In Memoriam: Part 1

© Linux87 | Dreamstime.com – Cemetery Night Photo

By Christopher Opyr

          Kyle plucked idly at the hairs on his arm just above his wrist – a nervous habit. His daughter used to pull at those same hairs, tugging softly just so with her little fingers as she drifted off to sleep. At the time that rhythmic picking had driven him insane. Kyle had touch issues. Always had.

          Now he would have given anything for his daughter to be there fidgeting as she fell asleep, her nighttime sweaty head soaking into the shoulder of his shirt. He missed the smell of her silky baby hair and her lavender body wash all around him, as she lay there on top of his chest. Most of all he simply missed her.

          Nothing can replace a parent’s love for their child. More, nothing could ease the loss of having that child ripped away, dead before her childhood could ever be lived.

          The memory of his Charlotte clung to Kyle like a phantom limb, so deeply embedded that he could feel her pressed there, snuggling up against him. He could smell her, a faint scent dulled by memory, yet no less overpowering. His shoulder even sweated, as if sensing the heat of her head pressed against it. Yet when he reached to hold her, to let her know that she was safely in his arms, his hands met with only open air.

          Daddy had always made everything okay back then. He had been her safety net, hovering on the edge of every playtime, there for each boo-boo and childhood disappointment. He had always been there for her…until that day that he wasn’t. The day he looked away.

          Kyle pulled out a pack of Marlboro Reds, slapping the pack against his palm a few times, then peeled back the plastic wrap. He pulled out the first cigarette from the top left. That was the order of things – top to bottom, left to right, everything in its proper sequence. Order held importance, it held a sway over Kyle, and it acted as his guide. Without it, he was adrift.

          That order had been dismantled with the death of Charlotte, and ever since then Kyle had come unmoored. Daughters didn’t die before their fathers. That was not the proper sequence.

          He took a drag off the cigarette, unrolled his car window, and exhaled, the smoke catching on the evening breeze. The wisps shifted in gentle eddies, catching the unseen currents of the wind and dissipating into the night. Kyle focused on the dance of the smoke, not ready to look at what lay beyond. As it thinned, he lifted the cigarette back to his lips, breathed deep, then let out another puff of smoke, exhaling through his nostrils.

          His nerves quieted. He knew that the habit was unwise, especially for someone with his health concerns. He knew all the data and had seen all the anti-smoking ads, but he just didn’t care. When Charlotte had been born he had made a promise to drop the habit, to make sure he would be there to watch her grow older, but the burden of that promise had ended with her death. What was the point of it now, anyway? He doubted that he would be long bound to this mortal coil, gone long before any cancer could ever come claim it’s due.

          The cigarette half gone, a pillar of ash hanging precariously from its tip, Kyle finally allowed himself a glimpse beyond the smoke. Across the street stretched the Hillview Memorial Cemetery. Apparently every cemetery in Wake County seemed to have the words Memorial or Gardens shoved somewhere in its name. Maybe it was that way everywhere.

          Order, Kyle thought. Don’t let yourself derail.

          He tapped off the ash of his cigarette and glanced to his left. The low, pillared wall ran around the curve of the street and disappeared. To his right, it vanished among the trees dotting Morris Hill. The whole stretch had been built of red brick – a popular staple in Raleigh and the surrounding area. Here the red of the wall had muted with age, and in spots stained green from years of growth and decay, the wet seasons and lush woods taking their toll on the now crumbling structure. If it were not for the tall wrought iron pickets stabbing up through the brick into the sky, Kyle imagined the wall would have tumbled down decades past. As it was they presented a feeble skeletal structure holding the wall intact and provided the only line of defense against vandals – their sharpened pickets presenting an at least mildly imposing facade.

          Tap. Tap.

          Kyle jolted from his reverie. Anita Shaw tapped at the passenger side window with her pale, knobby fingers. She stopped and made a rolling motion with her hand. Kyle shook his head and waved her around. Anita simply rolled her eyes, bundled into her shawl, which she wrapped about as a head scarf, and stepped around.

          “Sorry,” Kyle said. “No automatic windows.”

          Kyle’s first car had come with automatic windows. After a particularly bad rainstorm the electrical system had shorted, and the automatic windows and locks had stopped working. Whether this actually had anything to do with the rainstorm or not, Kyle didn’t care. He had opted for manual everything on his cars after that. Kyle had many issues, and all of them clung to him tenaciously.

          Anita brushed a stray tuft of gray hair out of her eyes. Thin and wispy as the smoke still trailing from his cigarette, her hair was almost transparent. Beneath her shawl Anita covered her balding crown, though normally it would be on full display. The shawl was more windbreaker than an act of concealment. Anita never hid herself. If someone had a problem with her she’d be the first to tell them exactly where to shove it.

          “You just gonna stay in there all night, or we gonna get on with this business?”

          Kyle rubbed at his eyes, avoiding Anita’s gaze. “Well…”

          “Christ on a stick! I weren’t the one wanted to be out here to start with. Haul your ass out or I’m hauling mine home.” Anita paused, not so much for effect, but more catching on another train of thought. “Come to think of it, Mr. Ingham, I ain’t want to be here, and I made that clear, so I’m just fine turning back.”

          “No.” Kyle shook his head, dropped his cigarette to the wet asphalt, and stepped out of the car. “No, I need to do this.”

          The car door slammed shut behind him and he wrapped his arms around his chest for warmth.

          “You ought wear a coat. You’ll catch cold.”

          Kyle laughed and the laugh ripped into a hoarse, throaty cough. He doubled over letting the cough seize him, deep and mucusy, ending at last with a phlegm-filled spit.

          “I don’t think that matters now.”

          “Even so.”

          Anita pushed herself under one arm, propping Kyle up despite being his senior once over. He had to fight the urge to pull away, the pressure of her under one arm throwing off his sense of balance. He felt uneven and scratched beneath his other arm in a feeble attempt to balance out the sensation.

          “You’re batshit, you know that?”

          “So Jill always told me.”

          Jill had been his wife. Their marriage had dissolved within a year of Charlotte’s death. She blamed Kyle, and he couldn’t say he didn’t deserve that blame. He didn’t kill Charlotte, but if he had just not turned away…

          They had been at the North Carolina State Fair. There must have been tens of thousands of people crowded on those grounds. The earth had been spongy beneath their feet, still wet from a morning shower. That day Kyle had been properly attired, both he and his daughter in matching hoodies. He had a stuffed pig under one arm, a diaper bag on the opposite shoulder, and Charlotte by that hand. She wasn’t quite two, but she had a strong independent streak and he’d had to hold on tight to keep her from losing herself in the crowd. She feared nothing and no one – something that had always both worried Kyle and his wife and made them both very proud.

          They’d been stopped at a food vendor to pick up some funnel cake and a polish sausage dog for Kyle. He’d set the stuffed pig on the counter ledge while he rummaged for his wallet. The rain had just started back and he’d let go of Charlotte’s hand to pull up her hoodie. As he did, the plush had fallen, and he’d turned to catch it, the diaper bag coming down with the sudden shift. It had only taken a moment to gather his things and right himself, but when he’d turned back Charlotte had been gone.

          “Where’d you go there?” Anita asked, rousing Kyle. She had a bad habit of waking him from his thoughts.

          “Nowhere.”

          “I know you’re lying.”

          “Nowhere good.”

          “Fine.”

          Anita stopped, catching her breath. Kyle took a moment to do the same and extricated himself from her shoulder while he did. He leaned against the bricks and stared up at the wrought iron gate. A padlock and a rusted chain barred the entryway.

          “Don’t think we’re getting in here.” The words came out in a light rasp. Kyle wasn’t quite used to the new strain in his voice. He didn’t like it.

          “No shit.” Anita righted herself. “I didn’t tell you to park by the front entrance. I parked up the hill tucked out of the way like any reasonable person up to no good.”

          “Point taken. So where to?”

          Anita nodded up the road to where the trees hung over the perimeter of the cemetery.

          “Just up here a ways.”

          She lodged herself back under Kyle’s arm permitting no argument, though he lacked the energy for one himself. So they hobbled up the moonlit street, clinging as best they could to the shadows beneath the trees, a fierce septuagenarian that could have been anyone’s hard ass grandmother and a hollowed out man that should have been in the prime of his life.

          A few minutes later, the pair found themselves hidden in the shade of a large oak on the northern edge of the cemetery. Anita had stopped, catching her breath once more. As she did, she rolled a joint, took a long drag, then offered it to Kyle.

          “No thanks.”

          “Shit did wonders for my Charlie when he had his chemo.”

          “I’m not in chemo,” Kyle said, eyeing Anita. She never ceased to amaze him. “Besides, it’s illegal.”

          Anita snorted.

          “You’re a strange man, Mr. Ingham. What you have in mind and you’re worried about a little pot?”

          “What we’re doing isn’t illegal.”

          “Not by man’s laws, I spose.”

          “You live by your rules.” Kyle paused. “So what are you taking it for?”

          “What?”

          “The marijuana. You said your husband used it during his chemo. What about you? What are you using it for?”

          “To get high, dipshit.” She shook her head and finished off the rest of her joint in silence.

          Kyle pressed back against a rusted picket and lit another cigarette. Second from the left on the top. All in order.

          He’d met Anita shortly after his divorce, though it took him months to really notice her. They had circled on the edges of the same crowds, flirting through throngs of the bereaved and the desperate. Kyle had been seeking answers, losing his wallet to charlatans that prayed on grief. Anita had been there to catch those that fell. She never approached anyone, never offered any services, but if you sought her out she made herself available. When you stumbled she lifted you back to your feet.

          Once he noticed her, Kyle had begun to see her everywhere. She could be found outside every seance and every fortune teller, a miniscule lady, barely standing over five feet, with deeply hunched shoulders and always wrapped in her shawl. And every time he saw her she had been consoling those that had finally lost hope.

          That’s when she and Kyle had finally met – when he’d hit bottom, alone, broke, and angry… so angry. At everyone and everything. That anger had consumed him even quicker than the cancer. He’d been stumbling out of a shithole with a neon Psychic sign, and she’d been watching from across the street. He’d cursed and sweared and yelled at her, but she’d just stood there. So he had marched over full of hate and ready to unleash on someone, anyone. When he’d finally reached her, however, she weathered every curse, every foul utterance, unflappable. At last, Kyle had collapsed, and Anita had caught him.

          “It’s time,” she said.

          Kyle finished his cigarette, then followed after Anita as she shuffled over to a large sheet of plywood propped on top of the bricks against a stretch of wrought iron. She stopped and knocked on the plywood.

          “So?” Kyle asked.

          “So move it. Can’t expect me to do all the heavy-lifting.”

          Kyle reached over Anita and took hold of the plywood as best he could. He slid it across the top of the bricks, pushing it back about three feet, revealing a gap in the fence.

          “These bars rusted out years ago. Why fix ‘em if you can hide ‘em?” Anita said. “If there’s one thing you can trust in, it’s that we’re all lazy bastards when we think we can get away with it.”

          Kyle grabbed at his back staring at the hole in the cemetery fence and letting the gravity of what they were planning to sink in. His nerves tensed, his throat constricted, and he had the sudden urge to draw out the third cigarette from the pack.

          “We can always turn back,” Anita said. “There’s no shame in it. Hell, you know I’d prefer it that way.”

          “No,” Kyle said. “I came here to set things right.”

          “There’s nothing right about this Mr. Ingham. Need I remind you, I’m acting under duress.”

          “You help me out, and everything will be just fine, Mrs. Shaw.”

          Anita snorted once more.

          “Well, if that ain’t a damned lie. You know, sometimes I wish I’d never met you.”

          “I do. I wish the same, but here we are.” Kyle motioned towards the hole in the fence.

          Anita took the hint and hauled herself over the wall and on through. Kyle followed after her. He had come here to restore order to the world. Things had a proper sequence, a linear model to follow. A daughter ought never die before her father. There would be no backing down. He’d come to set that order straight.




On to Part 2

Blank Page Syndrome

© Tomert | Dreamstime.com – Open blank notebook over wooden table. ready for mockup. retro filtered image


By Chris Hutton

          Almost every writer that I know dreads it. It may be the most daunting thing with which a writer ever has to grapple – at least when it comes to the work of writing. It taunts you; it challenges you; it just plain gets under your skin.

          I absolutely loathe the blank page.

          Sure, it is rife with possibilities, a clean canvas upon which to paint your story, a journey yet to be begun, or some other green grass metaphor, but it is also a trap. It is the source of every so-called “writer’s block” that I’ve ever experienced. Now as to the actuality of “writer’s block,” perhaps that’s another story, as there are ways to push through. Then again, perhaps it is entwined with this one. Maybe you’ll see what I mean momentarily.

          When I think about the blank page, it is not simply the empty word document or the literal blank pages of a writer’s notebook that come to mind, no matter my choice of illustration above. The blank page is the starting point. It is the beginning of something new, whether it is time to dig for new ideas, the moment you sit down to outline a story, the first moments before drafting those opening words, or even the return from a narrative break.

          It’s also an excuse. When I’m at a beginning, I might as well be at a stopping point. The two feel as one and the same. Let me explain.

          I’ll start with the first example:


Searching for New Ideas

          As discussed last week, searching for inspiration for that next story can be a difficult task. Yes, it is the beginning of the story, but it can just as easily be the end. Tell me, which is easier: 1) to push through all the techniques that I mentioned in the Searching for Inspiration post, or 2) to say, ‘You know what, I’m not inspired, today,’ then take a seat on the couch and watch some TV. When I’m tired I guarantee you that option B is the easier route, and I work a full-time job, have a two-year-old daughter, am writing new story material, and am managing my online presence completely on my own. I guarantee you that I am tired a lot. Hell, I didn’t come up with the idea for this blog until October 27th, while trying to justify why it would be okay to skip one day. Guess what?

