Tag Archives: creative writing

The Hall of Meating

This week’s #BlogBattle entry, incorporating “sacrilege” with last week’s “derelict” since I skipped that one.

 

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Explorer of Exotic Vistas, Defeater of Deadly Villains, and Charmer of Care-Free Vixens,

 

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

 

Even on an alien world, under the light of two moons in a sky of magenta, Grant remained true to his nature—an anchor Teagan desperately needed as she sought a solution to this chaos. Surrounded by featureless humanoid shapes of hazel-colored mud, Grant threw himself against the overwhelming odds without hesitation. His thick fist splattered the face of one creature, and his boot kicked through another’s leg.

 

The soft earth rose to a low hill nearby, and Teagan spotted a mud-spattered structure like a ziggurat or pyramid. She ducked beneath an arm of living clay and swept her attacker’s legs with a low kick. The creature bellowed and flailed in the air before it splatted into the mud.

 

“Some kind of shelter, Grant,” Teagan shouted, pointing at the building—the only one in sight. The barren horizon rose and fell in slight ripples and small hills, but Teagan saw no flora, no fauna, no signs of intelligence.

 

A voice boomed in her head, one single echoing word: A-round.

 

She clutched her ears in vain and struggled with each step, her boots creating pockets of suction in the moist earth. Beside her, Grant tore through the mud, his boots cutting deep troughs, and his fists carving a path through the alien foes.

 

A-round you, the voice repeated, pausing between each syllable but picking up speed. In-tel-li-gence. We are all around you, flesh-one.

 

To Teagan’s right, Grant caught a lunging mud-man and flipped it overhead, using its momentum to smash it into the ground. With Grant bringing up the rear, shoving the creatures back, Teagan reached the bottom of the hill and started the ascent toward the exposed structure. As she climbed, her foot sank through the hazel clay and hit the stone of the covered building.

 

You do not belong here, the voice hissed.

 

“Are you hearing this, Grant?”

 

Grant dodged a swing from one of the misshapen beings, and huffed in exhaustion. “What are you talking about?” Unable to wait for the answer, he intercepted another mud-man and grappled with the creature.

 

You hear me, the voice whispered.  I sense it.

Teagan scrambled out of the muck and up the steps. Two metal doors leaned against the wall, broken from their hinges. Though weathered and discolored, Ixthacan runes and art covered their surfaces.

 

The voice, now eloquent, continued its tirade in Teagan’s mind. Long has it been since our kind was forced to form crude, linear concepts and structured expressions suitable for the lesser minds of flesh.

 

“I think it’s reading my mind, Grant.”

 

Correct, the voice answered. Regrettably. An image filled Teagan’s mind–her form made up of rotten steaks.

 

Grant stood at the edge of the stairs, shaking clumps of mud off his hands and clothes. The creatures stopped their advance where the stone pyramid rose out of the mud. “I don’t know why they stopped,” Grant said, “but this dirt is shifting and moving, rising up the sides.”

 

Sacrilege. Meat-husks do not belong here. The way back is closed to your kind.

 

Teagan ignored the gibberish and looked at the peak of the pyramid. “I don’t get it. This is Egyptian architecture, quite similar to the great structures in Geza. But those are Ixthacan runes on the entryway…”

 

“The one we should maybe go through? Those clay things are still oozing this way.” Grant pulled Teagan along and moved past the metal doors into the darkness. As they crossed the threshold, a set of stones in the walls emitted a soft blue glow.

 

Your meeting place has been reclaimed, the voice continued. The foothold of flesh on this side is shattered. Your kind is banished, forbidden from these halls.

 

Teagan gritted her teeth and pushed the voice out of her mind. More characters and runes covered certain stones on the walls. Shelves held golden relics and ancient sculptures.

 

“Those aren’t Ixthacan,” Grant said, pointing at a set of characters.

 

“Holy Mother of God,” Teagan blurted, “are those ancient forms of Chinese characters? And look—that bladed spear matches the style of early Chinese weapons-craft. And that earthen statue of an imperial soldier—the Qin dynasty, perhaps? Judging by the armor?”

 

“But these are clearly Egyptian hieroglyphs,” Grant replied. “Look at the gold cat statue.”

 

“Where the hell are we, Grant?”

 

You are intruding upon sacred ground, the voice answered unbidden. Spreading your disease beyond the bounds of your prison. A low wave of hazel muck spread like a glacier, oozing through the entrance behind them.

 

Grant dashed to the spreading clay and kicked huge divots in it, trying to push it back. “I don’t care where we are so much as how do we get out of here!”

