The Next Story Will Be...

...something that contains the line, "There are always choices. I've mostly found yours to be rather poor, though. I suppose that no longer matters now." This was suggested by Guy the last time I opened submissions, and I really liked it, but I figured I probably owed y'all the promised penguin story.

One of these days my dearest brother Turtle McTurtleson/Carrot St. Lettuce/Pantsy Von Pantsman or whatever he's calling himself right now will come up with something I'll use.

This one should be up sometime next week.


Open for Suggestions!

The month of Smarch is over and the season of Spring is upon us. Bring forth thine suggestions into the glorious light of the new year!

Penguins are not a legitimate suggestion. That was last week. ;P

I'll probably choose something tomorrow, if I haven't exploded my computer between now and then. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to check the FAQ. Or, you know, just ask in the comments.


Story 5

Geh. Sorry for the delay, guys. As mentioned in the previous post, I spent the first half of the month dying of plague. I then spent the second half of the month moving. 'Cause that's what I do. But the story is now finished.

I did actually write two stories fitting my criteria this month, but the other one was for a prompt that I totally missed the deadline on (due to staying up all night trying to finish everything before the deadline and then sleeping through the time when I was supposed to be doing revisions). So I'll only post that one if you guys ask nicely. It's got the detective guy from a couple of my previous stories in it, though apparently it takes place before he got a mouthy partner.

For the curious, this song went into the last couple pages.


Special Things

When Maya awoke, everything was dark. Her head hurt a little. The bathtub was not as soft as her bed. She clutched Mr. Tux a little closer and tried to go back to sleep, but her eyes were not sleepy. She sat up.

The bathroom was very messy. “We'll have to tell momma we didn't do it,” she whispered to Mr. Tux. “Otherwise, she might make us clean it up.”

The stuffed penguin sat back against the bathtub and said nothing, but in her head, Maya pretended he replied, “That would be terrible and no good, Miss Maya! Especially since we didn't do it! We were taking a nap!”

“That's right, Mr. Tux,” said Maya. “We were taking a nap the whole time.”

She stepped out of the tub, dragging Mr. Tux with her by a flipper. She took a few careful steps across the debris on the floor. “You better go first, Mr. Tux.”

She moved the penguin in front of her in slow, bouncing steps as they crossed the bathroom. She tried the light switch, but nothing happened.. Pale, gray light peeked through the crack of the door. She pulled on the handle, but the door didn't budge. “Wait here a minute, Mr. Tux,” she said, and set him gently on the counter. Then she grasped the handle with both hands and pulled hard.

The door groaned and creaked, and it slid open wide enough for a girl and a penguin to get through.

“You're very strong, Miss Maya!” said Mr. Tux.

“Thank you, Mr. Tux,” said Maya. She lifted the penguin down from the counter. “I'm not as strong as momma, but I'm much stronger than a penguin.”

“I'm glad,” said Mr. Tux. “Otherwise we might have been stuck in the bathroom forever.”

Maya pushed her way out the door, leading Mr. Tux behind her by his flipper. She looked around at the dim world beyond. Like the bathroom, it looked much different then she remembered. What had once been a big open room was now a mess of tangled junk and debris. She couldn't even see the stairs. “Where are we, Mr. Tux?” she asked the penguin.

“I don't know, Miss Maya,” said Mr. Tux. “It looks like a maze.”

“Yes, it does, Mr. Tux,” said Maya. “I wonder if momma knows someone turned the basement into a maze.”

“We'll have to tell her when we find her,” said Mr. Tux. “And don't forget to tell her we weren't the ones who messed up the bathroom!”

“Oh, right,” said Maya. “We have lots of things to tell her. Come on, Mr. Tux! We must hurry up and find momma!”

Together they started making their way through the maze. At first they crawled through tunnels and ducked under things, but soon they found the ground was wet and getting wetter. “I think it's turning into a lake, Mr. Tux,” said Maya.

Mr. Tux clambered up Maya's shoulders. “Oh, Miss Maya, I don't want to get wet!” he said. “I think I will have to ride on your head.”

“But you're a penguin,” said Maya. “I thought penguins liked to swim, since they can't fly.”

“I'm not that kind of penguin!” said Mr. Tux. “Besides, I can fly if I want to. You just have to throw me.”

“That's not flying,” said Maya crossly, but she let Mr. Tux stay on her shoulders as she made her way to some large boxes. They were both dry and sturdy, and she and Mr. Tux climbed carefully to the top of them. They looked around to try and get her bearings. “Where do we go from here, Mr. Tux?” she said. “I still don't see the stairs.”

“I think they're over that way,” said Mr. Tux. He gestured with a flipper to their left. “At least, I think I see something over there.”

“I think I see something, too,” said Maya. “Let's go over there. We'll try to keep both of us out of the water, ok?”

“Ok, Miss Maya,” said Mr. Tux.

Maya took Mr. Tux by the flipper and began hopping across the boxes. Then she made her way onto a little hill and then carefully across a wooden bridge. They crossed a river that came up to Maya's belly button, Mr. Tux once again riding on Maya's shoulders, and came at last to the place where they had thought they had seen something. Something below the water caught a shaft of light that had somehow crept through the ceiling. Maya set Mr. Tux on a nearby shelf and fished the object out.

“What is it, Miss Maya?” asked Mr. Tux.

Maya turned the trinket over in the beam of light. “It's momma's favorite bracelet,” she said. “The one grandma gave to her.”

“Didn't she lose it?” said Mr. Tux. “I remember she was very sad.”

“She lost it and we found it, Mr. Tux.” Maya tucked the bracelet safely into her pocket and hoisted Mr. Tux back onto her shoulders. “We'll have to return it when we get out of this maze.”

“But how will we do that?” said Mr. Tux as they waded toward another pile of boxes. “We came over here because we were looking for the stairs, but I don't see the stairs.”

They clambered onto the boxes. They sagged under their weight. Maya looked around the room again and didn't answer Mr. Tux. What if they were trapped here forever? The lake around them was growing deeper and deeper, the water rising higher and higher. Away in the darkness somewhere something shifted and fell with a splash. Maya jumped and screamed, slipping on the box island. Mr. Tux grabbed her hand with his flipper.

“Hold on, Miss Maya!” said Mr. Tux, and he pulled her back up to a dry spot on the island.

Maya curled up there and held tightly to Mr. Tux for a long time.

“Miss Maya, I'm scared,” said Mr. Tux.

“It's ok, Mr. Tux. I'm not,” said Maya, even though she was shaking all over. She told herself she was just cold, that she was holding Mr. Tux close for warmth, but doubts kept tugging at the corners of her mind. She took a few deep breaths and forced herself to her feet.

“We're going to find a way out of here,” she said. “We have to return momma's bracelet.”

Mr. Tux did not reply. Maya hoisted him back onto her shoulders. Then she closed her eyes and turned around in a circle carefully. She opened her eyes again.

“We're going this way, Mr. Tux,” she announced, and they headed off in the direction she was facing.

The water was nearly up to Maya's armpits now, and Mr. Tux clambered from her shoulders to the top of her head. She walked slowly so she could keep her footing, but she still stubbed her toes more than once.

Eventually they came to a wall and Maya turned to follow it. “This is the wall that goes by the stairs,” she told Mr. Tux. “I'm sure of it.”

Mr. Tux did not respond. He was tired from the maze and the darkness was putting him to sleep.

Maya brushed something with her toe and nearly lost her footing. She reached out a hand to steady herself and found herself gripping a thin, wooden beam set in the wall. The handrail! She had found the stairs!

“Wake up, Mr. Tux!” she said. “We've found the stairs!”

“Hooray!” said Mr. Tux. “Now we will finally get out of this maze!”

They made their way up the steps. Maya counted as they went... one, two, three, four. She stepped clear of the water and set Mr. Tux down on the next step as she tried to wring the water out of her clothes.

Mr. Tux gestured at the next stair. “Look, Miss Maya,” he said. “We're almost there.”

“I know, Mr. Tux,” said Maya. “Just a little further!”

She shook the lingering drips of water from her hands and took Mr. Tux's flipper. They continued up the stairs... five, six, seven.... But they could go no further. The way ahead was blocked by debris.

“Oh, no!” said Mr. Tux. “Miss Maya, what are we going to do?”

“We've got to find the door,” said Miss Maya. “This is just another part of the maze. The last part of the maze.”

She let go of Mr. Tux's flipper and began feeling around at the wall of debris, pulling free pieces that were loose and tossing them behind her into the water. Soon she had dug a small hole, and she ducked into it. Mr. Tux squeezed along behind her, holding tightly to her hand with his flipper.

Then the tunnel shifted. Maya coughed and choked as dust flew everywhere. Her left hand, the one holding Mr. Tux's flipper, was trapped.

Mr. Tux let go of her hand and tried digging her hand out. “Don't worry, Miss Maya,” he called through the debris. “Try to wiggle your hand free.”

Maya wiggled her hand, shifting and pulling, but it was stuck fast. Mr. Tux tried to lift the debris off of it, but it was just too heavy for his flippers. She blinked back tears. “We've got to keep trying, Mr. Tux,” she said. “We have to give momma her bracelet, and let her know about the basement and the bathroom.”

“We'll keep trying,” said Mr. Tux and Maya together. She wiggled and squirmed. She balled her hand up and rolled her fingers. She tried prying at the debris from her side. But it was no use. She lay back, panting, and sobbed softly. She spread her trapped fingers out and Mr. Tux took her hand again with his flipper. They lay there in the dark, silent and shivering. Mr. Tux patted her hand gently. Even penguins got cold at times like this.

