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Fiction Fridays – Walls

A Note: This week is not so much fiction as exorcism. Please bear with me.

 

Walls

 

Pale tan things, their flat and sterile surfaces broken by power points, oxygen inlets, and racks of equipment. A silent television hangs from the ceiling, its empty black gaze a counterpoint to the autumn scene on the painting that lurks beside the shelf of boxed gloves. Brilliant oranges and reds add a splash of color between the blue nitrile gloves and the matte grey of the electronic eye.

The walls watch as he struggles to breathe, as the machine bound to his face whines along with his labored inhalations. They see the pain flash across his face as he coughs yet again, a thick, wet sound that echoes through the cavity of his chest. It is the sound of gelatin sucking free of the mold, and it rips at him as he fights to spit the filth from his red-tinged mouth. They smell the hint of corruption, overlaid by the scents of disinfectant and nervous sweat.

The walls watch as the machines spring to life, gauging his blood pressure and graphing the beats of his heart – a heart that holds love for his family and has thundered through war and peace. They see the drops that slither through the tube, drained away from inside him to gather in scarlet columns within the suctioning machine that feeds from him as if a vampire has been mechanized and emplaced beside his bed.

The walls see the uneaten meal on its tray, his body too weak to stay awake long enough to spoon food between the cracked and bloody lips. They see him as he tries to rest, while machines suck poisons from his body and pump air into tortured lungs. They hear the wheezing and the beeping, the organic and the electronic blending into a twisted symphony.

The clock ticks away the seconds, each one stacking atop the ones that have come before it to remind the walls that they may be static, but time marches on, and their steadfast nature will prove no defense.

They see the staff – nurses, technicians, therapists, doctors, and even those who slip stealthily into the room bearing food or drink and empty cans of trash. They see the sudden bustle of activity as he requires additional care, and they witness the selfless response from those who do not even know him, but still treat him as if he were their own.

The walls look on in silence as friends and family move into and out of the room, eyes and spirits haunted by exhaustion on par with his own, but still smiling and joking with those present to avoid confrontation with their own madness. The walls know the jokes. This is far from their first exposure to them.

The walls hear the begging and the prayers, the wishes whispered and the promises made to anyone who will listen. They see the tears and the gritted teeth, the hanging heads and the worried glances. They smell the fear.

Through it all they bear witness to lives changed forever by those who take up space within their confines. They do not judge. They merely watch. The walls have seen everything. Do not envy their visions, nor their memories. The walls have borne witness to countless scenes such as these, and they know that there are many more to come.

<<<END>>>

 

 

*Dedicated to the staff of floor 2, Oklahoma Heart Hospital. Thank you.

 

Fiction Fridays – (Changes)

 

Zeke

Zeke’s memories of the war were filled with blood and fire, and there was so much of it that plagued his mind on any of the long nights. Oh, there had been camaraderie, of course, but those happy moments were small in comparison to the horrors that had come from the ratholes and the slippery, stinking close combat that had come to dominate his dreams.

His claws, wet and dripping with blood and ichor that he did not want to remember. Ears pounding with the continued gunfire. Fur stained a deep brown up both of his arms from the quantity of blood he had spilled.

He looked at the papers and took another long drink of his coffee. The writing was small but his eyesight was still keen. He knew what he was doing. It just felt strange, going back into the world that had spawned his nightmares.

“It will be different this time,” he said aloud. His lies echoed in the apartment.

There was little to slow the sound. He sat in a simple chair beside a small table. A vidscreen was on the wall but had never been turned on in the whole time he had occupied the space since arriving on this planet. The kitchen was where he spent most of his active time, cooking and eating at the short stone-topped bar, and then cleaning in preparation for the next meal. Beyond that he had a latrine and a shower, and a bed that was far too comfortable for an old campaigner. His clothes took up nearly no space in the large chest of drawers inside the bedroom.

“Fuck it,” he said, giving up the fight for excuses. The pen made thick black lines as he scribbled his name in the blocks.

Seven signatures and nineteen sets of initials later, and he was through. He picked up the comm and dialed the preset.

“Zeke Sharn,” he said in a flat tone when the other end of the call opened. “Come and get it. I signed.”