 

“What do you want?” Teagan shouted, and ignored the confused look from Grant.

 

An end to the disease you bear. Hatred flowed through Teagan’s mind, and the voice seethed in reply. The flaw in your forms that developed into soft, weak meat. The ‘devilution’ that forced us to purify our genepool, to prevent the epidemic.

 

“I’ve heard such talk before,” Teagan said. The so-called science of the hard-line Germans came to mind. “Surely we can reach some kind of accord.”

 

You waste words. You waste raw materials. You waste life. You do not belong here. You will die.

 

“So very evolved of you,” Teagan shot back. “Sorry to disappoint by suggesting we talk instead of killing each other.”

 

Grant stomped a mud-man’s torso as it rose from the spreading clay, then kicked the head off another. He glanced back at her and asked, “Who are you talking to, Teag?” Then another mud-man leapt on him, and Grant smashed it into the wall with his broad back.

 

You cannot kill us, foolish progenitor, no matter how hard your worker drone tries.

 

“You should tell him so, get him riled up. Maybe he’ll do a better job of it.”

 

He cannot hear us. We deign to speak on your level. We are incapable of descending to his.

 

Strange thoughts resounded in Teagan’s mind, and foreign memories rushed through her vision. A world at war under twin violet moons… armies of living earth driving out the deviants whose bodies solidified into muscle and bone… slaughter and fear, desperation and despair, followed by capture and exile.

 

Minions of the Great Rebel, the voice boomed, and Teagan collapsed to one knee. Begone! Sinful flesh was banished from this plane, dispersed and scattered onto derelict, lifeless planets floating in the empty expanse of the void. How dare you—the exiled and forsaken—now try to return?

 

“My God, Grant,” Teagan gasped as the memories coalesced in her mind. “They cleansed a full third of their population. Anybody with the DNA that might permit this evolution into flesh some generation down the line—they killed or exiled them all.”

 

Grant grunted in response, thrashing and dodging among a crowd of mud-men.

 

The others, the voice cooed in Teagan’s mind, the ones you fear, who sought entrance to this world? These Germans—they are not wrong, fleshling. They wish to cleanse, to purify. Where they err is that they do not see themselves as part of the problem.

 

The telepathic connection formed an image of a portal back to Castellano’s repository in South America. Perhaps we did not fulfill our task so many ages ago. We shall correct this.

 

“Grant, they’ve changed plans. They’re going to invade.”

 

Between stomping mud-men, Grant surveyed the room. “So many treasures of antiquity,” he muttered. “So many connected historical mysteries we could solve.”

 

He doffed his pack and swung it like a weapon, splattering two more mud-men across a glowing wall. Then he rummaged within it while kicking mud-men back. “Does that connection you’ve got work both ways? Can you tell how to get us home?”

 

Teagan smiled and the voice in her head recoiled in sudden fear. A line of light sliced through the air in front of the Qin soldier, and expanded into a shimmering circle filled with an image of the repository’s dark cavern.

 

Grant’s hands grabbed her and pulled her in. She braced for the disorienting shift, the blades of light and cacophony of this alien transport. But instead, they stepped across worlds with minimal resistance, like rising from beneath the surface of a lake.

 

Strands of clay came through as well, stretching across the floor and dragging more of the hazel mud from the other world.

 

Something hissed beside Teagan. Grant held a bundle of dynamite, the braided wick already lit.  “You said they had a plan. There’s nothing I’m better at than messing up plans. Usually my own. Let me do what I do best.”

 

He tossed the bundle through. “Cut the portal, Teag… and hit the deck.”

 

The Hearts of Men

Here’s this week’s BlogBattle entry for the word “indigenous.”

Genre: Action / Adventure, 1498 words.

Update: This entry pulled off a win in Rachael Ritchey‘s BlogBattle making it two in a row. Thanks to those who liked it enough to vote for it.

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From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Challenger of the Dastardly, Champion of the Defenseless, and Chaser of Debaucherous Dames

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

 

Water gushed from the divot in the rim of the basin, the Stream of Tears now a flood of impending death. The river crashed onto the cracked ground, and steam hissed from searing crevices in the volcanic rock. The noise sounded like God’s own radio, its volume turned high enough for all the world to hear. The blown dam upstream had unleashed a torrent that would fill the Devil’s Bath in minutes.

Grant didn’t have minutes. The fool man stumbled across parched clay speckled with jagged obsidian toward a plume of smoke with glowing red eyes and a feminine figure. Grant mumbled various complementary phrases about Teagan, convinced the ghostly image was his assistant in some state of undress.

