Heed the Whispers

I was bored in line at the Post Office and decided to play with my FridgePoems app.


The frustration actually came after the poem. While I was waiting for my teen and my middle schooler, I got bad news from work that spun me up about how people make decisions at the last minute. 

The poem’s a little (ok, a lot) emo, acting like the writer is facing the end of the world. But in the middle of the chaos and storms of life, there’s a still, small Voice calling us to a place of serenity. We all have these things that set us off… and I firmly and fully believe it’s up to us how we react to them.

I did in fact heed the whispers, make some time, and sit and worship at the piano. I just didn’t realize I was writing this for me when I put the words together.

(Plus I made tacos for dinner. Tacos fix pretty much everything.)

Not to the Swift on WattPad

Having just finished my third National Novel Writing Month, I revisited the manuscript of Not to the Swift as the first book I ever completed and a departure from my sci-fi/fantasy norm. I forgot how much I love those characters and the conflicts between them.

I’ve made the whole book available for free reading on WattPad today. I know the joke is that site is full of sparkly vampire and One Direction fanfic… but there are kids engaged in reading, and reading a lot. Also, while purchases on Amazon or Kindle put a buck or two in my bank account, what I really need is readers who might buy future books. (I’m so selfish.)

To that end, if you read Not to the Swift and enjoyed the book, more than a purchase, I’d love an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads. Thank you.

As a personal aside, chapter 16 is my favorite. I had a lot of fun as a writer trying to emulate a middle schooler’s style and level of poetry while hopefully making it meaningful to the story content.

More than that, I think it was in the middle of NaNo, and I was struggling to get the words on page as well as dealing with the constant inner doubts of “is it even worth writing?”

Renee telling her students that everyone goes through that sort of thing was just supposed to be a little personal pep talk to myself and something it sounded like a decent, encouraging teacher might say to address kids’ fears of sharing their work in public.

When she comes back into the room after the encounter with LaTasha Washington, in the moment of writing it struck me that Amir could respond with some of the same advice he’d just been given. I love when those moments come up later, sort of a bookend or resonance within the writing. I probably try too hard for that in other places, but here, it seemed to happen naturally.

Over the last few months, I’ve been mulling over what I wrote back then, contemplating the characters and where they might be “today.”

It’s a challenging but fascinating exercise to imagine what another person’s viewpoint or argument might be, especially on such charged and divisive subjects. I feel like if I can write a remotely convincing point of view from someone whose ideas and beliefs I may strongly disagree with, then I’ve hopefully learned more about that sort of person and their perspective–learned to see them as a real human being with feelings and emotions, and not just as the butt of a joking Facebook meme.

I don’t feel like there’s enough of that going on in America today, but the only person I can really change is me… so this is part of my ongoing attempt.

I fully intend to write a sequel to this book, Not to the Strong, perhaps as next year’s NaNo effort. I have included a preview of one scene here:

Maria shook Bishop Simms’ hand and smiled, then gestured toward the seats at the front of the sanctuary. “This should be fairly quick,” she said, “but feel free to answer at any length you choose. Any long, awkward rambling can be edited out later–thank goodness, or I’d have been fired years ago.”

“I just hope the editors are careful to preserve the content of the dialogue instead of looking for the right sound bites.”

“We’re not like those types of news agencies, sir. We won’t put words in or take words out of your mouth.”

Simms laughed, a full-bodied and amicable sound. “You know, Miss Melendez, I believe that’s what all the others would tell me too.”

The cameraman placed lights on posts and set up diffuse panels to soften the shine, then made final adjustments. Maria shuffled in her chair and checked her watch. “You about done with that?”

“I just–there’s a glare coming off the bishop’s head that I’m trying to reduce.” He looked at Simms with an apologetic shrug. “Sorry, man.”

“Son, no need. Been bald for the last thirty years. I’ve wished I could reduce that glare too.”

Maria flipped through notes on her cell. “Okay, Bishop, the obvious topic of discussion will be the question of reparations, so we’ll knock that part out right off the bat. Sound good?”

“I’m at your disposal, and all too happy to talk. Ask my parishioners.”

Maria smiled. “So I’ve heard… Hence my warning about the editors.”

“You’re good, Maria.” The cameraman gave her a thumbs up and hunkered down behind his device. “Ready? Five, four, three…” He waved his finger twice.

“Good morning, Stapleton,” Maria said, her face a picture perfect smile. “I’m Maria Melendez, and this is Today on the Town. I’m sitting in the sanctuary of New Hope Tabernacle, a place of worship that has developed an intermittent relationship with the local news in the last few years. You may remember this sanctuary from the funeral of young Chris Washington, an unarmed black teen inadvertently killed by Officer Chris Mason while responding to a shoot-out between rival gangs–with Pulaski High School just a couple blocks away.”

Bishop Simms waited, hands folded in his lap, a slight upward turn to his lips, the sort of smile looking for a boot to drop or a knife in the back.

“Since then,” Maria continued, “Bishop Henry Simms has been a prominent voice on the subject of racial tensions and race relations in the Stapleton area. But in the last year, his platform skyrocketed into national attention when his slogan and position on the subject of reparations came up in the Presidential Debate.”

She turned toward Simms, whose face maintained that gentle cautiousness. “So, Bishop, let’s talk about your efforts. Since finding yourself under national scrutiny, have you reconsidered any of your more aggressive or challenging stances on policy?”

“If I changed my views just because of the spotlight,” Simms said, “that would imply that I wasn’t fully convinced of them to begin with. My positions are the same as when you stepped into my church that sad day as we mourned Chris’s wasted life.”

