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Monday, December 21, 2009

SY:1 - Day 10 cont'd

With most of our party now tucked into the relative safety of the abandoned tunnel, we focused our attention on the rescue and recovery mission. We left the group short three men, three guns and one vehicle. We hoped to return by midday with that and more. If not, instructions were left to continue on without us, to proceed with the original plan.

We took the jeep, now emptied of its supplies, each one more precious than it had been just twenty minutes ago. Only my grandfather’s bow and arrows remained. Rex rode shotgun once more, apparently still trusting my judgment behind the wheel. In the backseat, armed with a scoped hunting rifle, Riley sat in silence, his eyes darting to every shadow on the roadside. None of us spoke as the jeep rolled quietly to a stop in a side alley.

In the middle of the daylit street ahead of us, the looters were scavenging our supplies. A larger crowd had gathered, clawing and clamoring for anything they could grab. Armed bandits formed a perimeter around the SUV, watching the skies and side streets for any approaching threat. The early morning angle of the shadows hid us in darkness.

“See anything useful?”

Rex asked Riley to scout out the area as best he could through the rifle scope. Riley quietly opened the door and stood behind it. Hunched over at the waist, pointing the rifle through the door’s open window, he adjusted the scope and spoke in a whisper.

“Crowd’s mostly women and kids. Most of the men have clubs or knives. I spot, six or seven guns. There’s Hutch and Roy. They’ve got ‘em sitting against the cab of the truck under gunpoint. They look alright, a bit scuffed, a bit scared.”

Riley continued to scan the crowd as Rex and I tried to think of a plan. I didn’t like our odds.

“We wait until dark. Follow them back to wherever they’re holed up. Sneak our boys out and let them keep the supplies. For now.”

I wasn’t sure if Rex was issuing definitive commands or just thinking out loud. It wasn’t much of a plan and it sure wasn’t sound thinking.

“The longer we stay here the easier we’ll be to spot. Besides, if we wait until dark the rest of our group will think we’re caught, or dead.”

Rex wasn’t ready to budge yet.

“We can hide out until then, keep an eye on them. We can catch up with the others later.”

“Do I have to remind you that those things are still out there? We can’t watch our friends, our enemies and the skies all at the same time.”

Rex seemed to take my comment to heart. I waited for him to suggest another plan.

“What do you have in mind then, John?”

The question caught me off guard. I didn’t know at the time whether it was sarcastic or serious. I decided on the latter.

“Riley, slide over. Let me see.”

I scanned the scene with the rifle scope, focusing on the men who held our friends captive. Not surprisingly, I found something I could use. I offered the rifle back over to Riley.

“If I put up the scout sign, take him out.”

I showed Riley a three-fingered salute, one I hadn’t used in years. He nodded and settled back behind the scope.

“Which one?”

His eye squinted and the rifle barrel swung in slow, small arcs.

“The big red-head standing over Hutch.”

I take my 9mm out and hold it above my head with one hand. The American way of saying “I come in peace.”

“Just where do you think you’re going?”

I tell Rex to trust me, that Riley won’t have to kill anyone today.

I walk out of the shadows and into the light, hands above my head. It takes a few seconds for the bandits to spot me. Their guns train on me as I step slowly toward the SUV. The women and children scatter back to their homes and the men come around to face me, brandishing their weapons.

“Stop there, drop your weapon!”

One of them shouts, I’m not sure who, but I comply.

“Rudy! It’s Johnny Rysk! From highschool!”

I shout towards the big red-head, hoping my eyesight wasn’t mistaken. I can’t imagine there are too many oversized, curly-haired red-heads with pig noses and gapped teeth running around this neighborhood. I just hope he remembers my name on good terms.

I stop and wait for them to come to me. He exchanges words with the shirtless man that had been screaming for help in the road earlier that morning. The two approach me, with another gun-toting guard.

“You say Johnny Rysk?”

Thank god, it’s Rudy. I never thought I’d be glad to see that face.

“Yeah Rudy, it’s Johnny. You’ve got two of our guys over there.”

The shirtless guy trains his gun on me while the other man searches me for weapons. Rudy looks around in confusion.

“Where you come from?”

“We're headed out to the old military base. Looks like you have a lot of people. You should come with us.”

The shirtless guy speaks up. He’s shorter than me and smaller than either of his companions, but something about his voice commands respect.

“Our people are dug in here. We’re surviving as best we can.”

“By looting and kidnapping?”

There I go, running my fool mouth again. One thing I get from my grandfather, no doubt.

“Boy, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the world is going to shit. Won’t be long until it’s every man for himself. We’re just watching out for our own.”

“So are we. You’ve got two of my friends and a truck full of our supplies. I’ve got more friends and more supplies waiting. Join us.”

The companion speaks up and brings his gun up level to my face.

“Why not just save the trouble and put you and your friends down here?”

So much for civilized. I can almost feel Riley slide the gun barrel slightly to the right, accounting for the wind.

“You can do that. But I’ve got friends, all around here. You’ll get me, for sure. But you won’t get far.”

Thug looked around at the empty buildings and abandoned rooftops, thought about testing my bluff. He didn’t get the chance.

“Sky, sky, sky!”

The alarm went out behind the three men. Their eyes shot up above us. Thug was vaporized in an instant.


Men ran everywhere as a lone alien sentinel descended upon the group, firing its strange weapon into the crowd. Each shot was a precision aim, wasting no motion in disintegrating its target. In the chaos, I ran towards Hutch and Roy, now hiding underneath the SUV.

The bandits had taken refuge and began firing back at the alien. The attempts were as useless as always, but at least they distracted the solider for a moment.

“You have the keys?”

I shouted to Hutch over the gunfire and screams. Roy covered his ears with his hands.

“In the ignition. Idiots never took them out.”

“Get in and drive, the old tunnels by the Fern Creek exit. Go!”

Hutch and Roy slid out from under the SUV and hopped up into the cab. I ran in the opposite direction, dodging ricocheting gunfire and narrowly missing laser blasts. I made for the alley, hoping Rex had the engine revving.

Off to my left, one of the bandits had decided that since the aliens couldn’t be defeated, he’d train his weapon on me. A clear shot rang out, spun the man back and he went down hard. I didn’t look to see if he got up as I dove into the shadowy alley.