For centuries—perhaps millennia—the Mayans sent human sacrifices to this spot, an offering to the gods to sustain and perpetuate the seasonal cycle on which their agriculture so depended. Now it seemed legendary Mournful Bride would claim one more soul before the dry basin flooded.

And the Krauts were getting away, hot on the trail of Castellano’s great discovery—the Mayan repository of knowledge buried somewhere deep in the Guatemalan jungle. Whatever treasure the natives hid within those chambers, Castellano wrote of it with equal parts wonder and fear. It couldn’t fall into the hands of the Kaiser—or whatever more sinister political force was on the rise.

Teagan huffed, her fists balled at her hips. Everything went arseways faster than a bout of Montezuma’s Revenge. She stomped toward Grant and thrust herself between the lummox and whatever he saw in the dangerous form reaching toward him.

For a brief moment, recognition flashed across Grant’s bewildered face. “Teag,” he drawled as if inebriated, “how are there two of you?”

The eyes of the Mournful Bride flashed and glared at Teagan, and the being stretched a wispy hand toward Teagan’s feet. The rock exploded, releasing a burst of steam and rubble.

Teagan staggered back, then charged into Grant, knocking him off balance and away from the spirit.

Behind her, a wall of steam rose where the pockets of searing gas under the ground evaporated the first waves of the flood. The unrelenting waters swarmed and surged, slowed but constant in their advance across the bowl of the basin. Once filled, the basin might become a placid lake, warm and inviting. But the chaotic collision of cold and hot would not reach equilibrium smoothly. Swimming posed no problem for Teagan, but the violent eruptions of scalding gas seemed detrimental to one’s health.

“Grant,” Teagan screamed over the ruckus behind her. “We have got to get out of here!” She pushed against him, to no avail. Lacking any better idea, she slapped Grant across the face as hard as she could.

Her hand burned as if seared on a hot pan, and Grant merely laughed, his gaze fixed on the Mournful Bride. “Oh my,” he said with obvious interest, “you’ve gone native. That skimpy outfit is entirely inappropriate.” He marched on like a dying man toward a desert oasis, that stupid, all-too-adorable grin on his befuddled face.

Was he picturing her dressed in the custom of the indigenous jungle tribes? Teagan recalled what she’d seen on a recent visit to one of the villages and blushed at the idea.

The Mournful Bride’s smoky tendrils reached past Teagan and spread over Grant’s shoulders.

The natives… descendants of the Mayans, perhaps? When Grant inquired about the repository, the villagers became disturbed, hostile, like hornets whose nest had been poked. Dangerous, they claimed, and would say no more. Even the interpreter grew cold and distant, unwilling to continue the line of questioning.

A wild idea sparked in Teagan’s mind. Back pressed against Grant’s chest in a futile attempt to slow his advance, Teagan faced the burning gaze of the Mournful Bride.

“Spirit,” she yelled over the sound of the crashing waters, “you clearly know the hearts of men—their insatiable greed, their lust to obtain all they desire.”

The red eyes turned toward Teagan, the ghostly visage both annoyed and bemused. Behind the Bride, two more spirits of steam formed from the ground, hideous emaciated beings with gaunt features, their hunger for life a palpable tug on Teagan’s soul.

“Listen to me,” Teagan pleaded. “Those men outside the basin, they are wicked and depraved. See what they’ve already done to the land? They will find whatever treasure or power is protected by this jungle, by you and your fellow sentinels… and they will use it to bring harm to many, all across the world.”

More spirits rose from the earth as Teagan made her plea, and they circled the doomed pair. Grant stopped pushing against Teagan, but remained enthralled by whatever the Bride showed him. Hesitation flickered in those awful lights, and the spirits behind the Bride paused to listen.

“You all could feed upon them,” Teagan said. “For centuries you consumed the sacrifices offered to you, preyed upon the faithful who came to this place seeking blessings for their people.”

She addressed all of them now, passion filling her voice in spite of fear. “It’s your turn to act on behalf of others. You have power over the fury of the earth beneath us. Turn this against those men, before they escape and steal whatever awesome and terrible secret Castellano found.”

At the mention of Castellano, the spirits moved as one, snapping into attention like soldiers awaiting review. The Mournful Bride cocked her head and stared into the jungle above the rim of the basin. Her raspy voice whispered in Teagan’s mind, clear despite the cacophony. To protect… to preserve… to prevent the Last Cycle and the Breaking of the Heavens…

Her ghostly arm stretched past Teagan and Grant toward the sheer side of the basin, and all the spirits mirrored the Bride’s motion. Like spears of mist, they hurtled through the air and vanished into the rocky floor of the basin. The ground rumbled and quaked beneath Teagan’s feet, toppling her.