“So you’re not backing down on the issue of reparations, or the messages you’ve given condemning the rampant white privilege you claim affects so much of American politics?”

“No. Why should I? Though I’m not sure I used exactly those words.”

Maria scrolled through the text on her cell screen. “In a sermon on–December Twelfth two years ago, you’re on record asking how we can rightfully expect God to bless our nation while at the same time allowing corruption to grow and fester throughout all levels of government.”

“A valid question, in my opinion.”

“And later in that particular message, you brought up the disparity between how whites and blacks experience police intervention in Stapleton and across the nation. To a lot of people across the country, this doesn’t sound like Sunday morning sermon material.”

“Throughout the Old Testament,” Simms replied, “we see God concerned with His people and their societal expressions of righteousness. This word, in the Hebrew, goes straight to the modern concept of justice and equality–whether we’re talking about the courtroom, the locker room at the police station, or the break room in your work center. God doesn’t change, so I believe that justice and righteousness must still stir up His passions and holy anger just as much as when He sent His prophets to condemn abuses back then.”

“Do you see yourself as a prophet in a sense, Bishop?”

“Nothing so lofty as that. I’m a watchman on the wall, looking out over my city and my nation with concern. There’s so much–”

“A watchman on the wall,” Maria interrupted. “Interesting choice of words, given the divisiveness and the spectacle of the last election. A lot of talk about walls during the debates and the run-up to Election Day, wasn’t there? Are you supporting policies to build walls?”

“Again, I harken back to God’s holy Word,” Simms replied, “far more than I do the brash words of one man or woman. In the days of Joshua and King David, they built walls not to separate their own people, but to protect the community. I’m willing to stand on that kind of wall and call attention to the problems I see weakening our society. And like many times with the children of Israel, I don’t see the big problems coming at us from the outside, but within our walls, within our communities, our cities.”

“And your answer to that appears to be a mutil-billion dollar reparations program many call a bold-faced socialist redistribution of wealth, with some even leveling charges of reverse racism and discrimination.”

Simms leaned forward. “You ask why I talk so much of reparations. Is the concept far fetched? Perhaps. It certainly is a difficult and challenging question, whether–”

Maria shook her head. “Bishop, the conservative estimates on what it would take to attempt such a program are staggering.”

“Maybe,” Simms replied. “But it gets people attention, and it should. What African slaves went through is mighty staggering as well. And while we have made so much progress in the last several decades, we cannot sit idly by and declare ‘Mission Accomplished,’ all is well in the racial divide in America.”

“Well, it is a divisive view you’re espousing, Bishop. You can understand why people might disagree.”

“Might be we could have a much different conversation if there was acknowledgment that there’s cause–There’s a grievance in our past, as yet unresolved, where reparations could be in order. I wouldn’t presume to speak for every person in the African American community, nor do I think you can speak for all Latinas, or your cameraman for every white male. But I think that it would be a huge step to hear certain vocal leaders on the other side of the debate simply acknowledge it. Acknowledge that the grievance exists.”

“Bishop, I have to ask, what of forgiveness? Christian leaders and especially your detractors have often responded based on your own religious beliefs. “Simms is a preacher of the gospel,’ they say, ‘so he more than others should know Christ called us to forgive, not judge. Because He–Christ Jesus–already forgave.’ That’s a quote from the Reverend Jerry Turnbull, a megachurch pastor from Saint Louis.”

“Oh, I have heard those kinds of arguments before,” Simms said, nodding. “Yes, indeed, that sounds pretty good when you’re preaching to your congregation. But I look to no less than the Apostle Paul for my answer to Reverend Turnbull’s query.”

“Saint Paul?”

“Paul indeed wrote that nothing now separates us from the love of God, and there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus, so I understand where my brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue are coming from.”

Simms curled his hands toward his heart and continued. “But Paul had a broken and contrite heart about his sin. He wrote at length about his failures, his crimes against the church, his rebellion against the Lord. ‘I am the chief of sinners,’ he said, ‘I am the least deserving.’ Paul knew the power of grace because he recognized the depth of the evil he had done.”

He pointed his finger to the south side of the sanctuary. “People on this side of the Twenties would be much quicker to forgive if we heard some of that recognition of wrongdoing from those fine believers on the south and east sides of Stapleton.”

“Yes, but–”

“Maria,” Simms continued, “I think of what one of my parishioners told me the other day. ‘I don’t hold my brother’s death against anybody… but I still hold that pain inside. That’s part of who I am. And while I know God forgets the sins of others and binds up my wounds, I don’t think that means I should forget the hurts or pretend they didn’t happen.’ So it is with our nation and our past. Too many folk want to pretend it didn’t happen, or, you know, ‘well it’s all over and done with now, let’s dust ourselves off and move on.'”

Maria opened her mouth to respond but said nothing.

“We still remember the Alamo,” Simms said, “and the Revolutionary War… and rightly so. We must remember our history, both the good and the bad. The good, so we can emulate the heroism of those who came before, and the bad, so we don’t forget and become doomed to repeat their mistakes.”

“Hard to argue with any of that, Bishop,” Maria finally said. “But when you slap a bill for several billion dollars on a weakened economy, people are still going to balk.”

“I’ve long heard it said that freedom isn’t free,” Simms replied. “Believe me, we know. We paid for our freedom over centuries of abuse and maltreatment. So perhaps my response to my detractors comes down to this: you talk a good game about freedom and justice. Let’s see you put your money where your mouth is.”