Maya shoved her free hand in her pocket and pulled out her mother's bracelet. She could barely see it in the gray and the dust, but she held it in front of her face and thought about her mother. And it seemed to Maya that she could hear her calling from a long ways away, “Maya, Maya.”

“I can't come, momma,” Maya whispered to the bracelet. “I'm stuck.”

But the voice still called, “Maya, Maya.”

A man's voice answered, “Stay back, ma'am. It's too unstable.”

“Maya! Maya!” Her mother's voice was shouting somewhere in the distance. She could hear it. She needed to go to it.

“Momma!” she called. “Momma, I'm stuck!”

Her mother kept shouting. The man spoke again. “What was that?”

“Momma!” cried Maya again.

“She's in there!” said the man. “Ma'am, please, stand back. We'll get her out. Maya, can you hear us?”

“Where's my momma?” Maya called back.

“She's here,” said the man. “Hang on, we're going to get you out of there.”

Maya stroked Mr. Tux's flipper with her trapped hand. It was falling asleep. “Did you hear that, Mr. Tux?” she said. “The man is going to rescue us.”

They lied still and waited. Slowly the light around them grew. Maya looked up. A man stood above her, silhouetted against the sky. “Hold still,” he said. “Just a little longer.”

He prized her hand free of the debris, and as he lifted her up she reached for Mr. Tux. He grabbed her hand with his flipper, and she held it tightly as the man carried them away from the stairs.

He set Maya on her feet and looked her over. “Are you hurt?” he asked.

But before Maya could answer, arms clasped around her tightly and lifted her up again. She was in her mother's arms, and her mother was burying her face in Maya's hair. “Oh, Maya,” she whispered softly. “Maya, my baby.”

“Hello, momma,” said Maya. “Someone messed up the basement and the bathroom, but it wasn't me and Mr. Tux.”

Her mother didn't respond, but instead held her tighter.

“Momma, am I gonna get in trouble?” said Maya.

“No, Maya,” said her mother. She set her down gently and tucked a stray lock behind Maya's ear. “You're not in trouble, honey. Momma's just very glad to see you're alright.”

Maya hugged her mother. “I'm glad to see you, too, momma,” she said. “So is Mr. Tux.”

Maya's mother laughed as Maya held up the now very dirty stuffed penguin.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” said Maya. She fished around in her pocket again and held out the bracelet. “We found this in the lake in the maze, and we brought it back for you because you lost it.”

Maya's mother looked at the bracelet, then she folded Maya's hand back over it and wrapped her arms around Maya once more. “You keep it,” she whispered. “I've lost a lot of special things, but I've already gotten the best of them back.”


Hey, Guys...

Just a little update since it's been far too quiet around here. Between being sick and having horrendous problems with my internet connection, this story will be a bit late... but it is still coming.

Enjoy your Irish drinking holiday!


The Next Story Will Be...

After some careful thought and consideration, I'm going to cave to the peer pressure of you crazies this time and write something that somehow incorporates at least one penguin. You may now commence with your rejoicing.

It should be up around March 10th.

Dorks. :P


Open for Suggestions!

Confession time: I totally cheated on the last two stories. Both were 11 pages. I cut a full page from the beginning of Rural Stars before had finished and I still couldn't get it down to 10. Outside Procedure was almost 10 pages, but I really didn't want to leave it on a cliffhanger, so I stuck a few more paragraphs on the end so everyone knew how the arc wrapped up.

In general, I don't really like putting limits on my stories. I figure it's done when it's done, and then I can go back and refine it as needed. But that's kind of not the point of this blog. The point of this blog is to get me used to working in a limited format. So, hopefully I'll do better with this next one.

I'm going to be out and about this weekend, so I'll choose a suggestion tonight (Thursday), which will hopefully be up around the 10th. Feel free to leave suggestions below (or on my FB and G+ pages like you guys usually do :P ), and of course, if you have any questions re: suggestions, please see the FAQs.


Story 4

Little-known fact: Action-mystery is one of my all-time favorite genres to write.

As I was trying to create the characters for this story, a thought occurred to me. I already had a story about a pair of cops who occasionally deal with weird crap. So I decided that rather than build new characters for this tale, I'd pull them in and let you guys see a bit more of them. This led to me rereading my other cop story. It could maybe use a rewrite. And probably several more pages to flesh things out better.

But this isn't about that story. This is an entirely new story. Or maybe just a new chapter in these character's saga.

It was a lot of fun to write. I expect I'll see more of these two in the long run.


Outside Procedure

Terry inhaled deeply through his nose and exhaled slowly through his mouth. They always made this part look so easy in cop movies, but it never was in real life. Your heart pounded in your ears. Thoughts of the unknown tugged at the corners of your mind. The perp knew they were there. What if he was armed? They were always armed. What if he was waiting for them just on the other side of the door? Breathe in. Breathe out. Follow procedure.

“This is Detective Wilson of the Los Angeles Police Department,” he shouted. “We have a warrant for the arrest of Neil Billings, and we know you're in there. Open the door and come out with your hands up!”

He looked across the doorway. His partner, Bruce, shook his head. Billings wasn't coming out, and in the time it was taking them to follow procedure, he could be sneaking out the back door or setting up traps or.... Breathe in. This hadn't been standard procedure from the start. They had been asking questions at a neighbor's house when they saw him walk by. For a moment, they had locked eyes, and then Billings had taken off. Bruce and Terry had not hesitated to follow. Billings was an incredibly dangerous man. Breathe out.

They should have covered the exits and called for backup. First mistake. Too late now. If they didn't move quickly, that mistake might be their last.

Terry nodded toward the door. Bruce returned the nod. He stepped back from the door frame and kicked the door firmly just below the handle. There was a splintering sound as the lock gave way and the door swung open. Bruce held his gun ready and stepped into the house. Terry slid out of position to follow, but Bruce wasn't there anymore.

Terry kept his gun ready, eyes scanning. The living room stood before him. Bookcases lined the walls. An overstuffed couch and a coffee table sat in the middle of the room. A hallway led off to what looked like the dining room and kitchen. Stairs led to the upper floors on the left. A door to a closet or a bathroom was closed on the right. Nothing moved. There were no footprints on the carpet and no signs of life.

“Bruce?” said Terry softly. There was no answer. Cautiously, Terry stepped through the doorway.

He instinctively ducked his head and closed his eyes as he was hit by a blast of heat and light. When he opened them, the living room and the house were gone. Sand blew around him and the sun beat down overhead. A few feet away, Bruce was standing with a hand shielding his eyes, scanning the horizon.


The big man turned. “I was beginning to think you weren't coming, Terrence.” He grinned and gestured at the desert landscape around them. “I don't suppose you thought to bring water with you. Or maybe a plane to get us out of here.”

Terrence looked over his shoulder, expecting to see a door open onto an urban street, but all he saw was more sand. He waived a hand behind him experimentally, but all he felt was air. “Have you figured out where 'here' is?”

Bruce shrugged. “My hot-shot detective skills tell me it's a desert,” he said. “One of the sandy ones.”

“Good job, smart-ass. Any idea where Billings is?”

Bruce gestured at the ground with his gun. “Well, boss, one of the great things about sand is footprints are really easy to find in it. Barring that, if you squint over at that huge dust storm coming in, looks like there's some sort of civilization there. And I don't know much about dust storms, but I don't think standard-issue detective-style business suits over Kevlar are going to be much protection.”

“And the wind will blow away the footprints.”


Terry holstered his gun and headed off in the direction of the footprints. “Couldn't have done this without you, rookie.”

Bruce grinned wolfishly and holstered his gun. “Glad you finally see it my way, old man.”

By the time they reached the town, the winds had kicked up considerably. The sky overhead had turned from a blindingly clear blue to a dusty brown, and the footprints they had been following had disappeared as the sandy landscape began to shift like a gently rolling sea. Terry held his sleeve in front of his nose in a futile attempt to lessen the amount of sand he was breathing in. He and Bruce had considered taking off their jackets and using those, but decided against it in favor of keeping their shoulder holsters concealed. There were no procedures for what to do when one found one's self spontaneously in a desert, possibly in a foreign country, in the middle of a dust storm, but he was pretty sure asking for shelter while brandishing a gun wouldn't be very well-received. Not that looking like a pair of FBI agents was going to help much.

The village was surrounded by a wall of tightly-packed, sand-colored brick. A pair of heavy wooden doors stood in an archway, blocking the entrance.

“I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Auntie Em,” said Bruce, then he broke into a fit of coughing.

Terry didn't respond. He walked up to the door and pounded on it with his fist. They needed to find shelter or they might not last through the storm. He pounded on it again.

There was a creek of hinges and a peephole slot opened. Dark eyes looked out. “Please, let us in,” said Terry, pushing aside the thought that the doorman probably couldn't understand a word he was saying. “We need to take shelter from the storm.”

The slot closed. Metal grated on metal, and one of the doors swung open just enough for the men to squeeze in. A man wrapped from head to toe in loose cloth stood behind the door, holding it against the wind. As soon as they were inside, he pushed it shut. The storm was hardly any better inside. The man motioned for them to follow and ducked inside a building built into the wall. Terry and Bruce exchanged glances, squinting at each other through the sand, then followed.