He closed the comm, cutting off the honeyed words that spilled from the other party. He drained the rest of the coffee and headed for the bathroom, dropping his clothes on the floor on the way in. Brilliant white LEDs lit his muscled form in automatic response to his entry. Scars formed a roadmap of bitter memories across his exposed flesh, and they stood out in stark relief against his grey fur. He had long since stopped seeing them as anything more than decoration, nothing greater or lesser than the colorful tattoos that had faded through the years.

He stepped into the shower and turned it on as hot as he could stand. He was toweling himself dry when the door chimed. He wrapped a black-and-grey patterned kilt around his hips and walked to the front. The portal opened to reveal a dun-colored dog in a business suit and a tall, lanky cheetah wearing some kind of jumpsuit. He had a holstered pistol at his waist, but these days that wasn’t unusual. It was the beret on the big cat’s head that caught Zeke’s eye, and a moment later a grin stretched his lips up over the rows of sharp teeth.

“Long time, badger-boy,” the cheetah said. Zeke chuckled and nodded, and then stepped back to wave the pair into the apartment.

“Papers are on the table,” he said. The suit went to collect them, and Zeke turned back to the cat. The two slapped a tight grip that turned into a brief hug with emphatic back-slapping.

“Didn’t expect to see you here,” he said. “Hell, I didn’t expect to see you anywhere.”

“I got out too,” the cheetah said. He looked around the room, shaking his head. “Love what you’ve done with the place.”

“You know I’m not much for decoration.”

“Not even a picture, and I’ll wager there’s dust on top of the vid.”

“Not so much,” Zeke said with another grin. “There would be but I keep it clean.”

“Old habits, eh, Sergeant?”

“It’s just Zeke.”

“Not once you sign in under me.”

“You’ve got that kind of pull? I thought this was a corporate gig.”

“It is, and no, I don’t have any stroke. I am, however, gonna tell the big brass that you’re crazier than a gutted weasel and that if you aren’t on my team you’ll cause no end of trouble for them.”

“And they’re going to believe you why?”

“He can sell it,” rumbled the dog. He was approaching the pair once again, tucking Zeke’s paperwork into a leather valise. He extended a paw and Zeke took it.

“Zeke Sharn.” When the dog answered, his words came in a string that had little space between them and tumbled forth at high speed.

“Cyrus. Cyrus Love. Don’t make fun of the name. Welcome to ArCorp. I’m your liaison. I’ll be helping you acclimate to the company. I figured I’d play it cool while you two reunited. Captain VonHogan tells me you saved his life a few times.”

“Angry squirrels.”

Zeke and the cheetah erupted into laughter at a shared memory. After a minute, Zeke shook off the mirth.

“Sorry. I’m a shitty host. Would either of you like some coffee? Water? Or…well, that’s about it.”

“We’re good,” VonHogan said.

“All right, Captain,” he said, emphasizing the title. “That’s gonna take some getting used to. Not just Tarlen any more. Last time I saw you they had you fast tracked for a Sergeant’s slot.”

“A lot happened while you were gone.” The tone was no longer jovial. Now it spoke of horrible memories, the kind with which Zeke was all too familiar, and Zeke hurried to change the subject.

“So when do I start?”

“You are employed as of now, Mister Sharn,” Cyrus explained. “We will take you back to the headquarters building where you will meet with our personnel department for processing. You’ll receive your identification card and your salary and benefits package will be discussed with you at that time.”

Zeke looked at the smirk on the face of the tall cheetah. “What are you hiding?”

“Me? Nothing. Well, mostly nothing. Once you get finished running around and being told how welcome you are in ArCorp, I’m gonna run you down to the armory and get you properly outfitted for training. We’ve got liftoff in thirty days.”

“Liftoff? To where?”

“Metatropic shithole they call Z262. Colony ships are going in and we’re gonna be part of their security.”

“What are they expecting?” Zeke asked. Cyrus stood beside the pair, completely blocked out by both of the warriors.

“Initial data shows some indigenous life similar to dinosaurs, if smaller. Reptilian and amphib, lots of spikes and teeth. That ain’t the good part, though.”

“What is?”

“The colonists are miners. This Z262 place is apparently rich in industrial grade gems. Diamonds and rubies. Emeralds. Sapphires.”