          It wasn’t okay.


Beginning the Outline

          Let’s say you have an idea. It’s great. It’s an amazing idea. Now you want to write it. How does it begin? How does it end? Who is the main character? Where is it set? What is it about? What’s the plot? The themes? How do all of these elements tie together? How do you sequence this out to tell your story? That’s a lot of work to start. As long as the page is blank, the outline hasn’t begun and once again it becomes easy to say, ‘You know what, it’s late. It’s 12:30 am and I really need to get some sleep. I’ll start this outline when I wake up.” After finishing my work day on October 27th, (a few hours before this very moment mid writing this post), that seemed like a valid excuse. I could have ended it there and put this off until tomorrow. Instead, I sucked it up and drafted out the basic ideas of what I wanted to express. Why? Because once I start typing, the blank page is gone and I can move forward. As long as I mull it over and keep it blank, it is so very easy to stop before starting.


Starting the Story

          Okay, you’ve nailed the idea, the outline is down pat, and now it’s time to start writing (which technically you’ve already started even if you don’t realize it). So how do you get going? That opening line seems too cliché. It is always a dark and stormy night, right? You need something original. Did you just begin your story with the word ‘it?’ That’s a no-no. Is that opening paragraph too long? It’s too short. It’s too dry. Too clipped. No sentence fragments.

          As you start your story there is an immense amount of pressure. In screenwriting the purported rule is that you have ten pages tops to catch your reader, probably less. In prose, the literature always speaks about the great opening lines, and how the writer captures the reader from the first sentence. Likely this source quoted A Tale of Two Cities. In either scenario, the alleged experts have laid down the gauntlet and its tough to accept that challenge. Moving back to this post, as 1 am rolled by, and I fixed my OS on my computer and could finally start putting words to Word document, I reminded myself that I’m sick, and that a good night’s rest was in order. I still agree with that, but I post every Friday. This post had to get done. So I pushed all thoughts of perfection out the window, and I set down to type.


Returning from a Narrative Break

          Finally that story is underway, but then you reached a logical stopping point. You wrapped up your current narrative arc, saved the file, and shut down. When you come back, that page doesn’t look blank, but it is. You stopped before starting the next train of thought, and now you might as well be at a new beginning all over again. The best example I can give of this is when writing a novel. You finish a chapter and you close out. The next day when you return to write, you’re staring at the words ‘Chapter 2,’ but there is nothing yet written beneath that headline. You are once again at the blank page. For once, I have no scenario from this posting to provide. I’ve been pushing through as fast as I can, so no stopping point has presented itself, but I guarantee that had it presented itself, I would once again have found myself having to push forward.


Advice for Pushing Beyond the Blank Page

          And that’s all well and good, but how do you push forward when you’re on that blank page? Obviously saying that you’re going to do it is much easier than working up the nerve and plowing forward.

          In the end, I think it comes to will and desire. If you really want to write that story (blog, poem, etc.), you find the willpower and you push forward. But again, a few pointers can’t hurt. So here’s my advice, for whatever it may be worth.


Searching for New Ideas

          Be observant. Rifle through your everyday and your personal experience for ideas. Keep a dream journal, especially if you already have vivid dreams. List out what if scenarios off the top of your head and see what pops. Think about your favorite story types and what unique spin you might be able to offer on each. Try stream of consciousness writing. Whatever ideas you don’t use for that particular story, jot into an idea list for later use when confronted with an inspiration block, i.e., the blank page on ideation. See my longer blog post for more details on the above methods.


Beginning the Outline

          If the story hasn’t come to me with a narrative arc already set in stone, then I turn to drafting a bible (especially for longer works). In that bible I focus on these elements:

  • Basic Premise / Logline
  • Setting
  • Tone & Style
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Story Arc

          As I explore each in drafting the bible, the outline begins to shape itself. Looking at the premise I consider what setting might be a reflection of that premise or a natural corollary for that story. For instance, a story about a man with a forgotten past sets very well in a town that has itself been forgotten. With setting and premise locked, I think about what tone I want to use. If it is a series about a bunch of teenagers, do I want to aim for a CW style tone? If it’s a horror story of something beyond our imagining could I be looking for something more arcane and intellectual, something in which the prose itself is doused in insanity (a sort of Lovecraftian approach)? Once I lock those three aspects, themes often emerge naturally. Dreams manifesting in a town that is dying with a teenage cast and a CW tone? Maybe I’m looking at the difference between our dreams and our reality. I’m telling a coming of age story that compares the ideal world we hope to live in, and the reality or nightmare we face upon stumbling into adulthood. By the time I’ve moved this far into my process, my main cast has already begun to shape itself, I have an idea of where the story begins and ends, and then I can outline by determining major beats that I want to hit along the way.


Starting the Story

          Here I think one just has to let the idea of perfection go. It’s very easy to avoid writing caught in the impression that every line has to be perfect, especially those opening lines. They don’t. Writing is rewriting. Don’t trust me? Check out Jack Epps, Jr.’s book Screenwriting is Rewriting. He makes a valid case and offers up more suggestions for the process than I can here in the limits of this blog.

          The point that I hope you take from this advice, however, is not that you need to go read this book in order to write, but that it’s understood that your first draft is not going to be perfect. It will need to be rewritten, then rewritten again, then polished. Case in point, I’m currently rereading and editing this post at 2:30 in the morning. This is why writers need editors. So don’t get hung up on perfecting that first line right out of the gate – not at the expense of writing at all. Look back to your outline, push through those first couple of paragraphs, and get your momentum going. Once you do, once you have that forward drive, you can always go back and revise. Just don’t go back too soon. It’s good to seize that momentum while you have it.


Returning from a Narrative Break

          With this one, you could easily follow the same advice I applied to Starting the Story – just not getting hung up in perfection and reminding yourself that you can rewrite. That being said, there is an easier method. Don’t stop at a logical narrative break. Coming up with ideas, outlining, and starting your story are three steps that have an absolute blank page. At these natural breaks a writer will always have the temptation of avoiding the work and making excuses. But a narrative break, whether it is a chapter break or a scene break or whatever it may be, can be avoided. If you have your momentum going and you reach the conclusion of some narrative structural unit, then keep going into the next section. Ride that momentum through your next story beats. Don’t go far, but write just far enough that a new scenario has presented itself – that the next arc of your story has begun. Now when you return the next day to continue your story, you don’t have to face that blank page. You already have a few paragraphs or even just the first few sentences started. That can easily be enough to move you past the fear of the blank page, past the tendency to put off to another day, and on to writing.


Time to Draw This to a Close

          So yeah. That’s my basic advice. We are all faced with blank pages at the start of any new project, and at the logical structural breaks between the phases of that project. Each of those breaks is a blank page – one that taunts you and whispers in your ear that it’s okay to go off and get some sleep, or watch some TV, or do anything but move forward. You can’t listen to that voice. You have to be determined, and you have to seize on any method you can to move on and get writing, painting, composing – whatever your art may be.

          Though if I have any more advice to give, its just this. Work on your project every day. Even if only a little. As it applies to writing, write every day. At least jot down ideas. Outline. Rewrite. Do something. Keep yourself moving forward and avoid the negative writer brain telling you its not good enough. Don’t stop and give up, which most of us have wanted to do many times. Finish your story. If you do that, you’re already doing better than so many of us that get started, but don’t’ see the story through to its conclusion. Eventually, we too often succumb to that blank page and leave our work unfinished and unstarted.

          Don’t be that writer. Don’t let the blank page stop you, and don’t give in to excuses.

          On a side note, if you’re in a relationship, following any of the rambling excuse for advice given above is much easier to do if you have an understanding significant other. Thank you, Nicole. I realize it is 2 am right now (now 2:40 am after proofing) and I’m going to be very cranky in the morning and probably still sick, but hey… I finished my blog post.

          And that’s a wrap.

          Happy Writing


Last Call: Part 2 of 2

© Ruslan1117 | Dreamstime.com – Two shots of tequila with lime and salt on a wooden table bar on the background of bright lights of the bar

By Christopher Opyr

          She checked her phone. Nothing back from Milly or Aaron. She rang again, but still they didn’t answer. At last she tapped over to Erika. As the call rang through, she snorted again, swallowing back more snot. Her head was so stuffed.

          She pulled the shirt back from her cheek revealing three small lines of blood. Not bad. She’d had worse scratches from cats before, though never like this from Elder. It wasn’t like him. The way he had puffed up —

          Erika’s voice broke through Teagan’s thoughts. “Hello?”

          “Hey, Erika. You sound like hell.”

          “Sure. The same could be said…You know.”

          “Yeah. We might should lay off for a while.”

          “Good by me.”

          “Have you heard from Milly?”

          “Not since, like, last night.”

          Damn it. One line of questioning closed. Next up…

          Teagan strained to push on. The effort of speaking, and more of listening, did her and her obvious migraine no favors. “And your mystery bae?”

          “Oh God.” Erika’s voice dripped with regret. “Don’t even go there. Like, I don’t know what I was thinking. I was so mad at Mike and then this guy, he just like…he was so there… and can we just forget he ever existed?”

          “I almost got you covered there. I can’t remember jack. All flashes after the Whiskey, then him grabbing the last round.”

          “Oh, hot hell. The tequila.”

          Teagan shut her eyes, ready to drift off, but another flash lit up. The stranger coming back with a tray of shots – tequila shots. She had had tequila. Lime chasers by each. Something else. Something pulsing. His hand so pale.

          “You get Goth boy’s number?”

          “Jerk ditched me after those last shots. All hot and, like, heavy all night, like he could just play me. I don’t even let Mike do half of… I just couldn’t… he was so… I can’t even put words to it, you know?”

          “Yeah, I do.” Every time Teagan tried to picture him his face still shifted. That thought of an abstraction returned. All she could capture were those snapshots, that smooth, icy skin. A fair image, but always blurred or jerking in and out of focus. And a sense of something primal. He had oozed with an irresistible charm. And his eyes…

          “Oh, hell.” Her head shrieked, another stab of pain slicing back through the cornea, right through the soft tissue and back to gray matter. “I can’t.”

          “Yeah,” Erika said. “We so outdid ourselves last night. It’s never been, like, this bad.” As she finished she sniffed, then sneezed.

          Alarm bells went off.

          “You don’t have allergies, Erika. Right?”

          “No. I’m just coming down with something I guess. There’s just so much pressure. It’s like it’s all swelling up behind my eyes and my nose. Just this constant pressure, you know?”

          Teagan panicked. Her heart went racing and she could feel the sweat already beading on her forehead. What exactly had happened last night? The thought held a new level of urgency.

          “Teague, are you there?” Erika’s voice drew Teagan back to the phone. “You’re cutting out.”

          Caller ID showed Henry’s headbanging profile beeping in.

          “Hold that. My lazy ass boyfriend’s calling from the bathroom.”

          “He’s what?”

          Teagan tapped over to the other call. “More water, love?”

          No response, just a sort of a throaty murmur.

          “Henry?”

          A loud pop sounded and then something sloshing in water.

          Oh hell. Here we go.

          “Henry, did you just throw up? I’ll get you some water. I’ll be right there.”

          With effort, Teagan rose, grabbed what was left of her water glass and made her way down the hall to the bathroom. She tapped back to Erika briefly.

          “Hey, Erika. I’ll have to call you back. Henry’s pretty bad off.”

          “Join the club.”

          “You good?”

          “Yeah, yeah. Call me back.”

          Teagan pocketed her phone once more, and approached the shut door.

          “Love, are you okay?”

          She toed it open, again, then everything stopped. Time. Her heart. Her breathing. She died. Everything died, and her hands loosed, the glass falling to the tile. Then everything snapped back into focus. Her breath came out in a huff, and her heart pounded and skipped like a broken record.

          Henry was dead. He lay, his head hanging into the toilet, only you couldn’t rightly call it a head anymore. The skull, his skull had cracked right open, his scalp and face scattered, and hanging, and torn, and floating like chunks of viscera in the bloody water, now not so clear. And there were things floating there, things, bits of brain, and bone, and ….

          “FUUUUCCCCCKKKKK!” She screamed, dragging the word out, and living it, and feeling it in a way she never had before, but completely lost in it – in the hurt of it, the pain and the frustration, and every emotion roiling together and bubbling like the grease in the pan.

          “What the holy hell!”

          And the tears flowed now, they streamed an epic river, dripped and splattered mixing with the snot now oozing from her nose, and all mingling in a slime-salt cocktail that she sucked down as every emotion tore for attention.

          She couldn’t believe he was dead, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t see what had happened. As if…

          Elder hissed and yowled from the bedroom, giving her something, anything other than this sick shitshow on which to focus. Teagan fumbled back and peered into the room, holding onto the doorframe lest her legs give out. There stood Elder puffed up as before, hissing and panicked on the top of the headboard.

          “Hey, buddy…” She attempted a calming voice, but she lost it mid-way through. Her body spasmed with a wracking sob.

          Henry’s dead. He’s so fucking dead.

          They had been together for four years. They were supposed to be together. Always together. Henry and Teagan, just like Milly and Aaron. The names were one, they didn’t exist without the other. She was strong, and she had never needed him – it wasn’t that urgent I can’t breathe without you love – but the concept, the idea… they belonged together. Like milk and cereal. Rock and roll. Fucking chutes and ladders. None of it made sense.