The man shut the door firmly behind them. Outside, the storm beat at the building, sand rasping against stone, making the heavy wood shutters on the windows rattle. Inside, the room was small and only lightly furnished. An arched hallway led away from the room, sloping gently with the curve of the town's wall. Two chairs sat at a heavy wooden table. A stone fireplace was nestled in one corner like some sort of huge bird's nest. A basin and a pitcher sat on a smaller table near a large ceramic jar. The man unwrapped the cloth from his face. He drew some water from the jar and poured it into the basin, then dipped a towel in and ran it over his hands and face. “You are not from here,” he said in clipped English.

“Hey, this guy's almost as good as me,” Bruce muttered as he brushed the sand from his shoulders.

Terry raised a hand to silence him. “No, we aren't,” he said.

The man nodded, apparently ignoring Bruce's comment. He rinsed the towel in the basin and handed it to Terry.

“Thank you for letting us in, “ Terry continued.

The man shrugged. He refilled the pitcher and began pouring water into a few ceramic cups. “Ba'atar said to make sure you were taken care of if you came. I am simply following his wishes.”

“Ba'atar?” asked Terry.

The man nodded and handed them each a cup. “He said if men in foreign clothes came, I was to offer them shelter until the storm had passed and he could meet with them. And here you are, so I have given you shelter.”

Terry tapped his fingers on his cup. “Who is this Ba'atar?” he asked. “How did he know we were coming?”

“Ba'atar is a wanderer who comes through here from time to time,” said the man, “usually when something has happened that we cannot fix. He said maybe some men had followed him through the doors between the worlds. Given your dress, I must think he meant you.”

Billings. Of course he had expected them. They had chased him right to his front door. But now what? There were no procedures for what to do when you spontaneously found yourself being held prisoner in a desert town in God only knew where. Breathe in. It was easier without the sand constantly blowing around him. Investigate. They still had their guns, and this man, at least, looked unarmed. Then again, Billings had killed four men without firing a single shot.

“You said he shows up when something happens that you can't fix,” he said. “What happened this time?”

The man swirled his cup gently and stared into its depths. “There were criminals, terrible men. He had tracked them here, and then he chased them beyond the doors.”

Terry and Bruce exchanged confused looks. “The doors between worlds?” asked Terry.

The man nodded. “Ba'atar holds the keys to the doors. It is how he comes here, even though most everyone else has forgotten our village exists.”

“Is that supposed to be a metaphor for something?” said Bruce.

The man's eyebrows crinkled up. “A what?”

“The doors between worlds,” said Bruce. “I mean, does that mean he has a jet or a car or something that can get us out of here?”

The man blinked in apparent confusion. “He holds the keys to the doors between worlds. Forgive me, I know little of the language beyond the doors. Perhaps the keys are called 'jet' or 'car' there?”

“I sure hope so,” said Bruce, “though usually the only thing we call keys is keys.”

This wasn't getting them anywhere. They may have been trapped, but this man at least seemed willing to provide them with information. And information could save their lives. Breathe out. Take a step back. Get a feel for your surroundings. “Where are we, anyway?'” he said. “Does this place have a name?”

“You are in the town of Al'eratish in the Desert of Forgotten Ways,” said the man.

“So... is that in, like, Africa, or the Middle-East?” said Bruce.

The man stared at him blankly.

Terry thought back to the house and the blast of heat that had met him when he stepped over the threshold. “No,” he said. “It's beyond the doors between worlds.”

“Christ, Terrence, not you, too.” Bruce sniffed at his cup, and Terry noticed he had not touched its contents. He didn't blame the younger man. One got suspicious of a lot of things when they were saddled with him as a partner. Bruce, unfortunately, seemed to get suspicious of all the wrong things.

“Those men your Ba'atar was chasing,” said Terry, “what was their crime?”

The man stared at the floor and said nothing for a long moment. Bruce tapped a foot impatiently, but Terry leaned back against the stone wall and waited. The man's eyes flicked to them and then back to the floor. “They showed up in the desert and asked for shelter, much like you did,” said the man. “Of course we took them in. There is little around here, and if one does not know the desert well, it will take their life without mercy. But they were not men like us, nor like we had seen before.”

“So their crime was being different?” said Bruce.

“Perhaps,” said the man. “Every man has a fire inside him, but the fire in these men was too great. It overflowed from them through their skin, and with it they scarred those who did not bend to their will and consumed those who dared to challenge them. Then Ba'atar came, and they fled through the doors. Until then, we had thought only Ba'atar had that skill.”

Bruce raised an eyebrow, then shook his head and rubbed his temples. “I know I'm going to regret asking this,” he said, “but how did this Ba'atar drive off men who could apparently turn themselves into fire?”

“Ba'atar is a man of many skills,” said the man. “He also has a great fire within. He has never used it to hurt any of our people, but he used that and his blades to drive them away.”

As Bruce groaned outwardly, Terry groaned inwardly. This was why he never got any promotions. Somehow or another, it was always the weird cases that ended up on his desk. And now he wouldn't just have to figure out how to explain being dropped into another world. He was also going to have to amend all his previous reports on this investigation to somehow account for people who could turn into fire.

Because those kinds of things totally flew with the Los Angeles police department.

“Is it too late for me to wake up and find this is all a dream?” said Bruce. “I want to go back to Kansas now, Auntie Em.”

“If you wish to go back, you will have to wait for Ba'atar,” said the man. “Unless you, too, hold the keys to the doors between worlds.”

Terry took another sip of his water and licked his lips. “Look, Mr.... I'm sorry, I don't know your name.”

“My name is Oton,” said the man. “I am the gatekeeper of Al'eratish.”

“Gatekeeper Oton,” said Terry. “Nice to meet you. I am detective Terrence Wilson, and this here is my partner, Bruce Sutter.” He swished the contents of his cup. “Oton, would you perhaps have something a bit stronger around here?”

Oton made a gesture Terry decided to take as apologetic and looked away. “We only have water in the gatehouse today,” he said.

“Pity,” said Terry. He really could use a stiff drink right now, even if drinking on the job was highly frowned upon. “Look, we know we're not really in a position to negotiate for things here,” he said, “but is there any chance we could get a little privacy for a bit?”

“Ba'atar was clear that you should not be treated as prisoners,” he said. “I shall retire to the other room, but please call me if you need anything further.”

With that, he bowed through the arched hallway and disappeared.

Terry pulled out the other chair at the table and sat down. Bruce was still rubbing his temples. “Well, hot shot,” said Terry, “it seems like we've got until the sand clears to figure out how we're going to get home and how we're going to successfully take into custody a man who is is these people's hero, a swordmaster, and can also become fire.”

The winds outside lessened from a howl to a hum, and Oton returned to the room. If he had overheard anything they had said, he gave no sign of it. Presently there was a knock on the door. Terry and Bruce jumped to their feet as Oton opened it.

The man who entered was garbed in loose, flowing cloths like the ones Oton wore, but his eyes were a sharp, almost unnaturally pale blue, and his face was unmistakable. A pair of short blades were strapped to the small of his back, in plain sight.

“Neil Billings,” said Terry.

Billings nodded. “I go by many names, but that is the one you would know me as.”

“I'm Detective Wilson and this is Detective Sutter. I suppose you know why we're here.”

Billings nodded again. “But I'm afraid I cannot let you take me into custody, detectives. I'm sorry your world got caught up in this, but I assure you I only did what I had to do. Those men I killed were not men as you know them, and their crimes spread across more worlds than just these two.”

“Oton told us a little about it. It seems all our investigations into deaths of civilians burnt and maimed beyond all recognition were for nothing,” said Terry. “Our world is just a bunch of innocents who got caught in the crosshairs of some sort of interdimensional battle.”

“Something like that,” said Billings.

Terry crossed his arms and paced across the room, keeping his breathing level. He was only going to get one chance at this. “Detective Sutter,” he said as he paced, “what is standard procedure in this situation?”

“Well, boss, usually I' think we'd-- holy shit!”

As Bruce spoke, several things happened very quickly. Terry reached the far wall and pivoted on his heel, pulling his gun out of its holster. Billings's eyes went wide and he reached behind him toward his blades. Terry leveled the gun at Billings and pulled the trigger. And Billings burst into flame.

Terry dropped the gun and held up his hands. Rapidly-warming steel pressed against his throat as waves of heat washed over him. Through the flames, Terry could see Bruce fumbling in his suit jacket for his gun. “Leave it, Bruce,” said Terry. “We're obviously well out of our jurisdiction.”

The pillar of fire before Terry shimmered and condensed. Billings stood before him again, blade still pressed to Terry’s neck. “What is the meaning of this, detective?” said Billings. “Answer quickly.”

Sweat beaded on his forehead that had nothing to do with the warm air still swirling around him. Breathe in. “Oton here said there's a fire that burns in every man's soul, and that yours was particularly great,” he said. “I just wanted to see if it was true.”

“Was it too difficult to simply ask?” said Billings.

“He also implied you used it to keep the peace and not to hurt innocents,” said Terry. “You'll forgive me if I was a bit skeptical of Oton's explanation. In our world, people don't usually turn into fire or jump through the doors of urban houses into the middle of deserts.”

Billings's cold eyes pierced his, but Terry stared back with a level gaze. Slowly, Billings lowered his blade and stepped away. Terry exhaled slowly through his nose. Behind Billings, Bruce stood with every muscle tensed like a startled cat, and Oton had pressed himself as deeply into the corner of the room as the stone would allow.

Billings sheathed his blade and Terry slowly bent to pick up his gun and put it back in its holster.

“I cannot let you take me into custody,” Billings repeated.

“As I said, this is out of our jurisdiction,” said Terry. “Right now we just need to get home and figure out our paperwork. Oton suggested you might be able to do something about that, too.”

