Patagonia

You know what I’ve always hated about this sort of thing? The lack of sensation. You’re flying through the empty void of space…and, yes, mister smarty-pants, I know that space isn’t ‘technically’ empty. There’s radiation, fine particles of space dust and ice, black matter or dark matter or whatever the hell they’re calling it these days, so I get it, but it’s practically empty. Anyway, you’ve jumped or been pushed or shot out of a tube (as in this particular case) and are nothing more than a projectile. An incredibly accurate one, as there’s no wind or gravity to alter your trajectory, so you’d best hope that whoever programmed the aiming and firing solution knew what the hell they were doing.

But, so, anyway…there’s no friction, no wind whipping past, no sound except the constant huff of your own breath and the occasional bit of communication in your helmet. “200 meters. Almost there.” Motia’s steady voice kept me from puking or shitting my suit or both. The Patagonia was coming up fast, and the whole thing was surreal and deceptive. She had no external lights on her hull, which was some dark steelskin anyway. That meant that just the slightest outlines and edges were going to be visible until we got closer. The faint glint of starlight tracing the edges of the massive derelict was all we had to gauge not only the girth of the thing, but how fast we were approaching it.

“100 meters. 75.” Damn, we were moving.

I hate this stuff, but Ray fuckin’ loves it. Of course he was the first one to the hull. The ship grew until it filled most of my vision, but it was still so dark that I had that terrifying sensation of trying to find a doorway in a pitch-black haunted house, your hand just out there in the void, flailing around until it touches something, then you nearly scream, before your synapses relay the information that what you came in contact with was, in fact, drywall, and not, as your primitive brain stem initially guessed, a monster with rows of serrated teeth. That’s what was going through my mind right before I got confirmation of Ray’s touchdown.

“Oh, yeah, you big black bitch! I’ma walk all over you and not even take my shoes off!”

“Ray, you’re almost there. Don’t forget—“

“I’ma seriously fuck up your carpet and drag my ass across you like a dog with ringworm!”

“RAY! Inertial recoil, NOW!”

“Oh, shit, watch! Cannonball time, suckaz!”

“Don’t ball up, god damn it!”

Then I felt, more than heard, the soft thud of Ray’s suit deploying his IDAR system, which stood for Inertial Dampening Anti-Recoil. We’d copied it from some old alien weapons, and it was a pretty crafty bit of reverse-engineering. It was currently saving Ray’s life, but if the fool didn’t plane out, there was a good chance he’d still skip off the hull and careen into the far reaches of space. But Ray lived for the rush, so there was no telling how it was going to go. We hadn’t lost him yet, but we all sort of knew that it was a matter of time, even though I felt that his end would somehow involve a flaming broadsword, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and about a thousand pounds of TNT. Skipping off a derelict spacecraft just wasn’t his style.

Shit, I hadn’t even been paying attention. Motia was chirping in my ear.

“Any time now, dude. You ain’t Ray. You need to stick this.”

POP POP POP POP POP went my suit as the IDAR rig did its thing, followed by the PUFF-UFF-UF-FFF and all of a sudden the big ship in front of me didn’t seem to be growing as quickly, and then there was a soft clanking noise…and that was it.

“Okay, you’re there. Bolt on, please.”

The whole trip is surreal, because, again, you have no sensation of speed. All of a sudden you’re just there. Without the IDAR system, I’m not sure how we would have done it, except maybe with bulky thrusters…but those would require fuel, along with a fine-tuned and well-timed deployment. Way above my abilities. No matter what, though, I was eager to use the “bolt poker” (really sort of like an old pneumatic nail gun, only this beauty fired rivet bolts into the skin of the craft, one, two, then I was able to attach my lanyard, double-secured, to insure that I wouldn’t float off. I mean, I was still anchored to an abandoned space ship. We were still careening through space. Without my suit, I’d suffocate, freeze, and be burned by cosmic radiation. We were still a million miles from Earth (our Earth!) But in that moment, I felt as secure as I was ever likely to. So weird, the things one gets accustomed to whilst jaunting through multiple universes and star systems.

“All accounted for?” Motia was doing a headcount.

“Brubaker here.”

“Phillips, present.”

“Here!” I offered. “But I think you forgot to assign homework.”

“You know I’m ready, guys. Let’s do this!” I looked over at Ray and he had wrapped his lanyard around the gloves of his suit, tightly. He proceeded to extend his body out in a straight, perpendicular line, away from the hull. “Look! I’m Atlas! Or one of those old gods, you know? Like, if you looked from like, over there…and you were upside-down, it looks like I’m lifting this fuckin’ ship! Like Superman with a semi truck! WOOOO!!!”

“That’s great, Ray. So, what next?” Motia had a video screen on the inner part of her suit’s left arm. It gave her readouts on all the team members’ status; oxygen, energy, etc. She checked it and pursed her lips.

“Whelp, once Bru-meister cracks this bad boy, we slip in and make our way to the bridge. My guess is they don’t know we’re coming.”

“Wait…’they?’ Who is ‘they?” I sputtered.

“Well, I don’t know ‘em personally, but hell, figure about fifteen crew?”

“Ray! Are you fucking serious?” Motia stared at him, gape-mouthed and incredulous.

“Yeah, but, you know…surprise, motherfuckers! We’re here!” Ray laughed.