Zeke’s lips peeled back across his sharp teeth again. “Which the rats would love to get hold of for their laser program.”

VonHogan started bouncing on his feet like a child at a party. He mimed a dance. “And that means squirrels. When they show up we’ll be waiting. See why I wanted you?”

Zeke raked a set of claws across his scalp, scratching at the tips of his ears. “What makes you think I want to play again, Tarlen?”

The cheetah laughed and turned to look at the suited dog. “You know, Cyrus, in this universe you can change a magazine, a diaper, or even a river’s course if you want. But the one thing nobody can change is the fact that Zeke Sharn hates squirrels. This time, he just gets paid better for killing them.”

“Z262 is thick with gems,” Cyrus repeated. “It is probable that there will be an incursion of some kind once the mine is established.”

Zeke shook his head. He knew he would soon be plunged back into the depths of the same fighting that haunted his dreams. He had known it from the moment he spoke with the ArCorp recruiter. VonHogan was right, though. Given half a chance, Zeke would go after squirrels even if he wasn’t being paid. He excused himself and ducked into the bedroom. He grabbed the only things there that mattered. The beret that matched the one VonHogan was wearing went up onto the top of his angular, striped head and the knife that had been his constant companion for years went into the waist of the kilt. Everything else he simply abandoned, walking away from this parody of a life with no regard for it whatsoever.

 

 

Skeeter

Crystals of ice were forming on the crates stacked in the cargo bay. By the time touchdown occurred, much of the contents would be rimed with frost, although that would vanish in a puff of steam within seconds, if the rumors were to be trusted.

It was said that Z262 was a hot place. Word had come down to be prepared for oven-like conditions in what would eventually be called the summer. Much of what was known was due to scientific surveys, but the sweep teams had already been down there. Their reports, in between descriptions of this or that indigenous life form that they had happily shot to clear the landing zone, told of ninety-plus temps.

Skeeter hated the idea of going to Z262. A planet that didn’t deserve a name, he felt, didn’t deserve colonization. It wasn’t his choice, though, and so here he sat, leaning on a crate in the cargo bay, which was the only place no one would bother him. Beneath him he could feel the subtle vibration of the craft as it passed through space at a speed he could not imagine. The crew had explained how it worked, but Skeeter was worse at math than he was with girls. They could as easily have told him it was magic and he would have nodded and smiled with the same blank expression he had shown in the trip brief.

Maybe if he got better at math, he thought, he could get off the rotten colony sooner. Maybe get picked up by a supply ship in a couple years. He chuckled at the thought of learning math to get out of what most people considered an adventure.

“Hi,” said a tentative voice. Skeeter jumped to his feet. The voice belonged to a feline girl maybe two years his junior who stood about ten feet away in the aisle between boxes. Her eyes were big and green, and her fur was a light shade of grey. Nowhere near as white as his own, but then few of the Folk had his coloration.

“Umm, hi,” he said.

“What ya doing?”

Thinking about becoming a physicist so I can bail on the fam, he thought. His words were more kind, if delivered as though he had swallowed a mouthful of acid spiders. “Well, I was, you know, just maybe a little, ummm kind of just sitting.”

“Would you mind if I sat, too? I mean, if you’re, like, hiding or something I’ll go somewhere else…”

“No. Don’t do that. Just have, you know. Have a seat.”

He moved over, showing her the small stepstool he had been sitting on. It kept his butt from freezing on the floor. When she took it, he whipped off his overcoat and dropped it to the floor as a makeshift chair.

“Now you’re gonna get cold,” she said. He shook his head.

“I don’t get cold,” he assured her. “Never have. None of my kind do. I wear the coat ’cause I like the way it looks on me.”

“It does look good,” she said, ducking her head a little bit and smiling.

“You think so?”

“I saw you earlier. I thought you looked pretty smooth.”

Skeeter felt a shiver run down his spine. He wondered if that was the way things were supposed to feel when she said things like that.

“I’m Skeeter,” he said, extending a hand. She reached up and touched his cool fingers with her own.

“Miranda.”

“Looking forward to the landing?” he asked a moment later, trying to think of something other than the electric sensation that passed through him at her touch. His feet shuffled on the deck.