“Of course,” said Billings. He turned to Oton, who had begun to crawl out of his corner. “You have a room we can use?”

Oton nodded and gestured down the hallway. “Second doorway,” he said. “No one uses that room anymore.”

“Be sure they continue that tradition at least until sunset,” said Billings. He started toward the hall, then stopped. “I'm sorry I could not come sooner, Oton. Do not let that room stand empty forever.”

He continued down the hall, and Terry and Bruce fell into step behind him. Terry cast a quick glance over his shoulder at Oton. The man was slumped in the corner, face buried in his hands.

“His son was one of the ones they killed,” Billings said softly.

They entered the room and Billings shut the door behind them.

“So,” said Bruce, “how does this work?” He still hadn't quite shaken off the shock from the scene earlier, but his voice, at least, was not shaking.

“You stand back,” said Billings. “I go first. You follow after. Quickly. The door will not stay open for long.”
With that, he pulled a book from the folds of his clothes and set it against the door, balancing it underneath with one hand. With his other hand he opened it, then flicked the pages. They began turning of their own accord, faster and faster, while Billings muttered under his breath in a strange tongue. Terry heard Bruce sigh in annoyance beside him. Terry said nothing, but stood and watched.

The book slammed shut and seemed to dissolve into the door. Billings lifted the latch and pushed it open. “Follow quickly,” he called over his shoulder.

“I hate magic,” said Bruce.

“Yeah, just wait til we get to the paperwork for this,” said Terry. He took a deep breath and stepped through the door.

The smell of smog and car exhaust assaulted his nostrils. He was standing in the middle of the street near Billings's house. Billings was already on the sidewalk dressed in plain clothes. A moment later, Bruce stepped out of nothing and blinked at the change of surroundings. Terry waved a hand at the space Bruce had stepped out from. There was nothing there.

“It only works one way,” called Billings. “And you might want to step out of the street.”

Terry and Bruce made their way over to the sidewalk.

“You are back in your world,” said Billings. “Now I must return to mine. Believe it or not, I have paperwork of my own to take care of.”

“Every world has its semantics,” said Terry.

Billings laughed softly. “Believe me, you have no idea,” he said.

He raised his hand in a small salute, then headed up to the door of his house. Again he removed a book from his clothes and performed the same strange ritual on the door. Then he opened it and stepped through.

“Well, it looks like we managed to track Billings to his house,” said Terry. “Care to put your hot shot detective skills to use and poke around a bit in it?”

Bruce had taken a seat on the curb and was dumping the sand out of his shoes. “I think I'm good for the day, boss.”

Terry nodded slowly. “Yeah, me too.” He kicked at Bruce as he walked by. “Common, rookie. That paperwork isn't going to rewrite itself.”


The Next Story Will Be...

...about a pair of police officers who bust into the home of a suspect only to find themselves in the middle of a desert, per the suggestion from Guy. It may or may not also include some sort of cute, black-and-white animal as suggested by Becky.

You guys can expect this one around the 24th of this month.


Open for Suggestions!

While there are a few countries I expect to get hits from due to the spread of my internet friends, France and Germany are not on that list. So, if you're visiting this site from France or Germany and are not some sort of spambot, then hello and welcome!

It's time to open this for suggestions again. While February may be the short month of the year, there's still time to complete one more story. So, if you are so inclined, feel free to leave me a suggestion regardless of what country you're from. If you're not quite sure what's going on with all this suggestion stuff, please check out the FAQs.

I'll choose the next topic and post it up tomorrow evening.


Story 3

I tried REALLY hard not to write genre fiction for this one, since I write a lot of genre fiction. I actually came up with something pretty good. But then I decided I didn't like the mood of it, so it has been shelved. Maybe it will come up some other time.

In its place, you get genre fiction.


Rural Stars

Mrrt punched a few buttons on the main console of the ship. A video recorder popped up roughly at eye level. “Greetings,” he said to the camera. “I am Mrrt Ssal'tt'rtu of the interstellar transport vessel Ga'rt Lkks'tt 14, registration RS-LO-8827. It looks like I'll be running out of fuel before I can reach the next fuel port, so I'm going to be setting down on one of the planets in the nearby star system. The coordinates should be included in this file, along with the required information regarding my cargo, ship specs, and insurance information. If you might be able to help me, or at least bring me some fuel, I'd be most grateful. Thank you!”

He stopped the recording and played it back to make sure he didn't look too weird on it. Then he sent the file to the signal beacon and detached the beacon from his ship. It would probably be a while before anyone got close enough to get his message, but he had been traveling close enough to recognized interstellar highways that eventually someone had to come through a backwoods place like this, right?

Mrrt changed his trajectory and headed for the nearby star system. Next time, he would be sure to fill up his fuel tank at Alpha Centauri station.

“It's too cold today,” said Kate. “I want to go home.”

“What, little whiny Katie is too much of a girl to handle the cold, eh?” said Walter. He balled up his fists and screwed them under his eyes. “Waah, waah, little baby Katie can't take the cold!”

“I'm not a baby!” Kate stamped a booted foot, then blushed as she realized how childish that must have looked. “But there's nothing interesting out here. It's all just a bunch of trees covered in snow!”

“A little snow never hurt anyone,” said Walter. He scooped some up in his mittened hands and rolled it into a ball. “Hey, Kate! Catch!”

Kate screeched and ducked as the snowball came hurling toward her. It impacted her pink, puffy coat and fell apart. She brushed the snow off and scowled at Walter. “That was mean!”

“Then go back home,” said Walter. “I am going on an adventure. No wussy girls allowed.”

“I'm not a wussy girl!” said Kate, and she scurried after him.

Mrrt rolled his vocal chords in a sound of frustration. He had finished scanning the most promising of the planets. The first one was too hot. The second one was too cold. The third one had the right sort of temperatures, but also seemed to be teeming with sentient life. There were laws and procedures regarding contact with previously unknown intelligent and semi-intelligent beings, and while freight drivers were encouraged and sometimes required to take courses on basic interspecies diplomacy, Mrrt had never been much particularly good with other beings. Even when they weren't giving him weird looks for thinking aloud, they made him feel awkward and out of place.

“But what to do? Nothing else is close enough, and this is the only planet that might have suitable fuel resources.” He tapped on the fuel gauge again. A red light next to it was blinking angrily. At this point, he wasn't even sure he could make it back to his beacon and just try to wait things out. “Just have to find a place with little in the way of civilization and land, I suppose.

He located a region on the sunward side that seemed fairly devoid of life, but neither too cold nor too hot to lack what he was looking for, and plotted his landing course.

“Hurry up!” Walter called over his shoulder.

“I'm coming, I'm coming,” said Kate. The snow was not very deep, but it was fresh and she was having trouble picking her way through it and around the various hibernating plants that it hid. Walter, of course, ran ahead heedless of all obstacles, but she wanted to be sure she wouldn't slip. It wouldn't help things if Walter saw her lose her footing. What if she went sliding back down the slope? He'd probably just laugh at her.

She felt something touch the arm of her jacket and another snowball broke apart with a piff. Walter stood some way ahead of her, grinning.

“The longer you take, the more snowballs I can make!” He bent down and scooped up another handful of snow.

Kate felt her cheeks flush. She stooped down and gathered up her own snowball, but before she could stand up, Walter hit her with another. “You'll pay for that, Walter!” she shouted. He just laughed. She tried to trudge closer to him, determined to hit him. He scooped up more snow, balled it up, and tossed it at her. She screamed and ducked, and this time it missed.

“Ha!” she said in triumph. She raised her snowball in the air and hurled it at him. It screeched through the air like a rocket. Kate clamped her hands over her ears at the sound and closed her eyes. Then the ground rumbled slightly under her feet. She opened her eyes and peeked at Walter. Bits of her snowball lingered on his hat and cheek, but he wasn't looking at her. Behind him, just over the edge of the slope, a large plume of snow rose in the air and then fell gently back toward the ground.

“What was that?” asked Kate.

“Let's find out!” said Walter, and he dashed over the edge of the slope.

“Hey, wait!” called Kate, and she scurried after him.

“Another successful landing!” Mrrt smiled and patted the console. All systems seemed to be stable and the outer hull and sustained minimal damage. Not bad, considering he almost never landed the ship planet-side. There were docking ports and such for that in most civilized places in the galaxy, and short-range shuttles were far better equipped for frequently leaving and entering planetary atmospheres. But desperate times called for desperate measures.

“Now, to see about finding some fuel.” He flipped the ship's solar power generators on and activated the pressurize seal on his space suit. It would be no good if he lost basic life support as well as fuel. He picked up a hovering hand cart on his way to the airlock, then headed out.

The displays on the inside of his helmet told him the air was cool, but not unreasonably so. It was probably breathable, too, but Mrrt left his helmet on. Rule number one when dealing with foreign atmospheres was to never underestimate the powers of foreign pathogens. Most of the time they were incompatible with alien systems and just made you sneeze a lot, but some would take you down rather violently or lay dormant in your system until you became patient zero for a massive outbreak. This far away from anything that constituted health care, Mrrt didn't want to take the risk. Besides, his worker's compensation plan was unlikely to pay out if his suit reported that he had done something so stupid.

He adjusted the settings on his wrist scanner. Hopefully, there would be some sort of passable fuel supply nearby and he could get on with things. “Let's see, here...” he muttered to himself. “High water content in the surrounding area.... That would be the snow. Good to know it's not poison or ash or anything. Lots of flora... and... two of the sentient life forms nearby?”