Victory of a Sort

I made it. 


50,000 words of a brand new novel, all written in the month of November. I crossed that finish line today during the All-Japan Virtual Write-In. Good thing too, since my next three days at work are wall-to-wall busy.

Update: I added up my efforts today and realized I also crossed 200K words for the year… which may sound impressive, but consider that a full quarter of that happened in the last four weeks. Such grand plans I had… But I digress.

Of course, the blog suffered as a result of NaNoWriMo efforts. #sorrynotsorry and all that.

This is my third NaNo and third victory, so I’m quite pleased. It’s a wonderful chance to play around with something different from your normal writing style or genre. This year I went with 1st person present tense urban fantasy, something I’ve never tried prior to the preparation for this novel.

On top of that, I found an awesome site that spurred me toward that ever-increasing word count: 4thewords

They’re a NaNoWriMo sponsor, so I wanted to help them out. The site is a writing system that incorporates game elements like an RPG. You create a character and go on quests against monsters that have word count goals instead of health points. The gear you find and equip gives you bonuses to attack (counts additional words written), defense (gives you additional time to fight the monster), and luck (increased chance of finding better items).

While the short burst style of writing in sprints of 250 – 1500 words has its drawbacks in the form of continuity problems, poorly thought-out ideas, and plot holes, I would have those in a first draft no matter what I do. What matters to me is, does it get me writing more? I could be wrong, but I definitely feel like the game elements encouraged me to write more than I might have if I was depending on internal motivation alone.

I still have a good chunk to finish on the first draft before I can type “the end.” It’ll be a long while before this one hits the streets, and it might be with a pen name. Also it’s a partnership with a friend in the States, so there’ll be more back-and-forth in the refining process than if I was just going to self-publish.

Meanwhile, Blog Battles have taken a hiatus, so there also won’t be any Grant & Teagan popping up until next year.

That said, I have some plans for December that I’ll call attention to here, and I hope to continue using 4thewords to see if it will keep me moving forward on Diffusion (fantasy book 2) and God’s Shooter, an Old West project involving a gambler prophet. The latter will probably start popping up in scenes on WattPad and WordPress before the end of the year.

And of course, I’ll post the occasional rant or update on my life, because hey, it’s my blog and I add those into my overall word count. Plus I need something to distract me from politics on Facebook. 

Hope your holidays thus far have been restful and productive.

NaNo Number Three

Friends and readers, it’s that time of year again: NaNoWriMo, a.k.a National Novel Writing Month. All over the world, lunatics dedicated writers are setting off on a one-month journey toward a 50,000 word novel. 


My first year out, I wrote and completed my first novel, Not to the Swift. Prior to that, I had written over 100,000 words on a single fantasy book, but I never quite reached the point of typing “The End.” NaNoWriMo helped me complete a novel from start to finish, which in some strange way felt liberating when it came to my pet projects. I was able to finish and release Diffraction a few months later.

My second year, I had the thrill of serving as a Municipal Liaison. Basically, that’s a person committed to facilitating meetings, handing out swag, posting encouraging notes, and representing NaNoWriMo in the local area. I plowed through 50,000 words of a sci-fi military novel very loosely based on my job experience… Which eventually led to a required review of the draft to make sure I didn’t say something or release information I shouldn’t. So that year’s project is on hold for an unknown length of time. 

In between, I’ve put some effort into the sequel to Diffraction, and completed a novella on WattPad called Echoes. I’ve started a few projects I hope to turn into books or novellas down the line, and I’ve had a blast writing BlogBattle entries using a recurring duo of characters. 

But all that goes out the window for a month, in the hopes of cracking 50K once more. 

Got a story to tell? It’s not too late to jump in and catch up.

#BlogBattle entry – Settling Accounts

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Explorer, Collector, and Uncooperative Witness

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway


“Don’t worry, Teagan,” Grant said, his hand on her shoulder. “Let me do the talking and we’ll get through this just fine.”

A hammer slammed against the sound block at the central seat overseeing the hearing, and all commotion in the chambers of Congress ceased. An old Senator with white handlebar mustaches squinted through a monocle at the pair. A few other elder statesmen sat on either side, and a stenographer sat at a typewriter, ready to record details.

“This hearing will now come to order,” the Senator said. “For the purpose of settling discrepancies in the accounts of Mister Grant Rowan McSwain and Mistress Teagan Ca—cow me—hell, whatever it is O’Daire—”

Caoimhe,” Teagan said. “Say ‘key’ with a little ‘va’ at the end, and—“

She noted the stern, narrow-eyed look from the Senator and snapped her mouth closed.

“Teagan key-va O’Daire,” the Senator continued, “concerning the disposition and whereabouts of properties of the United States of America, namely, fifteen bars of Fort Knox bullion each weighing two pounds, and of less import to this committee, the Crucifix of Castellano. I’ll remind you both, you are under oath and the conversations here will be recorded and classified until further review. So, Mister McSwain, what happened to our gold?”

“That’s my report in your hand, Senator Dixon,” Grant said. “Everything’s in there.”

“There’s a whole lot in there, Mister McSwain.” Dixon shuffled the papers and eyed their contents. “Not a lot that makes sense though. You say here that you were contracted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations?”

“Indeed. I have a signed letter from Agent Shane Dawkins that states—“

“The Bureau claims they don’t have an Agent Dawkins in their employ.”

Teagan tensed as the hearing started off exactly as she feared. “We’re being set up, Grant,” she whispered.