“Nice shot.”

Riley nodded from behind the still smoking gun barrel. Rex gunned the throttle as Riley and I jumped into the jeep. The tires squealed as we rocketed out of the alley, eager to catch up with Hutch and Roy. The brakes shrieked a second later as the alien sentinel hovered in front of us preventing our escape. A well placed blast to the wall behind us sealed off our retreat.

“Light him up!”

Each of us fired our weapons, each of us leaning out of our windows in gangland fashion. It was sloppy. It was dire. It was futile. Even with assistance from the bandits shooting the alien in the back, not one shot found its way through. The sentinel raised his laser-equipped arm to finish us off. I had one final crazy thought before I was burned to cinders.

I jumped out of the door and ran to the back hatch. Throwing it open, I grabbed my grandfather’s bow and an arrow out of the quiver. I nocked it against the string and pulled back while inhaling, just like Grandpa Jack had shown me. For a second, the hovering alien seemed to regard me with curiosity. It tilted its head to one side, the same inquisitive look it had given my Grandfather before hauling him off into the sky. I exhaled and loosed the arrow.

Where bullets had failed, where mortars had fallen, my arrow sang true. It split the space between alien and armor, pierced them both and drove half through the monster before lodging in place. Something akin to grinding metal gears rent the air. An extraterrestrial scream.

No blood poured forth, but the thing was clearly wounded. It slumped to one side in the air and struggled to hover evenly. The shrieking metal scream sounded again before it rocketed off into the sky, limping its way home.

The gunfire stopped. No mortal made a sound as the screaming, wounded alien disappeared into the distant sky. All eyes turned to me, to the answer in my hands. Rex alone spoke.

“And the hand of the god Apollo guides the arrow of Paris, to fell the mighty Achilles. John, you may have just turned this war for us.”

I couldn’t help but smile in that most surreal moment of my life to date. I placed the mighty bow over my head and around my chest. The mighty bow of Grandpa Jack. I couldn’t help but laugh at how history might remember it. But for the first time since they arrived, I truly believed we humans would still have a history.

Friday, December 11, 2009

SY: 1 - Day 10

A quiet intake of breath. A slow exhale. My finger squeezes the trigger. The shot finds its mark, punching a hole in the mirrored face of an alien soldier.

"Nice shot."

Hutch stands up with me and we approach the target. Twenty yards out and the 9mm slug managed to hit the foil-covered dummy head dead center. Rex gives a few last minute pointers to some of the other recruits before coming over to us.

"John, Hutch, you boys have come a long way in a few days. I've got a job for the both of you."

Rex talks about the particulars of our mission. I'm still not too keen on leaving my grandfather's place, but Rex is so damn convincing. He says it's my duty to protect these people. Hutch says it's my chance to get some revenge. I don't know if that's reason enough to turn vigilante.

"Captain, what good are guns going to do? You've seen how useless they are against those things."

Hutch brings up a good point. I'm sure the Captain has his reasons.

"While we haven't found the aliens' weakness yet, by God we will. But for now, these weapons aren't meant for them. These are wild times boys. People act strangely, try to take what's not rightfully theirs, try to prey on the weak."

Rex slams a fresh clip into his sidearm and replaces the magazine in a pouch on his belt.

"It's our job to protect them. Now let's go over the plan again."


It's just after dawn. We've watched their patterns. The aliens are least active during the early twilight. Maybe they sleep after all.

"The caravan's ready. Just stay calm, listen to what I say and stick to the plan. We'll all be just fine."

Rex is riding shotgun in my Grandpa's Jeep Cherokee and I'm the wheelman. Rita and the kids, AJ and Tyler are in the back seat. The cargo space is packed with food, water, ammo and other supplies. On top of the pile is my grandfather's old hunting bow and a quiver of arrows. I don't know what made me grab it. Nostalgia I guess.

We're the lead vehicle in a wagon train of sorts. Four more vehicles trail behind us. Hutch is bringing up the rear, driving a big SUV filled with most of our supplies.

The streets are eerily silent as our convoy moves out. Rex keeps his eyes peeled skyward, looking down side streets at every intersection. I've got navigation duty since I've lived on these streets my entire life. Rex wanted locals with a level head and dead-eye aim for this mission. Hutch and I are now his sergeants, along with a fellow named Riley, and Max, a teenager from my block. A tough, middle-aged woman named Erica rounds out Rex's company.

"Left up ahead."

Rex doesn't even look down but somehow knows the streets as well as I do. I neglect to mention that fact to him and continue driving down the twilit streets. All seems to be going smoothly.

"Don't stop."

Rex's voice has an edge to it. It takes me a second to figure out why. Up ahead at the intersection is a man. He's shirtless, running toward us in the middle of the street. I keep my speed steady. It feels like we're crawling along at a snail's pace.

"Please, God please help me!"

I can hear the man screaming through the closed doors and windows. He's much nearer now, coming around my side of the Jeep.

"Help me, please!"

He tries to open my door. His eyes are wide with horror. I take my foot off of the gas.

"Don't you do it. Drive."

Rex's voice is cold and even. I turn my eyes ahead and drive passed the terrified man. I glance back to Rita and the kids. Thankfully they're still asleep and she appears as calm as could be expected. In the rearview mirror I see the shirtless man stumbling to each of the cars in turn. Each of them follow my lead.

"You did well, John. Stick to the plan."

I nod and make the left turn. As I do, I steal a last glance into the mirror. Hutch's car has stopped. There is a widening gap between him and the next car ahead. There is a struggle at the driver's side door. Men pour out from the side streets and boarded up store fronts. They wield makeshift clubs and knives, a few with rifles.

"We need to stop!"

Rex stares down my heroic outburst. I fight to keep my foot on the pedal. The conflict builds in my chest, but still we continue on our path, leaving the fewest of us to the bandits.

"We need to get these people to safety. Hutch made his choice. It's for the greater good."

My brain rebels and my body responds. Jamming on the throttle I rocket the Jeep forward, praying that our convoy can keep up. Thank God I know these streets.

"There's a tunnel up ahead. Still shut down from an old construction project. We can take refuge there for a while. It shouldn't take too long."

I don't know where the words or the courage came from, but I know in that moment what I need to do. I return Rex's stare and he concedes, he understands. Rita speaks up from the backseat.