She shrugged and an ear flicked. “Not really. I mean, they can’t even name the planet. What’s the point of going there?”

Skeeter smiled. “That’s what I said, too.”

“Great minds,” Miranda said.

He dropped into a cross-legged position on top of the coat. “I didn’t want to be a colony person.”

“Colonist,” she corrected with a wink. “And neither did I.”

He leaned against the crate, tilting his head up toward the roof that hovered so far above them. He relished the cool feel of the wood pressed to his back. He had been dreading every second of the colonization, and fearing that he would be alone. Meeting Miranda changed that. It was a feeling of closeness, a connection, that he had never felt before. Like he could just be himself.

“It’s gonna suck, isn’t it?” she asked.

Not as much now, said the little voice in his brain.

“We’ll make it work,” he said, and for the first time since they had told him to pack a bag, he believed it.

Today I was lucky enough to snag an interview with Nicholas Ahlhelm, creator of the Lightweight series, about a teen superhero who can manipulate gravity, and the problems he is encountering both as a metahuman and a human. Nick is the man behind Metahuman Press (where my very own Firedrake series saw its birth), and he’s helped an awful lot of folks getting into superhero stories to get their start. He’s also one of the founding members of the Pen and Cape Society, where his history and expertise can be shared with other authors.

me-glasses

Nick, welcome! Pull up a chair. Coffee’s up and your cup is waiting. So what’s up with the Man? How have you been? Family doing well?`

I’ve had better summers. Slipped discs and neck surgeries were new to me until July, but I have a wicked new scar to show off to all my friends. All the stories I can now make up about knife fights should also help my mystique as a writer of action. “I almost died, but you should see the other guy,” can now finally be part of my regular conversation.

But no, seriously, things are going well for me, hanging out with the kids and doing a heck of a lot of writing.

Sweet! So what I’m hearing around the watercooler, so to speak, is that you’ve got a Kickstarter going for the next volume of Lightweight. Tell me what you’ve got going.

LightweightKickstarter

The first two volumes of Lightweight’s saga, Lightweight: Senior Year and Lightweight: Black Death were both rousing successes, far and away the most successful writing I’ve ever done both critically and in sales. But I set out to make a series when I started to write them and a series is what I want to deliver. Lightweight: Beyond is the first book in the next chapter of Lightweight’s life, as he finds himself stranded on a whole different world called Nill. He’s got to survive there even as he becomes the center of another battle between forces beyond his control. And if that wasn’t enough, Millie will have to deal with the old threat of Carrie Bates back on Earth. Her story will add another wrinkle to the history of Lightweight, introducing the world to the Golden Age Lightweight.

Oh, man. That sounds cool. What have you got in mind for the stretch goals?

The big two stretch goals are the releases of two more Lightweight novels planned for next year: Lightweight: Golden Age and Lightweight: Universal (tentative title). If they’re unlocked everyone at the $15 pledge level or higher gets them as digital ebooks free or will be able to add them on in print for just $10 a piece. We can also unlock a series of Lightweight bookmarks to $15 or higher backers. The highest stretch goal will unlock The Adventures of Lightweight, an anthology set during the first year of Lightweight’s career that will feature a new story by yours truly as well as 5 or 6 tales by other writers. That will only go into production if we reach the $2800 level however.

You’ve been at this one for a while. How long have you been writing in general?

The coy answer is I’ve been writing all my life. Lightweight took much more simplistic shape way back in my high school days. But I’ve made a go as a professional writer for about five years now, dating back to my first novel A Dangerous Place to Live. It’s a bit rough around the edges, although I did do a re-edit of it just last year. Freedom Patton is actually still one of my favorite creations and I want to return to him again sometime soon.

freedom patton1

Wow. That’s quite a bit. So tell me this: What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?

I think the world would be a sadder place without storytellers. I think stories reflect important traits of the human spirit. Without them, we aren’t really people, just another animal. I particularly love writing super powered fiction because it allows me to take on the hero’s journey.

What did you enjoy most about writing the Lightweight series so far?

Lightweight has been one of my favorite creations for decades before I started any plans to publish his adventures. So I have a lot of fun bringing him to life year by year, hopefully for many decades to come. I love hearing fan’s responses to the work as well. I have received far more feedback for Lightweight than anything else I’ve done, almost all of it positive.