Grant swept her up with one strong arm and clutched her to himself, his vision suddenly cleared. “Hold on, Teag, I’ve got you.”

A chasm opened in the middle of the Devil’s Bath, spraying gas and lava into the air, separating Grant and Teagan from the oncoming flood. The fissure ran across the ground and snaked up the cliff, tearing a deep wound in the earth. Trees snapped and fell into the gaping opening, while others burst into flame, set alight in the blazing heat.

The roiling wave poured into the wide crevice, and gouts of steam howled and whistled like the finest imported incendiaries on Guy Fawkes Day. The earth quivered with aftershocks and tremors, and the air stank of sulfur and ash.

But calm returned to the jungle, and Grant’s arms held Teagan secure.

Grant looked around, surveying the devastation. “Hell hath no fury like a woman, or so they say.”

Teagan scoffed and pulled away. “Like a woman scorned, you oaf.”

“Yeah, sure. But you’re all so sensitive, that happens before a fellow can even see the warning signs.” Grant chuckled, then gulped when he looked her way. “Case in point,” he muttered, then turned away.

The hissing voice of the Bride whispered in Teagan’s mind once more. It is done.

Thank you, Teagan thought back.

You may not be so grateful if your journey succeeds. The Vault of the Heavens holds a formidable source of knowledge, far beyond your comprehension, far too difficult to resist. And as you said, I know the hearts of men—even the one you love.

Despite the humidity and heat, Teagan shuddered as a chill coursed through her. Could Grant fight the worst of human nature? Or would he succumb to the allure of power?

I’ve come to know his heart as well, Teagan replied in thought to the Bride, unsure if the spirit could even hear. And I trust my judgment.

Unsettling laughter echoed in the deep recesses of her mind. The Bride had indeed heard.

Teagan shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair, summoning a weak sense of confidence. She knew this man better than anyone else in her life. Though he often infuriated her, she trusted him. “Grant, how about we get focused back on the goal, yeah? Figure out the path to the Repository, perhaps?”

“Good idea, especially since we don’t know how much water that fissure is going to hold.” The Stream of Tears still poured into the basin at a steady rate. Grant turned and headed toward the south side of the deep bowl, pulling a rope from his pack.

“Maybe we can stop by one of the villages on the way,” Grant said, flashing her that grin. “Have you ever considered how you’d look wearing something a little more… local?”

 

Whispers in the Wind

It’s time to write now,

Right now, this moment, create!

A world of options

_
To think that somehow

The prose, the poems that we make

Can last beyond us

_

A word legacy

Waves of rolling syllables

Flowing in our wake

_
“What’s the point,” I ask,

Afraid I know the answer:

Maybe there is none.

_
The question becomes:

If we’re mere whispers in wind

Will we not still speak?

The Chase

I see, from afar,

Fleeting glimpse of her fleeing

Playing hard to get 
This game that we play

Chase sensations and passions

Always reach for more

And she knows that I

I can’t just let her go, no

She knows I’ll chase her

This dance that we do

Cat and mouse meets the tango

She’s at it again

My inspiration

Curls a finger and beckons

Sighing, I follow

– 

I wrote this at a lovely Creative Writing workshop I attended this past weekend. The facilitator sang a series of haiku he had written years ago, accompanied on his acoustic guitar with something like a Spanish sound. I pictured a carousing and carefree pursuit during a fiesta through dusty, packed-earth streets in a Mexican town. He invited us to write our own haiku to show the variety of meanings and thoughts that could still fit the same rhythm and song.

I debated whether to go in the first place. My dance with my writing muse has been far from a cat-and-mouse, let alone something so intimate as a tango. More like “go sleep on the couch while I make an appointment with the divorce lawyer to draft the necessary paperwork.”

About a month’s worth of word count entries read ‘0’ and the status of my current projects remains unchanged. Scheduling a writers’ group has been problematic, and the pace of work only seems likely to increase. 

But the Muse crooks that painted nail at me and flashes that smile, and like it or not, here I go again. 

I’ve been listening to Brandon Sanderson’s recorded lectures on YouTube during down-time, and Stephen King’s On Writing audiobook in my car. Though the base library version is scratched up a bit–“theme is what unifies a novel into a plea- plea- plea- plea- pleasing whole”–there’s still so much down-to-earth insight that I can’t help but enjoy it.

He talks a lot about writer’s block while at the same time talking about–in his own life–putting his nose to the grindstone and pumping out several pages a day, every day, seven days a week, all year ’round, Christmas and the 4th of July included. 