"What shouldn't take too long?"

I can't answer her. All of my will is intent on making it to our temporary shelter and getting back to Hutch as soon as possible. Rex takes the initiative.

"We're going back for Hutch and the others." He looks at me. I nod. He cinches up his gear. "Never leave a man down."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

SY:1 - Day 7

Since I could remember, Grandpa Jack’s big, rambling house had only ever been occupied by the two of us. Now, a week after the arrival, the house is full of strangers.

Refugees. Orphans. Rich and poor alike. Most have come here seeking sanctuary. Some have come for revenge.

“One of them killed my husband right in front of my eyes. Just, just pointed at him, a beam of light, then gone. My life, gone, in an instant.”

The woman, Rita, is standing in my living room amongst a circle of survivors. It’s become a tradition over these past few days; a new member of our growing family tells their story. We all agreed. Tell your story and people understand you, remember you. Tell your story and you live on. Even if you’re vaporized or hauled away tomorrow, tonight your life will be remarked.

“We are glad to have you with us, Rita. Thank you for sharing. Please, help yourself to some food.”

Rex speaks for our group, the only one that speaks at all really. His story starts like the rest of ours, only seven short days ago. Rex was with the military, watched the organization crumble into chaos from the top down. Lost friends, lost faith, lost patience. He showed up a few days ago, just after Grandpa Jack was abducted. He wandered in here hoping to gather a resistance. I was his first recruit.

“Welcome, Rita.”

The group speaks in unison once Rex has said his peace.

Funny the way it is. These people hide in my house, eat the food I provide, but I don’t yet feel like I’m one of them. A dozen or so of them all stand and move into the makeshift dining area where a buffet is laid out. They comfort Rita with small talk and smiles. Rex hangs back.

“John, a word please.”

Rex and I aren’t exactly friends. We’re about as opposite as you can get. He’s middle-aged, combat hardened and decisive. I can barely pick which cereal I’ll eat in the morning, if I even wake up before noon. Rex takes me aside.

“John, we can hold out here a few more days, but I think it would be wise to move somewhere more secure. Somewhere with better resources, better protection.”

I nod stupidly. It’s not that I don’t care, but I’m still numb. This was the only place I’ve ever really lived. Without Grandpa Jack around, it holds almost no meaning at all anymore.

“Whatever you think is best, Captain,” I tell him. Rex gives me a fatherly smile and a strong grip to my shoulder. I don’t know what he has in mind but I trust his judgment.

“Will you look at that! So much for ‘take me to your leader’!”

High pitched laughter cackles in the front room. As Rex goes to spread the word about our impending sojourn, I check up on Tyler and AJ to see what trouble they’re getting into now. They’re parked in front of the TV with a handful of others.

“Can you believe this?”

AJ is speaking no one in particular. Tyler continues his giggling fit. Thank God TV still exists. It keeps these kids occupied and distracted. I sometimes wonder, if the aliens had knocked out our television signals, would we already have risen up against them en masse?

On the screen, a small contingent of alien beings have descended from the main ship. They’re standing on a hovering platform about the size of my living room. The three central figures appear differently from the alien soldiers flanking them on either side. They all have that same grayish armor and smooth, polished faces with no visible features. They all tower over even the tallest human and their knees all bend in the same wrong direction. The differences are subtle. A touch of color here or there. A mark or brand on the armor. Like rank insignias or symbols of valor or royalty.

“Here they come!” Tyler shouts.

A procession of limos and town cars roll down Main St. approaching the raised platform. I can’t help but laugh a little bit. I picture the politicians inside envisioning themselves as showing up in style, regardless of the massive floating extraterrestrial warship hovering above them.

The haggard Secret Service members form a line from the incoming parade of vehicles to the floating alien reception committee. Local officials, the mayor, state representatives, senators and the Vice President himself file out of the cars. I can see the shaking hands of the elite guard of humanity’s leaders straying towards their pistols. The alien honor guard stands stoically.

“Makes sense. Why be taken to our leader if we can bring our leaders to them?”

Hutch appears next to me. I don’t know how long he’s been there watching. I guess we’re all a little drawn in.

The Vice President steps forward and extends his hand in a gesture of friendship. The central alien figure mimics his motion. I notice two golden suns patterned on his armor, one on each shoulder.

Hutch is breathing heavy next to me. His jaw is clenched and so are my fists as we watch our country’s leaders step up onto the alien platform. The tension eases only after the platform raises back into the sky, into the belly of the mothership. No shots fired, no lives lost.

“What are they doing up there, ya think?” AJ asks.

“Negotiating,” Hutch answers.

AJ seems about ready to ask what that word means. Before he can, Rex appears dressed to the teeth in combat gear and weaponry, his Green Beret perched immaculately atop his head. He hands Hutch and myself a pistol each. Rex is holding a pump action shotgun.

“What’s this about?” Hutch asks. Rex racks a shell into the chamber.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fresh Blood Contest - Finalists Posted

Dorchester Publications has posted the Top 10 Finalists for their Fresh Blood Contest!

Check out the list here!

Yours truly is not among them. Now, now, that's no reason to discriminate! Keep checking back on Dorchester's site over the next couple of months. They'll have excerpts from each of the finalists' books for you to vote on. You might just help discover the next big talent!

As for me, I've just submitted a couple of short stories to The Literary Lab. I actually really enjoyed writing for their contest. It's great to get your ideas out and complete a story in 2,000 words or less. Trust me, there was quite a bit of editing to get the stories under that word count, but I actually found myself having fun chiseling away the excess. Always nice to see something go all the way to completion.

On that note: I'll be re-editing Crawl for submission to Dragon Moon Press who happen to be opening their submissions process up for the month of December.

Other than that, I'll continue to post new chapters for the SY:1 series and maybe even post a couple of short stories here and there. But I feel like it's time for a fresh start and I think I've decided on which project I'll be focusing on next.

Stay tuned!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SY: 1 – Day 3

They’ve arrived.

For the past 24 hours the drone ships have been hounding our steps. They scan and patrol without rest, sometimes vaporizing people on the spot, sometimes engaging in pointless skirmishes with the military.

Now that the mothership had settled in over downtown, the drones have retreated to her and circle her bulk like orbiting moons. For the moment we can breathe.

