Censoring Peace

Over the past several months I’ve felt like we’re living in one of my stories.  As a writer, let me be the first to say that although I find it a fun place to visit, you don’t want to live there….

Recent events are chock full of the potentiality to frighten people, anger them, and divide them.  The division, a tactic opponents use to help them conquer, perpetuates the fear and anger.  The pot is being stirred, and in all this chaos, folks can continue to be worked up, or they can find a way to experience peace.

I choose peace.

Peace doesn’t mean rolling over and sticking your head in the sand, however.  The most recent event that looms very threateningly is the ready application of censorship.  As a writer, I have a strong opinion on that subject:  Censorship is wrong.  There’s a reason Voltaire’s attitude was encompassed as “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Censorship is like a cancer because it spreads.  First one group will be silenced, and then another group, and then another….

What is considered to be on the right side or the wrong side changes as the tide turns within the culture.  Those who think it’s good to silence voices that oppose them need to be aware of the proverb to be careful about what you wish for.  That which they championed might one day be used against them.

And what begins as censorship leads to worse forms of oppression.  I don’t think I can express it any more eloquently than the poet Gwyn Thomas did:

Books burning in the fire.

The horror of the burning is

As ever, as ever, a sign.

In the night, round about, there are bright eyes

Full of the passion of destruction …

Tomorrow,

People in the fire.

Yeah, this is a heavier post than my usual stuff, but if we want peace, we must not be silenced….

Pharaoh’s Chariots

His resolve steeled as Deuce surveyed the smoky battlefield.  Withdrawing from this arena alive was a natural desire, but his concern for the lives of the score of soldiers with him finalized his decision.

Over twenty men had originally volunteered to assist him with luring the cyborg forces to this fallacious location, even though each one of them knew it was possible none would return.  And the ones that had already fallen knew no more about the bomb surgically lodged inside his chest than their surviving combatants.

The people he had become part of were on the verge of escaping their tormentors.  There had been enough death already.  He was determined to see that these brave servicemen would rejoin the families they were fighting to keep free.

“They’re flanking to cut off our access to the chute!”  The voice that buzzed from the com patch attached near his right ear disclosed strain but not panic.

Although battle hardened, Deuce was a bit struck at how calm his own voice sounded.  “Retreat now, before they get there.”

“What about–”

“That’s an order!  I’ll hold them back.”

There was a couple seconds hesitation before he heard “Yes, sir!”

He set the charges in his blaster for a cluster spread.  That meant he would run out of ammunition soon after reaching the entrance of the passage that sloped down to the launch pad, but when he detonated the bomb within his chest, that wouldn’t matter anymore….

Once the soldiers cleared the chute leading to a purposefully unfinished interstellar ship, they could board the real escape vessel hidden within.  Right now, in a dozen locations scattered around the Earth, completed space-bound behemoths were launching from their hitherto underground platforms.

The com patch also chattered with reports from those other sites.  Some of them were under attack as well, but at least he’d succeeded in drawing the majority of the Elite’s forces here.

He was, after all, the best bait he could offer.

“Go!  Don’t wait for me!”

Deuce leaped from behind the jagged boulder that was inherent to the rocky outcrop shielding the underground launch pad.  Maintaining cover behind other stony features, he fired into the closest enemy troops as he trailed his soldiers pulling back to the chute.

Return fire was aimed more toward his retreating unit than him.  He knew why.

Less than a minute after the last man disappeared into the downward tunnel, he darted into the entrance, but then held his ground.  After only a couple more blasts from his weapon, the cyborg forces scattered as though fearing the meager obstacle he presented.  They ceased fire and ducked into cover of their own on the other side of the rocks.

He wanted to hold this position for as long as possible before activating the bomb and blank off this chute.  But even though he was fairly exposed here, the enemy still didn’t fire.  They had to be under orders to leave him for the individual who wanted him most….

When IMP2 stepped into the clearing, Deuce figured his former ally wanted to make this confrontation really personal.  Good, it gave his soldiers more time to escape.

“You’ve been wasting ammo.”  As IMP2 approached, he held a blaster in his remaining human hand even though his mechanized arm was also a shooting weapon.