He raised his head and looked in the direction his scanner had indicated. A single figure stood there wrapped in some sort of pink garb that obscured its form, and it stared at him with large eyes. “Erm... well, this is awkward,” he said. “Sorry, being. I come in peace. I just need to refuel my ship, and then I'll be out of here.”

The figure said nothing. It just stood stock still. Perhaps it thought he couldn't see it if it didn't move. He took a few deliberate steps toward it. “Look, I know you are there, but I'm really not qualified for first contact, and I can guess you aren't, either. So... let's just pretend this whole thing never happened. You go your way, and I'll go mine, get my fuel, and leave. Now, shoo.”

He waved his hands in a dismissing fashion at the being. It changed its skin color from a pale peach to something much closer to the white of the snow (perhaps trying to activate some sort of camoflauge?) and opened its mouth.

Mrrt tried to cover his ears as a horrific screech emanated from the creature, but of course his suit covered his head, preventing him direct access to his ears. He tried to regain his senses and shut off the audio receptors when something hit the front of his helmet, covering his vision in a field of white.

“Get back, space creature!” shouted Walter. “This is our planet, and you can't have it!”

He stooped down, made another snowball, and threw it at the creature stumbling around before him. It made a few weird noises and stumbled backward from his assault, tripping over some sort of large, hovering platform it had been pushing. “Ha!” he shouted. “Don't mess with Earth! We'll take you down!” He hurled another snowball.

“Let's get out of here, Walter!” shouted Kate.

“No way!” said Walter. “I'm gonna protect the earth! You have to protect it, too! It's your duty, Kate!”

Kate looked doubtfully from the alien to Walter and back. Then she bent down and patted a snowball together. “Go home!” she shouted as she threw it. “Bad alien!”

The creature was trying to hide behind its platform, but the thing offered very little cover. It bent down over itself and made more strange sounds.

“What's it doing?” asked Kate.

“It's probably trying to blow us up!” said Walter. He dove over the platform and tackled the alien. “I won't let you blow up Earth, you monster!”

“Gereeee nmmrr monster, please tt'mmlekk n'mag!” said the alien.

“It sounds like it's trying to say something,” said Kate.

The alien pulled itself free of Walter long enough to look at her with its large, dark eyes. “Yes! I just d'teree mm rkh translator. Please, don't sl'a rmteet!”

Walter tackled it again.

“Get off of him, Walter!” She grabbed Walter by the arm and pulled him back from the alien. The alien scuttled to its feet and took several very hasty steps backward. It made a sound that could conceivably be clearing its throat and lifted its arm.

“Could you say something, please?” said Mrrt. “My translator is almost done calibrating.”

“I was just trying to protect you...” muttered the blue-garbed figure. “And Earth. We don't want an alien invasion.”

“That will do,” said Mrrt. The translator on his wrist scanner seemed to have completed its analysis of the native language. He switched it off. “Let me know if you can't understand me. This program is pretty good, but weird things always come up with new species.”

“We're called humans, alien,” said the blue figure, “and we don't like being abducted or invaded.”

“What?” They thought he was an invader? “That's absurd! Invaders wear all this tactical gear and stuff! And I'm not some sort of weird slaver or pervert that goes around abducting sentient beings for my own ends. That's just crazy.”

The pink figure peeked around the other one. “Then why are you here?” it asked.

“I ran out of fuel. I was hoping I could find some.”

“There's a gas station back in town,” muttered the blue figure.

“I don't think his ship takes gas,” the pink figure said.

Mrrt smiled. “You're right. It's powered by biological material allowed to degenerate to fermentation using natural processes.”

The figures stared at him. The pink one was starting to look like it might make that terrible noise again.

“Wait, wait, wait. Not... beings like you and I. I mean, I guess you could if you wanted to but... no, forget I said that. I mean like rotting plants.”

“I have some grapes in my pocket....” said the pink figure.

“Grapes?” She pulled a small, clear wrapping of some sort out and held it in front of her. He slowly took a few steps forward and looked it over. Several green spheres attached to a branching stem. He scanned them, then frowned and handed the bag back. “Thank you, but I don't think these will quite work. Maybe after they underwent an extensive treatment process, but if I wait long enough for that, my shipment will be late. What else do you have around here? I'm Mrrt, by the way.”

“Just snow and stuff, mostly,” the blue figure said, and it gave the powdery ground a well-aimed kick.

“I'm Kate, and this is Walter,” said the other figure. “Maybe we could find something for you at the grocery store?”

“No way!” said Walter. He pushed his way in front of Kate. “We aren't helping you unless you're gonna give us something.”

“Well, of course I'll pay you if you feel it's necessary,” said Mrrt. “I wouldn't want to steal anything. But I'm not sure what to give you. I don't figure you take galactic standard currency.”

“Do you have a ray gun?” said Walter.

“A what?”

“A ray gun.” He pulled off a layer of cloth from his hands, and Mrrt briefly wondered how they were able to get anything done with so few digits. Walter folded them together with the forefingers extended toward Mrrt. He made an odd sound with his mouth that didn't translate and rapidly pulled his hands back. “Or really, any sort of space gun. That would be really cool.”

“Guns are not cool, Walter,” said Kate. “We don't need a ray gun.”

“Guns are totally cool! Especially space guns!”

“No, they aren't! They're dangerous! And what do you know about space guns, anyway?”

“I know that they're cool. Unlike you.”

Mrrt watched the back and forth, perplexed. He was beginning to wonder if these particular individuals were bonded. He decided not to interfere. Instead, he turned back to his wrist scanner and started scanning again for fuel. “Let's see.... Flora, but not suitable flora. Some creatures of varying sizes within the flora. Ooh, some are even capable of flight. And... something very large moving over to the east....”

He looked over in that direction. A golden brown creature of considerable size had lumbered out of the trees. It raised its massive head and sniffed the air, then let out a chuffing noise and began moving toward them. Mrrt shuffled a bit. The creature watched. Kate and Walter were still arguing. The creature was getting closer. “Um... excuse me,” said Mrrt. Kate and Walter turned toward him. “Maybe this is a stupid question, but... that creature over there, is it safe?”

Kate turned in the direction Mort was pointing and felt the color drain out of her face. Behind them stood a huge grizzly bear. “Walter?” she said. “I changed my mind. I want a ray gun.”

Walter looked at the bear. Slowly, he bent down to scoop up another snowball, but Kate grabbed his arm. “Don't move,” she said. “Maybe it doesn't see us.”

The bear waved its head from one side to the other, then it took a few more lumbering steps in their direction.

“Walter, we're going to die,” said Kate.

“How fast can it move?” said Mort. “Can we get to safety?”

“The town's too far away,” squeaked Kate.

“I'm not afraid of it,” said Walter, but Kate noticed he had gone as stiff as she was.

“Oh, I'm going to regret this,” said Mort. Kate peeked over her shoulder. Did Mort have a ray gun after all? But he was tapping at the wrist of his space suit. There was a noise off to their right, and a panel slid open on the ship. “Quick, everyone get aboard,” he said.

Kate didn't need to be told twice. Apparently, neither did Walter. They all dashed into the ship. Mort hit a button on the wall and the door slid closed with a heavy thunk. “What was that thing?” said Mort.

“It was just a little bear,” said Walter. “I bet we could have taken it out if we had a ray gun.”

“It was not just a 'little bear!'” shouted Kate. “It was a grizzly bear! Even a ray gun might not have taken it-- eek!”

Some sort of liquid was pouring out of spouts on the ceiling of the ship. Kate ducked her head underneath her arms. “What is this, Mort?”

“Don't worry,” said Mort. “It's just the decontamination sprinklers. It's standard procedure and an automated system. It will stop in a minute.”

“We're getting all wet!”

“That's kind of the idea.”

“But it's freezing outside!”

Mort shook his head and sighed. “And I don't suppose your suits have internal body temperature regulators, do they?”

“Internal what?” said Kate.

“I knew I was going to regret this,” said Mort, “though I didn't expect to regret it so soon."

The sprinklers stopped presently, and Mrrt directed them to the heat decontamination coils to speed up the drying process. They were still far to dirty to allow on his ship, but at least they wouldn't be uncomfortable.

“So, what do we do now?” asked Kate.

Mrrt tapped his wrist scanner into the ship's systems. “I should be able to monitor this... bear from inside here. When it goes away, we can head out.”

Walter was giving him an odd look that did nothing to assuage Mrrt's feelings of regret. “I dunno,” said Walter. “Grizzly bears can be very persistent.” He tucked his hands behind his head and leaned against the wall. “We might be here for a while, Mr. Alien.”

“No, it looks like it has already wandered off,” said Mrrt. “I guess it wasn't interested in us, after all.”

“Well, they usually eat fish, I think,” said Kate, “but they're still very dangerous.”

“I see,” said Mrrt, though he wasn't entirely sure he did. “Are you two dry enough now?”

“I think so,” said Kate.

“Good. Then let's get going back outside.” He checked the scanner again to make sure there were no other large creatures around, then opened the door. “The sooner I find fuel, the sooner I can be out of your way.”

“Not so fast,” said Walter. “How do we know you're a good alien? What's this ship for if it's not for invading planets?”

“Oh, I'm a freighter,” said Mrrt. “My current load is very important to my client. They don't like the cold much, though, which is why I decided to land here. That way even if my ship malfunctions, they should stay asleep.”

“They?” said Kate, activating her snow camouflage again. Mrrt lifted up his wrist and pulled up an image, then held it so Kate could see. “My people call them allr'mtae. They're small, bi-winged creatures that help with pollination on some planets, though I hear in some places they're also....”

