed to swing his arm back up and grab hold again, but for now, as his whole body reached back up, he felt a sense of comfort in reestablishing his grip.

“Frank, don’t you dare let go. Your wife would never let me hear the end of it.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m doing my best, but please Zelda, get you and Jenny across or around me. I can’t do this much longer.”

The city dipped forward, and now they were hanging vertically down the stairwell.

Zelda said, “Shit. Well…” she shifted her grip, and now Frank could see both Zelda and Jenny fighting to hold on.

Tears streaked down the side of Jenny’s face. At that moment, he was glad they were both petite women. It made it easier for them to hold on longer. He, however, wasn’t going to be able to do it.

Zelda said, “Well, you don’t have to worry about knocking us down now do you?”

Frank said, “Guess not. Guess we gotta play the game like in school, huh? Who can hold on the longest?”

Zelda said, “Ha, you’re screwed then Frank, I always won that game.”

Even at that moment, Frank couldn’t help but crack a smile. Here they were dangling down what had to be several dozen stories of corridor, and he couldn’t help but grin. He guessed that even if he didn’t die today, he would probably die grinning and laughing.

His arms trembled from the strain. The metal of the square railing dug into his fingers, leaving deep grooves bright with pain.

“Zelda.”

She looked up at him, a grave expression on her face.

“Zelda, you’re the best friend a man could ask for, you know that?”

“Don’t let go Frank.” Her voice shook. “Please don’t.”

“I don’t wanna, but let me say this. It’s been an honor working with you all these years, Zelda.” The noise of cities tremors echoed up and down the corridor and Frank had to raise his voice.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better friend at work. And you, Jenny, I wish I had the chance to get to know ya a little better.” He readjusted his grip, but he could feel his fingers slipping. His right hand was numb, and his left a blazing fire. “It’s been great working with both of you. I only wish I could see Jose’s dopey face one last time.”

“Hold on Frank; we’ll figure a way out of this. We always do.”

But Frank’s fingers couldn’t do it anymore. His arms had never felt strain quite like that. No matter how hard he wanted to hang on, he couldn’t. There would be no grabbing hold again this time.

“Goodbye Zelda. Hang on as long as you can. Tell my wife I love her, alright?”

He let go.

He started to fall. There was a sense of freedom in it. He thought for a moment that maybe if everyone had just learned to let go like he just did, that maybe, just maybe the world would be a little happier.

He looked down and watched as the corridor stretched out before him. It seemed to take an age to fall. Time stretched like the entire lifetime of the universe was available to him now to think about all the things he loved about his life and all the things he regretted. First, his fondest memories flooded him. He thought of the lifetime of laughter and friends and family. Then he thought of Jose. He thought about how he had felt so helpless when he the SO’s arresting him. He thought about the last uprising and how so many people he knew were sentenced to the Runnercore or were killed, all because of the greed in the city. He wished he had been more outspoken, or that he had done something to change their fates. Frank wished that he had taken a stand and right there, he promised himself that if somehow he survived the fall, he would stand and be true. It was too late now though wasn’t it? The ground was rushing up toward him, and in a few seconds, his life would be over.

But then all motion stopped. For a moment, Frank thought he had hit the other end of the corridor, but looking around, he realized that he was hovering, mid-air. Nervous about his strange circumstances, Frank looked around for something to hold on to, but there was only the concrete wall. His stomach flipped, as it did in childhood when his father tossed him into the air. Then, he dropped to the floor, the actual floor. For Frank, the sweet comfort of stability on the ground married with the pain of his short fall.

He lay on his back, checking himself. His ass and his pride were bruised, but he had barely fallen a meter. What the hell had happened? Shouldn’t they all be crushed under the weight of the collapsed city? 

He heard footsteps and saw that both women were running toward him.

“Frank, you asshole.” Zelda’s voice shook, and there were tears down her cheeks. And then Zelda’s arms were around him, and then Jenny’s, and the three of them cried together. They were alive. The city was alive. They didn’t know what happened, but somehow everything was okay, at least for now.