“This was supposed to be a derelict vessel! Abandoned! Ours for the taking! That’s how you described it! ‘Ours for the goddam taking!”

“Yeah, and we’re gonna take it! If it was empty, I’d have said ‘ours for the finding’ or some shit. Taking. That’s what we’re doing. I thought it was pretty clear.”

“Fuck.”

“Shit.”

“Fucking shit.” The rest of the crew expressed their exasperation. But we all knew that there was nothing else to do except cut open a hole, hope it wasn’t right in the middle of their rec room or whatever, glide in, and make our way through the cabins until we either killed, subdued, or captured all the occupants, then seize the ship and its contents. I really hoped there wasn’t any more killing. I had grown sick and tired of it. I guess that meant that my soul was still there, somewhere. Some guys just get numb to killing. It’s like they almost do it absent-mindedly, like a toddler picking his nose and wiping it on the couch. I just got sick of it, like I got sick of baloney when I was young and poor.

“Whelp, here we are. Brubaker, if you would be so kind as to create an entrance into this not-quite-abandoned space vehicle, we’d be much obliged.” Motia looked at her readout again. Her face told me she was doing calculations in her head. She must’ve come to a satisfactory conclusion to whatever problem she was working on, internally, because I noticed her nod, slightly, like she was telling herself. ‘Okay. We’re good.’

Brubaker began his cut. Again, it was disorienting to see the laser torch, but not hear it. Not hear the hull being sliced open. The good news was that nobody else would hear it either, hopefully…but the atmosphere inside the Patagonia, if life support was still operational, would conduct a lot more noise. Nothing we could do except wait.

I looked over at Ray. He was now ‘laying’ on the external hull with one arm drawn up under his head like a pillow, his legs casually crossed at the ankles. I heard his sigh in my headset.

“Guys…whatcha all thinking about?” he asked dreamily as he stared at the stars

“Murder.” Motia, through grinding teeth.

I noticed a dark shape float away from my vantage point, and realized it was the rectangular chunk of hull cut away by Bru’s torch.

“We’re in” he said, quietly, like he was already worried that the crew would hear us.

“Okay, let’s go.” Motia was first through the breach. I was so very relieved it hadn’t been Ray.

What I Did Last Summer

Everything. I did everything last summer. Want to know why I haven’t touched this blog in forever? Because I was doing everything.

Let’s rewind a bit. I began the summer chugging along professionally in a pretty sweet gig as copywriter/digital content specialist for Asher Agency. To sum that position up: I would come up with ideas for commercial campaigns. TV, radio, digital, print, whatever mediums we were going to use, and then the message or thought behind said concept. From there, I’d work with the other creative team members to shape it up into something that made sense and looked great, and we’d produce it. I’d cast actors, guide the graphic artists, write the actual “copy” or words (spoken by actors or printed on billboards, etc.), get it all produced, and then we’d throw it all out there into the world. The process is truly a satisfying experience, watching your ideas come to life, even if only for thirty seconds at a time or on a clickable strip of banner on someone’s website.

I must’ve been fairly decent at this, because I started getting nibbles. People inquiring as to my future plans. Recruiters asking “Hey, how happy are you at Asher?” Finally, an old compatriot called me up and basically offered me his job as creative director. He described the position to me thusly: “you’ll come up with ideas for commercial campaigns. TV, radio, digital, print, whatever mediums we were going to use, and then the message or thought behind it. From there, you’ll work with the other creative team members to shape it up into something that made sense and looked great, and we’ll produce it. Cast actors, guide the graphic artists, write the actual “copy” and then throw ‘it all out there into the world.”

Huh. So, of course I took it. A corner office with windows? A bunch of new business cards? Hells yes. So I took a new position doing pretty much what I did at Asher, only with more perks and a nifty title. So that was cool.

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Plus, I mean…a place to hang an old Robert August promo flyer (autographed!) and prop my Scottish claymore against a vintage photo of Fred Toenges?! SIGN MY ASS UP!!

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

 

My wife and I also decided to sell our house. We had lived, with our two boys (Simon is 12, Rhys is almost 9) in a nice, old (built in 1920) home in the Oakdale Neighborhood in Ft. Wayne. Tree-lined streets, gorgeous old houses…and very narrow, busy streets. No back yard to speak of. Or front yard, for that matter. In other words, charming as all hell but not conducive to bike riding or football tossing or anything else that growing young men want to engage in. So, when the market heated up, Heidi and I jumped at the chance, trading the urban pulse of the ’07 for the serene spaciousness of the ’15. It was a long, hectic process, selling the old house. Folks can be very particular and selective, even in a sellers’ market. It was stressful, especially since we purchased our new (current) home before we’d sold the old one. But in the end we persevered, chalking up another adventure on the Watson Family history. (An adventure that yielded a three-car garage and the chance to hang hockey equipment up without carting it all to the basement after every practice or game.)

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Basically from this…

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…to this.

BUT YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!