“Butterflies!” interrupted Kate, clapping her hands together. “Can we see them?”

“Absolutely not,” said Mrrt. “As I said, they are very important cargo. I have to deliver them to....”

“But they're so pretty! They look like those tropical ones you see in the magazines.”

“You have these here?”

“Well, not here-here, and they don't do so well in the winter, but in summer we have monarchs and stuff. They look like these, but their wings are black with orange spots.”

“Then your planet is very lucky. These... butterflies... are a bit of a rarity among populated planets.”

“Oh? That's kind of sad,” said Kate.

“Who cares about butterflies?” said Walter. “I hope you don't expect us to help you find more if yours die. 'Cause we won't.”

“No, no,” said Mrrt. “There are procedures and precautions to be taken before removing a species from its homeworld, and that's not my job. I just ship the things.”

“If we help you,” said Kate, “can we see them?”

“But I thought you had them on this planet.”

“But I want to see these ones,” said Kate. “I love butterflies.”

“You would need to go through an extensive decontamination process to enter my ship, and you cannot touch them! Only look. If you have them here, then surely you know how fragile they are.”

“I'll do it,” said Kate. “I promise. As soon as we find you some fuel.” She turned and headed back in the direction Mrrt had first seen them.

“But what about my ray gun?” said Walter. He took a few steps after Kate, then turned back to Mrrt and raised a hand. “I better get my ray gun.”

“If I can figure out what that is, we'll talk,” said Mrrt.

“Common, Walter!” called Kate. “You better come, too, Mort, since we don't know what you're looking for.”

“Very well,” said Mrrt, and he fell into step behind them. “Let's just try and keep it subtle, shall we? I don't want to cause alarm.”

“Oh, we'll keep it subtle,” said Walter. He ducked behind some nearby bushes, then peeked out and ran to a nearby tree. “Let's go, Kate! We're on Top Secret Mission Project: Get Mort Gas.”

“That sounds disgusting, Walter,” said Kate. “Let's just go.”

Mrrt looked back at his space ship and wondered again if this was the best idea, and then he followed after.


The Next Story Will Be...

...I'm not actually sure, but per Christina's request, it will somehow incorporate a spaceship, butterflies, grizzly bears, sprinklers, and grapes. Or... at least four out of the six. We'll see.

You guys may remember Christina from her previous request, which gave y'all this gem.

I'm pretty sure the next story will have considerably less rodents. But then again, maybe not. We'll see in a couple of weeks.


Open for Suggestions!

I was hoping to get one more story in by the end of the month, but as I said, January is a rather busy month for me, and I'm still a bit under the weather. So, whatever I choose off this suggestion will likely go up the first full week of Febtober or whatever month is coming up next.

I didn't get a big turnout on the last suggestion blog, so maybe this time I'll choose a suggestion from past ones. Or maybe not. That is to say... feel free to keep making suggestions. I'm gonna see if I can't get that army of cat-eared marshmallow men to sort through them in the wee hours of Sunday morning.


Author's Notes on the Last Story

While I do reserve some space before the stories on my blog for comments, I tend to steer away from using that space to comment or critique my work. And believe me, I do plenty of self-critiquing. But I like to stay quiet about it until after people have read it. This is for two reasons.

First off, I don't want to color anyone's opinion of my work with my own opinion of it. If I post a story and preclude it with, "This piece is kind of meh," then some of my kind readers are likely to respond with, "Oh, no, it's not! It's far better than anything I could come up with!"* while other readers are going to find themselves nitpicking for "meh." Likewise, if I post that I'm really happy with a piece I've done, some people are going to pat me on the head when I don't deserve head-pats, and others are going to dedicate themselves to looking for flaws. But I want people to read my stuff on its own merit, without any worry of pre-conceived thoughts on how they should approach it.

The second reason is because I want to make sure I can accurately gauge my own work myself. As demonstrated above, posting my opinions of my own work prior to allowing people to read it skews the feedback I get, which is ultimately unhelpful when I'm trying to get a feel for how other people are interacting with my story. However, if I don't have a good gauge of my own talents, even the best feedback isn't necessarily going to help me fix the flaws. So I try to stay on top of that.

And while this blog itself stays pretty quiet in the comments section, I do receive feedback via other sources fairly frequently.

So... this last story.

True horror is one of those genres that I never quite manage to get into. I find many horror movies to be TERRIBLY cheesy, even if they are considered good by market standards or manage to successfully creep me out for the next few days. So, if I want to get into horror, it has to be mixed with something else such that the horror is coincidental to the situation rather than the point of the story. For instance, the Alien franchise may be technically a monster movie, but much of it is wrapped in a story of mystery, action, and space exploration that just happens to go terribly wrong because xenomorphs are terrifying by human standards. (I'm sure they find each other to be somewhat charming.) Every time a movie in the franchise succumbs to going, "BLARGH!!! WE ARE ALIENS FEAR US!!!" I find myself raising an eyebrow and yawning.

Of course, this opinion of horror comes up in my writing. Neither of the two "horror stories" I did last year are truly horrifying in my opinion, but instead they simply have strong dark undercurrents. But if someone were to ask me what the best horror story is currently on this blog, I'd probably direct them to the one I labeled "dark fantasy."

Such is my relationship with horror.

So, when I sat down to write this last story, which was always intended to be a more pure form of horror, I had to figure out how to approach it. And I decided the premise reminded me of nothing so much as a plot to one of those terrible horror movies of the late 90's that is built with a target audience aged 12-17. And so that's what I tried to write.

Of course, most of my audience is decidedly not aged 12-17. Which means I kind of expect most of them to react with abject horror not at the premise of the story so much as at the horrible text speak that a few of the characters use. And, based on the feedback I'm getting, that's prettymuch exactly how you guys are reacting. As for overall liking or disliking the story... well, YMMV, as they say. Though I imagine it correlate how much you like terrible horror movies from the late 90's.

*I am strongly of the opinion that some of the least helpful feedback anyone can provide on a work of art is, "It's better than anything I could do," and secretly harbor desires to smack people when they tell me this, even if it's true.


Story 2

While most people take one look at their pocketbooks in January and decide they're just going to relax and be broke for the month, I usually find my Januaries to be only slightly less busy than my Decembers. It's not all bad, but it can make it hard to do anything else. Like, for instance, be sick.

Yes, my body decided it was high time we got over this being healthy through the winter nonsense and decided to pick up The Plague as a sort of late Christmas present or something. It was not pretty. So, I ended up spending about a week and a half somewhere in between playing copious amounts of video games and doing copious amounts of sleeping (especially the latter), and not feeling bad about either (even though my general state of being definitely included feeling bad).

But I did complete a story. This story, to be precise, which also turned out to be an exercise in formatting text in HTML:



Amy: I still <3 u n I'll alwayz b here 4 u

Kevin shrugged and slid the phone back across the table to Mike. “So your crazy ex-girlfriend texted you,” he said. “At least she's not showing up at your apartment and trying to break down your door at 2 A.M. anymore.”

Mike picked up the phone and read the message again.“Yeah,” he said. “Maybe I should've gotten that restraining order.”

“Ya think?” Kevin took another bite of his hamburger. “You've always had terrible taste in women, but Amy was very special kind of terrible.”

Mike deleted the message and slid the phone back into his pocket. “Gee, thanks. Though could you not mention that when you meet Jess?”

“Wait, you're dating Jess?”

“Yeah,” said Mike. “It just sort of happened yesterday. We're having our first official date tonight.”

“Well, well.” Kevin washed down the mouthful of burger with a long slurp of soda. “Jess actually seems halfway sane. Good luck to ya.”

“Thanks.” Mike's phone vibrated. He picked it up and looked at the message, then frowned.

“Don't tell me Jess just canceled on ya.”

“No,” said Mike. He looked around the burger joint, then slid the phone across the table to Kevin. Kevin picked it up and looked at the display.

Amy: Whos Jess?

“Well, that's a creepy coincidence,” said Kevin.

Mike lowered his voice. “Do you think she's spying on us?”

“Maybe?” said Kevin. “Amy was a woman obsessed, after all. But I don't see her anywhere around here, do you?”


“Like I said, creepy coincidence.” Kevin handed Mike the phone and shoved the last of the hamburger in his mouth. “If she keeps it up, though, maybe you should rethink about that restraining order.”

Mike scooped up his tray and dumped his own half-eaten burger in the trash. “I dunno. It sounds like a lot of paperwork.”

Kevin shrugged. “It's your call, man. But when mostly-normal girl Jess leaves you 'cause you're still getting texts from your crazy ex-girlfriend, don't say I didn't warn ya.”

The afternoon dragged on as Mike counted down the hours to his date with Jess. It wasn't like he was new to the dating scene, but the first date always made him nervous. And the second one. And the... well, most dates made him nervous. There were so many things that could go wrong, even with girls who seemed nice and funny. Like Jess.

Amy had been nice and funny at the beginning, too.

He pushed those thoughts away. He wasn't going to worry about Amy. After lunch he had deleted her message and removed her number from his phone. That way, if Amy did text him again, at least he could claim it was a wrong number.

He pulled up to Jess's house promptly at six. He wasn't sure if Jess was a stickler for being on time, but it never hurt. He got out of the car, walked up to the door, and rang the bell.

There was no answer. Maybe that was a good sign. If she was still getting ready, then maybe she really wanted to look nice for the date. He tugged on his shirt to straighten it and ran his fingers through his hair. He hoped he looked nice enough. They were just going to the local Chinese food place for dinner, then maybe a movie. He hadn't exactly thought to dress up.