Grant stood his ground. “Well, Senator, they’re lying to you.”

“That information came from a source with access to the Director himself,” Senator Dixon replied. “You expect me to take your word over Director Hoover?”

“Sources with access to the Director also claim J. Edgar Hoover isn’t a loon,” Grant said. “Doesn’t change the fact I have a photograph of him in a hula skirt and a coconut bra—one that is currently in the care of an associate, with orders to release it to the press in the event of my untimely demise or incarceration.”

The other senators gasped. Dixon simply leaned forward. “Are you actually blackmailing a Senate committee under oath?”

“I’m telling you the whole truth about what will happen, under oath. Nothing more.”

Dixon sat back and thumbed through a couple pages. “So that’s how we’re going to play this? Fine. Let’s talk about the destruction of the H.M.S. Perceval.”

“Not my fault,” Grant stated. “Like I wrote there, it seems the Leviathan no longer responds to the Ixthacan summoning ritual with the same… cooperative temperament.”

“They’re notoriously fickle,” Teagan added.

“A shame to lose that trick, really,” Grant continued. “You should have seen the mer-men’s faces… I mean, up until it ate them.”

Dixon glared at her, then back at Grant. “Leviathans.”

“Well I don’t know what the proper genus and species would be, but that’s the term we used. Actually, maybe they belong in their own family.”

“And you performed the ritual because of these… We’ll just call them pirates if that’s alright.”

“Pirates with gills and skin of scales,” Grant said. “I suppose ‘pirates’ works, since that’s the life they chose. But ‘mer-men’ is more accurate.”

“Or Atlanteans,” Teagan chimed in.

“Aw, hell. Atlantis!” Dixon scoffed and turned to his peers, one brow raised. “Are we really supposed to continue this farce? Can I just declare these witnesses hostile, slap ‘em in irons, and toss ‘em on a boat bound to Alcatraz?”

“I believe we’ve established that Mister McSwain and I have bad luck with boats,” Teagan chimed in. Then she saw Grant’s perturbed look and said no more.

A senator in the farthest seat shook his head. The man seemed a couple decades younger than the others, with slicked back dark hair showing debonair streaks of gray at the temples. His fine mustache and goatee added to his roguish charm.

“Hoover was clear about the importance of this, Dixon. He buys into this stuff, asks specifically about these sorts of things—just like the reports coming in concerning the Kaiser’s expeditions in Africa and across Europe.”

“Might I remind you, Senator Thornton,” Dixon snapped, “these two petty cultural thieves are not cleared for classified information?”

Thornton examined Grant for a moment then chuckled. “I suspect they know more than we do, Senator.”

“We’ve encountered Germans several times,” Grant said, “a strange group that claims to work for the Kaiser, but seems too well-equipped and well-funded for that. They’ve been on our tails, looking for Ixthacan artifacts, objects of power, anything with an associated myth or legend.”

Dixon shook his head. “This reads like a penny pulp. I am not bringing a report full of gibberish like sea monsters, mer-men, and—”
he scanned the page. “Oh, yes, vampires—to Director Hoover, let alone the President.”

“Hoover buys into all of this anyway,” Grant said. “And to answer your earlier question, that’s where Castellano’s Crucifix is. With a vampire. Teagan blew a hole in his chest with one of the deck guns, then I impaled him with that golden cross. He got real feisty after that, but we trapped him on the ship as it was going down.”

“I don’t understand. What were you doing on a pirate vessel off the coast of Egypt in the first place?”

“They rescued us after our vessel sank. Or I should say they enslaved us, and I think talked about using us for chum so they could lure the sharks they were hunting.”

Dixon cast Thornton a sidelong glance, and the slick younger politician merely shrugged.

Grant chuckled and turned to Teagan. “Should I tell him about the connection we found between the Ixthacans and other ancient civilizations?”

Teagan laughed. “No, Grant, I think this is a good time to—“

“Aliens!” Grant spread his arms wide, reaching up toward the heavens beyond the high ceiling. “Extra-terrestrial life forms that I think made contact with humanity in various advanced civilizations around the world.”

Propped on his desk with his elbows, Senator Dixon flopped his heavy jowls into his hands. Senator Thornton, bemused and nonchalant throughout the proceedings, now fixed his gaze on Grant with a keenness that unnerved Teagan.

Grant pressed on, unaware or unconcerned. “The Ixthacans, Egypt, the tribes of Europe, China… Maybe others. We found portals connected to those four regions at a minimum.”

Dixon closed his eyes and took a long, silent moment before opening them again. “Aliens.”

“Yeah,” Grant said with a vigorous nod. “And they’re not nice. They see flesh as weakness and impurity, something they purged from their world.” He raised a finger with sudden recollection. “Also you’ll want to know they’re made of living mud.”

“So you were searching for portals to the world of the mud-men,” Dixon said, “and your vessel was attacked by vampires, so you sank it and got rescued—“

“Enslaved.”

“—Enslaved by mer-men, which caused you to summon the Leviathan, who broke free of your control and wreaked havoc and mayhem across the Mediterranean before disappearing into the Atlantic.”

“I did cause minor mayhem, I admit,” Grant replied. “But I was not aware of any havoc being wreaked.”

“We’re done here,” Dixon declared, and slammed the gavel on the sound block. “I move that first, we chalk this up as a total, disastrous loss, and second, that we make it clear to all Departments that Mister McSwain is not a reliable asset for the interests of the United States—particularly because he is absolutely beside himself with wild imaginations and baseless claims all unsupported by evidence.”