The brave have ventured outside to see the spectacle with their own eyes rather than through the lens of a news camera. I guess we should be thankful. Our power is still on and our water still runs clear. Lines of communication are open, though bogged down by the sheer volume of traffic. It seems no one is sleeping.

Grandpa Jack and I remained indoors, inside the same house he lived in all his life, the same house in which he raised me. Many days we’ve walked out onto the deck together to look down on the converging rivers and the steel island that sprung up between them. From the mountainside we can see the river valley stretching out below us in all directions. Now the giant airship draws our attention. We share the view with others seeking refuge from the drones.

A young white couple in their early thirties and a little Hispanic girl, about five years old. I don’t think they’re related. Since the aliens arrived, those questions don’t matter much anymore. We’ve all become family.

We watch in silence as the airship and its clones hover over our beloved city. The couple thanks us and say they’re going to try to get back home before the drones come back. They’re taking the girl with them. I’m happy to hear that. I’ve got enough to handle here just watching out for myself and Grandpa Jack.

As they scurry down the street, a new development causes the news crews to speak in rapid voices and excited tones. A flurry of activity appears as a swarm of gnats around the drone ships. Gray dots speckle the blue sky.

They’re moving. Fast.

A news copter zooms in on the action. What appear to be suits of armor begin falling out of one end of each drone ship. Hundreds of them. Each freefalls a moment and then takes flight, their means of propulsion unknown.

They’re everywhere.

The people downtown have gathered in the streets and on the rooftops, for what purpose I don’t know. Now the majority of them scatter. Some of the armored suits land amongst them. A camera pans on the action. Though it’s shaky, Grandpa Jack and I can make them out. They seem to stand about 8 to 10 feet tall. Their knees bend the wrong way. Their armor is made of that same gray, shimmering haze.

A few citizens open fire on the alien soldiers, accompanied by rogue military members. The rounds bounce off, harmlessly. Most of the armored soldiers hover a few feet off of the ground, merely wading through the crowds as if they were in search of something. Some of them fire a strange looking blaster on their forearm. Anyone caught in its light is vaporized. Now the panic really starts.

There are screams from outside our door. The alien soldiers have spread throughout the city. They scan the streets and houses, vaporizing some and ignoring others. The couple that had taken refuge in our home made it only a block or two away before the soldiers appeared. The man was vaporized before my eyes. The woman screams in incomprehensible agony.

An armored solider lands on its feet in front of the little girl. It looks down upon her with towering menace. The girl is frozen. The woman is screaming. I can only watch.

Grandpa Jack pushes me aside and wheels himself through the door way.

“Fight me, you bastards!” he screams, ratcheting his wheels as fast he can down the wooden ramp. The alien soldier looks from the little girl to the old man. Its face is featureless and smooth, but I get the sense that it gives the wheelchair bound veteran an inquisitive look. Then it bends its unnatural knees and scoops up the little girl, rocketing off towards the mothership before any of us can react.

Grandpa Jack had reached the end of the ramp before I could catch up to him and drag him back. By the time I reach his chair, it’s too late. Another alien solider appears from above, hooks him under the arms and hauls him off into the clear blue sky. I stand there a moment and watch their ascent, just one pair among many.

All around me my neighbors are being vaporized or culled like cattle. They are choosing those with specific qualities. They are harvesting us. For what I don’t know.

Grandpa Jack’s wheelchair lays toppled over in the grass, its free wheel still spinning. I’m left alone with chaos unfolding all around me. The only parent I’ve ever known is gone now. The only life I’ve ever lived has ended.

Today, I begin to find a way to fight back.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Good News for People Who Like Good News!

Good news!

I like a good book. The only thing I enjoy more than a good book is hearing the story of the author behind said book (or seeing that book turned into an equally good movie).

Following authors' blogs, publishing newsletters, agents' pages and the like, you come across a lot of struggle, advice, hardships, false hope, dashed dreams and frustrations. Occasionally you'll find the odd success story here and there.

The most recent success story I've seen is about sisters Lisa and Laura Roecker and their debut novel, A Kate Lowry Mystery: THE HAUNTING OF PEMBERLY BROWN. What do I really like about this blog? The fact that they believe in the power of karma!

Check out this post to find out how you can win your very own Kindle! And if the Karma Gods be kind and grant you a free Kindle, might I suggest planning on adding "The Haunting of Pemberly Brown" to your order list!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Updates Galore!

Recently I participated in Miss Snark's First Victim "Secret Agent Contest." These monthly contests allow aspiring authors to get an intimate review of their work from a well established literary agent. It's a very cool blog and a very welcoming community with tons of opportunities to refine your craft, compare experiences with other aspiring others and hopefully get noticed by an agent!

This month's Secret Agent just so happened to be Rachelle Gardner at Word Serve Literary. Though she did not choose my manuscript (wisely, because it really doesn't jive with what she's looking for), she did leave some very positive and constructive feedback. And that's really what I'm after these days!

In other news, the The Literary Lab is hosting a short story contest featuring prizes in six different genres: science-fiction/fantasy, horror/crime, literary, romance/women's fiction, children's literature/middle grade/young adult, or experimental. Check them out!

I'll be attempting to submit a short story in each category.
Wish me luck!


Monday, October 12, 2009

SY:1 – Day Two

Hard to believe that earlier this very year, America and the other world powers were united as never before. It wasn’t a war that brought us together, or a terrorist attack. It wasn’t a threat from without, but a mutual understanding from within. 2020, the Year of Hindsight, marked one of the greatest and most humbling achievements of mankind.

Two American scientists, now as famous as Watson and Crick, had demonstrated the creation of life. Not only did they spontaneously generate new life forms, but they proved that those organisms could survive and replicate, even evolve. Years of research lifted them up onto the shoulders of giants, of Gods. It was this revelation that sparked the great debate: the existence of God.

2020, the Year of Hindsight. We as a human race looked back on our known history with a new understanding. Science was our new religion, Knowledge our new God. There was quite the schism among the people and those wounds have yet to heal today. But with a fresh perspective, free of dogmas and irrational rhetoric, the developed nations of the world declared a new era. They decried the conflicts of the past and promised a better future and an unprecedented time of discovery.

