All posts by sonworshiper

Husband, father, worshiper, gamer, writer, singer, pianist, coffee fiend

Walking by Starlight

Happy Easter, dear readers!

While picking up some old, nostalgic Hillsongs praise & worship albums off iTunes, I spotted the latest release from Bethel Music:

Starlight

Since I’ve started playing music for the base chapel again, I decided it might be worthwhile to get some current music.

While I have my concerns about the praise & worship industry and the seeming endless stream of albums it churns forth, I admit I like finding powerful music that conveys an age-old truth in a fresh way.

I picked one of the song titles to get an idea of some of the album’s music, and went with “Catch the Wind.” The keys caught my attention at once, airy and flighty but energetic and driving. The message of the chorus hit home as exactly what I wanted:

Your faithfulness will never let me down

I’m confident I’ll see Your goodness now

I know You hear my heart, I’m singing out

There’s nothing that can stop Your goodness now

The song has flowing, rhythmic verses and a deliberate, declarative chorus on the beat, a nice contrast that I enjoy both musically and spiritually. It’s not really a “sing this in church with the congregation” song in my mind, but it’s a great meditative song I’ll listen to in the car or in my personal quiet time.

I also listened to “There’s No Other Name” and discovered a favorite in
“Take Courage.” To read about those two (and catch a video of the latter), check out my original post here at my new website address and give it a follow for more.

My Life’s Work – a Blog Battle post

Here’s my Blog Battle entry for this week, in the genre of fantasy, with the theme word of “selfie.”
I especially enjoyed writing something placed in my own fantasy setting from my novel Diffraction. 

—-
I hear their voices long before I see them. Footfalls echo in the
halls. Laughter and commentary resounds off the palace’s high ceiling and polished marble floors.
“Look at this piece,” the man says. “Astounding… like what a falcon
in flight must see from on high over the City’s towers.” He sounds
refined, educated, a man of wealth and relative ease. Probably one of the City’s many so-called Ministers–men and women whose title implies service, something of which they are invariably found only on the receiving end.
“So real,” his companion replies, her soft voice hushed in awe. “I
feel almost faint, as if I might fall through and plummet to my
death.” Too chipper for my taste, too airy. I imagine she’s the upper
class equivalent of dancing girls in the Outskirts–there for show,
not insight. Her voice calls to mind a songbird displayed in a cage,
able to delight for short durations, but insufferable if permitted to
make constant noise.
“Still better to you than the portraits?”
“Much,” she says. “I don’t like the faces. The landscapes at least are
magnificent.”
“Reminiscent of Serathil’s work,” the man says. “I know that’s what
they all say of Marwen’s paintings, but I had no idea the similarities
would be so striking.”
“Perhaps Marwen leanred some of the same techniques… or more likely stole them.”
Or perhaps I fought for years to master my craft, you coddled child.
What do you have that wasn’t given to you for no other reason than the fortune of your birth or the depth of your bosom?
And then I remember the Visitor years ago–his unhinged personality, inhuman predatory eyes, and alluring offer.
Why did I ever agree?

(continued in the original post)

See the original here. Also, if you like my blog, stories, or updates, please subscribe to the new site! Thanks!

An Unlikely View…a Different Review

Great thoughts on how we approach the world and the stories we encounter there…

Sarah Cinnamon

untitledAs I sit here this evening – I am overwhelmed with words and emotion and yet unsure how to express either. Days ago, I walked into a movie theater to view a movie I had been excited about since I had first heard it was in the works. Beauty and the Beast. I was 15 years old when the animated version came out. I remember watching it with my sister when she was home on break from college. I remember at the time feeling so moved by such a beautiful movie. The story hit me personally somehow; the music moved me; the characters impacted me. I remember even then thinking – how can this beautifully crafted cartoon have such an affect on me? So to say that I was both excited and nervous about the live action version is a bit understated. Excited to revisit a favorite in a new…

View original post 1,301 more words

New Website

So I finally cracked and got myself a webpage. I’ve been bothered by the thought of telling people “go to blah-blah dot wordpress dot com” and I’ve fallen victim to the influence of all those writer friends who have their own sites.