 

Actually, that’s not accurate. The “next” part. That’s not how this timeline played out. Sorry. I strive for realism, and that’s…that’s misleading. Clickbait nonsense. No, this is actually something that’s been simmering along for a while now, but in addition to my role(s) at a couple of different ad agencies this year, I had the opportunity to write for a fun, exciting new enterprise. The minds at Bound Publishing have come up with a mobile-specific reader, and are releasing serialized stories on it. One of the cool features of the Bound app (learn more here or find them in the iTunes store) is the ability to expand on the story via sourcebook entries, diary passages, bits of propaganda, etc. from the story universe. If you’ve ever seen the Star Wars sourcebook or any of the supplemental Lord of the Rings or Song of Ice and Fire materials, imagine being able to have those open to cross-reference whilst reading the novels or watching the movies. “Oh! The model that Luke is playing with is an actual Incom T-16…and later, during the Death Star briefing, he talks about bulls-eyeing womp rats in it! I always wondered what the T-16 looked like!” Well, the Bound platform is like that, with all sorts of artwork and specific expanded entries, and I was asked to write the sourcebook materials for a science fiction space epic called Purgatorio. Go get the app and download it and let me know what you think. It’s been a great experience, and the Bound guys have given me all sorts of latitude. It’s been pleasant and rewarding, in a very different way than the advertising life.

http://www.getbound.io

A mobile-based work of expanded fiction, based on a mobile-based FPS game. Welcome to the future, kids.

So a very full summer now gives way to a hectic fall, because, as many of you know, we’re at the cusp of hockey season. And I live with a hockey family. Both kids play, Heidi is a team manager for one kid’s team, treasurer for the other, and I coach the boys and play in my own ASHL beer league every Sunday. From now until April. And it’s awesome. And we wouldn’t change this life for anything. Which leads me to my other big news…

 

WHICH WILL HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL NEXT TIME!!

 

Seriously, I can’t talk about it, but it’s pretty rad. Talk to you later.

Ray & The Warthog

This is why I never take things for granted.

This time last week, I’d thought my life was pretty rough. My main point of misery centered on the contents of my tobacco pouch. The supply had dwindled, and what remained was dry, crumbling, and tasteless. My papers weren’t much better, being pages ripped from an old Bible I’d found in Silver City. Guess that’s karma. When you’re reduced to smoking Bible pages, maybe it’s time to rethink your life choices.

But oh, how things change. I’m getting some much-needed perspective. Cowered in a dry creek bed watching that damned A-10 circle back around, my cigarette-rolling prospects are the furthest thing from my mind.

If only Motia were here.

“I’ll send help. I promise,” she’d yelled over her shoulder. “Besides, it’s Earth. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Oh, it’s Earth, all right. One of ‘em. But it’s not just the where, as I’ve discovered in our travels. No, it’s the when. And seeing as how there’s an A-10 Warthog trying to raze the mining town about half a mile away (and, by virtue of proximity, me) I’m guessing I’m not the only person here that’s outside their original timeline.

It’s the damnedest thing, though. Seeing that flying anachronism, I think of the old Native American legend of the Thunderbird. Suddenly, shit makes sense. The Winnebago thought of the thunderbird as an omen of military victory. If you had a vision of one of the loud, lightning-hurling raptors, you were destined to become a great warrior. As I listen to the “BRRRR-R-R-R-R” of that thirty-mil and the throaty roar of the turbines as the thing flies low enough to send up a rooster-tail of dust and debris, I can imagine that the only way your run-of-the-mill War Chief in the 1800’s aboriginal population could even conceive of something like this would be through some sort of induced state.

And yet, here it is. No way this is a coincidence.

Footsteps, coming fast, crunching the dirt and rocks. I spin, the Navy revolver in my hand…and immediately aim it to the ground.

“Fuckin’ what is up, man!?”

Ray. It’s goddam Ray, here. Now. This is who Motia sent to help. And as he throws himself to the ground next to me, he reaches over my prone body to smother me in a huge hug.

“Good to see you, man! Sounds like there’s a lot going on. This looks interesting, no doubt. Dude, check this shit out…”

He pulls back, away from me, into a sitting position. I notice his garb for the first time. Ray’s pale blonde hair, the color if the inside of a banana peel, is back in a ponytail. His face and arms tanned so deeply that it’s hard to make out the detail in his tattoo sleeves. He wears what I can only call a pirate shirt…not the puffy, frilly, Captain Hook kind, but the roughspun beige linen sort with an open neck and billowy sleeves (which he’s rolled and pushed up over his elbows.)

“I shit you not, I’m first mate on a fuckin’ sloop of war! Check it!”

He turns his right arm over to show me a large swath of puckered, pink skin which runs from just over his wrist to about an inch below the crook of his arm.

“Cannonball burn. Know this: cannonballs are fuckin’ hot, son. This one nearly took my fuckin’ arm, and wiped this one dude out right at the knee, no joke. Dude stood there for like a microsecond, and then ‘fump!’ Over he goes. Unreal, dude. Oh, and—“

“RAY!” I shouted, louder than I intended.

“Right. Gotcha. Thunderbolt. Please explain.”

Thunderbolt. Or more accurately, Thunderbolt II. Damn, I’d forgotten. That was the official designation of the A-10. At least, in our timeline. In our universe. Ray seemed to read my thoughts, as he sometimes did.

“This is some real Dark Tower shit, my friend. Fuckin’ score.”

“That’s one way to put it. But the fact remains, that flying hunk of death is sort of in our way.”

Ray stares, and his hand absently tugs and strokes the tuft of corn silk on his chin.