          Try as she did, Teagan couldn’t hold her thoughts together. They sped off in every direction, bounced out and snapped back. And then Elder yowled again, and she zeroed back in on the cat.

          His ears were pressed back and his head pointed down, following something on the floor – something between the bed and the nightstand. As Teagan tried to catch a glimpse of what had cornered Elder, she noticed a wet trail on the bedroom carpet. Blood, and water, and muck, tracked in, leading all the way back — Teagan turned — to the bathroom.

          “Oh no. No, no, no.”

          Teagan backed out of the room, as Elder hissed and yowled some more, angry and desperate for help.

          I can’t.

          She continued to back up, bracing against the wall as her head began to throb. Oh, it hurt so bad. Her hand slipped into open air as she reached the hallway, and she fell with a resounding thwack against the wood floor, but she didn’t notice the pain of it. No all of the pain surged from her head, from her sinuses and her stupid, drumming, wailing brainpan.

          She slid back then, spider-walking down the hall, unable to turn her gaze from the direction of that room and moreover from that thing, whatever it was, that had dragged itself across the floor and currently had Elder in a panic. Focused back as she was, she didn’t notice how far down the hall she had fled until her right hand brushed against the broken plastic of the smoke detector.

          Oh, hadn’t that been a better time, smacking her silence piñata? Those were the days, right? She and Henry had been happy then. Him ignoring her and running off to vomit, and her reveling in her victory over the evil beeping detector of doom. She missed those days.

          Elder yowled once more and Teagan stopped. Elder belonged to Henry. Henry’s cat. Teagan and Henry’s cat. He was a part of them, and whatever that thing was, it had killed Henry. It had splattered his head open and it had gone after Elder, and she’d be damned if she was going to lose that bastard of a cat, too.

          Her hand gripped on the broken plastic and one of those light bulb moments went off like a bomb. Oh it was no grand plan, not even a fraction of one, but she knew what she had to do. Teagan reached out and found the broom still leaning against the wall. She gripped it and she stood, and she headed right back to that bedroom.

          As she passed the bathroom she averted her eyes. She couldn’t stand to see Henry that way again. Her migraine pounded, but she plowed on, wielding that broomstick in front of her like a knight’s sword. Her Excaliber. Hell, her Gibson Les Paul and nothing would stop her from crashing it down on that obscenity.

          She turned the corner into the bedroom. Elder had backed to the far edge of the headboard, but on the other end, it waited. IT. That thing.

          Teagan vomited, blood and pad thai, and way too much liquor finally flooding out of her. She wiped her mouth, vomited again, then forced herself upright. She would see IT, look at IT and know IT – that thing that had killed her Henry.

          IT slithered up the bedpost, a wet mass of tumorous lopsided nightmares, with protuberances jutting from every which spot wriggling and gripping, as if a knot of a thousand tiny legs tied and glued together and bound by some viscous muck. Jaws snapped out at random, from that mass, between legs and on legs and as legs, teeth clacking together, in some macabre unfathomable design that had no right to exist.

          Yet IT did, and IT hauled itself up that bedpost, an eyeless, shapeless, abomination trying to kill their cat. She tottered forward, weakly. Her foot pressed down onto the muck IT had dragged into their room. Her bare foot. On that trail. That IT trail. That Henry trail. That mix of blood and gore and whatever IT was.

          That’s when Teagan snapped. She could feel Henry’s blood on her skin, soaking into her foot, and that burning ooze that IT had left behind, mixed with the toilet water, and something spongy and organic, something she could not stop to think about. She snapped and she charged. The broomstick smashed down repeatedly, hitting into that soft tissue and IT fell to the floor between the bed and the nightstand.

          Still Teagan hammered home whacking at that thing. ITs teeth clattered and those mouths let forth a screeching, vile, hurt yowl, and IT dragged itself under the bed.

          “No.”

          Teagan dropped down and reached under and yanked IT out. Those teeth, those many-mouthed teeth – or many-teethed mouths, or was it both – bit down, as ITs stubby legs-things wriggled against her and she flung IT across the room, as her skin bubbled and blistered around each bite. IT screeched again as IT hit the wall with a wet smack.

          Then, sensing some innate fight or flight necessity, IT hurled itself at Teagan. She barely had time to think. She just reacted. She pulled back and cleaved that thing in two, the broom handle meeting with IT and pinning the monstrosity to the wall as her momentum continued to carry through and that tumor burst and split.

          The cleaved halves fell to the floor, and even inside IT existed a further tangle of teeth and mouths and wriggling, now dying protuberances. No logic could explain IT, as if IT was inside and out, wholly this mass looping in on itself in some Escher-like insanity.

          Teagan vomited again, then forced herself to look one last time upon the dead thing. One last protuberance danced then went still.

          Teagan shut her eyes, and a final vision of the previous night burst into being like pyrotechnics bursting above a stage.

          The stranger held out the tray of tequila shots.

          “Go on,” he said in that lilting, melodic oddly reverbing voice, and they all did. All except for him. Five shot glasses and they each grabbed one: Aaron and Milly, Erika, and Henry and Teagan. Two each to the pairs. Erika eyed it oddly. They all did. Something wriggled in the bottom of the shot, something pale, and knotted. A tiny fleck twisting in the alcohol. Whatever it was, it was abhorrent, and Teagan had gagged, reaching to set the glass back.

          “It’s only a tequila worm,” the stranger said.

          You don’t drink the worm, Teagan thought. And isn’t that for mezcal, not tequila? That’s not something one actually does, right? Yet even as she questioned him, she found herself irresistibly raising the glass to her lips. They all did. She couldn’t understand how or why this man was making them do this, but she knew that he was.

          She looked at him, and his face did its usual lurch, a flash of pale skin, a gleam of an eye, his smooth features. Never all at once. Just a face. Faces? Mouths? An idea? An abstraction… His face solidified – like a Picasso, or some GWAR nightmare, everything at impossible angles, duplicates where they shouldn’t be and absences where something should be. Then he blurred once more and his face was once again that of the beautiful, mysterious stranger.

          “Down the hatch,” he said, and they all downed their shots.

          Teagan opened her eyes. She wanted to scream again. To yell more obscenities, but it didn’t matter now. She sniffed, and winced, and reached out to pet Elder. He shrank back from her. She would not be allowed that kindness.

          She thought about who she should call or what she should say, but she couldn’t imagine the words. Nothing she might say would explain it, nor would it provide her or anyone else any closure. It would just be torture.

          She tiptoed to the bathroom, stepping over Henry’s body, and looked in the mirror. Her face had reddened. She could see trace amounts of swelling around her eyes and her nose. Her cheek had puffed up around the claw marks from Elder. The cuts jiggled a little and another stabbing pain bore through her skull.

          Teagan didn’t have long now. She could feel her throat constricting as another mass grew inside her sinuses, some strange protuberance beginning to encroach on her airway. Milly and Aaron were already gone. That was clear now. Only she and Erika remained. She wanted to call and warn her, but in the end it was better if Erika didn’t know. Maybe she’d lie down and take a nap. Maybe she wouldn’t feel it happening.

          IT slithered now, those protuberances encompassing her throat. She couldn’t breathe, and she couldn’t speak even if she had anything to say. This must have been what it felt like for Henry, when he made that last call. He had tried to tell her, but IT didn’t let him.

          Teagan closed her eyes. She didn’t want to see anymore. She felt the pressure building in her head as that mass expanded and knew she had only seconds. She pictured Henry, smiling and headbanging, hanging off that cartoon statue. She pictured him lying on the couch, listening to his tablet, the cacophony of so many screens blaring around him. She pictured Elder meowing at her feet. She wanted all of them, so she focused further back. The three of them lying in bed, smiling and watching cartoons. Elder had curled up between them. Henry was scritching his head, and Elder purred. A small sliver of sunshine warmed the blanket and Teagan nuzzled up to her family, happy and safe in their embrace. Henry and Teagan. And even that ass, Elder.

          She smiled and the pressure burst.

Back to Part 1

Searching for Inspiration

© Alexey Fursov | Dreamstime.com – Man in dark tunnel




By Chris Hutton

          So, I’ve been away all week at a work conference – super busy but good stuff. I managed to prep my short story for this week and next week in advance, and had the best intentions of drafting out my blog post for today while flying from LA to Madison. Instead I fell asleep within moments of boarding the plane. Suffice to say, not much writing happened. That left me in the decidedly awkward position of trying to brainstorm a blog topic while on a work trip, and there really isn’t much time for that. So, during brief moments of calm between meetings and/or assignments, I would ponder to myself what it was that I should discuss today, but I was coming up blank. Then, last night, at one of the keynotes, I bothered to open my eyes for a moment and take in my surroundings. The theme of the entire conference was Inspiration to Impact. My topic was right there staring me in the face the entire time.

          Inspiration to Impact, you ask? Well, not really. That’s a great topic perhaps for another day, but inspiration itself, that was the exact thing that I had been searching for all week. So today I want to explore the topic of inspiration as it pertains to writing (and quite likely can be applied to other arts as well).

          The source of a writer’s stories can seem sort of mystical, this otherworldly thing conjured into existence from a mad mind that obviously just doesn’t work like everyone else’s mind. I imagine that many have pondered this sort of sentiment when thinking of the greats of any genre. For me that would be the likes of Stephen King, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Joe Hill, and Nick Cutter among many of the modern horror writers, not even touching upon science fiction or the writers of the classics.

          Obviously I cannot speak for those above, but I can attest to the origin of my own stories, and I can guarantee you that my stories don’t just leap from some sort of madness. While I may be a little crazy, inspiration is not plucked from the ether, nor is it created from nothing. For me it is sought and it is found. That doesn’t mean I have to meander around aimlessly (much like my current rambling) shining a light into the dark, but rather that there are methods that can be employed to help simplify that search for inspiration and keep a writer writing.

          Indulge me a moment or two more and I will provide another recent example. Before leaving for this work conference I spent my free time after office hours trying to develop ideas for two new horror stories that I could draft in advance of my trip to Madison. I tried pulling them from thin air… I really, really did. I would sit and stare at the monitor and I seemed to be pleading for a story to arrive. Bad method.

          Sure, after a few hours of this, some threads of a story formed, but were they any good? That’s another question, but my gut is going with not very likely.

          Well, after jotting down my rough notes for my potential story, I left the house to attend a concert. My friend, Michael Meinhart, and his band, Socionic, were playing at the Whiskey a Go Go. It’s not often that I’m free on a night that he has a show, so with the stars aligned and my wife watching our daughter, I left.

          One amazing performance, way too many beers, and a shot later, I caught a Lyft home and crashed for the night/morning. When I woke up, I had the worst hangover I have had in many years – mainly because I’m a prematurely old man.

          Point being, that hangover became my inspiration. It hurt. It hurt like hell. My head was pounding and some of my decisions (like to have that extra beer or two) needed to be questioned. Pondering those life choices and the dizzying, pounding world around me, I caught the scent of a story. There’s something scary about a hangover. About the lack of control. About the drumming pain. About the obliviousness of the night before (if you happened to black out – which was not the case here). Still, there was something to work with. I kneaded at that kernel and molded it until the “idea” of the night before had been completely abandoned, a new outline drafted, and a new story born – not from nothing, but from observation of the world around me. Thus arose my idea for Last Call (the first part of which posted on Monday).

          That’s not to say that if you want inspiration you should go out and get drunk and hope you wake up with a story. That’s terrible advice and you should definitely not do that.

          However, you should look at yourself, look at the life you’re living, and take inspiration from that real life experience to find a truth upon which your fiction can be built. Finding that truth that you want to tell and establishing that foundation provides an amazing place from which to draw your fiction – or not… maybe you hate The Last Call. If so we can talk about that later. For now, let me have this one. Please.

So what the hell am I getting at? Again, it boils down to methods of finding inspiration that can lead to your next story. Above I described one method:


          Being Observant

          Pay attention to your surroundings. Notice the large banners, signs, and programs, with the words Inspiration to Impact plastered all over them. There might be an idea for a blog there. Wake up with a terrible hangover? What does that feel like? What are you struggling with physically and emotionally? Is there something there that could help form an original horror story?

          Just open your eyes. Watch people. Open your ears and listen to people. Pay attention to your surroundings and be cognizant of your own emotions and personal experience. Everything you observe is potential fodder for a story – just find that main thread that sparks your interest. As an amazing writing professor of mine once told me, you have to live your life in order to have stories to tell. Now that’s terribly paraphrased, but the point he made was that you had get out into the world, you had to live new experiences, and from those experiences you could find inspiration and material for your writing.


          But obviously there is more that you can do to find inspiration than just open your eyes. So what follows is a brief list of some of the other methods I employ when searching for inspiration.


          Rifle Through Your Personal Experience

          Explore your past. Maybe you had a unique childhood experience, or probably many. What are those moments that you remember most vividly and why? Is there a story there? What jobs have you worked? What experiences have you lived? Which ones rocked you to your core, bowled you over, knocked you off your feet and other cliches? Myself, I have to look at those experiences that inspired me, hurt me, and shaped me. The happiest and worst moments of my life, of any writer’s life, those are the depths to be plumbed to tell a story with true emotional resonance.


          Keep a Dream Journal

          If you’re a vivid dreamer like me, there is plenty of material. Half of my stories come from my nightmares. While my deranged mind decides to torture me in my sleep, I try desperately to remember that horror upon waking, write it down, and file it away. With a little twisting to reinsert the logic of the waking world, one’s nightmares make a great starting point for unique tales. At least two of my pilots and a quarter of my prose has been drawn from dreams.