He and his muse must get along a lot better than mine. (Actually he also talks about that, and his muse sounds like quite a jerk.)

The end result of the weekend is my little group of three or four writers can connect with a larger community in the initial forming stages on island. And I wrote a snippet of dialogue for Fantasy Series Book 3 (when book 2 is barely started). And there’s that poem.

But the word count didn’t show zero that day, so I’ll take it.

Revamp

I’m excited about the new look on this page. Apparently I’ve had this going for four years or so. (Thanks, WordPress, for making me feel old.) But I kept with the same theme for the better part of that timeframe.

I played around with my original theme’s sidebar widgets to see if I could display book covers with the pages giving a preview of those books’ contents. No dice.

So eventually I chose a new theme, moved things around, supplied some new links, and clicked “Save & Publish.”

Yay!

I know, I know. Good job, Dave. You did the basic things necessary, things that probably every blogger has to figure out sooner or later. Would you like a high-five or a cookie for all your hard work? TOO BAD.

One thing I’d like to point out is that I’ve added a link to my WattPad profile on the right hand sidebar. In addition to similar previews of my self-published novels, it also has a collection of some short stories posted on this blog as well as the ongoing adventures of Grant & Teagan from my BlogBattles entries. Those are compiled in:

explorer
The Ginger of Galway on WattPad

On top of that, I have an almost-finished WattPad novel that’s only available on that site:

Echoes
Echoes on WattPad

Hooray for linking social media together!

Chairacters

So I started writing chapter 4 of Diffusion, the sequel to my fantasy book. And this is the first scene readers get with Josephine Delumiere, the Soulforged character from the first book. (Picture a “paladin” from Dungeons & Dragons, or some sort of holy warrior whose order alone is empowered to stand against the Fractured creatures of darkness that spawn throughout the world.)
In the first book, and in all four books that I have planned in my head, Josephine always had long blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun. Maybe that started with my wife’s World of Warcraft character, who once upon a time (before they put in a Barber Shop) was a blonde with long hair. 

But as I wrote the scene, suddenly Jo showed up with a haircut–short, unkempt, easy to care for, nothing for an enemy to grab hold of… the sort of “do” that you can run your fingers through and call it good to go. Enough hair to wave in the winds as Josephine dashes with divinely empowered speed, but nowhere near the length that for literally eight years up until half an hour ago I had always envisioned on this character.

Something like this sketch I whipped up in about twenty seconds for my wife…

   
I’m no fan of what I’ve heard described as “character development by haircut.” Tris Prior getting a short, pixie chop-job in Insurgent is the most recent example I can think of. So I’m not trying to tie a new hairstyle to some “new” Josephine.

But this is one of those rare instances where a character comes along, surprises me, and says, “Hey, I know you had such-and-such planned. I did this instead. Deal with it.”

Weird.

And awesome.

I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I’m having a blast.

In the Shadows – Blog Battle

This is my last Blog Battle entry (probably) until December, since NaNoWriMo beckons and will demand my attention. The genre is sci-fi.

 Clouds blanketed the sky, but the third moon’s violet glow pierced the veil with dim but unwavering light.
Dressed in clothing like dingy, tattered rags, a mother and her son huddled in the shadow of volcanic stone jutting from a nearby vent. Thick ash fluttered through air corrupted by sulfur’s stench.
 “I may not always be here to guide you to a new refuge.” She choked on the words, and not from the fumes. No one traveled at night, when the creatures swarmed across the barren landscape. But her last refuge lay in ruins. Her love most likely lay among the slain. Scattered and pursued, the survivors fled in every direction. 
 The sense of loss hounded her, hammered at her wavering strength, screamed in her ears to give up and die. Her son’s wide, innocent eyes kept her anchored, kept her from wailing and running into the night toward certain death.

 Squatting in the darkness, she looked her son in the eye. “You must be most cautious at night,” she said in a terse whisper.

 “Because Stoneskins hide in the shadows?” he asked, barely audible. He’d learned well.

 “No, because they’re nocturnal. Do you know what that word means?”

 The boy looked around, struggling for an answer. His eyes lit up with insight. “The knocking noise they make when they talk to each other?”

 She chuckled and kissed his soot-stained head. “No, sweetie. It means they only move around after sunset. But the good news is they stay out of the shadows. I don’t think they like the darkness either.”

 A gout of steam released from the vent behind them, and the ground shook. 

 The boy clapped his hand over his nose. “Ew,” he said with a giggle. “It stinks like Dad after dinner.”

 His mother shushed him and tried to keep composure, but the boy’s infectious delight could not be stopped. 