Nicole Bianchi is one of the writers I follow, and her advice has been pretty solid in my opinion. Here’s her take on building a website.

I am in the process of converting the new site – davidmwilliamson.net – into a completed, finalized product. Right now, it’s pretty sparse, probably because I don’t understand how to properly import all my WordPress images and files.

Just what I needed to do… create more work for myself!

Point being, I’d love it if you’d go to the new site and sign up to follow from there, as that’s going to be my long-term home. I’ll try to run these two sites more or less concurrently in the interim, unless I figure out a reliable way to share the new site’s posts here.

Thanks so much for the encouragement and readership as I pursue this dream and make it a reality.

-Dave

The Finest Spirits #BlogBattle entry

Genre: Fantasy

Word prompt: Liquid

On the jagged, winding road that slopes down into the Pit of Hell, inside a little dim-lit crevice nestled between the lost souls begging for someone to drag them out and the angelic patrols enforcing the justice of Heaven, there’s this hole-in-the-wall dive that’s worth a pit-stop.

Pit stop, get it? I kill me… which is part of why I’m here. 

Being a shade stuck in Limbo ain’t so bad as it sounds. I got skills from my time in the flesh–after twenty-three years on the beat with a badge, I know how to find what people are looking for, whether it’s a rogue demon giving the angels trouble or a way back for a vengeful victim.

I don’t know the name of the joint. It’s got some kinda Japaneezy scribbles on account of the Oni that runs the place. I try to steer clear of him and his goons. But I keep visiting because they got the best spirits anywhere –above, on the earth, or below, there’s no place like it.

Plus there’s a girl. Of course there is.

The bouncers know me, but I still get a quiver in what used to be my spine when they look at me with those blood red eyes and sharp black horns. They wave me on, but entrance is never free. Just inside the door sits a gangly, rat-faced creature, all done up in a hooded robe and ornate jewelry. He’s the Oni’s info-broker, a dealer in secrets, the only currency that’s any value in this establishment.

I know things, stuff that people would like to think they kept hidden in life. Like I said, decades of detective work. Half my mind is full of tidbits the Oni would accept. The info somehow gives him leverage over people this side of the grave–I don’t know how it works and I don’t need to.

I just need to see her.

The music is thumping inside–sounds like a busy night. After scrawling my offering in the air with flaming glyphs that vanish a second later, Rat-face waves me on and I step through the thick obsidian doors.

The atmosphere is like a swank club back upstairs, with a dance floor and plenty of private seating booths. Some back rooms support larger groups, like the revenants and emo types, the vampires and ghosts that can’t talk about anything other than how much they’re suffering and loathing the crushing burden of their deathless existence. I can’t stand their type. At least when I offed myself, I didn’t make some big, long show of it, and I didn’t spend the rest of eternity talking about it down here.

The real attraction is the bar, of course, and plenty of uglies are clustered around it putting in their orders. The barkeep, Jimmy Two-Claws, spots me beyond the sea of faces and pulls a bright bottle off the shelf. “The usual, Dom?”

“Nothing but.”

They got some kind of tracking system worked out, where Rat-face notifies the bar how much you got on your account based on the value of the secret. Mine should get me twenty minutes.

I find an empty booth and pop the cork. Radiant steam curls out of the bottle, expanding into a humanoid cloud. Then it solidifies in the seat next to me, and Innova appears. Her hair shimmers a rainbow like mother-of-pearl. The embodiment of Inspiration, her skin illuminates the booth with fluorescence like a human lightbulb. She stretches her perfect form and cocks her head like she’s loosening stiff joints in her neck. The sight of her fills me with energy, makes me feel alive again, like I could do anything I want.