 

2.

 

Dear Reader,

The lesson that Frank learned in those few moments when he expected death would stick

with him through the coming days, and the coming battles. For difficult times were ahead, and Frank would lose many of those he loved and cared about before it was all over.

When great change comes, it tears things asunder, it uproots the old and leaves us gasping and injured and exposed. In those times, we are raw nerves, bare roots, open flesh. But if we are willing, we can get up again. We have the chance to go forward into the world and take what we have learned and lost with us. Then, we may bandage our wounds and look often at our scars so that we do not make the same mistakes again.

See Frank now; see him for what he is. He is an ordinary man in extraordinary times. But in so many ways, it is the ordinary we need. Hope lay in the courage and the strength and the will to move forward in the ordinary so that we can give birth to the new.”

Matron Mariposa Phillips 833.12.13 I.S.

 

 

 

  1.  

 

They surfaced. Something was wrong with the light. Frank looked around. One of the buildings was leaning into another. Luckily, it was one of the shorter ones. People were scrambling out the front door before it collapsed, but most looked like they were okay. There were fresh cracks in the street, some as wide as a person. Everyone was outside. Many of those on the concrete and earth stood dazed and confused, statues frozen mid-moment like in the ancient city of Pompei. They were puzzled slices of life.

There were several fires, and a few people were doing their best to put them out. The old automated fire systems were working, but barely. Frank swore. They would have to go back and check the water pressure to ensure that there wasn’t a clog. If too much smoke filled the city…

Then, some of the gazes cast upward. People pointed up toward the EnViro shield. A conspiracy of whispers and hushed voices bathed the city in rapturous awe. They grew to mumbles and mutters in a slow drone. Someone screamed. Frank looked over and saw a woman fall to the ground. She hugged the earth as if it were her child, and she was saying goodbye to for the final time.

“Frank.” Even Zelda whispered. “Frank, what the hell is that?”

Frank traced the end of her finger skyward. His mouth opened to say something but then closed again. He felt vertigo and the sensation of the ground falling out from under him. He grabbed for Zelda and Jenny.

Jenny, clinging to him said, “That’s… that’s…”

Frank grabbed his chest. That terrible tightness was back, but this time, it shot down his arm. He fell to his knees, barely feeling the impact of bone on concrete as the shock rippled upward.

“Frank?”

Zelda was on him in a moment. “Frank, what is it?”

“I think… I think I’m having a heart attack.”

Jenny moaned. It was a loud and long wail. “That’s…”

Zelda helped lay Frank down gently. “We gotta get you to an alcove Frank. There’s an emergency one a few blocks away.”

Frank just nodded and laid on his back. The pain was less now, but there was a fog settling in over his mind. He stared up at the sky, drinking in the new and terrible view.

Jenny shouted. “Oh Gods. That’s earth. It’s earth. It’s earth. Why is earth in the sky?”

Jenny, too, fell to her knees and wept.

Frank watched the earth. He watched as it started to grow smaller in the sky. They were moving away from it now. To where, was anyone’s guess.

New Excerpt from Strange Reflections

Hello all,

This is an excerpt from the horror novel I am currently working on titled “Strange Reflections.” This passage is from Chapter 5: The Rescue Party.

If you are interested in this story you can read the first 3 chapters here.

Special thanks to my friend and fellow author Sarah Rosmond for the new image.

Enjoy!


Excerpt from Chapter 5

There was laughter echoing down the maze of mirrors, a slow rumbling movement of a malignant will. There was no source, but it filled her, penetrated her, and she felt a compulsion to stare at the nearest mirror.

