Friday, December 20, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday #2 - Avalanche

I put the last piece of bark meat in my mouth, savoring the smoky flavor before chewing and swallowing what may be the last piece of food I eat in this frozen wasteland. I enjoy my meal though as I stare out on the blizzard that is quickly making its way toward me, expelling curtains of snow a half mile from where I sit. Very light flurries of snow, white and blue – the color of the pixel blood that comes with a storm like this – dust my cooking stones, slowly putting out the fire I worked so hard to build.


I stand up and stare out on the coming blizzard some more, unconvinced that it will pass by me as my oracle suggests it will. The storm is headed straight toward me, and it only seems appropriate that it would strike me head on seeing as my supplies have run exhausted, my energy has nearly run out, and my clothes have run their course. Looking down at my tattered pants, I can see how white my skin has started to turn in the peekaboos of the heavy denim. I don’t even know what I will sleep in tonight. The long johns I have been using to keep me warm are at the end of their time. The thread has come loose and most of the fabric has unraveled. Blue pixel blood marks where the thorn bushes brushed across me while I travailed the wilderness last week.

I watch the snow come down in a curtain of white, leaving me to wonder if this really will be my last day here in Crystbeck. I have hated this horrible wilderness since I was banished here months ago. Most die within the first few days of being exposed to such brutal cold and unrelenting weather. Little did the Council know that I was raised in wilderness survival – especially in this type of climate. Unfortunately, even though I’ve bought myself a couple of months in this terrain, I still have yet to find the entrance to the Sacred City beyond this. I’ve even entertained thoughts of flagging down pilgrims who are in the midst of their journeys to the Sacred City, but I haven’t seen a single one since being banished here.

So maybe this is where I’ll die.

I pick up my cooking stones and carry them inside the shallow cave, placing them next to the pots and pans I haven’t used since last week. The blizzard is sure to destroy me by the morning. I have no more materials to make another fire. No more food to keep from going hungry. No more arrows to be successful in hunting. Everything is used up or useless.

The snow flurries make their way into my cave, forceful and without manners. The blizzard is dangerously close now. I will not bother trying to fortify my cave against it. It takes hours for me to move the boulders in front of the entrance, and I only just saw the blizzard while I was eating my last piece of bark steak.
The only thing I can do, the only action I am able to take is to wrap myself in my bark blanket and slide myself within the sleeping bag I serendipitously managed to find on one of my hunting excursions. I bundle myself in at the very back of the cave, watching the blizzard move closer and closer to the entrance.

Minutes later, the white curtain finally drapes over the entrance to the cave. I close my eyes, proud of the actions I took to get myself exiled. The world will be a slightly better place because of me. I made a change to things, and that change will resonate throughout future generations. I may not be around to see those changes, but at least I’ll die knowing I was responsible for them.

A thunderous boom shakes the air. I open my eyes to see rubble crumbling down over the cave entrance, blocking the white light that had at all times of the day pierced my eyes with its harsh illumination. Within seconds, the entire front entrance to the cave is blocked by dark-colored rock, all of which had somehow careened down from the mountaintop above me.

An avalanche. The rock will keep me safe and warm from the blizzard, but now I will die from hunger and lack of oxygen instead of the cold.

How ironic.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Holidays Are Here...

This Friday I will be posting another Flash Fiction Friday piece, and then my blog will be quiet until after the holidays. I'm heading back to Arizona for a bit to spend time with friends and family, and during that time I have a story to finish up for The Untold Podcast and some preparations to make for the writing projects I will be tackling in 2014 - one of which is my non-fiction piece, Of Dreams and Faith, which I will be getting back from my editor in the next week.

Here's a brief glance at some of the things I'll be putting out in 2014:
Of Dreams and Faith
The LZR Project
Expired Reality 3

I'll catch you all in the New Year!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday #1 - Spotlight

Jackson waited until the little pink sphere shot up from behind the garbage cans before he let loose a series of shots from his rifle, plastering the insides of the creature across his garage door. He turned and spotted the faint pink color of an arm or a leg peeking out from behind the thick mailbox post. A series of shots tore the post apart – and the demon who was hiding behind it – scattering wood and tender flesh across the asphalt road.