That’s how it works. The Oni serves up spirits. You pay a secret, you get to spend some time with whatever you like. Creativity, Adventure, Love, Happiness and the like for the good-hearted. Strife, Jealousy, Avarice, Wrath and such for the rougher crowd. Bottles of every color adorn the shelf behind the bar, every one of them holding spirits trapped by the Oni, earning their freedom night by night depending on how many customers they can bring in.

I wonder how much longer it’ll take my girl to escape this hole.

“You look good, Innova. As always.”

“And what dreams can I inspire within you tonight, Dom?”

“Come on. You know you don’t have to keep up the act with me, babe.”

Innova laughs. “Maybe with you it’s not an act,” she purrs.

“We’ve shared too many last calls for that. I’m here for you, not your spiel.”

She smiles, then slouches in the seat and watches the crowd, the sign that she’s finally being herself instead of what people expect.

One of the staff approaches a couple in a secluded booth with an unopened bottle on the table, the contents a deep crimson, glowing from within. Romance, I’m guessing, or maybe Lust. Probably hoped to rekindle something, but neither one made a move to pop the cork. 

“Doesn’t look good for those two,” I say, and Innova nods. 

This is how we pass the time together–watching the desperate slobs that come in, guessing at what drives the choices they make, wondering what choices led them here in the first place.

“Check out these idiots,” Innova says, pointing to the dark room full of emo kids. A waitress brings them another round of black bottles–spirits of despair.

I listen close and hear a woman’s voice, gritty like a smoker, reading over a soft-tapped rhythm. “Shadows swirl and roll, a collision in my glass-imprisoned soul, this vessel can’t hold the full measure of my sorrow, pour it out tonight, tomorrow there’s more there. One day I’ll be free… what place waits for me? Nowhere.

“Oh god. Are they doing beat poetry?”

“I tried to offer Despra some tips once,” Innova says of the other spirit. “But she and I aren’t on speaking terms since that ill-fated Karaoke contest last month.” She shakes her head and mutters, “Despra should not sing Disney songs, like, ever.”

“Bet that was a wreck.”

Innova shifts and glances at the hell spawn near the bar. He’s glaring at me, his yellow eyes watching like a predator in the wild. 

“Time’s almost up, Dom.” She’s nervous, eying her bottle-prison with displeasure.

“I’ll pay for more, no problem.”

The second the words leave my mouth, Rat-face is at my side, a toothy grin splitting his lips, his rotting breath leaking out with a hiss. Between my need to avoid him as long as possible and my desire to give Innova a reason to keep smiling, I dig up a really good secret from the back of my mind. Juicy details on the intimate indiscretions of certain angelic patrols that aren’t coming down this way for duty.

Once Rat-face is gone, Innova relaxes and puts her hand in mine. “You didn’t have to pay that much,” she says.

“Just helping work off your debt to the Oni.”

Innova brushes her hand through her hair. “Do you realize how much you just put on your account? You couldn’t spend it all tonight.”

I shrug. “I’ll be by tomorrow, then.”

“I know you will.” She hesitates, then leans close. “Or… do you see that violet bottle on the top shelf?”

“The dusty one? Looks like it hasn’t been touched in years.”

She nods. “Generosity isn’t a common companion this side of the pearly gates. Would you do me a favor?”

I already know what she’s getting at. “Sure. I’ll by a shot. Hey Jimmy!”

A moment later, Innova and I work together to pop the cork. A wave of giddiness hits me as it launches across the booth, and we collapse in laughter. 

Then I hear myself talking like an idiot. “Jimmy, you know what? Get everyone another round of whatever they’re having–on me!”

The bar erupts with cheers and applause. Even the hardest toughs give me a nod or raised glass in respect. And I’m sitting here wondering what the heck just happened. 

Several bottles get passed throughout the crowd. Spirits appear at the bar, in booths, on the dance floor, at pool tables… all across the place, their grateful, liberated faces flash me and Innova a smile. 