Amanda turned and gazed long at the scar that ran up her face. As she looked at her reflection, the glass turned back time. Her wounds unknit and exposed flesh opened. She reached up to touch her face and felt the shock of the same pain she had felt on the day when the explosion had rocked her convoy. She pulled her hand away and looked down in the reflection and saw that there was blood. Then, shocked at the sight she lifted her same hand to her face and saw no blood. Looking again into the mirror she saw the wound gaping, bits of skin hanging from her mangled face. Her leg in the mirror was a shattered wreck. The moment her eyes touched the reflection of her leg, she felt the pain of her wound surge and grow till she crumbled to the floor.

It was the pain that broke her gaze. Later, she would realize it was the pain that protected her, had saved her from the madness of that moment.
But Armin was still staring. He was a statue, raptured by the seduction of his reflection. His body tensed. His fingers were flexing and clenching in rhythmic movement.

Armin’s jaw worked. “No.”

Amanda said, “Armin, what do you see? What is it?”
He stared into the reflective surface; his eyes fixed his mind focused. Amanda could see sweat gathering on his forehead in the dim light.
She thought about what she had seen and wondered if Armin saw that very same thing.

“No it’s not true.” His voice was barely a mask for his rage.

“Armin?” Her voice quivered. Gooseflesh took possession of every pore of her skin.

“Armin.” She stood, moved forward and rested her hand on his shoulder.

But Armin did something he had never done before, something that Amanda had never thought him capable of. Armin, the joker, as he was always known in the squad, had never seemed to have a hateful bone in his body. Armin, the person who was the life of the party, always quick with a joke or a sarcastic reply, did not even turn his head as he raised his left arm and punched Amanda hard in the face.

The blow was so violent and so forceful that Amanda couldn’t understand how he was able to gain the leverage he needed to knock her back. She stumbled and fell, a shot of pain crawling up her leg for her ancient wound, like tiny spiders nibbling on her nerves.

“Armin? Why?”

Armin screamed. He drew his pistol and fired, his finger worked and moved and gushed out lead into glass. The sound of the air changed quality as the ringing took possession of her ears. The mirror cracked and shattered and bits of glass fell to the ground and tinkled with an almost lyrical quality despite her muted ears. Armin fired till he was empty and then threw his sidearm at what remained.

Some of the scraps hung in malformed triangles and Armin screamed again, pounding his fists on the glass to knock out every tiny piece. Blood leaked on his forearms and gathered on the tips of the triangles. Some carried the stain with them as they fell to the ground.

Even as the last pieces fell to the floor, Armin did not stop. Instead, he began his work on the next mirror, and Amanda watched as the glass cut down deep to tendon and bone, though he seemed not to notice.

She had to do something. She forced her body up, her leg crying in agony as she did. She mustered all her strength and charged him. She felt the collision in every nerve, and as they both fell to the floor, bodies mingled from the impact. He moaned like an angry beast.

Armin’s blood flowed freely, and as Amanda lay on top of him, it seeped and stained into her skin and garments.

“Armin. Stop. You have to stop.” She shook him.

His eyes were glassy, and he craned his neck to try and gaze into yet another mirror. But Amanda, realizing that it was the pain that had broken her hypnosis grabbed one of his forearms where the glass had cut deep and squeezed as hard as she could. Armin yelped and looked at her, eyes full of rage.

“Armin snap out of it. Don’t look at the mirrors.”

But his neck stretched and reached for a glimpse like an addict craving a fix.

With her free hand, she smacked his face. It was barely a slap, but it was all she could muster.

He fixed his eyes on her again, the rage focused. He reached up and grabbed her by the throat for a few moments her held tight, and she could feel the blackness swarming behind her eyes. Just before she lost consciousness something softened in his eyes. He let go.

“Amanda?” His voice was rough and muted by the ringing in her ears.

“Armin…” She coughed and sputtered but forced her words through the mucus built up by his stranglehold. “Don’t… look… at… the… mirrors.”

He nodded and stared at her for a moment. “How did you get blood all over you?”

She returned his gaze. “Armin… look at your hands…”

He did. For the rest of her days, she would never forget the look of horror and revulsion on his face.