He checked the time on his phone. 6:04. He rang the bell again. There was still no answer.

Maybe she forgot? He felt a pang of worry go through his chest. Why would she forget their date? Had she just been toying with him when she agreed to go out with him? Had she met someone else? Jess didn't seem the type, but then, he didn't know her very well. Yet. What if he had read things wrong?

His phone buzzed and he fished it out of his pocket.

New Text Message

That had to be her. Of course. She was running late from work or something. He unlocked the phone and opened the message.

Amy: I'll always b here 4 u.

“What?” Mike deleted the message in disgust and shoved the phone back in his pocket. It buzzed again and he immediately pulled it back out.

Amy: I said I'll always b here 4 u. :)

Mike sighed. He deleted the message, searched for Amy's listing in his phone book, and deleted it. He checked the time again before shoving the phone back in his pocket. 6:09. He rang the doorbell, then knocked on the door.

The door opened suddenly. Jess stood there in sweat pants and a t-shirt. Her eyes were dark circles of smudged make-up and anger. “What?” she said.

Mike shifted under her gaze, unsure what to make of the figure before him. “Are you... ready to go to dinner?”

Her eyes flashed and she slammed the door.

“I can come back later if you're not ready,” Mike called through the door. “Or... did something happen? We don't have to go out tonight. We can just stay in, or I can get something and bring it back.”

“Just go away, you jerk!” Jess's voice came muffled through the door.

“Wait, what happened?” He pressed his ear against the door, trying to hear her better. “What did I do?”

The door opened again, dumping him on the ground. “Really, Mike?” said Jess. “Didn't we talk about this enough already?”

“Talk about what?”

“I thought you liked me, Mike. I thought you were different.”

Mike slowly pulled himself up from the floor, his brain racing. This was certainly not how he had expected things to go. “But I do like you,” he answered weakly. “Why would you think I didn't like you?”

“Really, Mike?” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Yeah, really,” said Mike, then wondered what he was really agreeing to. “I really like you, and I really want to go out with you. That's why I said I wanted to go out with you. That's why I'm here right now.”

“Then why'd you send me all those messages?”

“What messages?”

“All the texts you sent me this afternoon! There were like twenty of them, saying the date was off and that you didn't like me... calling me fat, and ugly, and... and....”

“I didn't send you any messages this afternoon,” said Mike. Had he accidentally messaged her without realizing it? “I was too nervous. I wouldn't have known what to say! Here....” He pulled out his phone.

New Text Message

He skipped the new message and went straight to his sent box. “Look, see? The last message I sent was at 1:15 P.M. to my friend Kevin reminding him that he owed me money for lunch.”

He held up the display for her to see. She frowned and wiped her eye, smudging her make-up further. She stalked out of the room and came back a moment later, phone in hand.

“Mike, 1:28 P.M.” she read. “It's off Jess. It's over. I never really liked you.”


“Mike, 1:37 P.M. I'm serious. Delete my number and don't talk to me ever again. Mike: 1:51 P.M. Go away, you stupid fat whore. I don't want you in my life.”

“What? I didn't send any of that!”

Jess held up the phone in front of him. Its display was covered with messages going back and forth between her and him. The ones from him were not very nice. “It's got to be a different Mike or something,” he said. “Do you know any other Mikes? Is it from my phone number?”

Jess tapped the display. It was his number all right. He looked at his phone. “Maybe my phone got hacked.” He looked back at Jess. Tears were rolling down her cheeks again. “I'm sorry,” he said. “I don't know how this happened. I would never say those things about you.”

“Just go away for now, huh, Mike?” said Jess. “I've got to think some things through.”

“Ok.” His heart sank, but what else could he say? He walked slowly back to his car and rested his head on the steering wheel. This made no sense. His phone must have been hacked somehow. That happened, right?

He pulled the phone back out of his pocket.

New Text Message

He unlocked the phone and opened the message.

Amy: She's obviously crazy. U should leave her.

“Dammit, I don't need this right now!”

Amy: :( I'll b right here waiting 4 wen u do.

Mike turned the phone off and tossed it in the glove box.

Mike got home and flopped down on the couch. He didn't move for hours. It was too much work. How had this happened? He and Jess had hit it off so well last night, and now some crazy phone hacker had to go and mess everything up. He pulled his phone back out of his pocket and turned it on. Surely they had some sort of warranty policy if your phone got hacked. He'd just need to talk to his service provider and get this whole thing sorted out. And hope Jess would still talk to him afterward.

New Text Message

Mike sat up. Maybe it was Jess. That was stupid of him to turn off his phone. What if she still wanted to have dinner together.

Amy: Hi again. :)

“You have got to be kidding me,” he muttered.

Amy: U don't seem happy 2 see me. :(

“Of course I'm not,” Mike told the phone. “We broke up two months ago.”

Amy: I no u didnt mean it. :) I'll b here 4 u 4eva <3

Mike slowly lowered the phone and looked around the room. He hadn't sent a message back, and he was sure he had deleted Amy's number from his phone. Had she bugged his apartment? Had she hacked his phone? That was crazy. Amy wasn't exactly the most tech-savvy girl. Or maybe she was and he hadn't figured it out. After all, he had also thought she was normal at first, hadn't he? He signed and hit reply.

Me: Did u hack my phone?

Amy: No

Me: Did u get someone 2 hack my phone?

Amy: I don't think its hacking really......

Me: What?

Amy: I'll alwayz b here 4 u <3

Me: No. We're done. I'm seeing Jess now.

Amy: I thought she broke up w/ u

Me: That's none of your bzness. Stop spying on me.

Amy: We'll alwayz b 2getha <3

Mike threw his phone across the room. It hit the wall with a loud crack and fell to the floor. He buried his face in the couch.

“Hey, Mike!” Kevin came up behind him in line and patted him hard on the back. “I wasn't sure you'd show up today. I texted you, but you never replied.”

“Yeah, I kind of broke my phone last night,” said Mike.

“That sucks,” said Kevin. “Unless you broke it doing something interesting.”


“What do you mean, what? I'm asking how your hot date last night went.”

“It... uh, didn't,” said Mike.

“Really? Geez, the one time you try to date a non-crazy girl, and you had to go and ruin it, huh?”

Mike sighed. “Look, I really don't want to talk about it.”

“Fine, fine.”

They ordered their food and sat down to eat.

“Oh, by the way,” said Kevin in between mouthfuls, “I think your phone got hacked or something.”

Mike slowly lowered his sandwich. “What makes you say that?”

“You were getting messages from Amy yesterday, right?”


Kevin swallowed and took a long drink from his soda. “Well, I thought I'd try and get ahold of her last night. Tell her to get off your case or else. Turns out she killed herself two days ago. Apparently she surrounded herself with candles and stuff in the basement and they just found her there the next morning, dead. Weird, huh?”

“But she and I were just texting last night!”

Kevin raised an eyebrow. “You were trying to text Amy when you were supposed to be out with Jess?”

“She texted me first! I was just trying to get her to go away!”

“Look, she couldn't have texted you last night. She died the day before that. Your phone just got hacked or something.”

Mike poked at his sandwich. “Yeah, I guess you're right. I guess it's a good thing I broke it, then.”

Three days later, Mike received his new cell phone. He pulled it out of the box, turned it on and set it up. It would take a bit to get all his contacts and such sorted out, since the other one was busted, but after three days without a cell phone, Mike was just glad he could contact the outside world again.

He was just figuring out how the internet worked when his phone gave a polite series of dings.

New Text Message

He opened it.

Amy: U can't get rid of me that easy. I told u we'll always be 2getha. Foreva. <3 <3 <3


The Next Story Will Be...

...about a guy whose cell phone is possessed by the ghost of his ex-girlfriend, as suggested by Guy.

Guy actually threw a few suggestions at me, but this one has a lot of humor potential, I think, and it's been a while since I wrote some cheesy horror. We'll see what comes of it.


Open for Suggestions!

Usually I'm a bit quicker to request these. I'm not sure why it took me longer this time. Anyway, feel free to leave your suggestions (or if you know of a previous suggestion that I skipped, feel free to throw that one my way again).

If you are new here and don't know what I'm talking about, this might clear things up a bit.

On a completely unrelated note, I was mucking about on Google Maps and came across the following... a satellite image of the Afgan Pamirs (the northwestern branch of the Himalayas) in both summer and winter.

View Larger Map


Story 1

Yeah, I'm gonna start back from 1 this year instead of making this Story 9, even though it's the ninth story on the blog. We'll see if I can get further this time before I get knee-deep in crazy life things again.

Immortality is a topic I have rather mixed opinions on. That plus a few words from a friend of mine upon finding out the subject of this story made writing it FAR more difficult than I initially expected. I scrapped the first few pages three times before settling on the current version, which I don't think ended up being quite so much about immortality as I originally intended.


The Crumbling of the Mountain

“So, here's where you've been hiding, old man.” Sam pushed open the door to the study of the late Nicholas Weatherby. Peter looked up from the rifle he was examining and gave him a small smile.

“Looks like you found me,” he said. He spun the rifle and traded it for a glass of scotch that sat on the desk behind him. “I was just... saying goodbye.”

Sam nodded. “Yeah, I don't know if we'll ever get used to not having him here. He's done a lot for the League. Him and you both. I mean, you were there at the beginning, right?”

“Yeah, we were.”

Sam chuckled. “I still can't wrap my head around that. Couldn't figure out why a smart-ass like you was allowed so much authority when I could barely move a finger without someone getting after me for it. But I guess Nick knew a lot of things I didn't.”