 Laughter felt foreign, alien, after so many years on the run since the colony ship landed on Beta Kaali Two. Sensors set for organic life offered no warning that the very stones of the planet might be alive. 

 A thought struck home and swept her joy away. “We might not see Dad again.” She patted the youngster, and put a finger to her lips.

 But the crack-crack of stones slamming together on the other side of the vent silenced them both at once. A Stoneskin drew near.

 She charged her nano-pistol and checked its settings. The gun’s nanites could disassemble the creatures on a molecular level. The devices proved the colonists’ only defense against the aliens. But supplies had long since dwindled. 

 If any of the Stoneskins attacked, she’d have three shots–maybe four.

 With one arm, she clutched her son to her chest and they became still as the rocky ground. No matter what, she thought, I will protect you. With my life, if I must.

 She closed her eyes and focused on the only sound that brought her peace, the too-fast beating of his heart.

 The rhythmic knocking of his brood mother soothed Ko-Kakrik and he clawed across the ground eager to follow her voice.

 “Do not wander into the shadows, little gravel-shell,” she said with fondness. 

 Ko-Kakrik sensed the vibrations around him and felt nothing apart from his mother’s movements and voice. He clacked his mandible stones together and asked, “Does the darkness deafen us to the sounds of the earth?” 

 “No, my spawnling,” she replied, with a stuttering clack that indicated amusement. 

 The mirth vanished and she cracked out a warning. “That is where the humans often hide. If they see you, they will spit venom from their claws to eat you alive.”

 Ko-Kakrik paused and listened again. For a moment he thought he felt another sound, a pair of thumping drumbeats nearby. 

 His stones beat together in a panic. “Mother?” 

 His mother’s claw rested upon his back and she guided him away. “Come along, and fear not. I will protect you. Even with my life, if I must.”

Hungry

This is another Blog Battle entry, a military fiction or general fiction short story for the word, “Legumes.”

I almost let this one slip, because Mad Max came out yesterday and I just had to smash up some War Boys’ cars… 

But lunch is a good time to catch up. Here goes, with “Hungry” (996 words).

A cool breeze across the hilltop in Syria blunted summer’s heat and played through the green leaves blanketing the ground. Afternoon sunlight beat on two sentries patrolling the perimeter in full desert battle-rattle, carbines in hand.

The husky Airman Jackson squatted and ran his fingers over some violet-streaked white flowers. “Great place to set up a FOB,” he said. “Check this out, Sarge. You hungry?”

Young, with a deep brown complexion after a month of constant sun, Staff Sergeant Ramirez kicked his combat boot into the dirt, spraying dust into the air. “This is bull.”

Jackson ignored the outburst. “These look a lot like the kind we grew back home. Wild chickpeas, maybe. You know, garbanzos.” He said it with a heaping dose of hick, like it was an instrument in country music.

“Please, you think I don’t know what chickpeas are? Why you gotta use the Spanish-sounding word for it?” He took on a mock accusatory tone. “You a racist, Jackson.”

Jackson never took his eyes off the plants. “Screw you, Sarge. Just sayin’ I could pick some of these, soak ’em a while, make us a treat.”

Ramirez waved him off. “Man, I don’t believe in beans.”

“What? What does that even mean?”

A weak, choppy voice squawked over the radio, requesting status of all patrols. Ramirez acknowledged the call. “We’re on the southeast side of Hilltop Lima Seven-Two-Six. My squad established a position, and we’re watching for refugees.”

“Roger—advised, ISIL fighters have been spotted—five miles of your—hold Hilltop Lima Seven-Two-Six overnigh—air cav bringing reinforcements with the supply drop, how copy?”

“You’re coming in broken and stupid,” Ramirez muttered. Then he hit the transmit button twice, acknowledging the message.

“Heh,” Jackson chuckled. “Hey Sarge, it just hit me. Hilltop Lima has beans growing on it.”

“They’re not pronounced the same way, moron.”

Jackson’s cheeks flushed red. “I know.”

“Then you know your joke isn’t very funny.”

“Shut up, Sarge.”

“Aww, you go ahead and cry into your gar-ban-zos,” Ramirez said, mimicking Jackson’s pronunciation. “A little salt will help the flavor.”

 

A few hours later, as the sun melted into the horizon, Jackson reclined against a stone and popped chickpeas into his mouth from his canteen cup.

“Amazed you can cook anything in that,” Ramirez said. “Figured it might melt. You know, lowest bidder and all.”