          What Ifs

          Maybe you’ve tried being observant to no avail, and your dreams just aren’t providing. You can still generate inspiration. Take a moment and brainstorm. One of the methods that I enjoy is to start a document with ‘What if…’ at the top. Then I create a bulleted list and type out as many possible ways to finish that statement as I can at that time. Many of these ideas are going to be terrible, but one or two of them might just spark something worth writing.


          Story Types

          Let’s say you’ve gone through all of that, and it is still not cutting it. Well, though I love looking to the real world, to my dreams, and to my imagination as a starting point, there is nothing wrong about considering your favorite stories. If I know I want to write horror, I might stop and think what are some of my favorite horror stories and what type of story is each? A zombie story? A vampire story? A ghost story? The destruction of the fabric of the universe by some Eldritch God? It could be anything, but I try to boil it down to its simplest. Now I have a list of story types that I enjoy reading. That’s great, because you know what, we write best what we know and what we love. If you don’t want to read it, why write it?

          Anyway, with a list now generated, I examine the common story types and I think to myself, what can I do different here? For instance, I like stories about Mars, so maybe I want to set a story there. Okay, but what is my angle? Well, what if I examine a problem like drought, which I see often in my home state of California? Is there a story that I could uniquely tell about the value of water on Mars? Maybe. Currently its called Inflow, and this is how I came up with it.


          Stream of Consciousness

          Another method I like to employ is stream of consciousness writing. I just sit down at the keyboard and I write. Usually this doesn’t start off pretty. Half of the time it starts off with, ‘I really want to write, but I don’t have an idea right now. What can I write about?’ Even then, at least it started. From there, I just let my mind go. Though it may not result in something every time, plenty of my story ideas have birthed from this random vomiting of my stream of consciousness onto the page. In fact, my last pilot, The Cage, began in just this same way. After five minutes or so of random nonsense I stumbled upon my own unique perspective on a werewolf story. Then I tucked it away and let it simmer for five years… which brings me to my final method:


          Lists

          Sometimes I can try all of the options detailed above and still come up with nothing. My observations from that day aren’t popping out at me. My recollection of my past just isn’t hitting me upside the head with anything useful. I didn’t have any good dreams the night before and my what ifs are coming up blank. In addition, I might try to twist some common story ideas, but I’m not finding an angle that is uniquely mine, and none of my free-writing is producing anything worthwhile. Those days are going to happen. That’s why you create lists, at least that’s why I do.

          When all else fails I go to a saved folder on my hard drive or open up my Moleskine, and I look through lists upon lists of story ideas that I’ve previously jotted down, but didn’t explore. And where did these ideas come from? From every other method listed above, because I guarantee if you’re employing methodology to find your inspiration, there are going to be times when you come up with multiple excellent ideas, some of which just have to be saved for another day if for no other reason than the constraints of time.


          Moving on…

          So… yeah. That’s how I do it. That’s how I concoct the madness that is my fiction. You might have other methods. Feel free to let me know in the comments. I am always curious about new ways to find that next great story idea. Right now, I’ve got my ears open, and I’m observing. I’m listening to a strange, howling wind blowing through my hotel room despite the lack of an open window, and I know that an idea is forming, and it’s being written down in my Moleskine as soon as I press publish on this post.

          That said, go find your own inspiration. Get cracking. And as always,

          Happy Writing


Arcas – Sample 2

© Art by JC Thomas from ARCAS

Below you’ll find the second writing sample for ARCAS. These are pages for the original short film from which the comic is being adapted. Enjoy!

ARCAS

By

Chris Hutton

Story by

Marielle Woods and Chris Hutton

INT. CENTRAL WORKSTATION – DAY

Computers everywhere. Floor to ceiling. Two booth-like stations screened off to either side of a two-seated central monitor area. More seats at less important stations.

Sam taps a button. Casual. He’s done this a million times.

SAM

Say again, Artemis Base?

ARTEMIS DIRECTOR (SPEAKER)

We are good for launch. Copy Arcas Station? Good for launch.

Sam blows at the steam from his coffee and grabs a sesame seed from a pile. He holds the seed through an air hole of a mouse cage; EDDY, the mouse, noses at the offering.

SAM

Check. EECOM?

COMMANDER SITWELL (SPEAKER)

Go.

SAM

Hydraulics?

COMMANDER SITWELL (SPEAKER)

All go, Sam. Prep the mess hall, we’ll be back in time for lunch.

SAM

Hallelujah, sir.

COMMANDER SITWELL (SPEAKER)

Our resident cynic been giving you a hard time?

SAM

Not at all, sir – just ready to kick someone else’s butt after six months playing with that cheat.

COMMANDER SITWELL (SPEAKER)

You just want us back so I’ll sign your release and get you off that orbiting tin can and down here where the real action is.

SAM

Just ready to do my part–

An orange light blinks on the console, lit then gone.

SAM (CONT’D)

Hold. I had a flicker on booster 3.

COMMANDER SITWELL (SPEAKER)

Copy. Likely a short, again. Still reading?

Sam stares. No light. Finally presses the button to speak.

SAM

No. I’d like to call in Xu. Advise.

COMMANDER SITWELL (SPEAKER)

Negative. All reads well on board and at Artemis Base. Relay Ship II is good for launch. Let’s go.

SAM

Copy that Commander. See you soon.

A timer begins on the monitor: “30. 29. 28…” Sam glances to the thruster light. Still off. Pauses on it.

“23. 22. 21…”

The light remains unlit. Sam runs his hand through his hair.

“17. 16. 15…”

Sam tenses in his seat as Eddy perches up by an air hole. He grins at the mouse, then turns back to the count down.

“10. 9. 8…”

He leans forward: “7. 6…”

COMMANDER SITWELL (SPEAKER)

— Go in five. Four. Three. Two. One.

The THRUSTERS ENGAGE blasting over the speaker. No warning light. Sam taps nervously. The THRUSTERS INCREASE VOLUME.

COMMANDER SITWELL (SPEAKER) (CONT’D)

Clear of Artemis Base. ETA, one hour, 37 minutes.

SAM

Copy. I’ll put out the welcome mat.

Sam sighs and leans back. Turns to Eddy with another seed.

SAM

How’s that for a start to the day,
Eddy?

(re: Eddy won’t take it)

No?

Sam shrugs and cracks the seed open for himself when — BOOM!

COMMANDER SITWELL (SPEAKER)

Command Module abort! Abort!

ASTRONAUT 1 (SPEAKER)

System jammed. Come in, system —

— STATIC.

A NEW LIGHT FLASHES! Sam wheels to the neighboring console. All calculated action. Flipping switches.

SAM

Relay II come in?

(STATIC)

Relay shuttle, come in.

(STATIC)

Commander Sitwell? Ben?

Still STATIC. SAM drops his head for a moment, taking it in, then flips the next switch.

SAM (CONT’D)

Artemis Base, come in.

ARTEMIS DIRECTOR (SPEAKER)

This is Artemis base. We’ve lost visual —

BOOM! And more STATIC.

SAM

Artemis —

A station ALARM SOUNDS. Sam swivels to — THE MONITOR: “Incoming.” Sam braces.

Another BOOM! This time not over the speakers. Sam shields his eyes as SPARKS fly out from overhead. Coolant billows down drowning the fire before it can take hold.

A GRINDING NOISE WRENCHES through the station. Everything shakes. Sam’s coffee crashes to the floor!

The mouse cage slips over the edge, falling. Sam reaches for it, then…

Slowly the mouse cage begins to float rather than fall. Sam pushes it down and the cage suctions to the console, but the maneuver thrusts him up into the air. Welcome to zero G.

SAM (CONT’D)

No, no, no.

(flips switch)

Xu!



Back to Sample 1


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Last Call: Part 1 of 2

© Ruslan1117 | Dreamstime.com – Two shots of tequila with lime and salt on a wooden table bar on the background of bright lights of the bar

By Christopher Opyr

          Thick strips of bacon crisped and bubbled, popping in an ocean of grease, their smoky aroma mixing with that of the scrambled eggs and glazing the kitchen in the scents of breakfast. Teagan breathed deep, the strength of the smell forcing itself past her clogged sinuses, and sliding inside. It felt warm and comforting, then suddenly it didn’t.

          Her stomach lurched, the taste of the previous night’s pad thai and whiskey surging up, along with what tasted like tequila, though Teagan could not remember having any. She burp-vomited in her mouth, wobbled, and lost her balance as her nausea took center stage. Attempting to right herself she flailed out at last catching onto the corner of the stove.

          “Son of a whore!”

          She yanked her hand back, her index finger throbbing from the sudden heat of the gaslit burner. The room spun, a whirling kaleidoscope of sensory overload. The sizzle of the bacon. Elder meowing incessantly, planted beside the cabinet with his treats. The window fan sucking in thin wisps of cigarette smoke from the ashtray. A metal band blaring over the surround sound, mingling with the raised voices of the television.

          Teagan winced fighting back the remainder of her pad thai and struggling with the throbbing migraine playing the drums in her brainpan. How many shots did I have last night, she wondered for not the first time that morning.

          After they had left Toi she and the rest of the gang had pinged a Lyft and caught a ride to the Whiskey a Go Go. The house had been packed and they had pushed their way past the reserved tables to the back bar under the balcony, ordering the first round of shots. They began with decent standards, ordering up an 18-year Glenlivet Single Malt, followed by a round of Johnny Walker Blue. After that they had hit the floor, and explored further options between sets, gradually regressing until they were down to the house whiskey. From there the night got fuzzy.

          Usually after a night of hard drinking Milly checked in with Teagan in the morning. They had been friends since childhood and had moved out to Los Angeles together eight years prior. Now they each had their own lives, but they were still close as sisters. When things got blackout crazy, they watched out for each other.

          Teagan checked her phone. No missed calls. It was only 11 am, but Milly always rose at the ass crack of dawn. She should have called or at least texted by now. Something didn’t feel right. Teagan considered calling and reached to dial.

          Before she could, an alarm rang out! Teagan refocused, pocketing her phone. The bacon grease bubbled black, the strips shriveled and burnt. She dialed off the heat and scooted the pan onto a stack of dirty plates covering the back burner. As she scraped at the charred mess, she shouted into the living room over the cacophony of the peeling alarm, music, and TV.

          “You like your bacon charred, right?”

          Teagan received no response. She turned, but couldn’t get a good look into the living room. Her world swiveled some as she shifted for a better vantage. Sinuses, my splitting head, and a case of the dizzies, she thought. This is going to be a fun hangover.

          “Henry?” she called again. The least he could do was respond. Instead she received still more nothing beyond the hideous racket drilling into her frontal lobe – not even a single acknowledgment that she had spoken.

          “Hey, a little help here, damn it!” Her head pounded as she screamed, but Henry was starting to piss her off. When he still didn’t answer, Teagan finally dropped the spatula into the pan and charged into the living room, dizziness and spinning rooms be damned.

          “Hey, cock hat, you could at least get the smoke detector?”

          Henry shot her a pained glance from the couch, where he lay with a beer in one hand and his tablet in the other. He looked about as grisly as she felt. He tilted his headphones back to hear.

          “What was that?”

          “You dick!” She braced herself against the wall, fighting the pain of the headache, and screaming through it. Bad move, bad move, bad move, she thought, but continued anyway. “You can’t possibly be paying attention to all these screens.”

          Teagan clicked off the television.

          “Hey,” Henry shouted, then stopped and jammed his palm into his eye socket. Good, at least if she had to suffer so did he. “Not cool,” he continued more softly.

          “Get off your lazy ass and do something about the smoke detector.”

          “Why don’t you do it?”

          “Because I’m busy cooking your breakfast and trying not to die from this hangover. Where the hell did we end up last night?”

          Henry casually glanced about the apartment, his eyes squinting together with concentration, as if truly considering Teagan’s question. His scan complete, he shrugged. “Here, I guess.”

          “No shit. Before that.”

          “I don’t know.” He winced again, covering his ears, as the detector continued its warning shriek.

          “What about Milly or Aaron? Have you heard from either?”

          “Milly or Aaron?”

          “That’s what I said.”

          Henry shifted, blinking and wincing at the light as he tried to wake from his deadened state. As he did, he shifted, and his hair flopped into his face. He flicked it aside, and flashed a questioning, half-asleep look at Teagan.

          “Why would I have heard from them?”

          “Never mind.” Teagan turned to leave. “Just do something about that smoke detector.”

          Finally, Henry sat up, downing the last of his PBR as he did. “Wait… what? Did you burn the bacon?” The PBR done he slouched back into the couch.

          “Oh, I’m so done.”

          Teagan left and grabbed the broom, which was leaning against the kitchen table from the last time she had used it. Properly equipped she stormed down the hall and inspected her adversary. It continued its shrill ring, its red light flashing mockingly at her.

          She tapped at it with the broom handle, trying to find a stop button. No luck. She shouted back down the hall. She knew it would hurt, but it couldn’t be as bad as this stupid ringing alarm.

          “Where’s the off on this thing?”

          Oh hell, it was worse. Much worse. Don’t scream. Gotta stop doing that. She held her head. It hurt so bad she could almost cry. What’s more, Henry had gone back to not answering her, most likely having finished that slouch taking it to its natural conclusion and shifting back down for a nap. Faintly, she could hear voices from the TV, again, which had been turned back on. She shook her head.