The year was 2020 AD, a religious relic anchoring our present in the conflicted past. The new year was secular and scientific, with a focus on space exploration. Space Year, Secular Year or Scientific Year, whatever one’s opinion it was still SY: 1. A new beginning.

How ironic it is now that I find myself huddled in a church amongst strangers, waiting for the Gods of the sky to destroy us, or God-willing, pass us by. A strong pair of hands, many hands actually, pulled me from the streets into sanctuary as I was gathering supplies. I was the last one saved. We’ve barred the doors.

I can see a woman’s face outside the clear glass. A woman in her forties maybe, terror stretching her face. She’s begging us to let her in. It’s too late for that.

Though the behemoth sky ship is maybe 100 miles away still, it has sent out scouts. Smaller shimmering copies of the giant ship blistered off and raced toward our city. Each the size of 747s, they move with astonishing speed and maneuverability. What’s more terrifying is their weaponry, or whatever it may be. All I know is that once their beams of light touch you, you’re done for. Thanks to these strangers, I was saved. It could have been her safe inside here instead of me. She was a moment too late.

A beam of light shoots down from one of the smaller, shimmering ships that hovers above us. For a second it shakes the walls of our sanctuary with resonating force. It lights up the woman’s face and she stares directly at me. Not at the light source, but at me. In the next second she is gone, vaporized. The shaking stops. The scout ship leaves.

This is how we survive day to day. Scurrying like rats for supplies, seeking shelter at every turn. Only one more day now until the real terror arrives.

God help us when it does.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Life Resumed

The last couple of weeks in September consumed nearly every spare hour of my life. Aside from the other organizations I'm involved in (and oh yeah, that pesky full-time job) I've spent that time re-editing, revising and polishing my novel, Crawl. Why you ask?

Other than it being good practice in general, there was a contest sponsored by and Leisure Fiction at Dorchester Publications called the "Fresh Blood Contest." They were looking for unpublished authors with a fully-finished horror manuscript. Cha-ching!

Rather than bore you with details concerning the painstaking process of hacking and chopping a novel to pieces, then stitching and reviving it into something better than when it began, I'll just say this: added a new character, filled out some others, added a couple of chapters to round out the story and provide some more description and put a few touches into the concluding chapter.

The finalists for the contest will be posted in November of this year. I will update you guys on my novel's status either way!

Until then, I will continue to post new chapters of "SY:1" as well as update the blog. Currently I'm trying to decide which project I want to tackle next. This weekend I'll be plotting out four of those projects, hopefully picking a winner by Monday. The worthy competitors are:

SPECTRUM - a sci-fi detective thriller set in a dystopian future
Romero Strain - a post-apocalyptic zombie survival novel
Crock - an adventure story mixing treasure hunting, cutthroat criminals and Irish folklore. A pairing of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" meets "O' Brother, Whereart Thou"
The Appleseed Murders - crime/thriller, a hardboiled detective tracks a serial killer who plants seeds in his murdered victims' remains

Since it's October with Halloween on the horizon, and I just saw Dead Snow and Zombieland this week, and I'm currently reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies...I might be leaning towards The Romero Strain. Time will tell!


Monday, September 21, 2009

Horror Realm 2009

Just this past weekend I ventured out to Horror Realm 2009 here in the Pittsburgh area. I've never attended any convention like this so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised!

It was a fairly small convention held in a few conference rooms in a hotel. Among the delights were meeting horror legend Tony Todd, along with Ken Foree, David Naughton, Leslie Easterbrook and Tiffany Shepis (who is involved in an astonishing 26 movies in the next couple of years, as per IMDB!)

There were also several independent films screened each night. I caught the showing of "Die-ner: Get it?" It was much better than a lot of the other independent horror films I've seen and was equal parts tense and humorous. The lead role had an Ed Norton/John Cusack look to him and even his voice and delivery were similar. I had the pleasure of meeting his parents after the screening, who happened to be sitting right in front of me (good thing I didn't say anything bad about his performance!)

But the real highlight of the trip was meeting various horror authors from all levels of success and reknown. First I met D. L. Snell who was with Permuted Press promoting his first novel "Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines." He combines vampires and zombies vying for the rights to a post-apocalyptic world. Mr. Snell was very enthusiastic about his project and I am equally as enthusiastic to finish my copy!

Other authors in attendance were Jonathan Maberry of "Patient Zero" fame (and a writer for Marvel as well, who knew?), Z. A. Recht whose 'Morningstar Saga' I've heard only great things about, and S. G. Browne, author of "Breathers: A Zombie's Lament." Each of these fine gentlemen took the time to answer my questions and provide insight on, not only writing, but the perspective from behind the veil of the publishing industry. Thanks to each of you! (And I'll be sure to post review for both "Breathers" and "Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines" here!)

Also, a quick shout out to the very talented artist Sherrie Spencer and the Library of Horror Press! I'm looking forward to attending more of these shows, horror or otherwise. Maybe someday soon I'll be hawking my novel out to the terrified passersby like some sort of crazed Bazaar salesman. One can only hope!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Short List

Today, in one of the publishing blogs/newsletters I subscribe to, I saw a familiar book title. As a matter of fact, I was looking at the very book on my shelf just last night as I was editing "Crawl." The book is 'American Rust' by Philipp Myer and it is up for The Center for Fiction's first novel award. You can check out the other finalists here:

Now Myer's book is the only one I've read out of the finalists, but I can remember the story clearly. More specifically, his characters which really jumped off of the page. This is a case of judging a book by its cover, since the rusty railroad spike on a bleak background grabbed my attention in the bookstore. I remember picking it up and reading the jacket, discovering it was a debut novel with a story based in the very section of the country that I call home.

Even then, I put the book back on the shelf, walked away and came back to look at it again multiple times. I don't think I bought it that first visit, but rather saw it on a subsequent trip and decided to give it a chance. The cover and the setting intrigued me, and that was enough to warrant a read.

As I said earlier, the characters were very fleshed out in multiple dimensions and I can still recall each of their personalities (even if their names escape me.) All in all it was an enjoyable read, though personally I felt it had an "Edgar Sawtelle" feel without as much depth or layering. Not being a literary critic or scholar myself, I'm sure I missed out on something along the way.