“I second the motion,” one of the other Senators said. “So long as those exact words are recorded for future reference, so that no one’s precious time may be wasted in such manner in the future.”

The vote passed unanimously and Grant and Teagan found themselves escorted from the chambers in haste.

Once outside the Capitol building, Grant took a deep breath and smiled as he surveyed the majesty of Washington D.C.

Swait Jaysis, Grant,” Teagan said with a long sigh. “That was a pretty little mess you made in there.”

“It’s perfect, Teag.”

“We’ll never work for the Americans again, and you think that’s a good thing?”

“We’ll never work for the American government again,” Grant said. “There are folk in the States who will be curious about our findings. But Uncle Sam won’t ever take another look our way.”

Teagan glanced back and spotted Senator Thornton watching. “I’m not so sure…”

Calm Before the (self-inflicted) Storm

I regret not participating in BlogBattles or posting, but I am enjoying a week off of work and a relaxing vacation to Okuma, the beach resort at the north end of Okinawa.

img_2230
Here’s the view from the cabin porch. It’s ok, I guess…

Also my mother-in-law is here. At least that’s not a bad thing like the stereotypical joke might imply.

After this week, I jump back into a flying schedule with double the standard workload and none of the additional support to make it work. So work is going to be crazy for a good while. And I still have an office to run when we’re not in the air doing the mission.

On top of that, I go to my PT test next week knowing I’m doomed to fail based on gaining too much weight and too much waist over the last several months. I don’t have any excuses; I know that if I log everything I eat, hold roughly to the suggested caloric intake, and get a decent amount of exercise, I can pass the test. The diet is the biggest part of achieving success, and it’s tiring to live like that for months on end. So my next few months will be not just flying but incorporating more exercise while watching and logging every calorie.

On a more positive note, prep for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is in full swing, and I’ll be participating in that again this year. During November, people around the world attempt to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1st and 30th. That works out to 1,667 words a day, assuming life never gets in the way. I’ve been planning a story and a setting with a friend, and I’m ready to dive in. I’m also the Okinawa Municipal Liaison, one of four for all of Japan, which means setting up meetings, posting messages to all of the participants in the region, and trying to help the whole event go smoothly. I love doing this but it’s a workload.

More important than all of the above, I have a wife and four kids that deserve attention. I can’t just write and workout when I’m not flying. (But I can write while getting some light exercise on a bike or a walk on a treadmill, so that’s one way to kill two birds with one stone.)

So we’re making the most of this down-time. We built a fire at sunset and roasted marshmallows, after I grilled some dogs, burgers, and corn. Last night, my wife and I enjoyed some quiet time just chatting on the porch, enjoying the cool breeze.

We’ll build a fire tonight if the rain stays away. Swimming one more time is on the menu, as is cycling around the resort. If the rain gets bad, we have some card games to play — we might get to those anyway, since my middle son is begging for them.

And maybe I’ll get some writing done. My NaNoWriMo project isn’t going to prep itself.

Fighting Fire with Fire

Here’s the #BlogBattle entry for this week’s word, “deterge” (to cleanse something). 1,499 words… sorry, I usually go over and have to cut it down.

No surprise, it’s more adventures of Grant & Teagan, coming right off the heels of last week’s entry. (Thanks for those who voted for last week’s entry as the winner!)

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Daring Doer of Good Deeds, Feisty Fighter of Fiends, and Cavalier Combat Champion

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

 

Slumped against the stump of a fallen tree, Grant’s blurry vision wavered as he watched Teagan rummaging through the foliage.

“I need more torchlight, Grant,” she barked.

He grunted and raised the torch higher, surprised by the exhaustion in his muscles but not by Teagan’s temper. She’d been like this for hours. Ever since it all went fuzzy.

The first rays of dawn peeked through the leafy branches far above, casting radiant beams into the darkness below. They seared Grant’s eyes, and his thoughts filled with an urge to flee. The trees were no refuge from that blazing fury in the sky. Perhaps a cave… and if he couldn’t find one, he would claw his way into the ground to escape that burning eye.

“Finally,” Teagan gasped, and Grant refocused his thoughts. She looked vibrant, her soft skin so bright even in the dim light, her hair a tangled mess swaying back and forth with each motion, her hands moving swiftly, the veins in her wrists throbbing and pulsing an intoxicating and sensual rhythm…

She dropped a few dark berries into a canteen cup, then drew a flask and small glass bottle from her pack. The flask Grant had seen before, but the bottle’s clear contents stirred in him an unexpected loathing.

“Stupid,” Teagan muttered to herself. “Why did I let Father MacCleary head back to town? I could really use some more holy wa–”

Teagan’s eyes flicked toward Grant, and she swallowed the rest of her comment. Silent, she poured the bottle into the canteen cup and mashed the berries, then shook it gently in one hand.

“What’s in the bottle, Teag?” Grant asked, caught off guard by the growl in his voice. “What are you making? What were those?”

“Belladonna berries,” Teagan said.

“Belladonna…” Grant mumbled. Memories came with difficulty. “Isn’t that poisonous?” He shivered, the slight bout of strange sickness developing into a debilitating chill.

“They’re only deadly if you use too much. That’s what the water and scotch are for—to dilute it. A good cup of Irish firewater to deterge the wound and warm your bones.”

She paused. “We’re fighting fire with fire here, one kind of death with another death. You might see some bizarre things. Belladonna has interesting effects.”