Jackson smiled. “I remember an afternoon like this in Survival School. My partner an’ I found a patch-a wild strawberries during the field portion. Climbing up an’ down the hillsides of Spokane, picking our way through the woods, trying to evade the instructors, sweating our butts off in the heat…”

Ramirez glared at Jackson, but the man paid no heed.

“We settle down for a breather in a little patch of tall grass,” Jackson continued. “And my

partner says, ‘Wouldya look at that? Strawberries!’ Sure enough, there’s a bunch of ’em all around us. Tiny, sad things you wouldn’t pay money for in the market.” He held up two fingers pinched together.

“But after a couple days with nothing but MREs, we ate them berries like a Thanksgiving feast. Sat there an hour, I bet, evading view, just munchin’ and enjoyin’ the day–”

“Evasion?” Ramirez scoffed. “Not from infrared sensors on a drone or helo. Givin’ off all that heat, they’d spot you in seconds, day or night.”

Jackson sat upright and tugged at his camo blouse. “No, man, these uniforms have a special treatment that reduces IR visibility.”

“You believe that crap? ”

“That’s what they told us at Basic during Warrior Week.”

Ramirez rolled his eyes. “After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese handed out white cloth sheets blessed by the emperor. They promised it would protect citizens from nukes. I’m sure those had a special treatment too… of bull.”

Jackson’s eyes narrowed and he pursed his lips. “You’re a real downer, you know that?”

“Yeah? So’s life. Come on, we should get back soon.”

The attack came ten minutes later, when darkness swallowed up the last glimmer of twilight on the horizon. Mortar shells scattered clods of dirt, cutting Ramirez and Jackson off from their team. Radio calls flooded the net with enemy sightings on all sides. Gunfire echoed across the hilltop, sporadic at first then more frequent, like a bag of popcorn in the microwave.

“I got visual!” Jackson declared. “My one o’clock. Three—no, four adult males carrying AKs.”

“Engage,” Ramirez shouted as he took aim and squeezed off a burst of bullets.

Another mortar shell exploded to their left, and Jackson screamed.

Ramirez shook off disorientation from the blast and opened fire once more. “I need you focused, Jackson! Guys coming up our right flank, I’m on them. But you cover our front.”

Jackson crouched and snapped off a few shots. “We need to regroup with the others, Sarge!”

Ramirez hustled backward up the hill, shooting whenever enemy fire revealed a position. “Let’s work our way back, nice and easy—“

He froze at the sharp whistle of an incoming shell. Then with strength beyond his thin frame, Ramirez shoved Jackson away.

A fuzzy silence and sudden numbness swept over Ramirez. He blinked at the stars in the sky. Then Jackson appeared over him, the young man’s white face speckled with blood. He pumped the sergeant’s chest in between bursts of return fire, and shouted something that looked like, “Hang on, Sarge.”

But the way his wide eyes took in the scene told Ramirez all he needed to know. Ramirez coughed up blood and gripped Jackson’s sleeve. “Just… please don’t tell my wife I died for nothin’ but a hill o’ beans.”

Seven years later, Technical Sergeant Jackson traced the white petals of a chickpea flower and planted a white wooden cross into the dirt. Behind him, a young woman watched the green slope below FOB Ramirez, her trigger finger ready.

Jackson called her over. “I told you they’d be here.” He offered her a wistful smile. “You hungry?”

Opportunities

Here’s a fantasy entry for Rachael Ritchey’s weekly Blog Battle, this time centered on the word, “troop.”
Anyone who is willing to read all the short stories posted today (until midnight Tuesday Pacific time) is allowed to give three votes for their favorites. Check out the other participants’ works and let Rachael know what you think.

—-

Mokreesh watched the oncoming merchant caravan with hungry yellow eyes. His misty breath slipped through sharp teeth slick with saliva.

A line of human travelers wound its way like a serpent through the hills south of Aulivar’s glistening white walls. Several mules–tasty if stewed long enough–pulled creaking wagons burdened with crates and barrels. Human scrawl marked the contents, but Mokreesh couldn’t make any of that out. Besides, the mystery was half the fun of collecting the spoils.

First, we have to win… which means breaking the streak of bad luck. His gloved finger traced the scar tissue that covered the right side of his face, a constant reminder of an Arcanist’s fireball.

That was two months ago, Mokreesh thought. And every raid has gone to piss since. Supplies are dwindling, and anger is brewing.

His second in command Grunnash drew his massive blade. Metal rasped and gleamed in the afternoon sun. Grunnash stood with hands on hips, glaring down at the humans. Never one to stoop or kneel, even if it risks giving us away.

He grinned at Mokreesh. “These sheep are fat for the slaughter. Surely this opportunity is ours to seize. On your signal, my chieftain.”