I jam the cork into the bottle of Generosity before I say anything else stupid. Then I shoot Innova a glare. She gives me a sheepish grin. “Think of how many you just released,” she says. “How much closer they are to freedom. Do you feel the positive energy in the room right now?”

“You knew that would happen.”

Innova shrugs, feigning innocence. “What can I say? It’s my job to inspire others.”

When I finally leave, just before what passes for dawn in this hellhole, I pause to consider if I’m coming back tomorrow. Then I realize, who am I kidding?

I walk up the slope, picturing Innova’s smile and running down the list of secrets bouncing around in my head.

Going Camping

This year I set a goal of writing at least 1,000 words per day. Ideally, that means writing every single day, but the sad fact is, real life happens and it’s rarely on friendly terms with our goals.

I stayed just ahead of January and February, but the first week of March beat me down. I want to pretend I tried hard, but I succumbed all too easily to a combination of upper respiratory congestion, heavy duty medication, and—worst of all—a really exceptional new PS4 game. (Read about the culprit here.)

One of the keys to carrying out the goals we set is accountability of some sort. Telling a friend or declaring a new effort on social media is one way of improving our chances. Our commitment is out there for others to challenge. Are we going to follow through on what we said?

Today was one of those days someone asked about Book Two, and I found myself equal parts embarrassed and grateful—glad for someone who asks the question since that’s encouraging, but disappointed by my failure to make progress.

So with all that in mind, I go to my inbox and find reminders for Camp NaNoWriMo which starts in April. 


If you’re not familiar, National Novel Writing Month is an event every November where writers crank out new fiction novels of 50,000 words or more, and I’ve participated three years now.

After November, the organization doesn’t just take the rest of the year off; they run less formal events in April and July. Unlike November’s event, Camp NaNoWriMo participants can write whatever style of material they want – musicals, plays, scripts, novels, non-fiction, poetry, whatever. And instead of a hard goal of 50K words, participants set their own goals based on whatever commitment they can make.

The site has incorporated new trackers and resources: you can log word count, or pages, or hours spent if you prefer. Their writing resources page covers a surprising variety of topics from planning to revising and everything in between.

Here’s my commitment: I am going to participate this year, and I’m going to pour my effort into the sequel to Diffraction. NaNoWriMo’s 50K is a bit much. However, if I’m keeping up my normal effort, then I should be writing 30K words throughout April no matter what (including any side projects, blog posts, and personal journal writing). So my happy medium is going to be 40K words put into the draft of Book 2.

There it is, out in the public eye.

Bullet Journals are Fire

I added a couple adjustments to my Bullet Journal process since my last post on the subject. Here are a couple quick tricks that I think work for both the minimalist version and the artsy / time-consuming arrangements.

Track the workplace “fires” that you put out

If a task is REALLY frustrating, actual fire is also an option.

Office workers know the pain of watching your organized, planned-out schedule burst into flames as managers or circumstances bring you all sorts of “fires” to put out. Urgent tasks demand attention. Surprise emails reprioritize your day. The boss comes in and says “Drop what you’re doing, I need you on This now.” 

Bullet Journal is about tracking what you’ve done as well as organizing your future effort, so from the beginning I’ve written down the unplanned or unexpected tasks I accomplish. But I decided to capture these random “opportunities” with a symbol all their own: a little flame on the task. Not only does that identify the task as HOT but it also shows that I didn’t plan for this… which might explain why other tasks get migrated to the next day (yet again). 

Even more rewarding? When that surprise tasker is completed, I can draw a squiggle on the fire to show it has been put out properly. We joke about putting out fires all day—why not incorporate that into my BuJo?

Yep. I still hate the term “BuJo.”

Color code or number your top priority tasks 

When I first started my journal, I picked up a set of five ultra fine point gel pens with different color ink: black, blue, purple, red, and green. I thought I’d use them more often, but I prefer colored pencils for anything artsy. So I’ve had these things sitting in a pen case doing nothing. 