Deuce gripped his nearly empty blaster in the ready position.  “Considering your casualties, I wouldn’t call it a waste.”

“What is your strategy, IMP17?  Your speculation is consistent, but this maneuver is deviant even for you.”

Hearing his old designation churned a slight touch of nausea.  “Are you sure you want to find out?”

A leering smile formed on his opponent’s face as he stepped closer.  “I will deign to compliment your evasiveness, but observation of your tactics conveys desperation.  Whatever ships don’t get grounded before takeoff will be terminated by the hunter satellites when they reach orbit.”

They had a plan in action for those satellites, too.  But even though IMP2 was about to die with him, this was no time to tip his hand.  But he might enjoy giving them something to worry about, even if was a bald-faced lie.

“Didn’t you know satellites can be remotely reprogrammed to change their targets?”

The commander hesitated and studied his face, perhaps searching for some unconscious betrayal he might let slip.  With half of IMP2’s face outfitted with technological improvements, Deuce didn’t bother trying the same.  It didn’t matter.

“You are too calm for somebody who knows his life is forfeit.”  That statement sent a chill through him, and Deuce began sliding his left hand up the front of his uniform.

IMP2’s gaze locked on that hand.  Deuce knew he was anticipating he would draw a weapon, but had no idea what was actually about to happen.  Self-sacrifice didn’t register in his psyche.  When IMP2 continued, Deuce was relieved to hear his assessment confirmed.

“But you will not remain so complacent.  My enhancements far outweigh our biological engineering, and you owe me satisfaction for the trouble you have caused.  By the time I’m through with you, you will wish you’d been executed by the Elite.”

Deuce’s index finger reached the thoracic depression at the base of his throat.  The seconds began crawling, as though every cell in his body understood life in this world was about to end and wanted to savor what little time was left.

A reflection on Ita, with her fiery hair and emerald eyes, surfaced from his subconscious.  More so it was her feisty personality and stoic bearing he would miss.  They had only recently started to understand each other, and he regretted they wouldn’t finish working out their differences.  Still, it was comforting to know he’d taken part in her ultimate escape….

He pressed hard into the shallow cavity until his fingertip sensed a small, hard protuberance that hadn’t been there before the bomb’s implantation.  One more push set the device to standby, and he had only to murmur the single, five-syllable word that would detonate it.

“Uni–”

Fired charges from behind hurtled past him.

IMP2 spun and twisted and leaped to avoid the barrage like any Intellectual Militant Prototype worth his genetic engineering should.  A couple of sparks emitted from his arm, but with a few shots of his own succeeded in taking cover with the cyborg troops.

Deuce swung to one side as charges continued streaking past him.  Had anybody other than the colonel who strode forward and grasped his arm performed such an action, he would have demanded they withdraw.

Quint was supposed to be back at the ship as the commander of the crew that would launch it.  But considering he was one of the first people to accept Deuce when he joined their forces, he was inclined to concede to this change in plans.

“Let’s go, general!” Quint barked.  “No man gets left behind.”

Arguing would only cause a delay that would endanger all of them.  Deuce retreated into the depths of the passage with his troops as they fired back at the enemy resuming attack.

###

If you noticed this month’s story submission for #BlogBattle seemed a little longer, good for you…!  The rules of the battle have changed a little this year, including we can now go up to 2000 words.  This month the prompt word is Blank.  And as always, be sure to check out the stories others have posted.

I confess I learned a definition of that word I hadn’t been familiar with before, but it was one that worked well for the next installment of this arc.  And if you’re new to this serialization, you can catch up on my BlogBattle Short Stories page.

Past Imperfect: 5 Reasons 2020 Wasn’t All Bad

Although plenty of folks are eager to pitch this year into the ash heap, nothing magical is going to happen on January first.  And that doesn’t mean I’m predicting 2021 will be a lousy year, but you can’t expect it to be entirely rosy.  Yet despite all the challenges of 2020, this rotation around the sun wasn’t entirely bad.

Yeah, I know, I need to back up that statement….