          Another bark sounded from the smoke detector and another ripple of pain shot through Teagan’s skull. She tried to focus, but between the headache and the rest of the hangover, the whole world had gone muddled, soft and linty, like a worn blanket had been laid down over it. Well, soft other than the relentless din turning the apartment into a sonic hellscape. Unable to focus, Teagan decided to go with her gut.

          Whack!

          She smacked the smoke detector with the broom stick, and smiled as she heard the plastic crack. She took another go, slamming the handle once more into the interminable offender. Caught in the moment, propelled by an irresistible drive to kill that ringing before it did her in, she swung again and again, a child with a piñata, only her candy was silence.

          “What the hell, Teagan!” At last Henry had come stumbling drunkenly and bleary-eyed down the hall.

          “I couldn’t reach it.”

          The smoke detector dangled lifelessly from the ceiling as Teagan, smiling victoriously, supported herself with the broom.

          “You’re buying me a new one,” Henry said, then covered his mouth and ran to the bathroom.

          “Whatevs.”

          The alarm let off one last defiant squawk, and Teagan bashed it in retaliation, snapping it from the wire tendons that held it to the ceiling like a poorly severed limb. It clattered against the wood floor and settled at last to a silent stop.

          Teagan breathed a sigh of relief. As she did, Elder rubbed against her leg.

          “What do you want?”

          He meowed back at her, his eyes set angrily.

          “Fine, I’ll get your damn treats.” She tapped on the half-open bathroom door before heading to the kitchen. “Henry,” she said softly (she had learned her lesson on screaming). “Your cat’s a jackass.”

          “I know,” he muttered, then waved for her to walk away as he kneeled by the toilet.


***


          Elder fed, Teagan plopped into a chair in the kitchen, gulped down a glass of water, and shoveled her breakfast down, burnt bacon and all. The breakfast helped settle her roiling stomach, but did little to dissipate her headache or her worries about Milly and the night before. It nagged her, something begging for her attention, but simultaneously forgotten. She had to get rid of this hangover and focus. It had been years since she felt this terrible after a night of drinking. Well… weeks, anyway.

          Try as she might, she could only recall flashes after the last shot at the Whiskey a Go Go. After the final band had finished its set she, Henry, Milly, Aaron, Erika, and, and… oh hell, who else had been there?

          Focus.

          Whoever it was, the lot of them had hit the street. She remembered another Lyft. She could picture the signature pink mustache on the dash lit up as it had pulled to the curb, but she couldn’t picture the driver or getting in. Then another flash. She could see her, Erika, and some dude in the backseat. Those last two were doing some heavy petting and she could remember pressing herself tight against the passenger side trying to get away from the makeout session. Then a heavyset bouncer. A jukebox. Dancing. Shots. Nothing clear, just snippets.

          Teagan fumbled in her pocket and pulled out her cell, tapping over to Milly. She waited, her phone held just far enough away that she could hear it without it wailing in her ear. It rang again and again, then clicked over to voicemail. She hung up and tapped over to Aaron. She wanted to talk to Milly, and where one went the other always followed. She also figured it was best to talk to one of them before calling Erika. She didn’t know who that guy was that Erika had been groping, but she felt fairly positive it wasn’t her boyfriend.

          Aaron’s line rang unanswered as well. Teagan tapped out a quick text asking where they’d gone after the Whiskey, then slumped deep into her chair.

          “Our friends are useless,” she yelled, slipping right back into the same mistake again. She sat her head in her hands, massaging her temples. This time she cried.

          Her phone rang, Henry’s picture flashing onto the screen. In the photo he had one arm draped over a plastic statue of Scooby-Doo, while he leaned forward, mid full-rocker headbang, hair whipping every which way.

          She tapped it to speaker.

          “Yep,” Henry said, his voice soft and weak. “Completely useless. Can you grab me some water?”

          “Seriously?”

          “It hurts to yell.”

          She couldn’t say he was wrong.

          “Sure. Anything else?”

          A long pause, then Henry chimed in his voice half question, half serious.

          “A beer?”

          “You’re going to die of liver failure, you know that?”

          “Yeah, but I’ll take you with me.”

          “Well, that’s sweet.”

          “So can I get that beer?”

          Teagan clicked off the phone and reluctantly hauled herself up and over to the sink. She pushed a few discarded dishes aside, turned on the tap, and filled up a glass. Done, she drank that one, then filled it back up, grabbed a PBR from the refrigerator, and made her way down the hall past the remains of the smoke detector.

          The things I do for love.

          Teagan sniffed, trying to breathe through her clogged sinuses. It didn’t go so well, snot rolling back down into her throat. She gagged, the feeling of bile on the rise returning, and paused to resist the also returned urge to vomit.

          Finally, reaching the bathroom, she toed the door open and held out both drinks to Henry. He was hugging the toilet. The water was clear so she figured he hadn’t vomited yet, though the porcelain was covered in muck. We should probably clean that, she thought absently, then thrust the idea to the bottom of her discarded mental to-do list.

          Henry reached for the beer. That done Teagan set the water glass on the sink and perched on the edge of the tub.

          “Your allergies acting up? Mine are wreaking havoc right now.”

          “Eh…” Henry grunted.

          “Is that a yes?”

          “They ain’t great. Probably the weather change. It always does this crap.”

          Every time they shifted out of a hot spell in LA the allergens killed the both of them. Sometimes Teagan thought it was enough to drive her back to the east coast, but those were always idle daydreams. She liked the music scene here. Though New York could be fun, too. Come to think of it though, it was hot as balls out.

          Teagan squinted into her phone and opened up the weather app.

          “It’s supposed to be 94 today.”

          “I don’t know. I’m not a weatherman.” Henry shrank his head back into his neck, holding something in. “Oh God. Can I get some privacy?”

          “Yeah, no one wants to see that. Yell if you need anything.”

          She shut the door on her way out, Henry mumbling behind her.

          “I’ll call. Thanks.”

          Dumbass.

          She sniffed again. She needed some meds – something to kill the pain, and something to fix her allergies. A glass of water wouldn’t hurt either.

          She stumbled back into the cramped kitchen, almost tripping over Elder. He scattered, then assured she wasn’t going to step on him, returned and meowed pleadingly.

          “I already fed you.”

          He meowed again, unphased.

          “Damn it, Elder.” She hadn’t meant to raise her voice, but when she did the world flickered and it felt as if a searing hot poker had just stabbed through her eye.

          “Holy shit, mother, cock, ass!” She fell to her knees grabbing at her head, tears streaming and let out every obscenity she could think of, which was a long litany. She had learned from her grandfather and he’d been a swearing pro.

          She continued, muttering through a second and third verse and rocking back and forth on her knees until the pain subsided. When she opened her eyes, Elder had bristled up, tail straight and back arched. She reached out to calm him.

          “I’m sorry, buddy,” she started. “I didn’t mean to –”

          He hissed and swiped at her face. She heard the skin pop first, then felt the flesh tear and flare as he caught her upside the cheek.

          She shot back banging against the washer. Her head hit first, as she had fallen as she went back, and as it jolted into the wash the jenga set of dishes clattered to the floor. Elder dashed off down the hall.

          Holy hell, this is a shitty morning, she thought, then fumbled to her feet, avoiding the broken plates and glasses. Still rocking to a stop from the fall, she spotted the bottle of aspirin. At least she could do something about that headache. She tapped out two pills, paused, then tapped out three more.

          Carefully tiptoeing around the disaster that was now the kitchen, Teagan made her way to the sink and filled up another glass of water. She gulped it down, and the pills with it, then tried to sneak a look at the scratches on her cheek off the glass of the window. She couldn’t see herself. The daylight streaming in whited out everything else. It hurt her eyes, so she made her way back into the darkness of the living room.

          The TV and music were still blaring. That had to be fixed. Teagan shut both off and melted down into the couch. Half dead and her cheek now stinging in addition to her headache, she poked her hand over the end of the couch, casting about the floor until she gripped a discarded shirt. Satisfied, she pulled it up and pressed it to her bloody cheek.

          The sounds diminished, her headache eased off ever so slightly and she shut her eyes. At first a comforting blackness met her behind her closed lids, then pops of light, and finally more snippets from the previous night.

          Henry had his arm flung over her neck and was trying to cop a feel. She brushed him aside. Stupid drunk Henry was a pain.

          “But…” he muttered pathetically and motioned to their friends across the table. Erika and the mystery guest were buried in each other’s faces with way too much PDA for even the most desperate of couples, let alone two perfect strangers.

          Time lurched forward.

          People laughing. People leaving.

          Just the four of them now, Teagan and Henry, and Erika and what’s his face. More laughter. Then Milly and Aaron slam into the booth beside them, Aaron missing his seat entirely and taking a few beers down with him.

          A bartender shouting. Telling them they were cut off.

          That stranger, finally unlocked from Erika, trying to calm the man down. That pale, weird stranger. Dapper clothes and effeminate features, but something so charming. At last the bartender relented.

          “Fine. It’s last call anyway.”

          The stranger nodded to the others.

          “Take a seat. I got this round.” His voice rang with a lyrical quality and a tinge of reverb. His face skipped forward, then back, like the flicker of a film reel, or another jump of time. They really needed to stop drinking.

          Teagan opened her eyes. Last call. The words stuck with her. She tried to picture that mystery man, to get a firm grasp on his face, but it would never lock in. Just something evocative and pale, and fueled by nightmares. It didn’t make sense, and her thoughts seemed to worm around him, sloshing about in either direction unable to hold. Somewhere deep down her mind connected him to an abstraction, an idea more than a physical thing, but that had to be the alcohol talking. His face flashed one more time, a stretched and distorted nightmare pulled from the fuzzy edges of her vision.

          Last call, she thought again. She needed to reach Milly, and she needed to reach her right now.

On to Part 2

Inflow: Part 4

© Konart | Dreamstime.com – Humans on mars

By Chris Hutton

          The remainder of his drive to marker 37 went without incident. When at last Wyatt arrived, he shifted the rover-hab-dolly caravan to a halt, clicked off the radio, and crawled back through the adapter dock to the portable habitat. Once there, he stood, stretched his arms, grabbed a quick protein bar from his ration pack, and plopped down onto his cot.

          He knew that he couldn’t sleep, not yet, but hell if he hadn’t had his fill of this day. He lay there, nibbling at the drab bar, and pondered his next move. The Coopers would have men on site by morning, so if he did anything he had to do it tonight. He could always take Ell’s money and run, but that meant trusting that brat and Wyatt trusted no one. Alternatively, he could disappear, just turn around and leave the line be – he had essentially been fired, so it wasn’t exactly his responsibility anymore – but that course presented its own challenges.

          Wyatt sat up, thumbed his eyes, and pressed back against his throbbing forehead. He knew he wasn’t leaving. He had to fix the line. Someone either wanted it ruptured, or wanted to cover up the cause of the rupture. Like most things in life, that just pissed Wyatt off, which meant there was zero chance that he could drop it.

          Decided he rose, took one last bite of the protein bar, then made towards the suit port. He needed to see the line close up.


***


          Wyatt had just finished the exit procedure from the hab, and began unstrapping the excavator, when a static communication line burst to life in his suit, breaking the deep quiet, and nearly causing him to fall off the dolly out of surprise. Gripping the ratchet strap Wyatt yanked himself upright, regained his footing, and waited. He didn’t know how, but Ellison had tapped into the local suit communications. He shouldn’t have been able to do that at this distance.

          “Wyatt, are you there?” Wyatt relaxed ever so slightly. It was Kelly, not Ellison.

          “Yeah, and glad it’s you. If I had to put up with Ellison one more time –”

          Kelly interrupted.

          “–No time for small talk. I’ve managed to break through whatever lock they put on my feed, and reroute through your rover to your suit – which all of this would have been a lot easier if you hadn’t blocked your rover lines by the way –”

          “–I needed to block out Ell–”

          “–Great. Still no time. Look, before they booted me and locked me to my quarters –”

          Something snapped in Wyatt. “– Wait, Ellison did what to you –”

          “– Stop interrupting, jackass. Look, before they locked me away, I had a final report from Hwan. There is no flow out of Two. Nada. Rien. The water has been diverted, but I never reached Hoover. When I broke back into my feed, first thing I did was try to reach the onsite station, but communication lines are down. So I routed to news out of New Charlotte. They’re reporting rumors that Hoover city officials have been locked out of their own overflow tank. Kembhavi-Cooper denies all rumors, but I guarantee you someone on site has diverted the water and is trying to make sure no one finds out.”

          “Makes sense. Water has to be diverted to fix the line, but the company wouldn’t want anyone to know we’d had a rupture in the first place.”

          “Which is what I thought at first as well, but then why remove me from shift? Why call you back?”

          Wyatt resumed unstrapping the excavator.

          “Kelly, I think you and I are circling the same questions, but I don’t have the answers. The only way I’m going to get them is to dig them up.”

          “Damn it, can you stop interrupting?”

          “I thought you were done al–

          “–Well, I wasn’t.” A hint of panic had entered Kelly’s voice “Whatever’s at that bottle neck, whatever blocked the pipe and caused the rupture, the Coopers will do anything to keep quiet.”

          “You mean the company?”

          “No, I mean the Coopers you interrupting asshole. Look –” Kelly cut off.

          Static still piped into Wyatt’s suit, so he knew the line was open, but she had stopped talking.”

          “Kelly?”

          “Shh…”

          More quiet, then a light rapping from the other end of the line. Faintly, Wyatt could make out a muffled voice, but he couldn’t understand what was being said. Then the knocking grew louder.