Here’s the thing about Ray: he is fucking brilliant. Some people forget that. They lose sight of the fact that the guy could build an entire computer server and IT network from scratch, or that he’d spent two years in a Shaolin monastery or that his so-called “Superposition Drive Theory” was being seriously discussed (in an alternate timeline, anyway) as a viable means of interstellar, faster-than-light travel…an expression that he abhorred, because “You’re not traveling anywhere. You’re already there, you just aren’t aware of it!”

The other thing about Ray is that he’s totally nuts.

Well, that’s not completely accurate, either. He’s just…an unstable molecule. He’s chaos incarnate. When you scrap with him, the scary part isn’t his muscles or his training or anything, but the completely unpredictable, wild nature of his aggression. He and I scrapped once doing a thing on some damn world chasing down some quarry of Motia’s or whatever. It was a frustrating trip, and the trail had gone cold. We spent the night, all of us, drinking a whole crap-ton of this godawful booze punch we’d come across, and things got ugly. Everyone was cussing and punching, just pissed at everything out of general frustration and exhaustion. It bloomed into a full-on brawl, every creature for itself. Ray had thrown a good left cross at my head, one that I narrowly avoided. I countered by kicking him in the sternum. He grabbed my ankle and then did the unexpected. He could’ve twisted my leg, could’ve thrown me, could have done a lot of things, but what he did was to slam his forehead into the meat of my thigh. Hard. Yes, the fucker head-butted my leg. And that sounds crazy, and maybe even ineffective, but shit…imagine someone throwing a bowling ball, hard, and having it impact about three inches above your knee. My entire limb went numb. In all honesty, I couldn’t even stand on it when I came-to the next morning. The black, bone-deep bruise lasted weeks. It was horrible. Of course, when Ray saw it, he just laughed. Laughed and laughed. He cried tears of mirth and squeaked out “Oh, dude! Oh, shit! That’s why my neck hurts so bad! I tried to snap your leg with my skull, dude!”

Then a few days later, he’d saved my ass when we were ambushed by some Skinnies. That’s just Ray.

So he looks across the stretch of sand and rock and dust, through the waves of heat distortion rippling and blurring the horizon. And he concludes “That is definitely a jet airplane.”

Yes, it sure as fuck is.

“So, here’s the thing about jet airplanes. They need fuel. Lots of it, I’d imagine. So, this fucker is either hooked up with an alternate power source, which seems unlikely, the way it sounds and smells. Can you smell it? That oily, diesel-and alcohol smell? It’s on the wind. I think it’s him. It’s Mr. Buzzy. Or he’s got a refinery or some stash of fuel nearby. Not sure the range on these guys, but it’s gotta be finite.”

I stare at Ray for a second, then back to the grey-green terror swooping low again, strafing whatever it’s trying to kill in the town.

“Ammo, too…” I murmur. “Can’t have inexhaustible rounds, right? And it’s surely shooting projectiles. Those aren’t beam weapons.”

“Correct. So, ol’ boy there has a stash somewhere, hoss. I say we got find it and maybe end up getting us a flying machine. Dude, can you imagine? Ima take it back to my crew, back in the Caribbean.” Ray begins to cackle. “They will literally shit themselves, no doubt. CAW! CAW! DEATH CROW! CLEAR THE FUCKIN’ DECK!”

One thing at a time. It’s going to be dusk soon. And this strange quarry is going to fly off in one direction or another, I’m guessing. And we’ll track it somehow. And we’ll take it out somehow. And then I’ll double back to the mining camp and continue my quest. Maybe finally link up with Motia again. Jesus. Motia, the Indians, and now Ray. If we can just keep this crew together, we might just have a shot. We might just get things sorted.

And then, just maybe…maybe I can go home.

 

 

 

 

Pirate Trouble

You guys are in for a treat. For this entry, I’m handing off the blog to a very special guest author who happens to be my 10-year-old son, Simon. His writing is exemplary. It’s…real. It’s natural. It’s conversational. Did I mention he’s ten? Yeah, I know I’m a beaming, proud father, but don’t take my word for it: Simon received an A+ for this story. AN A+!! I limped across the finish line with a “C” in my collegiate creative writing class, so maybe it’s a bigger deal to me than it should be. No matter. That’s my kid. He’s got talent.

Without further ado, please enjoy “Pirate Trouble” by Simon Watson

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Original cover art by Simon Watson (marker on construction paper)

Boom! Splash! A cannonball shot at the ship I was being held captive on. Thankfully, it missed. This is that story.

I wake up sweating in my bed. I hear footsteps.I look at my clock. It is one in the morning. I look at the top bunk.

Kara, my sister, is there in a deep, deep slumber. I walk out to see what made the steps. I step into the living room only to see two bodies laying there. I look closer to see who they are.

Mom and dad. Both with deep cuts on their foreheads.

I ran back to my room and shook Kara so hard she almost fell out of her bed. She woke up both yawning and stretching.

“Hey!” She yelled. I answered with “Shhhh! Mom and dad are…”

“Mom and dad are what?”

“Dead.”

She looked at me with a “I think you’re lying” look.

“Come with me,” I said.

We stepped into the living room, and she gasped. She burst out crying. Tears running down her cheeks like rivers. She put her face into my chest and started sobbing even more.

All of a sudden, a voice came from the front door.

“I’ve got you now! The name’s Blackbeard and you kiddies are comin’ with me!”

Fear was frozen on Kara’s face. Suddenly he grabbed both of us by the arm.