On a personal note, 2020 began with the funeral and burial of my mom.  Toward the end of January I was already thinking about how the year was beginning so rough, it could only get better from here.

Yeah, I know, these rank as famous last words….

Yet despite the landing of COVID-19 and the other problems it seemed to exacerbate, some good did arise from all this turmoil.  That’s life – you get good with the bad and vice versa.  Let’s not overlook these nuggets of sunshine:

5: People rediscovered preparedness.

By the time March rolled around, there was a saying floating about that “Everybody is a prepper now.”  Even the panic buyers who went about it all wrong were part of the throng of people who realized they needed to be able to take care of themselves.  Self-sufficiency and independence are good things when you know who you can trust (see #1).

4: People rediscovered food basics.

Even though there was plenty of bread still on the shelves, yeast became hard to find.  Whether it was because folks figured “I’m stuck at home – might as well bake” or they wanted to be able to bake should the bread disappear, it was one example of how home cooking gained in popularity.

But you can take that a step further.  Seeds went flying off the shelves as more people planted gardens.  And I can personally vouch that hatcheries sold chicks as fast they cracked out of their shells.  The work and care involved in such endeavors get folks to better understand that stores are just the middleman.  Food comes from creation, and that leads to our next category.

3: People rediscovered the outdoors.

Although binge-watching programs and unconditional surrender to video games initially took hold, more people began venturing outdoors as the weather improved.  Hiking and fishing and hunting get folks in touch with nature in a way that helps ground them to reality.  And being outside more helps you absorb that vitamin D which bolsters your immune system.

2: People rediscovered their families.

Stories of abuse will always be around, but there are many reports of parents learning new things about their kids, and spouses learning new appreciation for each other (and their kids’ teachers!).  Our families benefited from a little more family time instead of running off in a dozen directions at once.

1: People rediscovered their faith.

Sadly, the rates of depression and suicide have shot up, but there is one group of people who actually reported their emotional health improved over the past year.  Those who regularly attended church services benefited from both social and divine contact.  And for those who were unable to attend in person, worshipping at home has gained in popularity.

So there you have it.  There’s a saying that life imitates art, and in the realm of writing, one can see some truth in that.  The best way to build up characters in a story is subjecting them to hard times.  And although we may not like it, it’s also true hard times help build character.

Yeah, I know, 2020 was an interesting year … but what a story it will be to tell your grandchildren….

Are You Feeling It?

One Christmas Eve a Jewish family decided to eat out, and the only restaurant open that night was a Chinese food joint.  Toward the end of their meal, their waiter gave them little ornaments shaped like angels and mangers.  As they looked them over, one of the older children pointed out how they were stamped Made in India.

The family found the discrepancy amusing – until they looked over and saw Grandpa, who had immigrated from the old country, sitting silently with a tear rolling down his cheek.

“Grandpa, what’s wrong?” they asked with concern.

“Oh, nothing at all.”  He smiled at them.  “I was just marveling at how in America, a Buddhist can give a Jew a Christmas present made by a Hindu.”

Part of that “Show, don’t tell” advice for writing manifests in many ways.  One arena that illustrates this is when emotions come into play.

The anecdote above offers very modest examples.  In the name of brevity it tells us about some of the emotions being experienced:  The family was amused before they became concerned about Grandpa.

But a couple of small illustrations are also thrown in:  The tear silently rolls down his cheek before he smiles.

The trickling tear might be considered a bit clichéd, but one could argue it works here because it denotes joy instead of sorrow.  But if you have a character who gets scared a lot, how many ways could you convey that without resorting to making his knees knock together?

Trembling or choking back a scream or wetting his pants can provide a few options, but it might take a little research on that behavior to remind you that a racing heart or rapid breathing or an overactive imagination can also signal that emotion.

So get in touch with your feelings and write it down.  Emotion is one of those aspects all genres have in common.

An overactive imagination, huh?  I didn’t realize all this writing scares me that much….

Cover Story

News flash:  Books get judged by their covers.

The design on a cover helps to convey information beyond the title.  If the words Bug Out is emblazoned across the page, the imagery can help determine what it’s about.  Are military forces pictured?  Must have something to do with troops relocating.  Do we see shivering insects?  Must have something to do with pest control.