“He always had a keen mind.”

“Yeah.” Sam ran his fingers along a bookshelf and flicked the dust off his fingers. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Kant and Machiavelli, ArsenĂ© Lupin and Sherlock Holmes. His eyes wandered over to the overstuffed filing cabinets of case files and police reports. “Did he actually find the time to read all these, or did he just keep them around for decoration?”

Peter shrugged and took a long sip from his glass. Sam grunted and tapped on the filing cabinets. They had been trying to get Nick to let them digitize them for years, but the old man had always refused. It would be quite a project going through them all. But that could wait. Now wasn't the time, and the League wasn't a business in the traditional step. Nothing would fall apart if they left things where they were for a few weeks, or a few months, or however long it took for the loss to fully sink in.

His eyes went to the rifle on the desk, and he carefully picked it up. “Was this his? I never figured ol' Nick for a gun man.”

“He wasn't,” said Peter. “His brother was, though, and gave him that one year. To keep him safe, he said.”

Sam turned it over carefully. Outwardly, at least, the gun's craftsmanship was excellent, if a bit old-fashioned. He would have loved to take it to the range and see what it was made of. “Seems in good condition.”

“Yeah,” said Peter. “Nicholas might not have been a gun man, but he knew how to care for one and how to use one. He and I took that thing out the shooting range a few times. I tell you, he could shoot a cherry off of William Tell's apple.”

Sam laughed and sighted down the barrel. “And here I always thought he was all brains and you were all the brawn. Did he really use this thing without a scope?”

“Maybe you're right in my case,” said Peter. He gestured toward the rifle with his glass. “Be careful with that thing.”

“Aw, common, gramps,” said Sam. “My specialty may be in literally turning up the heat, but I know how to handle one of these things. I'm not gonna go breaking ol' Nick's stuff.”

Peter gulped down a mouthful of scotch. “That's not what I meant,” he said. “It's loaded, and that thing could punch through the walls of this room like a hot knife through butter.”

“Even the filing cabinets?” But Sam lowered the gun. He checked the safety and flicked it on. “Damn, I should've checked that first. So much for knowing how to handle one of these things.” He placed the gun back on the desk with a gentle pat. “I guess I'll leave it to you to put it back wherever he kept it, since you....”

His words trailed off. He looked hard at Peter, but the other's gaze was absorbed in the glass of scotch. “I'll take care of it,” said Peter.

“The hell you will,” said Sam.

Peter closed his eyes and sighed deeply. “Can't you leave an old man to grieve the last of his oldest friends in peace?”

“When I came in here, you were looking straight down the barrel of that thing,” said Sam. “Were you grieving ol' Nick, or looking to join him?”

Peter met his gaze then, his eyes full of a defiance that made him look even younger. “What do you know of the grievances of your elders, Sammy?”

“The Great Depression and three major wars under your belt,” said Sam, “and this is the thing that is finally going to make Peter 'The Mountain' Montana crumble. What would ol' Nick say?”

Peter swirled the ice in his glass. “He'd understand, Sammy boy,” he said, “in a way a younger man could never hope to.”

Sam lunged at Peter, grabbing for his lapels. Whether out of habit or defiance, Peter sidestepped him and brought a fist solidly into his stomach. Sam collapsed on the ground, wind knocked out of him. He tried to force air back into his lungs as he turned back toward Peter.

Peter had picked up the rifle from the desk. “Please, Samson,” he said, “try to understand. The Great Depression and three major wars, you say? Try five, though one was before the League was started, and we destroyed all record of involvement in the other one. I've lost track of how many 'old friends' I've lost. Many fell before you were ever born.”

“That comes with war,” he gasped, “and with being part of the League.”

“Yes, yes it does. But not all of those losses were on a battlefield.”

“They say the only things that are certain are death and taxes.”

“Is death really so certain in these days?”


Peter gave him a small smile. “Look at me, Sammy. The man who is also a Mountain. Immovable. Indestructible. Even Time can barely leave his mark on this body. Would you honestly say death is an inevitability for me?”

Sam paused. When he had been recruited to the League, Sam had assumed Peter was only a few years older than him. Now he knew better. These days, most people would have guessed Sam was the older of the two. He doubted Peter had aged a day since they had first met, and probably for much, much longer.

Peter turned from him and headed for the door, rifle still in hand. Sam lifted a hand and pointed at the space in between Peter and the door. Heat emanated from his finger, creating a ripple in the air between Peter and the door. He would have to be careful. If the old man truly wanted to see his plan through, he could do worse than pick a fight with Sammy “the Sun God” Sonnen.

Peter stopped. “What is it, Sam?”

“All those things haven't put a scratch in the Mountain, and you think a little rifle's gonna do the trick?”

“I know my weak points, even if no one else does. Or are you making an offer?”

“Nice try,” said Sam. He nodded toward the shimmer of heat. “That might be enough to leave a mark even on you, tough guy, but I doubt it will kill you.” He waved his fingers slowly and the shimmer moved closer to Peter. “Of course,” he continued, “I could just get rid of all the oxygen around you. You'd survive that, too, but you can't keep hold of that rifle if you're unconscious.”

“Or you could just burn the rifle and leave the cartridge intact. What's your point?”

“Maybe I'm not going to stop you at all. But I didn't actually come here to talk about how terrible it is that you're still cheating death.”

Peter took a step forward. “I'm done playing games, Sammy.”

“Mari's pregnant,” said Sam. “She just told me this morning.”

“Congratulations. I'm afraid I won't be able to play godfather, if that's what you're asking.”

“Dammit, this isn't about you, old man!” said Peter. His hand faltered and the shimmer faded a bit. “It's about... Mari's pregnant. What am I supposed to do?”

“Marry her, I guess. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be an excellent father.”

“But that's just it,” said Sam. “What if I can't?”

“Nonsense,” said Peter. “You've already proven that you can look after others to the point of annoyance, and Mari seems to be quite fond of you....”

“That's not what I'm talking about!” said Sam. His concentration broke and the heat wave between Peter and the door dissipated. Peter turned back toward him. “What if I can't?” repeated Sam. “Me and Mari, we're both part of the League. I mean, she'll drop out to take care of the kid, I'm sure, but....”

“Perhaps you should follow her lead.”

“I can't do that, either,” said Sam. “Not yet, anyway. I mean, I want to protect her and the kid, but I don't think I can do that.” He looked at his hands and concentrated, feeling the temperature above them raise. “This is the first place I felt I belonged, that I was actually doing any good with what I'd become. This is my home. Even if I left formally, I doubt I could stop myself from vigilante work. It just... needs to be done.”

“There are others who can do it,” said Peter. “After all, that's part of why the League exists.”

“But what if... something happens to me? I know I'm not as tough as you or some of the others. Hell, if what you say is true, even you can be killed. We're all cheating death when we go out on cases. That's the nature of the League. We do it because our odds are slightly higher than most people's.” He clenched his fists and let the heat around them die. “What if my number comes up?”

Peter huffed. “We all die someday,” he said. He patted the rifle in his hands. “Or, rather, most of us do.” He turned back toward the door.

“But what about the kid?” said Sam. “Both Mari and I are superhumans. There's a good chance he will be, too. What if he hates superhumans because his daddy's always away with the League? What if he hates me because something happens and I don't come back? But what if I drop out of the League, and he thinks his dad's a coward and a lowlife for not doing what I could to protect others?”

“Sam, you can't hold yourself responsible for everything someone else thinks about you.”

“But it's my kid!” said Sam. “It's my kid. What good is it if everyone else sees me as a hero and my own kid hates me? And don't tell me I just have to 'do my best.' What if I'm not there to do anything, best or worst or whatever?”

Peter tapped the rifle against the palm of his hand. “Well, Sammy,” he said, “I guess you'll just have to do what everyone else does and trust all that to God and the people around you.” He tossed the gun to Sam. “Put that away for me, will you? Nicholas kept it in a safe behind that picture over there. The code is 4382.”

Sam gave Peter a questioning look, but got up and went over to the picture.

“I always told Nicholas that it was immensely impractical for him to keep that thing locked up in a safe,” Peter continued. “By the time he fished it out, any real threat would have already done away with him. But he used to tell me, 'That's what I keep all you freaks around for. If you all do your job, I won't ever have to fish that thing out in the first place.'”

Sam tugged the door to the safe open and placed the rifle inside. “You sure you won't be needing this, old man?” he said. “Is there somewhere else I should send a clean-up crew in a few hours?”

“Not today, I think,” said Peter. He sighed, and for just a moment Sam thought he could see the weight of all the years on those youthful shoulders. The next moment it was gone, and Peter moved with his ever-present sense of determination to the overstuffed filing cabinets. “I think I shall simply retire in a more traditional way for now,” he said. “I'm not as good with paperwork as Nicholas was, but maybe I can add some sense to all his archives.” He laid a hand on a cabinet. “Someone has to remember things the way they truly were, even when there is no one else left alive to talk about it. Otherwise, the young might forget the great deeds of their fathers.”

He looked at Sam, and Sam nodded.

“Yeah,” he said. “I think you've earned a change of pace, old man. Though it'll be hard to lose you from the field teams.”

“The same goes for you, Sammy,” said Peter. He turned back to the filing cabinet and opened the top drawer. “But if you guys will endure it for the sake of the future, I suppose I can, too. After all, I am the Mountain, and mountains stay standing no matter the weather.”

“I'll leave you to it, then,” said Sam, and he turned for the door. “I suppose I had better let the others know.”


“Oh, and...thanks, old man. From me and my kid.”

“You're welcome.”