The other day, I think a motivational video or article suggested organizing or identifying certain tasks as the priorities for a given day, and hitting those first. I could use numbers, of course… but why not the pens? Now I look over my to-do list for the day and underline four tasks in priority order—red, purple, blue, green—as my primary focus items. It’s an added satisfaction to check those off as done.

Sometimes you just have to punch Monday in the junk.

Today, I knocked out everything on my high-priority list before my lunch break. Now I can get to some of the other tasks in the afternoon, with the satisfaction that the big items are out of the way.

Time Management

On a side note, when I reviewed February’s journal entries, I found a lot of references to using the limited time we’re given wisely. As I considered how to lay out March’s monthly calendar and tracker, I decided to incorporate that message into my spread as a constant reminder this month. I found a few sweet quotes that spur me on to do the most with each day:

And naturally, as a Whovian, I had to incorporate the Doctor and some items related to his adventures. Here’s my timey-wimey March page:

The trouble is, you think you have time. -Buddha

Some of the applicable motivational quotes that have come my way include:

  • The billionaire and the beggar each are given the same 24 hours in a day.
  • You will never “find” time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.
  • We hold other people to guarantees and promises, like “30-day satisfaction or your money back.” Why don’t we hold ourselves to that standard? You owe you, you owe it to yourself to set such a standard.
  • It’s not a last minute “fire” task if it’s a “waited until the last minute” task. That’s just poor planning or poor execution. (That’s my own, in light of the fire symbol idea.)

Take a Bow

…and plenty of arrows. So many arrows.

Don’t mind me… just bow-hunting off the back of my robot horse.

So about a week ago the fabulous PS4-exclusive game Horizon: Zero Dawn invaded my conscious awareness, and like the horde of hostile robots filling its setting, something had to be done to address this!

Namely purchasing and playing the game at every opportunity. (And also spreading the good news, since the game hasn’t been on my radar or that of several friends.)

I must admit, I am a sucker for pre-historic / post-apocalyptic scenarios. I love piecing together the fact that something terrible happened to humanity in the deep “past” (usually our distant future), and I love seeing the elements of human culture storytellers and artists see fit to incorporate into their ruined worlds–the metal bones of skyscrapers or the rusting panels of ancient radar dishes, the “new” Bronze Age civilizations built atop the remains of what came before, the various ways people in these worlds have adopted the scraps of technology they can’t understand.

In other words, Horizon: Zero Dawn had its hooks in me pretty easy. 


I did at least look into reviews online before putting a copy in my shopping basket. I’ve learned too many painful lessons from spontaneous purchases over the years. Based on what just about everyone was saying online–both professional game reviews and user feedback–I felt I’d get my money’s worth.

I was not prepared!

If I had to narrow down what I love so much, I’d say Horizon is like Tomb Raider meets Mass Effect… an interesting combination of sci-fi story, “open” exploration, and thrilling combat in a variety of styles.
– Fluid fighting that is fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable, and rewarding for the varied approaches available. Go stealth bow-assassin, or creep up and stab unsuspecting foes, or set a variety of traps and lure enemies into them, or use elemental weapons to render enemies vulnerable to your attacks, or just run in and spear the crap out of everything. All of them are fun and exciting methods; none feel tacked on last minute or treated like less than ideal playstyles.

A friend put it as, “The game doesn’t tell you to play this or that way. It just gives you all these tools, and you realize, ‘I could do some interesting things with these…’”

– Beautiful graphics even on my plain old normal PS4. The people look realistic without being creepy. The world looks tangible and gorgeous.
I want to explore this place and take liberal use of the in-game photo mode.

– Great voice work and interesting story line. Pre-historic / Post-apocalyptic with a heaping dose of mystery. How did civilization collapse? Where did all these robots come from? What happens when I set alight all these explosive canisters on the backs of that herd of robots? (Spoilers: beautiful, powerful explosions.)

– Indepth details you can explore to piece together more of the world’s history… along with some chilling or touching tidbits. There are text entries aplenty, but you often get to see holograms or hear audio recordings from the time before the collapse.