But the design on a cover can also capture a reader’s attention.  If a book entitled Full Moon Tonight only shows – you guessed it – a full moon, a potential reader may pass it over.  If a snarling werewolf is pictured, people looking for that kind of story will be drawn in.  And if we see a werewolf’s derriere, then you can figure the story will be … ahem … quirky….

Getting a good cover designer is important.  And for tightwads like me, getting a good cover at a good price is … priceless.

Lo and behold, the designer I’ve enjoyed working with is running a 20% off sale until December 28.  Her prices are great to begin with, so the sale makes getting a cover even more affordable.  If you’re in the market to get a cover designed, check out her portfolio at VilaDesign, and mention you heard about the sale.

Let me be transparent here:  I’m not getting any special kickbacks for mentioning this.  My only benefit is it gave me a topic to ramble about this week….

Writer or reader or both, think about what covers popped out at you.  It is an art form to be appreciated, even adding to reading enjoyment.

Now on to other stories….

Standing on the Shore

Ita strode into the medical ward.  Choking back tightness in her throat only seemed to push it down to her chest, and the sight of half a dozen terminal patients lying in beds on either side of the room increased the sensation.  Most were accompanied by monitoring equipment.

The only other person present was an elderly nun in a light blue habit.  She looked up from an emaciated girl whose hand she grasped, then murmured something to the patient before stepping toward Ita.

“How may I help you?”  Her voice was thin yet warm, like a shawl offering comfort on a cool summer evening.

“I’ve come to see Oswald Taggart.”  As her eyes swept across the room, Ita spied her grandfather on a bed near the far wall.

The nun nodded as her gaze matched.  “He’s weak, but coherent.  The priest has already been here.  Unless there’s something you’ll need, I’ll leave you be so you can visit.”

“Thank you.”  The significance of the nun’s presence flashed into her conscience.  Mere hours ago the evacuation to the space ships began.  People all over the world discovered there was an escape plan, a last-ditch effort to elude once and for all the enemy that had hounded them for decades.

But the plan also had to address the reality there would be individuals too weak to embark upon such a journey.  Volunteers stepped up to minister to the dying, and to remain behind to ultimately die with them.

Why now?

No sooner had the evacuation begun than Ita received word her grandfather had collapsed.  Leaving her own duties in capable hands, she sped across a quarter of the globe to reach him.  It was probable none of her aunts, uncles, and cousins had time to visit Oswald in his final hours.  They had to escape quickly … before the enemy Elite caught up.

The blankets failed to disguise how he looked thinner than the last time she saw him around three months ago.  Work on this project, a job he’d handed over to her, had kept her away for too long.  If only she had been better about staying in touch….

“What brings you here?”  His eyes opened upon her approach, and he smiled.

Only then did she notice the audio sensor attached near his ear.  Oswald had been deaf for over a decade, but he must have consented to using this device in order to artificially hear what others needed to say to him.

Ita sat on the bed’s edge and grasped his hand.  “I came as soon as I found out, Grandpa.”

“It seems our journeys will be separate now.”  His voice was weaker, but his speaking still had the flat tone that developed after he became deaf.

“No, we’re supposed to travel into space together.”  Ita leaned closer to him.  As the youngest child of his youngest child, she always remembered him with gray hair, but until now he’d always been strong.  It was difficult to see him this way now.

But the glint of oil on his forehead suggested the priest had been here more recently than she’d assumed, offering an incomprehensible consolation.  Its shimmer was subtle, a reminder that humility was a potent charm and strength surged far beneath the surface.

“I always wanted to see the stars in their own element.”  Oswald closed his eyes, but his smile deepened.  “Though it seems I have other business to attend to.  And where I hope to head now will be even more spectacular.”  His eyes opened.  “When we see each other again, which I pray we will, you can tell me all about it.”

Her own eyes burned as she squeezed his hand.  “It won’t be the same without you.”

“Just pretend that Deuce is me.”  His gaze locked on her face, and his smile grew crooked.  “You have refrained from shooting him, haven’t you?”