“Ow!” I said. Blackbeard had a strong grip. “Let go!” I said, then kicked him right in the stomach. He stumbled back. And just when I thought things were going good, he tightened his grip on me, let Kara go, swung his fist, and knocked me out.

He must have done the same thing to Kara (I woke up to her yelling and screaming for help.)I had a burlap sack over my head. My hands tied behind my back with rope. Through the tiny holes in the sack I could see Kara. She was tied up the same way I was.Burlap sack on the head, hands tied behind the back with rope.

I looked out the holes again. The sun was out. Had I really been out for that long? Then someone came over an ripped the sack off my head. The sun burned my eyes. I closed them and put them into my legs. Then the same person untied my hands. I put my hands over my eyes. I could finally squint. After about a minute I could open my eyes fully.

I looked up and saw Kara. She was already standing up.

She walked over to me and gave me a big big BIG BIG hug.

“Lets. Jump.” She said under her breath.

“What?!” I said in a medium voice. “Okay, fine.”

“Ready? On three. One. Two. Three. GO!”

We ran and ran but then…we were lifted into the air.

“What the..?” We looked back.

Of course it was Blackbeard, holding us up by the backs of our shirts.

All of a sudden, someone yelled “NAVAL SHIP! RAM THEM!”

The ship jerked to the right. I fell to the ground. The naval ship must have seen us, because they started firing.

Boom! Splash! A cannonball shot at the ship I was held captive on. Thankfully, it missed. A couple of inches lower and my head would have been ripped off.

The next two missed, and the next one hit. And that’s when I said “JUMP!”

We ran and jumped off the side. We decided to get out of the way of the cross-fire so we didn’t get hit. We swam to the front of the naval ship and they dropped down a ladder. We climbed up and the ship sailed away from the pirates.

They dropped us off at an orphanage. A month alter we were surprised when someone came and got us. We now had parents They had a dog and a cat. It’s going out well.

Here Simon’s teacher makes the following note: “I’d end the story here”. Like he’s some sort of stinkin’ editor. THIS IS MY BOY’S ART! HOW DARE YOU! HOW…sorry. Maybe the teacher is right. Nevertheless, here’s the epilogue…

And then I joined the army. My arm was blown off by a grenade. Luckily, I knew someone. A surgical doctor. Dr. Kara. She fixed me up, and later I got married and had two children. One boy and one girl. Josh and Lilly. From there on I had a good life.

Shallow Grave

I was choking in my sleep, suddenly, and it scared me upright out of my slumber. It was terrifying, the feeling of dust or sand caking the back of my mouth. I coughed and retched, bile following phlegm up and out before I even knew what was happening.

And what the fuck actually was happening? My mind fumbled the last fleeting images in its cache. I remember shovels of dirt being thrown on me, a tarp of some sort being pulled back…later? Faces around me…Motia’s voice “Deader’n a doornail. Go ahead. Give him a kick.” Sharp pain, which felt all too recent…I felt the ribs on my left side: bruised and tender, the sensation wrapping around my back towards my spine. What the hell was going on?

“You need to shake off the dust! HA! Really is dust all over! And no shower for days, I think!” The instantly recognizable voice of Pappu, the Walker Between. That was what they called him here.

Here. Yes. I remembered. We were back in our Prime, but still a few long, hard galaxies away from actual home. Still, it felt nice being somewhere familiar, somewhere where the laws of physics acted like they had when I was a kid. My mind threw a bunch of images at me at once, and the way they stuck didn’t make me very happy at all.

I remembered Pappu grabbing my head in both hands, forcing me to stare right into his eyes as he held his own face inches from my own. “No! You look at ol’ Pap! No thinking yet! Here it comes and be strongly!” A flash of light accompanied by pain. A shallow grave. Drifting in and out of consciousness. The gasp of children witnessing something shocking or awe-inspiring. A name. A face. Bool. We had come here for Bool.

“Well, good morning, sleepy-head.” I turned to see Motia striding my way and nearly bobbled the canteen she tossed at me.

“Did you…did you zap me?” I asked as I unscrewed the cap. It’s amazing the things you never really appreciate until they’re scarce. I’d never realized that water had a smell until my travels with Motia. Sure. The sea has a scent, and so does stagnant, murky swampland, but just regular, clean, clear water smells so damned good when you’ve been without it. I guzzled, almost choking again, but pushed past it to quench the arid landscape of my dirty throat.

“Easy there, turbo,” she muttered as she lit a cigarette.

“What the hell? Tobacco?” I shot at her between gulps.

“Can’t get a vape in this word for nothin’. Besides, I think mine’s dead.”

“Fair enough. So, did you zap me, or what? I’m a bit foggy, what with apparently being shoved in a shallow grave by you and this scrawny brown fucker.” I nodded Pappu’s way. He smiled and waved back.

“Of course I did. It was your idea, dipshit.”

I paused. The canteen was almost empty anyway. I stared at her, waiting for clarification.

“You had to be dead. Bool has to believe you’re dead. So we made you dead. Mostly. Let the neighborhood kids come look at your corpse. They thought it was pretty rad, seeing a dead guy up close and all.”

“I make several good trade for to see you! Better than movies to kids!” Pappu nodded proudly.

A notion struck me just then.

“Did you let them kick me?” I glared at Motia, who glanced around at anything but my gaze. “Pappu?”