Grant noted how Teagan’s eyes stayed fixed on him while she poured her precious stash into the cup. The sharp odor of scotch filled Grant’s nostrils. Then she drew closer, hesitant like a forest creature, skittish and ready to bolt. What’s she afraid of?

Something rustled in the distance and Teagan’s head whipped toward the sound. “Tarvinthian’s still out there,” she said, and Grant felt a swell of loyalty he couldn’t explain.

“I don’t have time to wait,” Teagan said, watching Grant’s reactions. “I’m going to give you most of this to drink, but I need to wash out your wound.”

What wound? When did I get wounded? Grant squeezed his eyes shut, as if he could force the cloud of confusion out of his mind. He noticed the scrapes on his knuckles and the spattered blood on his tan shirt. There was a fight.

Eyes trained on him, Teagan crouched beside Grant and dabbed a cloth in the solution she’d prepared. The swish of water and scotch in the metal cup sounded like waves battering the side of a battleship. The thump-thump of Teagan’s heartbeat rushed through Grant’s ears like a lover’s whisper.

She extended the damp cloth toward his neck, and his hand flew to the wound. Teagan jumped back, nearly spilling her cup, but Grant focused on the breaks in his stubbly skin. Two punctures, not too deep. He pulled his hand away and inspected his fingers. Not a lot of blood loss? A neck wound should bleed profusely.

Teagan inched toward him once more. “You alright, Grant? Ready for the medicine? It’s going to sting…”

Her voice faded as Grant’s gaze lingered on her slender neck. She didn’t have any injury like his. Just an artery he could almost see through her skin, pumping precious, sweet life.

Then his world erupted in fire and anguish like the end of days. Searing pain coursed through his neck, clearing the fog in his mind and filling it with screaming.

Teagan dribbled the concoction across the wounds in his neck, and his chest burned as if the liquid carried acid straight to his heart. When he opened his mouth wide to howl at the torment, Teagan poured the rest down his throat.

The world shifted. The scattered rays of light became beams of glory from above, burning through shadows beneath the trees. The forest swayed and groaned like a living throng, each trunk a twisted face meant to instill horror in the hearts of the timid.

And Teagan—wings of blazing light sprang from her back, and a sword of gleaming metal shaped very much like Grant’s machete appeared in her hand. The crucifix dangling around her neck flared with some internal power and stunned Grant, forcing him to avert his eyes from the symbol.

Teagan hovered above him like a valkyrie descending from the heavens. Her trousers and thick linen blouse became a radiant breastplate and a set of layered metal like a skirt. Astounding and imposing, Teagan took a defensive stance over Grant as if to ward away unseen foes with her blade of light.

Then Grant beheld the Devil himself, a disfigured man with skin made of shifting shadows. The world seemed to darken and recoil from him as he approached. Eyes ablaze, with horns jutting from his forehead and chin, Tarvinthian glided through the air held aloft on leathery wings, his fingertips extended into curved obsidian claws. Long fangs protruded from his smirking yet ruined face, and even in that wounded state, Grant gawked at the wonder and commanding presence of this being.

My Lord… You’ve come for me.

The great one looked upon Grant with a mixture of surprise and pride. He said something to Teagan, but the words slipped through Grant’s addled mind. His chest felt like a furnace stoked to a white-hot blaze, and his head pounded with pressure like an overripe melon ready to split open.

Clouds danced across the sky like dust-devils on the prairies back home. The entire world seemed in motion, swirling and undulating, exploding like the colors in a kaleidoscope at the Fair. Grant groaned and fought a wave of nausea. “It’s the medicine working on you, fighting off the neurotoxins infecting you with vampirism,” Angel-Teagan said in her lilting Irish accent. “Let it finish its work before they take hold.”

Then she stabbed at the great devil before her, and bolts of light sprayed from her sword in all directions, illuminating the forest and burning Grant’s narrowed eyes.

Also the tree branches are all made of snakes. And the snakes are all made of mud like the creatures of Pandora. Grant shook his head and tried to focus, but Angel-Teagan and the devilish vampire lord sparred overhead, spinning between the tree-snakes. I really need to collect some of these berries for another day.

Angel-Teagan ducked under Tarvinthian’s sweeping strikes, keeping him at bay with careful swordplay. But he had her on the defensive, and already she bled liquid light from several scratches and minor wounds.

My Lord is toying with her, like a cat batting a mouse around for amusement.

The trunks of the trees shimmered and lined up like a military formation, though Grant’s vision of them wavered like looking through a rippling stream. The ranks of the forest seemed like a cage, trapping the devil and angel within their bounds. And the angel was losing.

Grant strained against the ground, his palms pushing against the earth. The grass screamed obscenities at him and the stump mocked his effort, but Grant managed to rise to one knee. His heart pumped molten lava through his arteries, the belladonna poison and holy water finishing its work. Grant winced but embraced the pain.

Tarvinthian’s devilish form vanished, leaving a scarred man in a torn tuxedo. Still his presence reverberated through Grant, demanding the allegiance such a transcendent being deserved.

Teagan’s radiance faded and her wings disappeared. Tattered linen replaced gleaming metal, and blood leaked from too many scrapes on her arms and legs. She panted and stumbled, the machete wobbling in her hand as she feebly warded off Tarvinthian’s approach.

Yes, the Vampire Lord’s voice echoed in Grant’s mind. Newborn, rise and do my bidding. Slay this woman who dares wound your Master. Then you shall take your place as my favored thrall.

“Sorry, Tarv,” Grant said through gritted teeth. “But I’m already enthralled by another, and I’m not about to let you have her. What say we add to those scars?”