          “Get this door open!” Ellison again, only with an authority to his voice that up until now had always been lacking.

          “Damn it!” Kelly said. “No more time. I’ve barricaded myself in, but it won’t last. I tapped into some sat feeds. There are rovers en route. The Coopers have sent their own team. It’s a clean-up operation. You need to go now.”

          Wyatt said nothing. What could he say?

          “Are you there?”

          “I’m here, Kells. But do you really expect me to turn tail and run?”

          “It’s the smart play.”

          “True. There has to be something though. What can I do?”

          “Fuck all, as usual.” She laughed. It came out nervous – faked, as if trying to pretend that all of this wasn’t happening.

          “Yeah, that’s me. Dicking around when I should be on the floor. You can always count on me for that.”

          “Every single –”

          Quiet. The line went dead mid-sentence and once again Wyatt had been thrust into the vacuum of silence that was the Martian surface.

          He hung his head for a moment out of respect for Kelly, then pulled a knife from his toolkit and cut the straps holding down the excavator. He wouldn’t be loading that bastard back on.


***


          Three hours later and the machine had drilled down to Inflow Two. Wyatt turned on a winch and cranked the excavator back to the surface, then stepped to the lip of the cylindrical pit, staring down into the darkness. Even with his helmet light he couldn’t see all the way down, but he’d set the equipment for the right depth and had to trust that it had worked to plan.

          Pulling himself away from the pit, he unhooked the excavator, then locked the winch line onto his body harness. He had to open up the pipe by hand. In order to do so, he needed to descend all 150 meters down into that darkness. Only then would he know what the Coopers were hiding.

          He turned back to the pit, wiping the dust from his visor. The winds had picked up, the whistling breaking the silence with increasing frequency. The rover’s solar cells would be covered, but weren’t doing any good right now in the middle of the night anyway. More importantly dust would be blowing into the pit. Between the darkness of the night and the fine particles whipped up by the approaching storm, visibility would be crap.

          Because everything else had been working in my favor up until now.

          Wyatt laughed, a light chuckle at the insanity in which he now found himself – the level of crazy that had all been stirred by one pressure reading on one of nearly fifty water mains. He should have just reported what he knew about the line, planned procedure with Kelly, and bucked it over to the next shift. By the time he had hit that vehicle bay he had been an hour from quitting time. Of course, he hadn’t trusted anyone on the next shift to handle the job properly. He didn’t like anyone, and he didn’t trust anyone, and now he was out in the middle of the valley checking a sixty-year-old line against company orders with nothing in it for him. Idiot.

          He pressed the remote and lowered himself into the pit.


***


          It took nearly fifteen minutes to safely hit bottom. When he did, Wyatt’s feet scrambled against the loose rock and gravel laid over the top of the main to provide some give against any expansion and contraction of the pipes. He brushed what he could aside, revealing the top of the original Inflow Two. He had dug a meter back from the adaptor marker, ensuring he could get a good look at the obstruction.

          Had he still been working with the company’s blessing he’d have called in at this point and requested that the line be sealed one hundred meters in either direction to prevent any damage from pressure loss, but working against orders, he’d have to hope that the automated systems still worked, would sense the pressure loss, and seal off the pipe on either side before it had any impact on Hoover colony or the Kembhavi-Cooper outpost.

          “Here’s hoping.”

          Wyatt flicked on a blowtorch and began cutting away at the top of the pipe. He’d cut three sides of a rectangular opening and was working on the final cut when it happened. The flame retreated into the tip of the nozzle. He heard no sound – he wouldn’t in this vacuum – but he knew the whistle he would have heard anywhere but this surface. Wyatt released the trigger, and tried to shut the main valve. The dial stuck, jammed. Dust had clogged every opening in the torch, including the intakes and the nozzle, and the flame had pulled in. A flashback.

          Unable to stop the gas, Wyatt dropped the torch and jammed the up button on the winch remote. Its slow retreat upward wouldn’t cut it. His EVA suit had been built for construction jobs, and his gloves had grips built in, but even so, as he hauled ass up that line, he could feel himself slipping. He wrapped the line about one hand, then the other, braced his feet against the side of the pit, and chimney-climbed up as fast as he could.

          He managed to make it maybe ten meters before the blow torch exploded. He hadn’t feared the blast itself, not the concussion of it, but the shrapnel. In Mars’ microgravity, coupled with its minimal atmospheric pressure, the metal shards flew with little impediment. He felt the first piece pierce into his leg, followed by half a dozen more. The shock of it caused him to lose his grip and he plummeted down, bouncing off the pit wall, and crashed onto the top of the pipe, right on the weakened, unfinished cut. The force bent the metal partially inward, and a cloud of steam rose as the remaining water within the pipe froze and boiled simultaneously, evaporating and disappearing into the night.

          Wyatt had landed directly on his injured leg, his weight pressing it firmly against the metal of the pipe. He didn’t dare move for fear of exposing the tears in his suit. For a moment, he simply froze fighting back the panic.

          Until the pressure alarms started. Suddenly his adrenaline jolted and Wyatt acted on instinct. His panic temporarily on hold, he reached to a utility pouch on his suit, yanked out an adhesive wrap that bore a striking resemblance to duct tape, and began wrapping it as fast as he could around his injured leg, and more importantly the half dozen punctures in his suit.

          Fast as he spun the adhesive patch, the second it became exposed to the air it too became clogged with dust. Still he wound the entire roll out around his leg, then tied off either end to tighten it down. It had no inherent grip, not with the dust clinging to it and spoiling its adhesion, but the knots held it down and lessened the speed of the pressure loss.

          The suit’s backup system kicked in, rushing in additional air to normalize pressure, but Wyatt still had no time to rest. He had to seal the wrap to the suit. He couldn’t run the numbers and had no time for drafting a plan – he simply reached over and grabbed the largest, hottest piece of shrapnel that he could and pressed it down along the edges of the wrap. The metal cooled fast, due to the temperature extremes, but Wyatt managed to slide it over the general area of the punctures, and form a stronger bond, though also melting much of the grips on his right glove at the same time.

          Finally the alarms stopped. The suit had normalized, and Wyatt began to breathe normally, the immediate crisis having passed. His relief lasted only seconds. Then the burning began. He could feel the dust now bound to the adhesive wrap interacting with his skin through the punctures in the suit. Consisting of numerous oxides, the dust acted like bleach against his exposed skin. He gritted his teeth, reminding himself that a few chemical burns were the least of his problems. He now also had a collection of metal shards in his leg, doing all sorts of fun things every time he moved, and his suit could no longer be trusted.

          Wyatt shifted to his knees and peered into Inflow Two. Though the force of his landing had bent the cut metal inward, it had only been by a few centimeters, and he couldn’t get a good look inside. Bracing against the pit wall, he kicked at the loose covering with his good leg, but the pipe still held strong. He needed leverage.

          Wyatt glanced up following the winch line out of the pit. He needed to get back to the hab. The suit he was wearing came with the hab suitport, but he had also signed out his own EVA suit. He could change and exit through the redundancy airlock. That would be the smart maneuver.

          He looked back to the pipe. He didn’t feel like making the smart choice in that moment. Wyatt pulled out his walking stick, flicked it open, until it telescoped to its full meter length, then wedged it into the gap between the broken metal and the rest of the pipe. He pushed up, ever so slowly, and with all of his strength, the end of the “stick” pushing down on the already inward bent portion of the pipe. At last it gave, shifted, then snapped.

          He stumbled with the sudden force of the break, reached out, and caught the edge of the newly formed hole at the last moment. His leg burned and the embedded shards dug in with the abrupt movement. He bit down against the pain, wincing, his vision blackening. As he steadied himself the pain lessened ever so slightly, his breathing slowed, and his vision normalized.

          Wyatt held himself there, prone, looming over the opening into Inflow Two. He now had a clear view inside. The fallen scrap didn’t rest on the bottom of the pipe, but had caught on something. Careful to keep his injured leg unmoved, he reached in and cast aside the discarded plate.
He stopped for a moment, then, taking in the obstruction. All thoughts of his leg and his suit evaporated.

          “Well that was… not what I expected.”

          Below a human body had wedged itself into the adapter joint, stuck at the shoulders. The body had bloated and the skin ruptured, the shreds of the poor sap’s clothes clinging to its distended form. Wyatt didn’t know which affects came from the water, which from normal decomposition, and which from the sudden exposure to the Martian atmosphere, and he really didn’t care.

          No, he found himself instead caring about his sudden urge to vomit. He needed to get back to the hab and out of his suit fast.


***


          His stomach emptied in the lavatory, and his leg wrapped in a proper roll of gauze, Wyatt braced himself on a crutch (one of many emergency provisions provided with the rover), and hobbled over to the suitport. Suit mended or not, he could no longer trust opening that seal. He grabbed a role of caution tape from his workbench, and marked off the suitport exit with a giant X.

          Won’t be making that mistake, he thought. Then for good measure he scribbled the word NO in big bold letters with a black marker by the unlock panel.

          That done, he eased into the chair by his workbench. Outside that stupid dust swirled, visibility had dropped considerably, and a body waited in Inflow Two for his decision.

          A body. A damn Hoover drifter. The clothes had been ragged, and though that easily could have been from the elements to which they had been exposed, drifters falling into the cisterns or even the occasional waterline were not uncommon. When you had no means, you took water wherever you could find it. Hoover had begun overcrowding decades back, and one of the Kembhavi-Cooper Inflow pipes could have been a lifesaver for one of the city’s homeless.

          “Idiot,” he shouted. Wyatt dropped his head against the workbench, relishing for a moment in the fresh wave of pain.

          He had risked his job, risked Kelly, risked everything over a damn drifter. If his over-inflated ego hadn’t run amok, if his hatred of Ellison Cooper hadn’t got the better of him, he wouldn’t be in this situation at all. And even then, had he found himself at this pipe with that body clogging the adapter joint, he probably would have followed the company line.

          Official procedure demanded bodies be reported (again they weren’t unheard of), and an investigation to be initiated by official representatives from the source colony. This, of course, meant the body would have to remain unmoved until proper authorities could arrive on scene to document the incident. Pipes remained closed for days during such procedures and water rationing, the same rationing he had sought to prevent, was always a sure-fire consequence of these incidents.

          So, unofficially, the company encouraged any bodies discovered in the pipes to be removed, incinerated, and left unreported, even to the company itself. It was the right call. For the company it preserved profit and prevented any fallout from the associated press. Wyatt didn’t give a damn about that. For the colonies, however, the discreet disposal of bodies kept the water flowing and prevented the hardship that rationing always brought upon the colonists, especially the most disadvantaged of them.

          Yes, there had been a day when Wyatt would have disposed of that body, repaired the line, and let the water flow once more. He still could. If he did, perhaps he might even have a job waiting for him back at the crater. The Coopers’ secret, if it was more than just the body, would remain hidden, the colonies would thrive unhindered, and Wyatt could return to his isolation.

          Or he could call Ellison back, accept his offer, and disappear to the People’s Republic of Northern Aeolis. Maybe Ell would follow through and wire him the money, maybe he wouldn’t, but Wyatt could live with either scenario. The longer he stayed at kilometer 37, the more the Coopers’ cleanup crew gained on him. Once they arrived, he would be left with no choice to make. He would disappear as easily as the body in that pipe. It wasn’t worth the risk.

          “Shit,” he muttered, banging his head once more against the workbench. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t leave it alone.

          Even the most desperate of drifters typically avoided a pipe with the type of current rushing through Inflow Two. It was possible a drifter could have fallen in, but not likely. Still what was one more cover-up, one more dead as the colonial elite played their games?

          To hell with the dead man. Wyatt couldn’t care less why the man had found himself afloat in the pipes, jammed into the infamous Red Horizon’s stretch. He didn’t care one bit, but…

          … but Kelly would have cared.

          What do you know, he thought. After fifteen years in isolation, I finally care about humanity again. And it feels like complete crap.

          Sure, his concern hinged around one single person, and a shift manager of all people, but life progressed in constant baby steps. This one was his. Somehow, just in the past day, he had let Kells in, and now the fact that this mattered to her, even if it hadn’t until he made it matter, made it impossible for him to turn back.

          First though, he had to know for certain where he stood. He had to know what had happened to Kelly.

          Wyatt rose and hobbled through the adapter airlock into the rover proper, then turned off the block on his comms. He didn’t bother listening to the messages – didn’t see the point. He dialed in to Ellison’s private frequency.

          “Ell, pick up.”

          Nothing. Just silence, interrupted only by the white noise of the life support systems.

          “Ell. Last chance.”

          A burst of static followed and Ellison’s voice warbled back at him, distorted through the interference of the encroaching storm.

          “… yatt… fuc… of a … urn back.”

          This wouldn’t work at all. Wyatt clicked a switch, boosting the signal. It ate up valuable battery power, but he didn’t need long.

          “Say again.”

          “I said turn back you–”

          Wyatt interrupted.

          “– sure. I’ll turn back.”

          Static rolled over the line as Ellison stopped mid-sentence. Wyatt gave him a moment to let his words sink in, then plowed on.

          “I’ll turn back after I speak to SM Kelly.”

          “I can’t…” Ellison’s voice broke as his newly gained authority wavered. “You can’t speak with her.”

          Wyatt felt his fears confirmed, but he had to extinguish all doubt.

          “I’ll disappear, Ell. I’ll disappear and you can cover up whatever the hell it is that happened out here. You don’t even have to wire me shit. Just put Kelly on the line.”

          “I’m afraid I can’t.”