“Where’s that damn light?” he called out. Waiting for a response from the other side of the garage door, he spotted another demon scurrying up the large pine tree in front of his house like a squirrel. Jackson blew a hole in the foliage, destroying the foul beast before Kara answered him from within the garage.

“Almost there! Just a few more wires to connect.”

“Well hurry up!” he shouted, glancing down at his rifle. He knew he only had a handful of bullets left. After that, he would have to retreat into the garage, grab Kara, and flee into the dark neighborhood. With his house being the only one with power – generated from an electric generator he had purchased on a whim some years back – it was the only lit up spot in the neighborhood. But it left the property looking like a bug light in a dark field. Every manner of evil was closing in on them now. Jackson surmised that if Kara could get the two spotlights in the garage working – souvenirs from the ten years he worked at the Brickstone nightclub before it went out of business – he could use the lights to keep the vermin away long enough to fix the truck so he and Kara could get out of here and flee to the location of the ringing bells emanating from the center of town.

“Done!” Kara shouted. The loud shuffling of the garage door opening up made Jackson nervous. Demons began moving toward his driveway quicker, as if the sound of the garage was enticing them. Jackson shot one, then another, cringing as guts and blood spewed out across his concrete.

He walked backwards until he was at the giant spotlight. Kara’s face was pale under the garage lighting. Her once ruby red lips were doused in purple bruises, and her gorgeous eyes – emerald in color – were black and blue. The disease was taking its toll, and Jackson had to force himself to focus on the task at hand and not on the time that Kara might or might not have left.

He waited until a cluster of the hideous demons were at the entrance to his garage, each one hesitant to step inside for fear of the light that spilled from the lamps overhead. Jackson grinned and then flipped the switch on the spotlight. A bright spark and a loud buzz were followed by the lights going out, leaving them in complete darkness.

Jackson aimed the rifle in front of him, straining his eyes to see the demonic figures in the dark. Kara held tightly to his arm, her grip weaker than he remembered it being. “Just stay calm, sweetcakes.”

“I don’t...” her grip vanished from his arm, and he heard her topple to the floor.

“Kara?” he called out, refusing to lower himself to the ground or lower the weapon. He strained his hearing, listening for the pitter patter of demon feet. They were covering the whole entrance of the garage now. “Kara? We just have to check the circuit breakers, okay? We might have blown a fuse. Kara?”

He heard her coughing, spitting something up. Probably the orange goop she had coughed up earlier.
“Kara, honey, I need you to get to your feet and come with me, okay?”

“Leave me...”

“No, damnit! Get to your feet!”

His vision adapted to the dark, and he could see a multitude of dark shadows, short and brightly colored, gathering at the entrance to his garage. He knew he didn’t have enough ammo in the rifle to kill them all. He could go out the back way...but he didn’t want to leave without Kara.

“Human.” The voice, low and scratchy, definitely originated from a female somewhere amidst the crowd in front of him. He wondered if it might be the witch, Evanescence. “Your time is up.”

“I won’t go down without a fight.”

“But you will go down.”

Jackson finally lowered himself, keeping his rifle steady on his knee with one hand, using the other hand to reach back for Kara, whose body was trembling something fierce. “Are you still with me, Kara?”

“Cold...” she whispered.

Jackson thought he saw one of the demons charge into the garage. He fired a shot, heard flesh splatter, and the raspy voice chuckle. He stood to his feet. “Come at me. What are you waiting for?”

“We don’t wait. We anticipate. You are meal to us.”

He fired another shot, hit another demon. Another shot, another casualty. Four more rounds went out, and the fifth clicked empty in his gun. He held the rifle out in front of him, ready to defend himself to the death. Kara coughed, wheezed, and then went silent. He knew she was gone from this plane. His beloved was dead.