His smile melted like Paula Deen’s breakfast. Guilt replaced it.

“Not for free, no!”

“Got a good price, did ya?”

He nodded.

“Well, hey, that’s something at least, huh?”

Pappu laughed and clapped his bony hands together like he’d just seen Robin Williams in a sold-out 1980’s concert (and who knows, maybe he just had). Motia walked closer and offered me a drag of her smoke. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d had a cigarette, but knew it was a generous offer; no telling what she’d done or paid for a cigarette out here in the middle of whatever galactic cluster we were in. I took a modest drag. I sighed. Motia tried to assuage my self-pity.

“Every one of those little rugrats will tell everyone they know that they saw you dead, covered in a tarp, eyes rolled back in your skull. When asked, they’ll talk of how they kicked you…hard…”

“Oh, for a certainty.”

“…and how you didn’t move. Didn’t flinch. You’re a corpse, pal. And you can be gods damned sure our pal has heard the news.”

“You’re sure Bool’s here?”

“Yep. Our Navajo tracked him here, otherwise we’d have bypassed this system.”

“Shit.”

“Yep.”

“Well, let’s go get ‘im.”

Motia smiled wickedly, inhaled one last puff of tobacco, regarding the smoldering butt with a wistfulness she rarely displayed. I recognized it for what it was: homesickness. No way of knowing how many years had passed back home, or even if we still had a home to go to. Tobacco, clean water, safety…all in short supply these last few months.

She tossed the remnants to the dirt and ground it out with her boot heel. Motia removed her revolver from the flythsteeg holster, flipped the cylinder open, saw that it was fully loaded (she’d known it was, of course, but checked it periodically anyhow) snapped it back closed, and re-holstered her piece.

“After you!” She grinned.

Pappu was at my side, arriving there in his creepily silent way. He handed me my canvas pack, which I shouldered. It felt lighter than it had in a long time. Most of our provisions were gone. The pack hung rather slack, but I could feel the weight of our prize, the treasure we’d picked up on our last adventure, pulling the battered tan fabric down. It was a reassuring mass, telling me that maybe, just maybe, this whole damned thing was almost over.

I looked around, getting my bearings. I remembered which way this planet rotated in relation to its blue giant (it boggled my mind how huge that thing was, knowing how far away we really were from it, and yet how much of the sky it still took up) and headed what we’d call “east” back home. I stopped after a few steps, turned and called out to our Indian companion.

“Papuulu! You coming or what?”

He had crouched down near what had recently been my shallow grave, but stood when I hollered.

“I found the neatest bug!” He squealed.

“Outstanding. We’re heading this way, buddy.”

The tall, ancient figure shuffled hurriedly after us, nearly losing one of his garish plastic flip-flops in the process.

Motia snorted.

I tried unsuccessfully not to smile.

Motia’s most recent appearance in this blog was last June. You can read it here.

 

And Then THIS Happened

I waited.  I didn’t sleep.

 

I waited.  I mean, I was lying on a thin pad of a mattress.  A mattress that felt like it was stuffed with dryer lint and potatoes. A mattress shoved into the corner of the room, right on the greasy linoleum floor. Waiting, not sleeping.  Propped up on one elbow, stamping out one smoke and lighting another.  My legs were covered by grimy grey sheets which I’d pushed down in the middle of the night simply because my torso rejected the very idea of them.  The one tiny window (or rather, the hard blade of yellow sunlight coming through it) told me it was daytime.  I didn’t give much of a fuck what time it was.  The only company was the smoke and dust and a gnat or two that swirled through the shaft of sunlight, reminding me of the old Star Trek transporter effect.  I waited, and I had to pee.

The door exploding inward startled me.

No.  No, that’s bullshit.  It scared the living shit out of me, made me jump literally to my bare feet, hand flailing at my hip, searching instinctively for a weapon that wasn’t there. Hadn’t been there for days.

Fucking Motia.  Give that crazy witch credit, she knew how to make an entrance.  She liked to announce her presence with her boot flying into something it shouldn’t, whether it be a man’s junk, a flimsy wooden door (like right that second) or a pit full of timber rattlers.

Then you know what that maniac did?  She laughed. She stood there with that psychotic smile and laughed out loud. Laughed at me.  

She stifled the guffaw with a hand to her mouth.

“Get your shit together and come with me.”  All business, Motia.  “He’s waiting, goddammit!”

My arm hurt right above the elbow, a yellowish bruise from the last time she’d grabbed my carcass, hauling it out of yet another predicament.  I didn’t give her the chance this time, shrugging her off and side-stepping.

“Okay!  Jesus!  Let me at least grab a shirt and–”

She didn’t grab my arm.  She grabbed a handful of hair on the back of my skull and threw me out the door.  One-handed.  Hard.  Like I’d imagine a linebacker tosses his laundry bag down the stairs.

So that’s how I came to meet Dan.  Barefoot, stinking, shirtless. I smelled of last night’s booze and this morning’s stale nicotine and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten or showered.  Hell, I wasn’t even sure which one I wanted more:  to be clean or to be fed.

Except, of course, none of that is true.  Okay, let me switch gears here.