          Confirmed.

          “I mean, it’s procedure, you know. You turn back, I can show her some leniency, perhaps… I can see she’s reinstated and given full –”

          Wyatt blocked the line and turned off the signal amplifier. Kelly was dead.

          He rose, pulled an EVA suit from a storage bin behind the driver’s seat, then ducked through the hab adapter dock. Once in the hab, he opened up a fridge, grabbed out a small bottle of bourbon he had smuggled for the occasion, and held it up as if toasting.

          He tried to think of something proper to say – something with the solemnity that Kelly deserved for her sacrifice. Her stupidity. My stupidity.

          He drew a complete blank. He had never been prepared for a situation like this. Words failed him and what justice would they serve anyway? He clinked the bottle forward, completing the toast in silence, then drew a long swig from the bottle.


***


          Thirty minutes later, after struggling through the redundancy airlock and hoisting himself back down the pit, Wyatt stood over Inflow Two and the dead drifter that had caused the entire shit spiral of the past seventeen hours. He hated that man. God, he hated him.

          “Thanks, asshole.” He could have spit on him if he didn’t have to wear his EVA suit. Instead, he reached down, screaming with the pain of the movement, fought for a hold on the dead man’s body, then yanked his corpse out from the adapter, and though the opening of the pipe. He and this man had an appointment to keep with Hoover City security.

          He harnessed him onto the winch line and reached to clip himself in when something caught his eye.

          No, no more, he thought, but he had come too far.

          Pressing down on his belly, he leaned down into the pipe casting his helmet light downstream towards Hoover. His light caught on a boot, then the leg protruding from it – another body.

          Cursing into the night, Wyatt reluctantly hauled himself into the open pipe. As a mainline constructed before the purse strings had been closed tight, Inflow Two’s primary stretch had two meters of clearance. With plenty of room to stand, Wyatt lowered himself down into the muck, but as he did, he slipped, jolting his injured leg. He hadn’t had time yet to remove the shrapnel. The pain flared, overcoming him, his vision blackened, and he collapsed.

          When at last he came to, he found himself staring up into nothing, just a whirlwind of darkness. Had his light gone out? He began to panic, then stopped, catching his mistake. He wiped his gloved hand over his visor, swiping away the dust and grime that had settled over him as the storm above increased in intensity.

          Light returned to the world, and thankfully only his helmet light. Checking the sensors in his suit, he found that it was 4:50 in the morning. He’d only been out for a little less than an hour. He still had time.

          Wyatt lifted his head and glanced back towards Hoover. A second body lay where he had expected to find it. Behind that, however, lay a third, a fourth, a fifth… He stopped counting. There were too many – more than he could recover.


***


          Wyatt struggled to haul as many bodies as he could back to the rover. The dust ate at his suit, and with each passing minute the risk of getting lost in the rising storm grew. At last, after an hour, and shortly before dawn, he stopped.

          He had hauled three bodies back. He tucked the first two in the storage bin where he had kept his EVA suit. The third he sat on top of the bin. He could have placed him in passenger, but the thought of that macabre guest pilot didn’t settle well with Wyatt.

          That done, Wyatt popped a pain reliever for his leg, and for the massive headache that had been hovering on the edge of a migraine for the entire evening. Then, he plugged his nostrils against the awful smell dominating the rover, and powered up the motor. The engine hummed to life and Wyatt settled back into the driver’s seat.

          Rich, red dust caked the entire windshield, as if he had been buried alive. With the pull of a few levers, the dust blew away and its remnants scattered under the motion of the rover’s wipers. Outside, through the now streaked glass, Wyatt spotted lights shining through the storm: the clean-up crew. Each rover would be towing habs. With the work ahead of them that crew would be anticipating a long stay. The water had stopped flowing, and it would be a long time before it flowed again.

          Wyatt gave the exit airlock one last check to make sure it had sealed tight, then clicked the disengage on the hitch to the portable hab. A light on his dash blinked, indicating the operation had succeeded and slowly he pulled forward until he had cleared the join. Then, he pulled hard to the right, circled back, and headed east. Without the hab or the tow-dolly, he’d be able to outrun the other rovers, and even if one followed him, he had turned into the storm. Once far enough in, he’d head to a little known path to the south, the same path he had taken when he fled to the craters fifteen years prior. He would wind his way back to Hoover or New Charlotte and he’d make sure Curiosity Colony knew what the Coopers had done.

          He’d found a badge on the last body he hauled out: Blue Terra security. He knew then whom he had found in Inflow Two. The Coopers now held a majority share of seats on the board. They had finally come out on top, even where Sundeep Kembhavi had failed.

          Wyatt pushed forward until the lights behind him vanished in the windswept haze. Ahead, he spotted the sun, a vague blue patch in the dust-choked sky, rising over the eastern horizon. Day had returned to Mars and Wyatt still breathed, surviving as he always had, one more day in the life of the colonies. Only today, Wyatt began life anew, leaving his isolation and returning to the world he had left behind.

Back to Part 1
Back to Part 3

Inflow: Part 3

© Konart | Dreamstime.com – Humans on mars

By Chris Hutton

          With the arrival of the dark, bad had taken a swift turn to utterly screwed. Wyatt backed into the open suitport on the exterior of the portable hab module, clicking his backpack into place against the hab and locking the seal. A moment later he had opened the hatch, the backpack parting with it, and hauled himself out of his EVA suit and back inside, leaving all Martian dust on the red plains where it couldn’t ingrain itself within his equipment. The whole system ran much smoother than a normal airlock (though one of those could be found on the side of the cramped living space as a backup measure – redundancies being highly valued by the colonies).

          Wyatt slammed his fist down onto the built in workbench, rattling the few tools he had spread upon its surface. The immediacy of the sound came as a comfort, and he relished in its volume. Outside, the air pressure held at 1% of the hab’s internal pressure. Although technically you could hear, sounds outside of your suit environment came across muted at best, and even that much sound meant you were in intimate proximity to its source. Typically Wyatt appreciated that quiet, but today it reminded him of his isolation – not his self-imposed exile, but the imminent feeling that all the powers that be had come together and begun colluding against him.

          Even nature.


***


          He had arrived at kilometer 37 of Inflow Two about an hour prior. It had taken him 30 minutes to disembark from the rover to the hab, gather up his testing and monitoring equipment, slide that through an equipment port, then slip into the suitport and disembark from the habitat.

          From there he’d tripped on the hitch hooked to the dolly of larger supplies. As he’d landed mask first into the dirt, he’d immediately shifted into QA procedures, examining every inch and seam of the suit for tears, abrasions, or cracks. Finding no cause for concern, he had shuffled to the equipment port, opened the seal, and grabbed the bag that held all of his testing equipment.

          Rummaging through it, he pulled out a baton-like pole with a flat protruding disc centered on one end, and flicked a switch at its base. The bottom with the disc telescoped out, then locked into place. Wyatt gripped the walking stick, tapped on a helmet light, and ascended the lip of the Red Horizon’s crater.

          Ten minutes later had had scrambled down into the bowl, where, at the western edge, he found the exposed Inflow Two pipe – the repair stretch. The pipe measured roughly a meter across, though half of that width came from shielding and sensory systems, leaving only half a meter for water flow.

          Wyatt laid his hand on the sixty-year-old replacement, resting it on the soft layer of insulation bound around the inflow pipe. Even through his gloves, he could feel the warmth radiating from the line.

          At least the heating conduits are still working, he thought. All their water mains had heating systems built in. Otherwise the extreme temperature fluctuations of the Martian environment could lead to major breakages with the contraction and expansion playing hell on the joints, and the freezing and unfreezing of the water only exacerbating the problems. Of course, the temperature maintenance would work a lot better if the original engineers had reburied the line in the first place.

          Now to check on the obstruction.

          Wyatt ducked under the pipe, which ran along elevated trusses, then righted himself, standing between Inflow Two and Outflow Two. Running parallel to one another, the lines had been easier to lay down and it made visual inspections that much easier, as well, but the whole elevated system still stank of corrupt politics and savings over safety.

          When the repair line had been laid, those in charge had sought after every potential budget reduction that they could. Besides narrowing the line, and leaving it open to the elements, they had also constructed these awful metal supports every fifty meters, which now themselves had to be maintained and periodically replaced. The line, now elevated, kept level with its entrances into the opposing slopes of the crater, cutting straight through the bowl – two metal scars transecting the circular impact into two-lopsided divisions.

          About every hundred meters, anyone walking the line would stumble upon the only luxury afforded the slip-shod repair: viewing windows for manual inspections of the line interior. Covered with stainless steel sliding doors, the windows themselves were built from numerous sheets of glass-like ceramic layered with transparent silica aerogel insulation. The windows presented one more potential rupture point, but the construction here had been better than the rest of the replacement line, and though they didn’t provide for a perfect view inside, they proved useful for preliminary investigations.

          Wyatt walked the line, checking all five windows, until he reached the southwestern slope of the crater. The line disappeared into that wall, buried in the Martian earth, and every window he had checked showed the same thing – only a small trickle of water flow.

          The blockage was within one of the covered segments and Wyatt placed all bets on the bottleneck. So much for lucking out.

          Wyatt plowed forward, bracing his ascent with his walking stick. As he crested the rim of the crater, the light of his helmet caught on a tall metal pole protruding up from the plane and into the Martian night. It stood there, a monument of the past piercing the sky, marking the joint of the original line to its replacement. An actual monument to the killed colonists, or would be colonists, had been erected decades after the catastrophic crash at the center of the crater, and if he turned back Wyatt probably could have made out its phallic silhouette, birthed from some ungodly amalgamation of Egyptian obelisks and rocketry, but this pole, this simple metal pole bore the true testament to the tragedy of that day. It stood, an afterthought hammered into the earth to mark the ridiculous adapter joint that the civil engineers obviously knew, even then, would need to be located time and again; a joint that had been built to fail and be replaced from the start. They had marked tragedy by erecting a cheap metal pole that only called out the stupidity of the repair, and the complete lack of concern by the elite then already running the colonies. Nothing had been constructed to memorialize the lost then – their tragedy an afterthought even more than the shoddy construction that bisected the crater.

          Wyatt kneeled by the pole, opened his bag, and pulled out a thick instrument that bore some resemblance to a nail gun. He loaded a small sensor in its forward nozzle, braced the contraption against the sand, then pulled the trigger. A microwave beam heated and bore through the earth, the sensor shooting down into the cavity created. Wyatt had set the target for a depth of 140 meters. It wouldn’t reach the adapter joint, but it should settle in close enough. The sensor had been designed to collect soil samples, heat them, and measure the percentage of water in the soil. If there was a rupture the data sent back to the rover would reveal a high water concentration. That done, there was nothing else to do that night but schlep back to the rover.

          Part of him wished he had parked closer to the bottleneck, but the proximal ejecta from the impact had never been cleared, and still littered the landscape near the crater rim with a mix of melt rock, diaplectic glass, and other potential hazards. Wyatt could have still driven it, but he would have had to slow to a crawl, and at that point it had been faster to walk.

          For his return trip, Wyatt traced the perimeter of the crater. It added some distance to the hike, but proved easier than climbing in and out of the historic impact. Without the distraction of checking the inflow pipe, however, the quiet of the night plagued him. Every so often he caught a faint whistle of wind, which might have been pleasant had he one, been able to feel the breeze, and two, not clearly understood that to make that whistle in this atmosphere meant winds approaching gale-like speeds. Even if he had been outside of his suit, the wind would have felt like little more than a summer breeze on Earth, but the problem lay not in its force nor violence, but in the dust it roused, a precursor of the storm to come.

          Wyatt had hurried the rest of the way back to his rover, fighting through the diminished visibility.


***


          The second he had exited his EVA suit he had seen the alert on his monitor. His fist had come down hard against the workbench. All was beyond unwell.

          Readings indicated a water percentage of 16% in the soil sample, a full eight hundred times greater than the average percentage for the region. The pipe had ruptured.

          Wyatt ducked through the docking tunnel to the rover, plopped into the driver’s seat, and glanced to the communication board. The screen blinked back at him, indicating missed communications. At this point, Wyatt had long passed the three hour window since Kelly’s call. The Coopers knew by now that he had continued on to the site.

          Wyatt steeled himself, pushing that thought away, and flipped the switch on the comm terminal, setting the dial for the shift manager’s terminal.

          “Kelly, this is Wyatt Alexander calling in from the Red Horizon’s stretch of Inflow Two. Are you there?” He gagged as he spoke. He hated this level of formality, but the Coopers would be listening by now. If his luck hadn’t completely crapped out, it would just be the Coopers listening, unable yet to reach the other board members.

          No answer.

          “SM Kelly, please respond.”

          Static, then a click as someone picked up on the line.

          “Evening, Rainbow.”

          Oh Hell, they’d put Will Horner on shift. Wyatt cringed. He didn’t fear the man, but Will came at you whispering sweet nothings, even as he was sharpening the blade for your back. Will also liked to call Wyatt Rainbow. The man found it to be amusing, playing off Wyatt’s generally dour demeanor. Wyatt found it insulting and disrespectful.

          “Evening, Will. Where’s Kells?”

          “Her shift’s over buddy. You and I get to share the airwaves now.”

          “Bullshit. No one took this shift voluntarily. Where’s Kells?”

          “Don’t tell me you’ve got an eye for her, Rainbow.”

          “Do you even know how to give a direct answer?”

          “Yes.”

          “Good. Glad to have that established. Where’s Kells?”

          “Buddy, you don’t have to worry about that. I’ve got your back.”