– A perfect in-story explanation for the “magic sense” mechanic. In other games, it’s Detective Mode because of Batman’s gadgets or intellect (the Arkham series), or some kind of Survival Instincts because Lara Croft is Lara Croft (Tomb Raider). Horizon has that, but it explains why the heroine Aloy knows so much more than a random tribeswoman should.

So far, Horizon has shattered all my expectations and reliably pulled me back in for “just another quest.” 

Well done, Guerilla Games and Sony. You have a winner here. Take a bow.

Christian Stars vs. the Forces of Evil

There’s a movie coming out soon that–from a Gospel perspective–has an awesome story of love:

…love that does not judge based on the outward appearance but looks into the heart… 

…love that sacrifices, that willingly leaves comfort and wealth behind, accepting separation and lowered status… 

…love that is powerful enough to break a curse and redeem the soul everyone thought lost….

What an opportunity to point out the parallels to Christ and the Good News. 

But two minutes of questionable content can ruin all of that, if someone is so inclined.

If you haven’t heard all the hooplah, there’s a scene in the new live-action Beauty and the Beast which shows a man having feelings for another man, thus inviting a firestorm of judgment by concerned Christians on social media. Some are even going so far as to say that Belle’s love for Beast is an encouragement toward bestiality, further proof of the Magic Kingdom’s depravity! (/sarcasm)

Numerous Christian leaders have come forward to condemn the inclusion of a gay man having a romantic interest in another male character. It doesn’t help Disney’s cause that this news broke alongside another boundary-pushing moment, this time in a cartoon on Disney XD.


During a scene depicting a school dance, at one point all the pairs of students kiss. If you look away from the main characters and pay attention to all the shaded characters included as props for the scene, you’ll see that there are some same-sex couples mixed in with all the heterosexual couples. 

This didn’t escape the Religious Right’s notice, and–coupled with the scene from Beauty and the Beast–a number of big-name leaders are calling for a boycott of all things Disney. (Good luck. Run down the list of all their affiliates and companies they’ve absorbed, and there’s a high chance you’re enjoying some Disney entertainment without realizing it.)

The biggest fear all these leaders have? We can’t have Disney pushing an agenda of “normalizing” homosexuality. 

Here’s the thing: When we’re talking about between 2% and 10% of the population, it may sound small, but that’s a pretty sizeable group. That’s between 7 and 35 million people in the US.  (Here’s a good break-down on that controversial 10% number.) 

Not good enough? Not a big enough population to deserve any sort of attention?

Imagine someone claiming that every leftie on TV or in a movie was part of an agenda to “normalize” being left-handed. Picture a public figure claiming we should boycott a company because of their agenda of normalizing red hair. The population demographics are roughly the same. (2% average for red-heads, with some populations like Scotland and Ireland boasting 13% and 10% respectively. 10% for left-handed people across the board.)

Including a group, putting a token character or token couples into a scene–that’s not an agenda of normalization, that’s recognizing their existence.

Do we consider Uhura and Sulu in Star Trek as part of some aggressive agenda? African-Americans make up ~12% of the US population, and Asian-Americans make up ~5%. 

I think rationally we can look back and say, yes, Gene Roddenberry was pushing boundaries. But he was displaying the reality that yes, there are people who are black or Asian. At the time, it may have riled some viewers, but now we generally look back and applaud his forward vision and inclusive casting. 

I can already hear the argument coming: “Well, it’s different with homosexuality, because I believe it’s a choice.”

Let’s go with that. A lot of things are choices, and we see them normalized if not glorified all across media, yet there’s little outcry against it.

Sexualized characters? Heterosexual relationships outside of marriage? Infidelity? Promiscuity? Where are all the boycotts for all the companies that engage in “normalizing” this behavior?