Either way, Philipp Myer's 'American Rust' is a worthy finalist for this prize! Check it out at your local bookstore!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

SY: One - Day One

“They may have fired first, but our guns are bigger,” said Grandpa Jack. The old man could still remember the twin bombs Little Boy and Fat Man being dropped on Japanese villagers. I believed he really thought our American muscle would get us through this. The slight tremor in his voice was the only indication that he wasn’t completely confident in our victory or our survival.

An old war veteran of 100 plus years and me, a 25 year old college dropout, sitting together watching what could be the end of the world on our 15 inch TV screen. We had just seen a demonstration of the alien technology. We watched now as our brave soldiers attacked the ship from the ground below. I couldn’t help but fear for them, and for us, some 400 miles away.

“You watch, boy, we’ll whip ‘em good,” said Grandpa Jack, unable to take his eyes off of the screen. After that strange swarm dismantled the helicopter earlier, it hadn’t taken long for the ground troops stationed at the safe zone to move in and open fire. The city became a war zone, a chaotic port town defending its fleeing citizens from some unknown menace.

The floating ship continued sending out tiny clouds of what looked like insects swarming in a burst of hazy air. Every mortar, rifle or rocket they came into contact with instantly fell to pieces. Ambitious soldiers took the time to reconstruct their weapons only to have a second shot pull them apart again. Tanks fell to pieces around their stunned drivers, the welds and tread locks dismantling on impact.

The ground under the alien behemoth became littered with unspent missile fragments and small arms ammunition. It was hard to tell from the TV footage but it didn’t look like anything we fired had made a scratch in the hovering menace. The ground troops quickly ran out of options and functional weaponry. Not a moment too soon three fighter jets screamed onto the scene, rocking the nearby news helicopters hovering to record the chaos.

“The cavalry’s arrived!” yelled Grandpa Jack. The old man actually stood up for a moment and hollered in excitement before crashing back down into his easy chair. I couldn’t tell if he was enjoying the fight, thinking it was an afternoon movie, or if he was really as terrified on the inside as I was. A part of me prayed that Grandpa Jack was right, that our technology would prove superior and this would be our turning point.

The jets rocketed into and out of the frame, all the while circling the giant airship like sharks around a whale. Tracer fire lit up the sky, cutting bright trails blazing toward the alien craft. The skin of the ship shimmered and rippled, shrugging off the machine gun fire. Hot lead rained down onto the ground in torrents. Not one bullet managed to snipe its way through the alien armor.

News copters pulled back from the area and captured the scope of the skirmish with their cameras. As the pilots realized their bullets were having no effect, one of them loosed a rocket into the belly of the ship. In a blink, the missile made contact, appeared to be swallowed by a bulge in the ship’s side and fell to the ground in pieces, harmless and undetonated.

Before another rocket could be fired, a burst formed from the ship and detached, chasing the jet through the sky. For a moment I thought the pilot might be able to evade it. But it appeared the strange swarm was simply toying with its target.

“Bastards,” grumbled Grandpa Jack. We stared in disbelief as the jet fell apart, its velocity pitching the pilot forward and gravity pulling him down to the ground, surrounded by his piecemeal plane. Luckily his chute opened to slow his fall, though he still slammed into the ground hard, then lay motionless. That was all the invitation the other pilots needed to open fire.

Missiles, flares and tracer fire assailed the alien ship without success. They struck the armored sides whole and functional, became swallowed up by the strange swarms and then fell in impotent pieces to the ground below. The second jet met a similar fate to its predecessor when it collided with a swarm burst and fell scattered to the Earth.

The final pilot was out of weapons and out of his league, but not out of options. As the frantic news reporter announced the pilot’s final act of desperation, the jet rocketed towards the ship with no intention of stopping. Rather than become a swallowing, swarming mass, the alien armor seemed to harden. The jet exploded on impact in a massive fireball.

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” said Grandpa Jack. Tears streamed down his face as he remembered in that instant all of the soldiers and friends he’d lost throughout his long life. I held his hand as the air raid sirens sounded through the TV speakers. It sounded like a banshee wail signaling the end of the City that Never Sleeps.

A few brave journalists remained at Ground Zero even as the final evacuation order went out. A full two-thirds of Manhattan were stuck on the fabled island, unable to escape even as the missiles closed the gap between their submarine launch sites and their target, the hovering alien menace.

Grandpa and I watched in reverent silence, along with the rest of the world, as three missiles slammed into the ship. The behemoth rocked to one side from the impact. A full bloom of its armor shifted to meet the missiles at the point of contact. The silver skin flowed outward and down, forming an umbrella-shaped shield that reflected the nuclear explosion away from the ship. The last image we saw before the cameras and their operators were vaporized was a column of bright light mushrooming out from beneath the ship, scorching the Earth, sea and sky.

Reports drifted in over the next few hours. A massive section of the city had been leveled and millions were dead or dying. When the dust cleared, the alien menace remained, quite unharmed. The panic didn’t set in until the ship began to move. It traveled slowly at first, attracting an entourage of ground and air-based escorts, all attacking the ship seemingly without organization, direction or success. Soldiers vented their frustrations on the hovering leviathan, attempting to slow its progress or somehow destroy it completely. Over slow miles, their ambitious attack never wavered, but neither did the behemoth’s ever westward movement.

It wasn’t until the next day that we realized the ship was heading for us.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

'9' Review

Just got home from seeing the movie '9' and thought I'd post a quick review of it.

From reading the early reviews at I had the impression that the story was a little weak. This notion seemed to be spot on, but first the good stuff!

I'm a big fan of Tim Burton and am watching Bekmambetov closely (check out Night Watch and Wanted if you haven't already). '9' had all the sinister darkness and visual richness of Burton with the action sequences of Bekmambetov. Visually this film is very beautiful and engaging. Each of the little sack dolls 1-9 have their own physical traits that make them stand out and each of the machined monsters are unique and creative. I can't imagine how twisted a playground the inside of Burton's mind must be, but it produces some truly beautiful and original creations.

Along with the visual delight, the voice acting is very well done. Sometimes in these films, voice actors take away from the ability of the story to fully engage the audience (Jack Black, Nicolas Cage and the upcoming George Clooney as Mr. Fox are all examples of voices I just can't identify with anyone/thing but the actual actor). In the case of '9' each sack doll was brought to life by vocal talents equally matched to the visual appearance.