Lightweight_Black_Death-full

Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so, are they part of a larger overall theme, or are they just there because that’s who they are?

In a way, I think super powered fiction is underrepresented in its own right. It certainly is getting more and more releases every year but super-powered heroes and prose are still a new combination.

I do set out whenever I write a new story to represent the world around me. That means that everyone will not have the same features as me. Lightweight has its share of multi-national and multi-ethnic characters, and they will expand even more in the next volume, especially as I introduce characters that aren’t even human.

As to the story so far, I’ve said before that Millie is as important a character as Kevin in the ongoing adventures of Lightweight. She’s also the daughter of much older parents that are around seventy when she turns eighteen in between Black Death and Beyond. They happen to be African American and Korean as well, which influences Millie’s relationship to everyone else. This leads to a rather tragic consequence in the pages of Black Death, that I wouldn’t want to spoil.

Nope! No spoilers here! Two questions, though, that are pretty solidly matched to someone who writes a lot of superhero stories:
1: What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that isn’t so?

I think most people assume some kind of generic superhero setting, where everything looks like what Marvel or DC is doing in comics and movies. Sure, Lightweight is set in the modern day, but a large chunk of my fiction is cemented securely in a moment of time. I’ve got three different historical novels currently in the works. This year’s action in Lightweight will feature time travel back to 1950, a time barely touched by any Marvel or DC franchise.

2: What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre, that they need to know?

I think the biggest mistake most fans make about superheroes is that they’re a genre at all. I think it was Steven Grant that first defined superheroes that way and he couldn’t be more right.

Superheroes are just a trapping. In many ways, they are just another setting, rather than a true genre. They can fit into anytime or any place or really any genre of fiction. They will probably end up in a science fiction setting a lot sure, but heroes can be as easily put into historical fiction, romance fiction or mysteries as they could modern adventure fiction or futuristic sci fi.

Lightweight_SeniorYear

 Nicely said. Well, now, other than the Lightweight series, what projects are you working on at the present?

I’m wrapping up a story for the Airship 27 charity anthology Legends of New Pulp while also working on more chapters for my Walking Shadows web serial (set in the same Quadrant Universe as Lightweight.) And I’ve got a couple anthology stories I’m working on including a chapter in a new super-team book and the second volume of Horror Heroes. And always more Lightweight.

Busy man! So what do your plans for future projects include?

I have a couple more chapters of Quadrant coming soon. I also have a couple independent novel projects that are mostly done and just waiting for me to put in a few thousand words and then give them a second pass. And again, more Lightweight.

Since I’m obviously not good at reading minds here, let me ask you this one: What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?

I’m not sure if there’s any question that hasn’t been asked, but I’m still trying to figure out why someone hasn’t already came running in to try and scoop up the option yet. If Lightweight wouldn’t make a great superhero TV series or movie, I’m not sure what would.

Aw man! See, I wasn’t gonna come right out with that. I was, however, going to throw this furry ball of cuteness at you: If your character Kevin was a lemur, how would he help the other lemurs battle those mean meerkats?

By throwing a big rock at them with his gravity powers obviously. Or call on my buddies, the Wild Kratts, as they seem to have really close links to lemurs. (They also happen to be regularly viewed by both my kids, the older of which grew up on Zoboomafoo.)

Oh, yeah! Man, I miss Zoboo. Always a fun critter to watch. Well, Nick, it’s been great chatting with you. You should come by more often. In the meantime, you get fired up on the new Lightweight chapters. Folks (you know, like me) want to see what happens next!

Ladies and Gents, once again, I will point you to the links Nick has provided for the new Kickstarter. While I’m at it, I’ll throw in links to his personal website, blog, and probably a pizza joint or something just to make life interesting. See? They’re right down there!

 

Nick’s Blog, SuperPoweredFiction

The original, the one and only, MetaHuman Press!

And one more time, the new Kickstarter, so you can have a hand in making the next chapters of Lightweight come true!

Fiction Friday – Open prompt
An Evening with Abe

The demon was rattling the doors, testing each of them in turn with a tug of its yellow hand. It was exasperated, and as it reached the last one, it slammed a ham-sized fist into the glass. Spiderwebs of cracks appeared in the wake of the assault. Grunting a noise that might have been a form of speech, it wandered away, apparently deciding that there was no one inside.