She couldn’t resist smiling back.  “I nearly did, once.  But since then….”  She hesitated.  Oswald didn’t know about the bomb Deuce insisted be implanted in his chest.  The Elite had gotten wind of their evacuation plans, and in order to keep the project protected, he had to insure they never captured him and discover information that would bring ruin to everyone.

The willingness to sacrifice himself began altering Ita’s perception of him.  He once numbered among their enemy, and she considered him to be only a cold-blooded killer.  But lately she started admitting he exhibited appealing qualities, like discipline and humility, she’d hitherto ignored.  In fact, if he didn’t have his hands full with overseeing security to encourage success in launching the ships, he’d be here with her.

She decided to not worry Oswald about Deuce’s predicament.  “I forgave him.”

“And that right there is proof that miracles do happen.”  His eyes closed again, and his next breath staggered a bit.  When he spoke again, his voice was hoarse.  “Ita.”

“I’m still here, Grandpa.”

His eyes opened, and she could have sworn they blazed with the wonder of a child on Christmas morning.  His smile matched, and the decades seemed to slough off as though he were a young man again, the fullness of life ahead of him.

“Don’t be afraid … we are surrounded by light.”

She was so focused on his smile that she didn’t notice the radiance of his eyes dim until realizing his hand no longer clasped hers.  Ita felt her own breath shudder as her eyes began burning again.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”  The nun’s warm voice must have come from behind her, but it seemed to travel from every corner of the room.  “I’m aware of your grandfather’s work, how it will save all these people.  He’s brought great blessing to us all.”

Ita glanced at the woman destined to die with this remnant, and nodded.  As her attention returned to him, she appreciated his peaceful expression, and noticed again the oil on his forehead.

The chrism continued to shine.

###

So here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the word this round was Charm.  With a word like that, there’s bound to be some delightful stories, so be sure to check them out!

If you’re new to this serialization of short stories I’m compiling in a novella, you can find the previous installments on my Blog Battle Short Stories page.

Charm … such a nice word to end an interesting year on…

Euphemistically Saying

Once upon a time within the last couple of years, the extended family was sitting by a poolside and chatting.  Somehow the topic came up that any word beginning with the letter “B” and ending with “itch” could never be good.  Our older son asked, point-blank, “What about belonavitch?”

I know, it’s one of those things you had to be there and hear his tone of voice, but the word cracked up our group.

Don’t belittle the euphemism.  It can soften a blow, such as saying “The dog went to that squirrel-filled park in the sky” instead of blurting “Puddles died.”  It can also be slyly humorous if instead of stating “These leftovers went bad” you announce “I found another science experiment.”

There are, of course, different levels of evil that euphemisms can take (does the Orwellian term doublespeak ring a bell?), coming into play when they say resettlement instead of death camps, or speak of unity when they really mean submission.

While writing as a whole should be direct and concise, it’s subtleties like this which give it a different level of flavor, like adding a teaspoon of curry to potato soup.  And because I always try to be “family-friendly,” euphemisms work well when bluntness wants to be an instrument of mass destruction.  Words like heck, shoot, and darn get lots of mileage.

Speaking of mileage….

Shortly after we discovered a new word at the poolside, Hubby got a new smartphone.  He decided to try out the GPS function on it (I’ll admit there have been many times I looked up from the map just in time to say “We need to turn – on that road we just passed.”), and quickly confirmed what we already knew:  Don’t trust those things.

Oh sure, they can be helpful with finding locations in cities, but in the country they often turn out to be garbage (I’m being euphemistic).  They do things like take you on dusty gravel roads when there’s a more direct route on blacktop, or send you to a golf course instead of the home you’re trying to locate.

It didn’t take me long to assign a name (you know, like Siri or Alexa) to the GPS program on Hubby’s phone.  You guessed it:  He knows what I mean when I speak of Belonavitch.

Yes, you heard me, Belonavitch.  The paper map in our car won’t become a science experiment anytime soon….

Distractions, Distractions

The other day I glanced out the window overlooking the shed where we store the animal feed.  Our younger cat was crouched at the bottom of the steps, and a bulbous form with a long tail was protruding from the end of his muzzle.