Greed? Jealousy? Pride? All of these character traits are constantly on display–quite often it’s the hero or heroine who engages in these sins. Sometimes there’s a moral to the story and the downside is shown, but quite often, there are no consequences to this kind of behavior. Is that the good Christian message we want?

What about overweight characters? Perhaps we let the “agenda of gluttony” slip by under the radar because most often, fat characters are used solely as comic relief–an issue that merits its own post. Or perhaps we can look at the congregation filling the pews in real life and so we shy away from this one… it hits too close to home, or too near to the all-you-can-eat place we’re going to after the service.

Violence is the biggest one of the bunch. Some movies make it a point to display the horrors of war or the cruelty and heartlessness of criminals or villains, and maybe there’s an argument for why those depictions matter in the context of those stories. (Saving Private Ryan, for example, would probably not be as hard-hitting without the hyper-graphic rendition of the Normandy landing on D-Day.)

But how often do we watch entertainment that includes graphic violence? How often are our children exposed to such movies or TV shows? Some studios avoid all the gore and blood, or present enemies that are probably more tolerable, like armies of Ultrons or robotic aliens. But having visited the theater for a number of recent movie releases that fall under the Disney umbrella, I can say that our culture sees no serious problem with kids watching a ton of violent content. 

Why aren’t we protesting the normalization of violence–something we all hope our children will never witness in their entire lives? And yet a movie with positive messages and powerful potential allegory is subject to boycott because “oh dear, it has one of the gays in it, and I wouldn’t want my kids to think that’s normal even though they’ll likely encounter actual gay people all throughout their lives.”

It’s a fact. Redheads exist. So do lefties. And so do homosexuals. Pretending they don’t is a foolish plan. Actively protesting anything that acknowledges their existence or recognizes them as fellow human beings?

The only agenda we’ll impact that way is our own.

Unheeded – a #BlogBattle Western

Genre: Historical Fiction (subgenre – Western) 

Word: Melody

This is written from the perspective of a character I’ve been using in other Western-Fantasy short stories, a gambler-prophet of questionable character that I hope to develop into a novella or even full-length book. I dialed down the “magic” element to fit this week’s BlogBattle. 

Update: 


This story won the BlogBattle for the week! Thanks to all who voted for this post.

They say life has a rhythm, a music all its own, drummed out in the thum-thump of the heart beating in every man’s chest. They make it sound all wonderful and precious, like the gold-painted clouds and mountain peaks at sunset.  
But when you’re lyin’ in the dust bleedin’ out from a gunshot wound in the back, it don’t feel so carefree and melodious as all that. Lots more gasping and choking on blood than any harps or angel-song from on High.

That old devil Lucien’s veiled threat echoes in my mind. “I’d hate for my warnings to go unheeded, Mister Jackson.”

Oh, I heard your rattling an’ hissing just fine, you low-down snake.

The sky fades in an’ out—my eyes closing, longer each time. Someone shouts for the Doc, the only man in town that’s got half a chance of keepin’ me out of the grave. Harmony’s mother cries nearby and whispers thanks to the sweet Lord Jesus for protectin’ her little one.

Woulda been mighty kind of Him to come take the bullet instead of sending me. I can’t draw breath to speak, but I think it really hard.

 Harmony grabs hold of my vest and shakes me, tears cutting through the dust on her cheeks, her frail arms straining with my weight. I hear boots scuffing through the dirt and see Doc Hartford running, his little black bag of medicines and tools jangling. Then everything fades to dreams and recent memories.

* * * * *

 “You know, Mister Jackson,” Lucien says, his voice calm and measured, “I’m disappointed. With a gift like yours, I expected so much more.”

The setting sun fills the sky with red and purple hues, the rolling hills and waving grass a deep indigo in the fading light. Lucien and his men are like silhouettes, lined up in front of the Branston farm. His hired guns look like specters of death, holsters hanging prominent off their hips, rifle stocks in easy reach over shoulders.