“Keep on moving, Homer,” whispered the man on aisle four. He had seen enough of the same breed of demon that he had taken to calling them ‘Simpsons’, a reference to their yellow skin and the fact that they had only three fingers and a thumb on each hand.

He peeled back the internal seal on a jar of peanut butter and plunged a spoon into it, shoveling the substance into his mouth one spoonful after another. He forced it down, knowing he needed the protein and fat that it would supply. He pulled a bottle of Coca-Cola from the shelf, chugging the fizzing liquid to help the peanut butter hit bottom.

“Your diet sucks, Abe,” he murmured to himself.

Since waking on the morning of the third, his entire world had been turned upside down, and he was not as concerned with what he ate as he was with supplying his body with what it needed to keep moving. Waking to a town that had been invaded by hellish creatures and with no communication to the outside world, he found himself operating alone. That added up to long periods of no sleep, and the frequent encounters with monstrous things that wanted to eat him as much as he wanted a cheeseburger and fries meant that he was burning energy at a rate he dared not calculate.

On the positive side, the demons had removed the vast majority of the town in the early hours of the attack, with his skill at movement and concealment keeping him alive, but the stores and homes had not been ransacked very often. An occasional roving gang would strip a place to the bones, but they were infrequent.

The thought of the gangs put a sour taste in his mouth, and he swished the soda around his mouth and spat onto the floor of the convenience store. It had been one of their members that had necessitated Abe doing something he had avoided since the war: killing a human being. The demons were fair game to him, but he had studiously avoided contact with others. That worked until the weaselly little kid in the black hoodie had run into him as Abe was slipwiring the back door of a Taco Bell. The baseball bat the youth carried made a whistling sound as he whipped it back and forth while trying to force Abe further into the alley.

“We gonna eat you up,” the kid said, his lips peeling back over a mouth full of freshly-filed teeth. Abe shuddered as he saw the jagged points the teeth had become.

“There’s enough food to share,” he said, holding out a hand.

“Hunter turf.”

“Well, I’m a hunter,” he said, trying to defuse the situation with a little humor. “Elk, bear, caribou, bighorn -”

He was cut off by the bat as the kid tried to turn his head into a tee-ball. Ducking benath the strike, years of muscle memory took over and he came up hard, driving a shoulder into the chin of the youth as his left hand drew the heavy Bowie from his waist and buried it to the hilt in the abdomen of his would-be assassin. It went in and up, slicing through a lung and nicking the heart before he pulled back a bit and worked the blade like a recalcitrant gear shift lever. When he pulled it free, a lot of the kid came free with it to splash on the pavement.

He had abandoned the Taco Bell. Not only had his appetite been suppressed for the moment, he supposed the other ‘Hunters’ would be coming to look for his victim.

That had been two days ago, and the things he had seen since then were far worse than what the scavenging ganger had made him do. He was becoming numb to it again, as he had human cruelty during his days as a soldier. It was the only way he could do his job then, and no it was the only way he was going to stay alive. It would be so easy to just break, to fall in place and gibber with fear when faced with the creature he had seen on Twelfth and Flagler. Dozens of mouths filled with pointed teeth that gnashed incessantly, situated seemingly at random around the surface of what looked like a conical gelatin mold of humanoid flesh and hair, towering above the streetlights as it lumbered down the street.

Abe Tallcloud was built of stronger stuff than that, though, and he would continue in the manner he had since the incursion began. Sitting on a bag of cat food, he finished the small jar of peanut butter and kept working on the liter of soda. He used the down time to check his arrows and the Bear recurve bow he carried. The heavy revolver on his right hip was full of .44 Magnum loads, and all the spares he had were easily accessible. He kept hoping that he would be able to find a store that had a box or two of his caliber, but given that he had only fired it twice since the third, he figured that was not currently high on his list of priorities. The noise had a tendency to bring the demons.