Blue dots suddenly appeared in the distance, behind the gathering unit of demons. Dozens of dots. Then hundreds. Then thousands. Jackson squinted and strained his vision, realizing they weren’t dots but eyes. Blue glowing eyes.

“This victory goes to the Almighty!” a thunderous voice shouted just before Jackson’s eyes were blinded by radiant light.

Other Flash Fiction Friday pieces - 
#0 - Valentine

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

House of Leaves - Book Review

Trying to review this book in full is a difficult task. House of Leaves is no ordinary book. There are so many layers to this piece of fiction (it is fiction, right?) that trying to dissect them all would keep me here for the rest of the month. The only thing I can do is try to sum up my experience with House of Leaves, one of the most unique - and ultimately terrifying - books I have ever read. 

After peeling back the layers enfolding House of Leaves, you find that the core of the book is about a house, the house on Ash Tree Lane. A photographer named Will Navidson moved into this house and set up cameras all over the place to try and do a documentary about his new life with his girlfriend, Karen, and his two children, Daisy and Chad. Soon after moving into the home, Navidson stumbles upon a terrifying reality - his house is bigger on the inside than the outside. What begins as less than an inch of extra space found within the house, quickly turns into an ever-growing interior that in no way matches its outside visage. Once the house has expanded within, a mysterious hallway is discovered by the children – an ever-evolving hallway that is at one time ten feet long, and at another, a dark hundred. As Navidson begins to investigate this strange anomaly, he finds that where the hallway should appear in the yard outside, it does not. This particularly horrifying and uncanny part of the documentary is titled "The Five and a Half Minute Hallway."

The book then proceeds to detail the expeditions Navidson – and other characters – embark on to find out what is in this hallway and why the house has this uncanny spacial anomaly, all while dealing with the effects this terrifying intrusion has on the Navidson clan. The fascinating thing about this book is the antagonist - the house. This isn't just a normal haunted house, this is a monstrous enigma that shakes the Navidson family - and those who attempt to help the Navidson family - to their core. Once one enters the dark hallway, they are subject to the house's somewhat demonic nature. Light does not exist inside the corridors of this other realm, neither do adornments, such as furniture, decorations, or even floor molding at the bottom of the walls. Within this strange abyss, one is met with a constantly shifting maze of blind corridors, doors that lead to infinity, and a constant growling of a creature - possibly the house itself - hiding in the dark, a presence that reminds me of Gmork from The Neverending Story (the film version).

While that is the core of House of Leaves, what falls under the most speculation throughout the book is the entirety of Navidson's video documentary. Titled, "The Navidson Record", the video documentary of the terror that greets the family in the house on Ash Tree Lane eventually goes public and viral, and many critics begin to either praise it for its powerful artistic nuances, or criticize Navidson for creating an elaborate - and yet seemingly impossible - hoax. This public reception causes a man by the name of Zampano to try and prove or disprove the Navidson Record by interviewing the survivors of the ordeal, researching the house and the history of the house, and pouring over hours and hours of video footage of the "Five and a Half Minute Hallway."

The book actually opens up with Zampano's death under mysterious and questionable circumstances. Johnny Truant, a friend of one of Zampano’s neighbors, comes across all of Zampano’s research and findings on the Navidson Record and decides to pick up Zampano's mantle and find out what all the hooplah surrounding the Navidson Record is, adding his own experiences – and questionable life story – to the already complex layer of narrative.

The most unique thing about House of Leaves is the format of the book itself. As your own journey into the hallway in the house at Ash Tree Lane progresses, the formatting of the book becomes weirder and weirder, forcing the reader to experience a dose of claustrophobia, emptiness, or confusion, much like what the characters in the book experience. Text spirals as you descend a dark staircase, nearly blank pages with single words gives you the feeling of loneliness, and to add to the confusion, almost every page is filled with footnotes with Johnny's, Zampano's, the editors, or other's commentary. And the footnotes sometimes have footnotes. Which sometimes reference other footnotes. What adds to the confusion and reality of the book is the fact that some of these references are real (in our world) and some are made up for the book itself, adding to the fiction building blocks that help to make this book seem real.