Good, the next-to-last thing I want is mice eating up food meant for livestock and pets (the last thing I want is them moving into the house with us).

As the cat proceeded to play with his fresh snack for the day, he repeatedly looked away as though he heard something or wondered if anybody was watching (which I was, but not where he could see me).  Although he appeared easily distracted, his tasty tidbit never succeeded at escaping.  The activity reminded me of my own predicament with writing.

Coming up with ideas for the next book has never been a problem.  What is a problem, however, is the next book has a tendency to intrude while I’m writing the current one.

While working on the four-part End of an Age series, this was actually a bit useful.  Knowing what was coming next helped with setting up scenes in the current book.  But now that I’m drafting part four, the next novel (totally unrelated) keeps creeping into my thoughts when I’d rather stay focused on the present tale.

And the fact I’m serializing a “prologue” to the next book doesn’t help.  I’m feeling easily distracted….

This is also the month of NaNoWriMo, when many writers are trying to meet the challenge of spitting out 50,000 words in a readable context.  And plenty of them are also trying to cope with distractions.

 

Pixabay.com

We could take a lesson from the cat:  No matter how many times we look away from our work, it’s never out of mind.  No matter how many times it may appear our projects will escape, we always jump back on them.  Persistence, persistence….

Okay, it’s time to stop distracting you and get back to that writing project.  I’ll bribe myself with enjoying a savory treat when it’s finished … although I prefer mine well-done….

The Red Sea

“So why didn’t you call it Noah’s Ark?”  The awe and marvel over all the structural and technical engineering surrounding them subsided enough for Deuce to ask a long-standing question.

He watched Ita’s frown from the corner of his eye since he knew better than to make any direct contact with her.  She had finally brought him on board one of the spaceships scattered, hidden, around the globe, a spectacular behemoth that offered hope for everyone … but very few knew about their existence.

“For one thing, Noah had it easy.”  She never looked toward him.  “All he had to worry about was his own family and two of each animal and one boat.  Our mess is more like what Moses had to contend with.  We’ve got multiple nations and all their livestock and rootstock, and have to keep them alive on several ships in the desert of space for multiple generations.”

He nodded.  “Recreating a miniature facsimile of the world and condensing it to a dozen interstellar ships still sounds like an enormous risk.  Space is a vacuum that’s otherwise sprinkled with colliding asteroids and lethal radiation.”

“No more risky than having the Elite attack us relentlessly, where they either annihilate us or we have to annihilate them.”

“You’ll remember Pharaoh’s army got drowned in the Red Sea.”

She almost cast a sidelong glance toward him.  “Pharaoh’s army, not the whole of Egypt.  And drowning the army is your job.”

Yes, figuratively speaking, that had been the focus of his assistance over the last few months.  Once the exodus began, the Elite would do anything to stop them, even shooting the ships out of the sky as they launched.  He had been coordinating defensive measures around the Earth, and each location had different parameters around which to devise strategy.

But less than two days ago he learned of a detail which dictated there was another part of his plan he would have to implement if they were to succeed.

“I apologize to prevail upon you with a request.”  Deuce knew to get to the point, but this entreaty needed some prefacing.  “But there’s a matter, concerning that job, I need your help with.”

The furrow in her brow deepened.  “This had better be good.”

“I need to have a bomb implanted, preferably in my chest.”

Ita stared at a display panel on the wall behind him, and didn’t respond for a few seconds.  “Why?”

“Standing orders have always been to kill on sight any IMP like me that defected.  Instead, they tried to capture me at the last raid.  It’s a miracle the Red Sea stayed secret all these years, but that action can only mean the Elite have begun to suspect you have a project like this.”  He drew a deep breath before continuing.  “If they capture me, they will find out about it.  I can’t defend my knowledge from the central data core.  So … I must ensure they never make that capture.”

Her frown remained, but there was something pensive in how her lips pressed together.  “You would really blow yourself up?”

Odd, he’d expected a more positive reaction from her, like a quip “Consider it done.”  Ever since the first day they met, Ita made it clear she despised him for killing her father.