 Lucien strikes me as a man likes to think he’s above all that, but I know he’ll get his hands dirty if the situation calls for it. There’s a light in his eye and a quiver of anticipation in his voice at the prospect of violence.

 “The Branstons aren’t sellin’ their land,” I say again. “Not to you, Mister Lucien, nor to any of the fine gentlemen you’ve sent in the past.”

 Soft wind blows and the horses stamp their feet nearby. Even they sense the tension.

 “I do wish they’d reconsider,” he says. “I’m offering a fetching price. They could afford tuition at an East Coast school for their precious daughter, one that specializes in educating those with her affliction.”

 Harmony took ill last year, struck with the German measles just after her eighth birthday. One morning she woke up deaf and hasn’t heard a thing since. Used to sing hymns better than anyone in the Parson’s chapel, be they woman, man, or angel of God. Still sings and dances, still holds the key most times… but the songs feel heavy, like someone threw a sandbag on her soul. She and her parents don’t need James Lucien stalkin’ around their land like a wolf eyeing the flock.

 “Harmony’s doin’ just fine,” I say. “She learnt her letters before the illness struck, and still speaks clear enough to be understood.”

 “That’s good. But I fear she’s not the only one with such a condition.” Lucien leans in, pats two of his boys on the shoulder. “I’d hate for my warnings to go unheeded…”

* * * * *

 The sun’s started its descent behind the rough wood buildings of Redstone, which helps to keep it out of my aim. Serendipity’s hitched at a post near the saloon, more for his safety than any intention of mine to visit that establishment.

No sign of Lucien’s man, but the message said out front of the chapel at six o’clock. Maybe the Branstons and some of the other folk gathered into the Lord’s house are putting in some words on my behalf.

I’m putting myself at risk a bit standing out here in the open, trusting Lucien more than I’d like. Not trusting his honor, for sure—rather, relying on his pride.

He doesn’t just want me out of his way, or he’d have gunned me down months ago. My gift with gunfighting ain’t gonna stand up to the number of men Lucien could bring down on my head. No, he’s driven to win this thing between us on a different level. That’s why he keeps poking and prodding like a kid taking the guts out of a grandfather clock to see what makes the parts move.

I’d like to keep my guts inside my skin, if it’s all the same.

Pacing up and down the street ain’t my thing, but here I am doin’ it. My eyes flicker from the upstairs windows of the saloon with its fast-step piano music tink-a-tinking above the laughter, to the rooftop of the apothecary’s shop, to the shadowy bed of the creaky Conestoga wagon slow-rollin’ through the town. I think I got a bead on Lucien’s moral compass, so I shouldn’t be expecting an ambush. But I don’t know the man he sent, and given the choice, people have a way of choosin’ the easiest option.

Then I hear a tune on the breeze, and not some drinking song neither. Harmony Branston twirls among the daffodils and violets on the lawn beside the chapel, picking flowers and singing her heart out. “Still the small inward voice I hear… that whispers all my sins forgiven… Still the atoning blood is near… that quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven…”

There’s a glint of gunmetal from atop the sundry goods store, and my faith in Lucien crumbles to dust. It ain’t aimed at me. 

I scream Harmony’s name—knowin’ full well it won’t do a bit of good—and sprint like a jackrabbit. Her eyes go wide mid-spin at the sight of me barrelin’ toward her. She stumbles, falling back, arms flailing for balance. When I’m practically on top of her, thunder cracks the silence under the clear sky, and pain shoots through my side like someone dropped a hot coal into my belly.

I grip my side—my shirt slick and warm—then fall to my knees, suddenly aware of my heartbeat. It throbs in my head and pounds in my chest like a Chickasaw war-drum, so loud and furious that maybe even Lucien can hear it, whatever hole he’s lurking in.

Harmony clutches onto me, crying for help from a Savior who taught us to pray for our enemies. Someone in that chapel best be prayin’ for Lucien…

Because when I get back on my feet, I’m bringing him some of Heaven’s wrath, and no amount of blood is gonna atone for what he done.