That being said, '9' had much more potential than the plot seemed to want to explore. I'm not sure if this was a studio decision to pare down the 'death' and violence (though it still received a PG13 rating...huh?) or if it was just poor writing in the original script, but I felt let down by it. It felt to me like an all or nothing type situation for the characters involved but it ended with a very unoriginal and predictable outcome (minus the glowing rain...go see it to figure out what I mean.)

All in all, I'll give '9' a 7 out of 10. Great action scenes, fun characters and even a few laughs in this dark and original approach to a post-apocalyptic tale, but it falls short in its depth of plot and its unfortunate reluctance to reach its full potential.

Worth a watch!


Labor Day Weekend!

I know it's a little late, but I hope everyone had a fun and safe Labor Day weekend!

As for me, I spent most of it on the road between Pittsburgh and Philly. Traffic wasn't too bad considering the holiday so I had ample time to let my mind wander.

I don't know about you, but when one half of my brain is focusing on a somewhat mundane task like driving (God bless cruise control), the creative side of my brain tends to take off. It's another reason why I'll do chores when I'm feeling particularly blocked creatively: wash the dishes, vacuum, fold laundry, really anything that's mindless helps to allow your mind to wander.

So, while I enjoy the scenic ride home (the middle of Pennsylvania is beautiful this time of year, even if the trees are starting to change a little too early for me) I really get to enjoy the freedom of thought that goes with it. At one point, I came through a mountain pass that I haven't taken before and stared in wonder as it opened up into the vast area known as the Lehigh Valley. I couldn't help but wonder how this woodland must have looked in its pristine past. How did the first explorers to this area see it and did they stand at roughly the same point and marvel at it?

Sure now it's dotted with developments, slashed with highways and pockmarked with shopping malls, but there are still patches of old forest in between that hint at its natural state. It was quite the sight, even at 65mph.

Other than those musings, I also came up with a few random topics for future projects, which I hurriedly jotted down as soon as I got home. Some were brand new stories, some were additions to other works in progress. The most notable revelation concerns the story I'm currently posting on this blog. I toyed with the idea of combining it and another story tentatively titled 'Analog' into one work. An interesting idea, but still in its infancy.

I also changed my mind about how I'd like one of the main characters in this story to pan out, so keep watching and let me know your thoughts! Look for the next SY: One post soon!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

SY: One - Day Zero

They arrived without warning, late in the year 2020. The media had named it “The Year of Hindsight.” How fitting that I’m now looking back on the arrival after all these long years.

I can still see that day clearly, same as any human who lived through it and still breathes today. That strange ship entering our atmosphere, an image burned into our memories. It was our Hindenburg, our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11.

The strangeness of it! It appeared as a massive silver swarm one moment, shifting rapidly to a smoothness of polished metal and dark glass the next. The way it eased itself through our sky, swelling, shifting, shimmering into view. The world stared in awe for those early moments. Then the disastrous first contact shook us out of our reverie.

The silver behemoth hung in the sky, shimmering in the daylight as if covered in a haze. It had settled over the once-great city of New York, then a bustling metropolis, still populated by millions of us, millions of human lives. The ship hovered there with no observable means of support or propulsion. Every new observation of the ship gave rise to a hundred questions which spawned a million more.

The world itself seemed to stop, waiting for some sign from the alien ship. Most had stopped sleeping out of excitement or out of fear. They chose, instead, to watch the 24 hour news coverage of the newly arrived visitors. The US government had declared a no-fly zone all around the UFO, so news helicopters hovered at the restricted border, landing only to refuel and change pilots. Billions of eyes around the world watched as a solitary army helicopter broke through the invisible barrier and approached the ship. We watched and waited for one side or the other, the humans or the aliens, to blink. We blinked first.

I remember it as if it happened this very morning. Both ships hovering there in relative silence. The human ship was a whirring gnat of gunmetal blades and glistening warheads, the alien vessel a stoic leviathan, pulsing with that strange swarming shimmer. Even the media broadcasters fell silent, waiting for a resolution, for a sign, waiting to breathe.

A section of the alien ship bulged and rippled towards the presumed front of the craft. It broke free from the mothership, a pixilated cloud racing forward in the open air. It slammed into the helicopter.

There was no fireball, no dramatic explosion. The human ship simply…disintegrated.

No, that’s not the right word. Dissociated, is more like it. The helicopter fell apart. Every screw, nut, bolt and rivet failed, falling back to Earth in separate pieces. Even the weapons fell dismantled in midair, the rockets and explosives separating into harmless components. It was as if the ship had never been built, but was rather a floating box of parts now turned upside down.
The pilots, apparently unharmed and still quite whole, fell to Earth along with the dismantled metal bird. Their parachutes opened, blessedly intact and functional. The alien ship remained unresponsive after its momentary show of strength.

As soon as the helicopter’s pilots hit the good earth, all Hell broke loose. All excitement turned to fear, demanded a swift response, a protective reaction. The first shot fired triggered a war, a change of the way we lived our daily lives. Every citizen became a soldier for the army of the Earth. Borders were erased, differences set aside. Their arrival changed the way we viewed our daily lives, changed the very definition of the word ‘tomorrow.’ We began to live each day by the hour, not knowing if we’d survive to see the next sunrise.

I’m writing this journal to provide a record of the invasion. I’m not sure how much of our news archives still exist. Someone needs to know our history. Someone needs to study our struggle. This is a tale of the first invasion between worlds. This is a story of how we humans fought to take back our Earth.

My name is John Rysk, Captain of the Roughnecks, and this is the diary of my death.

Now Presenting...

I don't know about you but I'm pretty excited about this idea!

Excited doesn't necessarily mean 'good results' however. But I've liked this story idea for a long time and it's a pretty fun way to get it out there. No agents, no publishers, no rejections (externally anyway) and no stress! Just pure, good ol' fashioned fun free writing!

The idea is to get the 500 word chapters out on the first go, with very limited editing. Most of them I'll probably write by hand when the mood strikes me, then perform an on-the-go editing session as I transcribe the words to type. I'm trying to get a very organic and fluid feel to this story as if you're reading it as it's happening. I'll even take comments into consideration when deciding the next step in the sequence (though the ending is very much decided, sorry). Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure!

