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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!