          Wyatt shook his head, and pinched once more at the bridge of his nose. That migraine might be making a comeback.

          “Ellison had his daddy can her, didn’t he?”

          “Look, bud, I’m not at liberty–”

          Another voice interrupted. Ellison.

          “–she tried to call Hoover and divert the water to the overflow tank. You and I both know the stink that would cause. Our stock would plummet.”

          “Ellison, you spineless, flaccid prick, we needed to reduce pressure.”

          “No, you needed to increase it and push the obstruction loose. Instead you’re causing a panic over nothing. Now we’re having to call in the board for an emergency meeting. At fifteen ‘til twenty-two hundred. Do you get the mess you’ve caused here?”

          “Oh my God, you’ve had to wake the board? I’m just so sorry. What a disaster. Excuse me while I just let the main line out of Curiosity rupture.”

          “Don’t be crude, Wyatt.”

          “Or what, you’ll fire me? I’m pretty sure you’ve already set that in motion with granddaddy, right?”

          “You were ordered back.”

          “Yeah, and kilometer 37 has ruptured. We’ve got a leak at the Hoover-side Red Horizon’s adapter. If we don’t fix this now, we could be rationing for months.”

          “That’s no longer your problem, Wyatt. We’ll have a team out in the morning. You are to turn around now.”

          “Yeah…” Wyatt paused for a moment. He had nothing else to say. Ellison was not worth his time.

          Wyatt clicked off the channel and switched to Kelly Roth’s private frequency.

          “Kelly, are you there?”

          An automated message kicked in.

          “This frequency has been suspended until further notice. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.”

          Wyatt turned off the communications board and switched back to the ever present classical satellite station.

          He stared out through the rover windshield into the dark sky. He had twelve hours remaining to figure out what was happening. He couldn’t trust the Coopers, not with Ellison somehow calling the shots, and with Kelly effectively removed from service he had no allies left. Maybe he should have worked a little harder at endearing himself with the rest of the crew.

          He pondered that thought for a moment, then discarded it. Nonsense. Utter nonsense.

          Screw everyone else, he had a line to fix. Wyatt cranked the rover into gear and slowly inched forward. It would take him almost forty-five minutes to haul the materials the remaining half a kilometer to the adapter site, but the impact ejecta made a full speed run too dangerous. He buckled up and settled in for the classics at an amazing pace of one kilometer per hour.


***


          Ten minutes into his drive, and the classics shut off as a secure channel called in.

          “Wyatt?”

          Great. The last man he wanted to hear from, and apparently Wyatt would have no peace from him tonight.

          “Ellison, why are we on a private frequency?”

          “I’d like to offer you a severance package.” They both know they weren’t talking severance packages.

          “You mean your granddaddy wants to offer me a severance package.”

          “No. I do. Five Hundred Million Yuan. Just turn around now.”

          Wyatt didn’t trust Ellison, but he couldn’t deny the offer had its temptations. That many yuan would have him set for life. Of course, he’d always know how he had earned it and from whom.

          “Just head back to base and pretend there’s no rupture?”

          “No. Just disappear. I’d suggest the People’s Republic,” Ellison said. His voice picked up a tone of excitement now. The dick thought he had Wyatt locked in. “I hear it’s easy to vanish there,” he continued. “Once you’re within their sovereign territory, I can wire the funds into an untraceable account. No fuss. You’re set and we’re good.”

          Wyatt paused, mulling over the offer. He already knew his decision, but the fact that an offer had been made at all plagued him. One of this amount, a monetary loss so hard to discount or conceal, it just plain baffled him. Ellison desperately wanted his cooperation. That, of course, made Wyatt’s decision an easy one.

          “It’s a nice offer, Ell, but I’m afraid I just don’t believe you.”

          Wyatt clicked off the call and set up a block on the override. For the next five minutes, the screen lit up with call after call trying to reach the rover, then the lights tapered off. Ellison had finally received the message. Wyatt no longer worked for Kembhavi-Cooper. He was on his own.

Back to Part 1
Back to Part 2
On to Part 4

October 2016 Status Update

By Chris Hutton

          My blog and its subject matter is still a work in progress. It probably always will be. I have now spent nearly a month stumbling through social media, my brand, and my writing platform (this blog and other writing communities such as Scriggler). I do feel that I have come closer to an understanding of my method and of my path forward, but there is still much to be tested. So this week, rather than exploring a general writing topic, like the value of partnerships, the need of support networks, and the importance of social media in gaining an audience, I’m keeping its simple. Consider this the first in an ongoing series where I update on the state of my brand and my writing – a quick review of where I was and where I am now, what has been done and where I’m headed.


THEN:

          A month ago, I was doing my usual – working on a gazillion projects. The list is ridiculously large considering my minimal free time having both a full-time job and being a parent.

  • Finalizing a partnership contract with a writing colleague to move forward pitching some television pilot ideas as a writing team
  • Adjusting the Arcas script, for my upcoming comic, to meet certain rating criteria
  • Working on a horror novel
  • Collaborating on a science-fiction novel
  • Reviewing my latest pilot for rewrite notes
  • Watching every episode of iZombie and taking scrupulous notes, while preparing to write a spec episode for contest season
  • Doing absolutely nothing with social media, branding, or the internet in general


NOW:

          Thinking to where I am now, my first thought instinctively, and with a pessimism common to many writers that I know, travels to what I have not done. I haven’t finalized my contract, I haven’t finished my horror novel, my collaboration on the science-fiction novel has reached a necessary hiatus, my pilot rewrite has been placed on hold, and I haven’t finished rewatching and taking notes on season 2 of iZombie. It would seem at first glance, that other than my progress with Arcas, I am no further now than a month ago.

          That line of thinking is a load of bull. In the past month I have:

          This may not be where I want to be, but I tackled social media head on and began branding myself and that’s a big and necessary step. Additionally, even with all of the time that went into creating those channels and getting them up and running, I found time to complete a new short story and those three blogs. I think I’ll cut myself some slack on those things that I have not finished.


PROGRESS:

          So I’ve completed a few things over the past month, but as my audience you’re likely already aware of that. With that being the case, what’s the difference between where I’m at now and my progress? Well, basically what’s done versus how far along I am in other tasks. We’ve talked about what is done, let’s look at what is moving.

          First off, I created a brand, but where does it stand?

Facebook

  • Established an audience of 127 persons around my official page
  • Established an audience of 17 persons around my comic’s official page

Twitter

  • Gained an audience of 487 followers

Instagram

  • Built from scratch to an audience of 106 followers

Scriggler

  • 3 followers
  • Posted one story
  • The story has been admitted to one club
  • The story has been seen on this platform by 505 persons
  • The story has climbed to #12 on the Story charts for September posts

My blog

  • Has been visited by 133 unique users
  • Has had 492 pageviews

          Admittedly these numbers are low, but they did all hit my initial targets for month one, save for the Arcas official page, and I hadn’t even heard of Scriggler until near the end of September, so I’m ignoring those follower numbers for now. Additionally, my story post to that community has done well to climb up so fast, so on that front, I’m considering it a win for my branding.

          Next up, my writing. I have a few works in active progress such as:

  • Drafted the first ten pages of my next comic book idea
  • Finished two of three parts in an original science-fiction short story, Inflow
  • Am moving forward with my partnership contract
  • Have around 35 pages of the Arcas graphic novel illustrated by my collaborator and colleague, JC Thomas


NEXT STEPS:

          So what’s next?

          Over the past month I have been gaining an understanding of my social media strategy. I’ve been testing it, building on it, tweaking it, and I expect that I will continue to do so, but I have gained some understanding on a path forward for this blog. I will vary it with regular Monday and Friday posts, along with occasional Wednesday posts.

Mondays – new stories

Wednesdays – samples from upcoming works for publication (when available)

Fridays – blogs

          The blogs themselves will vary. Once every month to two months I will draft a blog encouraging support of peers and colleagues currently working on projects / or having finished projects to which I would like to draw attention. I will also draft a status update each month, like this one, to keep my readers up-to-date on my current work. Finally, I will fill in the remaining Fridays with topical posts on writing, comics, tv, film, and other creative mediums, and with guest blogs from collaborators when appropriate.

          In regards to my social media channels, I will continue to test marketing strategies and work on growing on my audiences. I would like to double each channel’s audience by my next status update, but will be focusing primarily on twitter growth during this initial phase of brand-building.

          Additionally, I aim to post two more stories to the Scriggler community, each after they have received a minimum of one week exclusivity on my blog.

          Moving on to my writing – the whole point of all of this. I aim to:

  • Finalize my partnership contract
  • Finish the Inflow short story
  • Draft a new horror story
  • Draft two more stories or begin another serialized short story
  • Resume work on my iZombie Spec

          I don’t know why, but for some reason, I’m feeling uncharacteristically optimistic that this is all doable.


Conclusion:

          Anyway, that’s that. Where I was, where I am, my progress with my current work, and my plan for the month ahead. Maybe you find this useful. Maybe you’ll want to skip these updates in the future. Your call, but they keep me grounded. As one of my favorite television writing professors used to always say, “Onwards and Upwards!”

          Happy Writing, All!

Arcas – Sample 1

© Art by JC Thomas from ARCAS

Below you’ll find the first writing sample for ARCAS. These are pages for the original short film from which the comic is being adapted. Enjoy!

ARCAS

By

Chris Hutton

Story by

Marielle Woods and Chris Hutton

FADE IN:

INT. STORAGE ROOM – DAWN

A CIRCULAR HATCH dominates the ceiling above a built-in LADDER, the rungs just visible in the pre-dawn light. Down the ladder, stowage strapped in, covering every inch of the cramped room.

The only exception: an open doorway.  Barely audible sounds of MIRTH carry in hints of life.

INT. HALLWAY – CONTINUOUS

Smooth walls.  The architecture resembles a boat interior – hidden compartments in floors and walls – all items secured on brackets, lipped shelves, etc. Very smooth. Unadorned.

The hall branches. From one path the sounds heighten: LAUGHTER? We flow from room to room following the source.

INT. MESS ROOM – CONTINUOUS

Yes, definitely LAUGHTER. It echoes in this, the first open space – a vast and empty dining room. Wide and clean with an air of comfort, drowned in loneliness.

More LAUGHTER sounds, then… a voice? Too QUIET to tell.

INT. COMMON ROOM – CONTINUOUS

Another large room. In one corner: an in-wall video console and chairs bolted down. A second corner holds shelves of books and stowage, and yet another, exercise equipment, including a few WEIGHTS, all secured.

The final corner: a games shelf, a card table, and a glass-topped FOOSBALL table. The CLATTER of a Foosball game mixes with the LAUGHTER.

For all its mirth, the room is still empty. Finally voices:

XU (V.O.)

GOOAALLL!

INT. HALLWAY – CONTINUOUS

Back in the same hallway, but further down. The voices here are louder. At the end of the hall…

… an open doorway. Massive and metal. All the doors, even those camouflaged to be normal, hint at a solid build with air-tight seals.

COMMANDER SITWELL (V.O.)

You cheat!

XU (V.O.)

You lose poorly.

Halfway to the open door, another room viewed in passing.

INT. VIEWING ROOM – CONTINUOUS

REVEAL: A vast window displaying a vista of Jupiter and its many moons.  Empty chairs hold a silent vigil over the expanse of space. Still the voices sound.

XU (V.O.)

You’re up.

INT. HALLWAY – CONTINUOUS

Continuing down to the final open door.

SAM (V.O.)

I’m busy.

XU (V.O.)

Too bad. Time for R & R, Gant.

INT. SLEEPING QUARTERS – CONTINUOUS

True dawn now, as if a sunrise peaks within the bunk style sleeping quarters. All empty save for two beds.

XU (O.S.)

(half asleep)

Gant.

SAMUEL “SAM” GANT – late 20s, athletic, with close cut hair – perches on the edge of a bottom bunk over a monitor. Possibly a quarterback or young marine, definitely the all-star.

ON MONITOR: Security footage. On it —

— SAM leans over a console in the COMMON ROOM. XU JINHAI – Chinese, early 40s – beckons from the Foosball table. Wiry and gruff, he’d appear jaded if not for the joy in his voice.

XU (ON MONITOR) (CONT’D)

The printers can wait five minutes. Schooling you…

SAM (ON MONITOR)

(turns to XU; all grin)

Schooling me, my ass, XU.

XU (O.S.)

Gant.

BACK ON BUNKS: Sam pauses the video.

SAM

Right there, I turned. That’s the moment. Printer 12 threw a glitch —

XU (O.S.)

Gant!

— a PILLOW SLAMS into Sam from above.  “Edith Hamilton’s Mythology” flies down with it, a photograph fluttering out.

REVEAL: Xu glares down from a top bunk.

SAM

(tosses back pillow)

I missed the warning on truss twelve’s printer. I should’ve —

XU

— should’ve nothing. People make mistakes – even you. Watch it one more time, I’m deleting that log.

SAM

But had I —

XU

— No. With Sitwell lunar-side I’m the ranking officer and I order you to let me sleep.

SAM

Yes, sir.

(makes to leave)

One more thing.

(re: Xu eyes him)

You’re so purty when you’re sleepy.

XU

(pillow smothers himself)

My god! Let me sleep or so help me, I’m going to kill you!

SAM

Aye, aye, captain.

Sam hands Xu the mythology book stuffing a picture of Xu and his YOUNG SON back among the pages. As Xu takes the book, Sam flips a button and Venetian-like slats close over two false windows blocking out the artificial dawn.


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