2014 has been the Ragnarok of Radio.  Yes, we’re going back to when I was in professional radio.  I lost my gig in June, for those of you that care and/or want backstory.  It was nobody’s fault, really.  I gave my employers enough of a way out, and they took it.  I won’t say it was amicable, but it really did work out for all parties.  And that’s all I’ll say about that.  I ended up being better off, and I’ll explain later.

But it wasn’t just me.  Ft. Wayne radio got shaken to its very core this year.  People got fired.  Lineups changed.  Stations disappeared.  Much of the change was actually just aftershocks from the big WOWO/Bob & Tom switcheroo from a few years previous, combined with a few new ownership groups playing chess with their properties.  The dust is still settling, and even though nobody likes the idea, the fact is that there could be more changes to come.  That’s business.  That’s life.  That’s radio.

But it wasn’t just this market. For God’s sake, South Bend got gutted. Ft. Wayne got shaken pretty hard. Some folks got displaced  (or left of their own accord) and found their way out of town. WAAAAAYYYY out, for folks like Chris Cruise, who’s now doing country (!) radio in the Pacific Northwest. Some folks are still waiting for a ride, and wondering if they should even try tho find another job in the biz.  And then there are people like Jenna.  The Jenna Raetor.  Former midday host at The Bear, and more recently employed as a social media guru and host at some station in California.  That is until she lost her gig there, too.  I’m telling ya, folks:  radio is a fucking pit of vipers and nobody knows what the hell they’re doing.  Remember that scene in Apocalypse Now where Martin Sheen asks the soldier “Who’s in charge here?” and the dumfounded guy responds “Aren’t you?”  That’s what radio is.  And that’s a big part of why I’m glad to be out.

So, what exactly am I doing?  I’m doing work, son!  My title is “copywriter” but as I quickly discovered once I joined the award-winning Asher Agency, that barely scratches the surface.  Yes, I write copy (the words, the text) for radio, print, and television commercials.  But I also conceptualize advertising campaigns, and come up with creative ways to get the message out.  I work with our graphic designers and artists, telling them what I want or need and then watch as they masterfully put it all together.  I storyboard TV shoots and cast the actors.  I pick the music for spots and the announcers. I direct.  It’s awesome.  As my friend and podcast partner Joe Schultz says “It’s like a modern-day Mad Men!”  And he’s absolutely right.  And it’s awesome.  And I am happy.  And it’s awesome.

EPILOGUE:  I’d long since tuned-out the beeping of the monitors or whatever the hell they were.  The distant low hiss of some respirator somewhere in the next room.  I just sat.  And watched.  I waited for her eyes to flicker open or something.  Anything.  It was terribly discomforting to see her like that.  I’d never seen Motia in any other condition but wild berserker blitzkrieg or falling-down drunk.  The person in that bed, the person recovering from surgery couldn’t possibly be the same woman.  And yet it was.

A grunting cough shook me from my reverie.  Caleb.  That guy hadn’t left her side for a second.  I don’t think he’d even slept.  And for most of the time since they’d wheeled her back in, he’d had his eyes bored directly into me.  The dude was a helluva watchdog, that was obvious.  He loved her.  That, too, was unmistakeable.

“Relax, cupcake.” I smiled at him.

“Hmmph.” He snorted back.  The only reason he tolerated my presence just then was because he knew that Motia respected me.  Sure, she may’ve tried to kill me a few times in the past, but there was a level of trust there.  Caleb’s huffing and puffing was his not-so-subtle way of saying “Thanks.  You can go now.”

He was right, of course.  She had a guardian.  A hulking, shaven-headed sentry with a snub .38 tucked into the back of his belt and brass knuckles in his left-front jacket pocket. It dawned on me that three of the most dangerous bastards I knew were in the room.  There really was no one that would dare mess.  Not here.  Not with her.  Not today.

I stood.

“Well, good luck.” I smiled.

“Brrrrrmmm.” Or something like that.  That’s what came out of Caleb’s throat

I smiled again in spite of myself.

 

(In all seriousness, get well soon, Motia!!)

One Last Job

Quick backstory on this thing.  I live in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and we’ve had one of the worst winters ever.  No, seriously.  Record amount of snowfall, record low temperatures.  Hell, one week the average temperature here was lower than either of the poles and all of Canada.  Absolutely true.

But then…suddenly…spring!  50 degrees!  Sunshine!  Melting snow!  And then…our dreams were dashed once again.  Tonight it’s supposed to start raining.  That rain will become sleet.  The sleet will become snow.  Up to seven inches worth, total.  Then, as the Midwest would have it, our high on Friday is once again near fifty.  It’s cruel, giving us a taste of Spring before hitting us in the nuts again with Winter.  And Winter isn’t going anywhere any time soon.  No, there are forecast highs in the 30’s off and on for the rest of the month of March.  It’s a goddam Greek tragedy.

As a bit of therapy, I had this little short story form in my head and decided to try and put it down in writing.  The formatting is shite because WordPress doesn’t let you import MS Word formatting without a great deal of coding and plug-ins and I’m sort of just throwing this together, so…try and enjoy it nonetheless!