Tenses may change, plot holes will undoubtedly open up to swallow characters whole, and I don't care! While my left brain is busy editing 'Crawl' for the umpteenth time, my right brain will be the one having fun!

Now, without further adieu, I present Chapter 1 of SY:One

More Ambitions

In the spirit of karma, I'm going to attempt to give weekly reviews of books I'm currently reading, have read recently or would like to read in the near future.

For the first installment I'd like to rave about Joe Abercrombie's 'First Law Trilogy.' If you like your fantasy fast and furious or are just a fan of vivid, three-dimensional characters, definitely pick up the first book in the series, "The Blade Itself." You won't be disappointed!

After you become acquainted with such savory characters as The Bloody-Nine, Fenris the Feared and Superior Glokta, you'll be itching to pick up "Before They Are Hanged" and "The Last Argument of Kings."

I'm looking forward to picking up my copy of his newest book "Best Served Cold" which was recently released in the states. Check out the author and his works here:

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Frontiers

Coming here to read about me editing 'Crawl' every day could be every bit as boring as me posting about it. I understand this. So I have another idea!

I got to thinking: What's the best way to use this blog to not only give you a glimpse into my creative process but also to nudge me along to write more frequently? What's a good use of my time writing and your time reading? How can I use this medium to hone my craft?

Well I think I came up with an interesting option. Like every other wannabe writer out there, I have too many ideas and not enough time to get them down on paper. Some ideas are flashes that burn hot and bright just long enough for me to jot down a few notes and then forget about them. Others smoulder in the back of my mind for what seems like forever.

What I've decided to do is start a new story on this blog. Each entry will be approx 500 words or less. Over time, each new entry will further a particular story I've been toying around with. I tend to be a little ambitious with new ideas like this, so let's say I'll post new entries weekly (hopefully more often than that!)

Check back sometime this week for the first entry! All I can tell you right now is that it's a sci-fi alien invasion thriller with a massive twist that even Shyamalan shouldn't see coming!

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The thing is --

I'm gonna have to blame the weather for my recent lack of ambition. Summertime in Pittsburgh is usually beautiful, very conducive to outdoor activities. I happen to write a LOT when I can spend some time outside. Give me a warm sunny day in the park and I'll give you a novel. Guaranteed.

However, this summer has been categorically the worst on record (at least from my perspective.) The only decent days have come in the middle of the work week. It's either overcast and oppressively humid or it's pouring down rain. I love a good thunderstorm, but hail and lightning tend to ruin my manuscript.

So I've been forced back into the early bastions of writing: crowded coffee shops, creepy libraries or worse, my own home. While each of those places have their pros and cons, home has sooooo many distractions. Like my cat who loves to act as a paperweight or an assistant typist. Or the Netflix DVDs in their pretty red and white packaging that call my name.

It's all part of the job I guess. So tonight, no more distractions. Back to editing!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Charlie vs the Tow Truck

Occasionally I like to post things that have nothing to do with the writing process (but somehow end up coming back around to writing anyway.) A big percentage of these posts will be rants or explanations of held grudges. And a big percentage of THOSE posts will be about traffic. I might not hate anything in the world more than traffic and its related evils. Having said that:

Charlie. My love, my life, my best friend. Charlie is a beautiful 1999 Jeep Cherokee Sport two-door with a 4.0L I-6 engine and manual transmission. His fog lights and rear windshield wiper work according to their own schedule, which I'm not privy to. The passenger side door may or may not allow you open it from within, depending on how Charlie feels about you on a given day. Charlie may or may not start in any given weather condition. He may or may not squeal when running the air conditioner or defroster. In other words, he's the most expensive thing I own by far (other than my mountainous pile of debt) and he's being held together by sheer will alone.

It's easy to see I love this goofy car. I treat him like a child. A step-child, maybe, but still a child! I'm proud of him when he crushes random road debris with reckless abandon or plows through standing water with the greatest of ease. I curse him when certain parts of him refuse to act appropriately during normal driving conditions or when taking him in for an inspection. (Usually he's acting right by the next day.) And I absolutely love it when he beats someone off the line or down a stretch of road. Let's face it, Charlie's not built for speed or grace.

So it was with a heavy heart and a disapproving tone that I watched as Charlie and I got absolutely dusted by a tow truck the other night. The truck was merging onto the highway that Charlie and I were currently cruising on. I had speed and the truck was just gearing up. I figured we had him, no problem. Then the truck matched speed, stayed even, and began to pull away. I jammed down on the accelerator and impotently watched as the V8 (I'm assuming) tow truck pulled away with ease.

Not to be outdone, Charlie and I slowly chugged our way up to about 95mph and eventually caught up with the truck. He apparently did not like to maintain that speed through the turns on the parkway, so we drove away with one small victory. But Charlie's failure and my disappointment got me to thinking.

Your success in life depends on a lot of things, but it comes down to one -- your engine (or your heart for you sappy metaphor lovers.) If you've got yourself a sleek engine, like a finely turned European sports car, chances are you're gonna get where you want to go fast. If you've got a big engine, like Mr. Tow Truck, the odds are good you're gonna be able to haul all that baggage with ease, even if it takes you a little longer to get where you're going. If you've got a small engine, you might struggle with hills, you might get dusted by the big boys on the road, but you'll get where you're going eventually and you'll do it efficiently.

Charlie and I are somewhere in the middle. We've got middle grade power with average acceleration and speed. The I-6 engine is notoriously rock-solid and bulletproof so it will stick it out for the long haul. It got me to thinking about how long this publishing process will take.

I'm not a sports car: I don't expect to get that lucky flash of timing and divine intervention.
I'm not a truck: I don't have the muscle or connections to force through any of my work.
I'm not a hybrid: I don't do things efficiently. I'm a scattershot mess doing the best I can.

I'm a Jeep: I'm in this for the long haul, no matter how many mountains I have to climb, rivers I have to ford, bridges I have to cross or muck I have to pull myself out of. I might short out or stall on occasion. I might have trouble getting started or struggle against some of the others out there. But I'm bulletproof, rock-solid. I'll keep chugging along until I make it.

(Don't worry, my actual writing is much better than this stuff! What do you want for nothing?)