He crept past the doors, watching to ensure that nothing was looking in at him, and took up position behind the clerk’s conter. A few minutes of sleep would be welcome. He let his eyes drift closed, praying that just this once, his dreams would not be filled with the horrors that surrounded him. When he opened them again, a glance at his watch told him three hours had passed. In a near panic, he checked the store again, seeing no signs of intrusion.

He refilled his canteen from a gallon jug of water and slipped another jar of peanut butter into his rucksack, adding a few granola bars and a package of four Bic lighters. He looked wistfully at the cigarettes on their shelves behind the counter, but shook off the desire to grab even a single pack. It had been just over a year since he quit, and despite the situation, he was determined that he would stay smoke-free.

Opening the lock to the back door took him a full thirty seconds, so slowly did he turn the mechanism. Staying in one place for too long was a sure way to wind up dead, and Abe intended to see this strange situation through to the end. He opened the steel fire door a crack, letting him peek out through the gap. The alley looked clear enough and he opened the door. The Ruger revolver was in his hand.

Once satisfied that he was, indeed, alone, he jammed a piece of wood under the corner of the door. The makeshift door stop might delay the demons, or at least make them think the door was still locked.

He looked around, took a deep breath of the stinking, sulfurous air, and holstered the revolver. He looked back and forth down the alley, finally shrugging his shoulders. To his right the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon.

“East sounds good,” he said aloud. He took off at a jog, heading for the beckoning sunlight.

 

(Author note: Abe Tallcloud is a long-term character of mine, created initially for a session of the ‘Dark Conspiracy’ roleplaying game. I have used his character to work through a few things in the past, and tonight it just seemed like a good time to drop him into a horrible situation and see where he took me. Apparently we’re headed east.)

“Why so serious?”

We have all heard that line, brought to fame by the acclaimed performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. It seems it needs some examination, though, in this more modern adaptation of the four-color world where, as fans, we became familiar with the massive list of characters we enjoy. Superhero stories are getting darker — not just in tone, but in shade.

Recently, we saw the release of the first group picture from DC’s “Suicide Squad”.

Suicide-Squad-Featured-Image-970x545

Source: HERE

See anything interesting about the image? The only thing that stands out is the body of Harley Quinn and the shirt of El Diablo. Everything else blends in. It hides. Even the reds of Deadshot and the bits of blue here and there are muted.

Look at the pictures for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”.

Batman-v-Superman

Source: Here

More BvS imagery HERE

The bright blue and red of the iconic Superman costume has been toned down. Wonder Woman has gone to a dull bronze tone for her armor. Batman…Okay, so there’s not much change there since the modifications after the Adam West days. At least Batman can claim that his raison d’etre has pretty much always been to vanish into the dark and emerge to terrorize his foes.

Rest assured, I am not simply throwing DC under the bus, as it were. Marvel’s characters, in their various incarnations, are being modified as well. The brilliant shades made famous in the comics are being replaced by black leather with subtle team indicators. X-Men, I’m looking at you here…

Set and costume design has gone black. Colorful costumes? Not so much. They don’t offer the same tactical advantages as a dark grey for urban use to help blend in with the concrete, or black to hide in shadows. Realistic looks at the genre have prompted the change to more accurate examples of what would constitute a good costume choice. Why should a character stand out, when that’s only going to put him in the crosshairs that one extra bit?

Why? Because they’re superheroes (and villains). They are — for the most part, at least — supposed to stand out. These people are larger than life. Their position alone demands that they stand out. The costumes were a way to announce their presence. They were a part of the personality of that character.

Wolverine in bright yellow? That’s someone who is telling you, “I’m coming for you, and there’s no need for me to hide it. You’ll see me coming and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Daredevil in the deep blood red with the horned mask? Personification of the demons that infest all humans and have come to life within Hell’s Kitchen.

Realism has taken hold. Writers who “reboot” the characters look for more and more plausible methods of creating them, for fear that an audience might say, “Well, that doesn’t make sense.”

So we can accept a talking tree and a raccoon with a machinegun because they’re aliens, but might have trouble believing that whole radioactive spider thing? After all, we know that radiation doesn’t grant superpowers, right? Suspension of disbelief is a requirement for the big-name supers. Sure, we can all see how a vet with a history of excelling at special operations might one day become Punisher, but what of those with origins most unrealistic? Plastic Man. Swamp Thing. Doctor Strange. Flash. Remember, kiddies: Lab accidents don’t make you a hero, they just make you disfigured…and frequently dead.