He brandished a knife and lunged.

Japan Living

My family and I have been fortunate throughout my military career, and one such blessing is that the Air Force has seen fit to station me in Japan for the vast majority of my 20+ years.

Japanese culture is amazing. Honor and courtesy matter a great deal. Service is valued and something people take pride in. Offering a tip at a restaurant, for example, is frowned upon. The workers know the quality of their product and their service, and they charge you for what is fair. They don’t need a tip as a bribe to put in good effort nor do they want you to feel like you have to help them out financially. (I’m probably vastly misunderstanding the reasoning behind this but the point is, you don’t tip like you would in the States.)

It sometimes seems like the treatment or culture that is too good to be true.

There are some downsides… Traffic laws are such that any accident is partly your fault even if it’s clearly entirely the fault of the other party. If you hadn’t been where you were, they wouldn’t have hit you, or so I guess the logic goes.

So when a landscaping crew’s high-power weed whacker accidentally launched a rock into my minivan’s passenger side window, shattering it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. 

whoops!

While stopped and waiting for the light to turn green, I certainly didn’t expect the sudden pop and Pssshh of crumbling safety glass falling into my car. I may have said something unkind to the worker who–back turned to me, oblivious to my plight and rage–continued trimming the plants on the sidewalk’s edge. His co-worker noticed, called his attention to the situation, and helped start a rough conversation involving contacting his manager’s secretary who thankfully is bilingual. On the phone, she apologized and said someone was coming to take a look. 

In the States, I could almost imagine getting the finger and being sent on my way to sort matters out on my own. I worried that, like a traffic accident, this might fall into some mystical category of “But did you not contribute to the damage to your vehicle by placing your vehicle at that intersection, at that exact moment?”

The company offered to repair the window, which I at least hoped would be the case. I was happy enough with that.

Then they offered to get me a rental car in the mean-time. 

They repaired the car in less than half the expected time.

Then they cleaned out my car and (I’m pretty sure) filled up the gas tank. 

They paid for the rental–or technically, I paid for it on my credit card then they paid me in cash.

And then the manager handed me another envelope that looked like money. With some help and laughter from the bilingual ladies at the car rental office, I found out this was “for dinner.” It was a 10K yen note, which is roughly $100. I mean, the minivan might indicate a large family, but still… That’s a pricy dinner!

It would have been rude to refuse, because this is another custom. When you make a grievous error or do someone harm, you apologize and bring a gift of some sort to smooth the relationship.

As I type this, the taco style brick-oven pizzas my family loves are being cooked, purchased with the “dinner” gift, to be enjoyed with a family movie. Not too shabby. 

(Okay, being honest: the teens will probably thieve some pizza, opt out of family time, and hide out in their rooms watching YouTube videos. Just because we live in Japan, that doesn’t mean everything changes from what you might expect in the States.)

On the Hunt

Here’s this week’s #BlogBattle entry for “Hindered,” a continuation from last week’s episode in which Teagan killed Birgitte, the vampire Brood Mother who enslaved Grant to fulfill a task for the enigmatic Viscount Tarvinthian: opening an ancient prison of sunlight holding something at bay.

Genre: Adventure/Action (1,498 words)

Update: Thanks to those who voted and made this the winning story for the week!

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From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Cartographer of Uncharted Domains, Champion Pugilist, and Collector of Priceless AntiquitiesAccompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

Teagan dashed between gravestones and family reliquaries, constantly checking over her shoulder in her mad flight—even though it led to several painful collisions. The wind whipped through her red hair, and the humid mist filled her lungs, making each stride a strain. Her sides burned and her legs screamed, but she gritted her teeth and pressed on.

If I pause for a breath, they’ll be on me in an instant. And I don’t think I can resist a second time.

The memory of the smooth ivory face and piercing eyes washed over her and she almost stumbled. Just a glance from one of Tarvinthian’s progeny and she’d nearly succumbed. Teagan could no longer hold anger or jealousy toward Grant about his year-long escapade while enthralled by Birgitte, the Brood Mother. Younger vampires took hours or even days to turn a mortal to their will. But for these ancients, the allure of their mere presence seemed sufficient to draw Teagan under their thrall.

She felt the tingle throughout her body, the urge to give in, to turn and offer herself—arms extended, head raised to the cloudy night sky, neck exposed to cold air—

The breeze chilled her skin and she blinked, then realized she’d stopped and assumed the position she imagined. “No,” she howled into the night, fists clenched. “You twisted monsters, find a weaker mind!”

Three humanoid forms came into view, bounding across the earth and sky like a pack of predators on the hunt. Teagan turned and ran.

A battered chapel lay ahead, the dim light within a welcome sign of refuge. Hopefully Grant had done his part. Hopefully Birgitte’s ‘daughters’ aren’t pursuing him either. I don’t want him to be the weak-willed man they find.

She scrambled up the cracked wooden steps and tugged on the heavy doors. Grass rustled behind her, the vampire’s footfall soft even from dozens of feet in the air. Teagan froze and shut her eyes, focusing on the silent approach of a curious sensation. Her will began to buckle under the enormous weight and incessant pull toward this supernatural being. Had she tried to run, her feet would betray her, leaden and obstinate as if her boots had been nailed to the floorboards. If she looked on that face again—that glorious, radiant face—she would succumb and be his.