Deuce wasn’t sure whether to bless or curse the fact he couldn’t remember the man.  On the one hand it was nice not to look at her and recall the final few seconds in the life of a defender performing above the call of duty.  On the other, he would have liked to acknowledge the eminence of such a person, perhaps even confirming her father’s bravery.

“The blast must be sufficient to shatter my remains beyond reparation.  I’ll need it set up where only I can detonate it, and I must have several options to do so should any avenue become inaccessible to me.  And since this procedure must remain as secret as the Red Sea is, we need as few people as possible involved to insert the implant.”

Ita continued gazing at the wall as though she spied an instrument that didn’t belong.  “You need me to contact the right people?”

“We’ll also need to override the security protocols that would detect the implant.”

She studied the panel for several more seconds before responding, her words proceeding slowly.  “An ion bomb is small enough to do the trick, but as far as the programming … I know a woman who could probably help.”

Her statement didn’t surprise him.  With every able-bodied man needed for combat, the supportive fields of medicine, technology, and engineering were heavily populated by women.  Ita’s role in the Red Sea kept her in touch with the most pioneering individuals.

“We need the procedure to be completed promptly.”  A surreal sensation pulsed through him as the reality of what they were discussing began to solidify.  His entire life he’d been conditioned to accept the possibility of death on the battlefield, but to personally sacrifice himself carried weightier implications.

“I’ll stress its urgency.”  For a couple of seconds her gaze darted to his face, and then she turned aside and muttered, “You always have to keep us on our toes with surprises.”

“What do you mean?”

Ita hesitated and glanced back at him.  Her eyes met his for another couple of seconds, and her impassive expression continued to puzzle him.  She turned aside again and began walking away.

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

Too bad, Deuce thought.  That would have qualified as the nicest thing she ever said to him.

###

So here’s the next installment of my serialization for #BlogBattle this month.  The word this time is Miniature, which kind of like abbreviation seems like a pretty big word for a small thing….  Be sure to check out their website for other stories submitted this month.

If you’re new to this novella in progress and want to catch up, you can find the previous stories on my Blog Battle Short Stories page.  Have a prosperous November!

Heading My Way?

Ah, heck, Halloween’s coming.  I think I’ll toss out a ghost story and call it good….

In the neck of the woods where I grew up is a hill known as Breakneck.  In the horse-and-wagon days it earned that name because the road carved into its steep slope could be treacherous.  A tomato-canning factory operated at the bottom, and it was said the horses sometimes fell and broke their necks when laden wagons pushed too hard on them.

Places where trouble (and maybe tomatoes) tends to brew will inspire a few stories … none of them particularly pleasant.  Even after the factory shut down and automobiles began replacing equestrian roving, Breakneck’s reputation didn’t fade.

One night a fellow drove his Model T Ford (or its equivalent) down Breakneck hill.  Well, almost….

His horseless carriage got a flat tire.  Now this was on a dirt road in the early 1900s, but dirt is an imprecise description.  The Ozark hills are eroded mountains, so we’ve got plenty of rocks, one of which might have been the culprit that caused the flat.

And in those days you didn’t just swap the flat tire out with a spare.  You removed the inner tube from the outer tread of the damaged tire, aired up a new tube with a manual pump, and put the whole caboodle back together again.

Our hapless motorist was in the middle of pumping air into the tube when another gentleman walked past him.  This in itself was a bit startling, since he thought he was all alone.  As he looked up, the gentleman calmly told him, “Good evening.”

But there was something very wrong with this gentleman.

He was holding his head in his hands.  No, his hands weren’t raised to cradle his cranium.  Instead, he was toting his noggin at waist level, much like carrying the biggest tomato you ever saw.

The gentleman continued trudging past and disappeared into the night….

I was never told the details about what speed our traveler employed, but he proceeded to pack the tube, the pump, the tire and the jack back into his car.  He then drove home on the rim. Not the scariest ghost story you’ve ever read, but odds are the next time you get a flat tire during the night on some quiet back road, this gentleman, or a tomato, just might come rolling out from the back of your memory … so Happy Halloween!