So we carry on and we keep retconning the characters to make them somehow more believable. We change the lab accident to a previously unknown genetic mutation, with three or four levels of scientific theory to add plausibility. We make collapsible flight suits. Cybernetic implants are replaced by weapon-mounted targeting systems. We take out the raw humor that came from characters that are vastly different from the humans with whom they are interacting. TV and movies have taken many of the characters we have known and loved for decades and made them simply members of the “Trained by ninjas” trope to describe how they achieved superhuman proficiency.

In the process, we rob a little more of that brightness and elation that came from cracking open the pages of a comic and reuniting with your favorite character for a while.

“Exposure to cosmic rays” was good enough to make Reed Richards turn into Mister Fantastic, while simultaneously giving every other member of his party different abilities. We smiled and turned the next page, waiting to see what the rock-hided Thing would do next.

Lightning strikes a rack of lab supplies and showers Barry Allen in them. He’s the Flash now. Interaction between the electricity and various chemicals is all the explanation needed. Note to true fans: Yes. I left out Jay Garrick and the Hard Water. I went with the origin that was repeated to make Kid Flash. Someone get that lab a lightning rod. Seriously.

Stephen Strange and his post-accident Muppet hands meet the Ancient One and study hard, becoming the most powerful Sorcerer on Earth.

Don’t even get me started on Cable.

Movie folks: We can just accept it. You need not spend 45 minutes of a 90 minute movie telling us how Captain Cuttlefish came to be the hero that he is. Let him be that hero! We came to see a superhero story, not to be behind the scenes in a CSI documentary. For those of you who prefer that behind-the-scenes element, my apologies for having a different stance.

My point is simply this: Don’t be afraid to embrace the outlandish. Superheroes, supervillains, and all the associated super-stuff can be wild and different. Let them wear brightly-colored suits — and yes, even have capes. When a man can fly around the world fast enough to stop its rotation and reverse time, I think we have already decided that realism is not necessarily point number one.

So Sunday night my best friend got married.

Before you freak out and run away, I know this is not a superhero story, and it’s not even fictional, but it doesn’t have to be a superhero story for it to be magical. I got to officiate, and so I get to tell the story.

Where was I? Oh, yeah!

So Sunday night my best friend got married.

It was kind of surreal, watching the events unfold before me as I guided them through their ritual and made what can sometimes be a rather stiff and even boring event somewhat… You know what? Let’s just go with “less boring” for now.

I can’t tolerate the dry, staid manner which traditional weddings so frequently dive into with both feet — veil and train following in a flash of white. While there are moments deserving of more solemnity than others, to carry out a wedding with no flair leaves it akin to a funeral (cue the comparison jokes here). This is a moment when the participants should be at their emotional peak. Dropping them into a rite with no personality is an insult. Give them something lively. Let them remember it. Decades from now, they should look at one another and say, “Oh man, when he busted out the stories about cavemen, I was rolling.”

It was therefore wonderful when Chelsea came to me and said, “Be funny.”

She didn’t want the usual pomp and organ-playing. It wouldn’t be the right fit for them. So they didn’t get it. Instead they got hobbit jokes and cavemen and a Reverend in a Deadpool shirt.

But in the end, they got what they wanted: that connection to one another that a marriage brings. Yeah, it sounds sappy, and I know that the connection is from within, not without, but the emotional side of things says, “Hey! We’re married now!” and it means a lot.

So congratulations, Luke and Chelsea. Thank you for making me a part of your day, and a part of your life. May the coming years bring you love and joy, peace and happiness.

And may Ook’Mok never grace your dome with his club.

 

– Reverend Groovy

 

 

 

After some time, Jericho Sims has returned!

The Chickasaw have a legend that stalks the woods and punishes the careless. When an artifact that keeps the monster from rampaging is removed from sacred ground, Jericho is caught up in the quest to return this beast back to its slumber before it destroys him.

kindle

 

There will be more stories forthcoming from our Mr. Sims in the near future. The short stories are fun to write and they keep me prepped to add to the novel that is in the works.

Feel free to comment or send me a message and let me know what you thought of it.