Her heartbeat thudded in her chest and she knew he must hear it, must sense the rich blood flowing through her veins, the life force that could feed his insatiable hunger, the captive will that wanted to do nothing else…

The wood behind her creaked under his weight. Teagan snatched the sawed-off shotgun from the holster on her leg and fired it blind over her shoulder. Flaming bits of dried, minced and powdered garlic sprayed from the barrel, and the thing shrieked.

The spell broken, Teagan turned, raised the gun toward the ravaged, peppered face, and pulled the trigger. Lust and hunger forgotten, the creature’s eyes blazed with fury and hatred for an instant before the golden cloud of garlic blurred Teagan’s view. Then it fell to the ground, screaming and clawing at tattered flesh.

Teagan traded the shotgun to her left hand and slipped a silver crucifix from her belt into her empty palm. At the foot of the cross, the silver extended into a point like a railroad spike. “The Lord rebuke you, fiend,” Teagan said, and jammed the holy ornament into the vampire’s back.

It howled and thrashed across the ground, fleeing her wrath. But two others alighted on the grass near the chapel, their stern gazes devoid of mercy.

Teagan ducked inside, hoping ancient sacred ground might slow their pursuit. A priest stood before the altar, chanting warding prayers in Latin with a rich, sonorous tone. As the last syllable left his mouth, the atmosphere changed. The misty gloom and dread Teagan felt vanished in the soft glow of candles and an inner warmth of hope.

The priest turned to Teagan and smiled. “It seems to have worked. I’m honestly surprised. I don’t believe anyone has sung that canticle in many years.”

“Father MacCleary,” Teagan gushed, “it’s been too long. So good of you to come.”

“So good to see you again, Miss O’Daire,” he said, “even if you no longer wear the nun’s habit.”

Teagan pursed her lips, but sensed no judgment intended. “Not a very good sheep, I’m afraid. Never been willing to stay in the pen.”

MacCleary nodded. “I know, lass. But praise be that the Good Shepherd is ever willing to travel far and wide to find the one who goes astray.”

Something raked the wooden walls, and a window shattered as a chunk of gravestone flew through the stained glass. A pale face with glowing eyes peered inside before skittering into the darkness.

“The Good Shepherd’s not the only one chasing me tonight, Father,” Teagan said. “But they don’t seem willing or able to breach your spiritual defenses. So yes, praise be.” She looked over the less mystical preparations Grant had made during the day, and smiled. He had done well.

“Alas for Mister McSwain,” Father MacCleary said, “caught out in all that danger.”

Distant shotgun blasts rang out in the night, and Teagan laughed. “Don’t waste your worry on him. If I know Grant, he’s loving every moment of this.”

“Well, he can have it all,” MacCleary said with a forced laugh. “I still don’t want to believe this is happening. On a chill night such as this, I would much prefer a cup of tea and reading the Good Book by candlelight in the comfort of my parish.”

“You’ll be back to your disciplines before you know it, Father. Your help tonight may well save not just our lives but the souls of many potential victims.”

Another window shattered, and stone crashed into a dusty wooden pew. Father MacCleary and Teagan both spun toward the sound. Then Teagan sighed with relief. “All they can do is hurt the look of the place.”

More shotgun blasts echoed in the night, closer than the first. More unearthly shrieks, too, and a hearty laugh. Grant must be alright. Teagan stared blankly through the broken window into the night, her hands absently turning her holy medallion between her fingers.

Then an oppressive and palpable darkness swept through the chapel. The walls shook and groaned like a tremor passed through the earth. Thunder boomed and the thick wooden doors flew apart in splinters.

Tarvinthian himself stood at the doorframe, decked in a fine burgundy tuxedo as if attending a lavish ball. His beady eyes stared down his hawkish nose at Teagan and Father MacCleary. Then he brushed the tails of his coats back and cracked his fingers like a maestro about to perform.

The vampire lord stepped into the sanctuary, his motion slow and labored, though his face showed no sign of strain. Bands of light flickered, wrapping around like invisible cords resisting his pale skin and dark suit. He took another step and the bands flashed brighter, stretching his clothing across his torso and limbs. The intermittent flashes became constant as Tarvinthian forced his way forward.

The wards snapped, and the doorframe and surrounding wall crumbled with a thunderclap. Tarvinthian raised an eyebrow. “Impressive, priest. I haven’t dealt with such a hindrance in over a century.”

Father MacCleary stammered and shrank back toward the altar, his white-knuckled fingers wrapped around a rosary.

“Pray all you like,” Tarvinthian said, “but you needn’t fear. I am not here for you, man of a so-called God. Nor for the one killing my children outside—though I will end him.”

His gaze fell upon Teagan, and his cracked, deathly lips parted like rotted cloth. “I am here for you, the one who dared to slay Birgitte–a very goddess. My goddess.”

Teagan fought the fear rising in her and stood firm in the front of the sanctuary. Her hands twitched, demanding in panic that she draw her shotgun or at least another crucifix—anything to defend herself as Tarvinthian steadily advanced.

Then he stepped on the loose floorboard where Grant had placed the trigger. Beneath the sanctuary, a latch released the line once held taut, which led behind the altar and up the inside of the bell tower’s base. Released from its bond, the rope hissed through metal loops toward a massive wooden spike soaked in holy water, mounted on a spring-loaded beam attached to the ceiling.

The spike swung through the center aisle in a blur and impaled Tarvinthian where he stood. His flesh smoldered where the wood touched it, and he bellowed in agony.

Teagan drew her shotgun, then advanced on her prey. “That’s right. I slew your goddess. And I’m not done yet.”

She leveled the gun at his face and fired.

Literary Karaoke