    The bar was small and dim. Not pitch black, as there was a small rectangular pane of glass in the front door.  The glass had long ago been covered with what at one point must’ve been khaki canvas, but now resembled yellowed, dusty muslin.  It glowed faintly, but not enough for true illumination.  One interesting side-effect was the clear, black silhouette it presented whenever someone arrived at the doorstep

     At that hour, not quite midday, the place was almost empty.  There was Delores behind the main bar, her Salem hanging from the corner of her mouth and dropping ash while she perused the latest ‘Us’ magazine.  Slumped across her bar, sleeping or worse, was Dan.  Dan showed up each morning with a bag of McDonald’s breakfast burritos, sat down on his stool, and ate the burritos while drinking gin. He’d stir sometime after noon, shuffle to the men’s room for about fifteen minutes, then return and order rye. Nobody knew what Dan did (or had done) for a living or how old he was.  He was just there, and everyone was okay with that.

     The old man sat at one of two round tables near the front wall.  He could’ve picked one of the dirty, dark green-leather upholstered booths in the back.  That’s what he’d do if he were some rookie, some young fucker that’d seen too many movies.  He shook his head and smiled at the thought.

     “Who does that?” he mused.  “What dumb son of a bitch sits back there with no escape route, no way to outflank ‘em, no way to even see ‘em as anything but shadows against that bright light from the street?  Stupid.  Stupid fuckin’ kids, that’s who.”

      The old man couldn’t even recall being a kid, so ancient was he.  Anyone that knew him would agree:  he’d always just been…old.  An old man. 

     A dangerous old man. 

     That’s why he’d chosen that table.  It had a full view of the entire bar, and if someone were to burst through the front door, they might blow right past him. He’d be at their right rear-quarter, and have them dead to rights.

     He waited. He sipped his water, stirred the disintegrating piece of lemon until the seeds separated.  A rivulet of condensation ran down the outside of the Mason jar mug.  Another sip.  A glance at Delores and the immobile Dan.  Another sip.  Any second now.

     The room grew slightly, almost imperceptibly, darker.  A shadow at the front door.  It was time.

     The old man tensed.  The door swung wide, seemingly all by itself.  A pause, a beat…then the Company Man stepped in.  Double-breasted grey suit and matching fedora. He turned immediately and made eye contact.  He smiled.

     “Hello, Winter!  Sorry for making you wait.”  The Company Man doffed his hat and started towards the table.  Old man Winter’s tactical advantage was for naught, and both of them knew it. 

     The old man lifted his glass, finishing off the last of the water, eyes locked on his adversary.  He didn’t quite slam the empty jar, but brought it down with conviction.

     “What now?  What more could you possibly want?” He half-whispered.

     A bark of laughter flew from the well-dressed figure sitting casually on the other side of the table.  He had one leg folded, resting across the other, like he was sitting down to breakfast and the paper.

     “Well, you certainly get right to it, don’t you?  Got somewhere to be, Winter?  Hot date, maybe?”

     “None of your concern.  Don’t matter.  We had a deal.  Now it’s done.  Done, y’hear? I got no time for the likes of you, and don’t give a shit what you think.”

     “Don’t you?” the Company Man whispered.  His smile left his face, which somehow made him look less menacing. 

     “No,” came the terse reply.  The Company Man sighed.

     “You can save your glare for someone else.  This isn’t my fault, not my decision.  You know the way this goes.  You work until we say stop.”

     “I’ve done enough!  More than enough” Winter’s hands clenched into fists, and his nails pressed hard into his palms.

     “Not so.  We need one more job.  One more, and I swear you’re done for a while.”

     “One more.  It’s always one more.”

     “One more.  Then you can go, until we need you again.”

     Old man Winter leaned back in his chair, knowing that his protests were useless.  The Company would get their way, they always did. 

     “Why?  Why so much?  Why so…hard?  What have they done to deserve this?”  his old voice cracked, thinking of those that had already suffered and those that would continue to.

     “Not your worry.  Or mine. The Company doesn’t let us in on their plans, their schemes.  You know that.  It’s above our pay grade.”

     The Company Man leaned back as well, a reflection of old man Winter.  But while Winter’s body language whispered ‘resignation’ the Company Man’s stated ‘confident repose.’  They both sat, silent, unmoving.  After a minute passed, then another, the Man stood and replaced the Fedora on top of his head.

     “For what it’s worth, you know what I think?  I think this is more than a hit.  This is something else.  Do you ever question what they’ve done to deserve this?  Like, look at what they’ve done to Her.  Maybe we’re sending a message this time.  Maybe it’s payback.   I’m really curious to see what happens when they let Summer off the leash, if they ever do.  Just a thought.  An observation.  Maybe it’ll help you sleep.”

     The old man watched him go. 

     “One more job,” he muttered.  He wiped a hand down across his face, pinching the bridge of his nose.  One more.  Then it would be done.  Didn’t matter that Spring had jumped the gun.  It was cruel, sure, but not his concern.  The thought occurred that perhaps the Company had arranged that little bit of cruelty.  Give the poor bastards in the Midwest a chance to catch their breath, to let hope grow in their hearts, before slamming the frigid hammer down once again. 

     Cruel, yes.  But not his concern.  The Company Man was right about that.  Winter no longer cared.  The job.  One more job.  That was what mattered.  Then he could rest.  His cold, tired, aching bones could rest.

     One more job.

     He stood, and nodded at Delores, who, engrossed in the latest Brad and Angelina scuttlebutt, missed his parting glance.  Dan snored softly and gurgled.

     Winter turned and pulled open the front door.  The light was blinding, but he stepped out into the cold sunshine with ice in his heart.  The job.  The job was all that mattered.

     One more.