The other marauders hunkered in the bush and bramble along the hillside, awaiting the word. Mokreesh looked on them with pride. He would restore theirs soon.

“Watch out for your troops” had been the previous chieftain’s last words so many years ago. Mokreesh understood. If you take care of your men, they’ll get the job done. In the two decades since Mokreesh became chieftain, that wisdom brought the clan greatness and wealth.

Until that old crone Kalgha cursed him as a stubborn oaf before the altar of Kurnn. Then the bad luck started. Broken weapons in the middle of a fight, unexpected enemy reinforcements when victory seemed certain, the stray spellcast with a one-in-a-million chance that “happened” to sear off half his face.

Mokreesh didn’t buy into all the spiritual mumbo-jumbo Kalgha used to keep the clan in line. But every time he passed the altar now, he felt the flaming eye of Kurnn watching him. And he’d even tried prayer once, using a young human merchant guard as an offering. The man seemed devout; for six hours he had cried out to his gods for deliverance.

Neither of them got the answer they wanted that day.

Today changes everything.

Mokreesh hefted his battle-axe and raised it high. All around him, his warriors tensed, ready for the charge. Bloodlust and hunger shone on their grinning faces.

Mokreesh opened his mouth to bellow a war cry–

A glint of bronze on a merchant’s face struck fear into Mokreesh’s heart like an icy spear. Unbidden memories of anguish and flame filled his mind. Is that an Arcanist’s etching? This caravan may have magic users protecting it.

He noted a flash of armor beneath a wagon driver’s cloak. Are those trained guardsmen disguised among the caravan?

Was that a Gracemark on that woman’s hand? What powers might she possess?

“No good,” he muttered. “No good.” He lowered his weapon to the ground. The thick axehead thudded into the dirt.

Grunnash hung his head and shook with rage. “Fifth time in a row.”

“It’s a trap,” Mokreesh said. “Let them pass. Let’s relocate to the north road. We might catch some craftsmen bringing wares to–”

A sudden searing pain flared to life in his chest. He blinked at the length of bloody metal thrusting out of his ribcage. Words failed him. Weariness rushed through his body, and standing seemed impossible.

Mokreesh slid down Grunnash’s blade and fell to his knees, clutching the gaping wound. His vision blurred, but he could make out his warriors turning their backs and striding away through the brush. Following Grunnash.

Breathing became beyond difficult, and no amount of pressure stopped the flow. Mokreesh gurgled in the leaves and grass. Stabbed through the heart, from behind no less.  

An image of Mokreesh’s former chieftain floated into his mind–a glimpse from the day Mokreesh bested him in combat and took control of the clan.

“Watch out for your troops,” he had whispered as he died.

And now Mokreesh understood.

Watt a Bargain!

So I joined WattPad and started a project.

I’ll be honest. At first, I was put off by grammar errors and amateur mistakes. Even more, the commenters who gush over the simplest sentences with “I so get u” and “omg this ^^^ right here” and other such text-style feedback.

Then my wife kindly reminded me that everyone’s on a journey to being a better writer, and any mistakes I see now are only because I’ve had quality writer friends supporting and educating me along the way. I’m guilty of some of the same–if not right now, then certainly in the past.

And let’s face it. Feedback is feedback. If a character, quip, or interaction resonates with a reader, I am happy, whether they tell me, “Poignant and touching; Splendid work” or “oh wow sooooo many feels.” Any connection with a reader is a good thing, and the teen fangirl who says “omg” today is the young adult who clicks “buy” on Amazon tomorrow.

The short stories I’ll be posting in “Pieces” aren’t all new. Many appear somewhere on this blog. But I figure WattPad is another avenue to gain a following, and a fun way of doing so. My “Echoes” story (mentioned in a few previous blogs) will be posted entirely to WattPad.

Plus, my wife’s comment reminded me of the point of all this. WattPad is full of unique content and interesting takes on existing material. It’s a bunch of people who are expressing their passion for good characters and stories. Is that what I find valuable? Is that what excites me? Or is it grammatically correct, properly formatted, everything-just-so writing?

No, the point is to have fun and share the experience with others.

So I went ahead and drew an amateur cover for my project, incorporating scenes of most of the various stories into sections of different puzzles. No, it’s not professional quality. No, it’s not what will garner attention.

But I loved the process of expressing myself through a different medium, and I’m having fun with my own amateur mistake.

Here’s the cover to Pieces:

The cover to my short story compilation on WattPad
The cover to my short story compilation on WattPad

I hope you’ll visit me on WattPad, especially if you have an account and post your own work.