I found myself avoiding this book at all costs late at night after everyone had already gone to bed. I now tend to see the darkness differently, shadows as more diabolical than they really are. This book gives fear a new definition because there is no standard antagonist in this story. The house is the antagonist, a house whose origins are never really fleshed out, yet provide much for theories and guesses and storytelling. Is the center of this terrifying house really a bottomless pit? Is the house itself a dimensional portal to another realm? Is it Heaven or Hell? I have no ability to explain the house properly. It is just something you will have to experience yourself when you enter the pages of this spectacular book.

I am very quick to give this book five stars, if for anything at all for the effort the author put into layering this book as if it were indeed the Maze of Minotaur referenced multiple times in the story. Although the book is not without its flaws - sometimes the footnotes to footnotes and convoluted text can become a real pain to try and get through, slowing down the intensity of the book and making me want to take a break from reading it for a while. Even though I won't go into the ending of the book, I have to say that part of it was somewhat unsatisfactory. The author seemed able to tie up a few loose ends and bring resolution to some of the main characters, but others seem to be left open with no indication as to where they are headed by the time the last page has been read. I will say that this book would make a heck of a twisted and entertaining movie.

A fun side note is the fact that Mark Danielewski’s sister, Anne Danielewski – known professionally as singer, Poe – recorded an album, the Haunted (which I remember listening to many years ago), which was put together partly to compliment House of Leaves, with such tunes as “House of Leaves”, “5&1/2 Minute Hallway”, and “Exploration B”.

House of Leaves is an experience, plain and simple. It's not just about characters exploring a house full of winding staircases, dark hallways, and endless darkness. It's about your own journey into the "Five and A Half Minute Hallway." Your own journey into darkness. Your own journey into madness.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday #0 - Valentine

It's here, folks! The first Flash Fiction Friday. Fridays are meant for winding down, goofing off, and getting ready for the weekend. That's why I picked Friday's to put out some new fiction for you to enjoy. The perfect start to your weekend.

Today's piece is entitled Valentine and involves a brand new character by the same name. The timing of this piece is a few months after the Black Earth series. The Dark War is over, the Earth is tattered and torn, and settlements are starting to pop up in different areas around the globe. One particular settlement has been erected out of the ruins of a city many fans of my Black Earth series will be familiar with - Providence.

So, without further ado, I proudly present the very first Flash Fiction Fridays piece....

Her feet hurt from the thousand mile hike from Serentina to the dark valley that stood between her and the city on the other side. Or rather, what used to be a city. Providence - once a sanctuary for those wanting to flee the Dark Army - had been reduced to rubble once Evanescence and her forces of evil marched through the city months earlier. Valentine wished she could have been here to help defend against the witch, but Fate had given her another destiny to fulfill. One just as satisfactory. One involving killing – and lots of it.

Valentine pulled her crimson cloak tight in front of her, making a mental note to tailor a bigger sized cloak once she was finished with her business here. The cloak she wore now seemed to be shrinking, and soon her skin would be left exposed to the cold. 

With a final push of determination, she began her short trek through the valley. Her night vision – a gift bestowed upon her by the Sec – allowed her to maneuver around the dead bodies strewn across what was once a battlefield. Now it stood only as a graveyard to mark humanities darkest season. The stench of blood and entrails rose into her nostrils and she breathed it in as if it were enhanced oxygen meant to nourish her lungs, lending a metallic taste to the back of her throat, soothing her somewhat enraged mind.

When she reached what were once the tall gates of Providence – now a heap of stone and ash – she took a moment to observe the scattered candlelight, kept alight within small glass canisters that hung from different points throughout the city to give it its soft, orange glow. The scent of burning wood tickled the back of her throat, replacing the metallic blood fever, and she remembered campfires with friends before the Sec took hold of her, before she became who she was today – an assassin slave.

The sound of footsteps came at her from the right, but she did not flinch, nor did she pull out her ancient Scion blades to attack the individuals responsible. Instead, she held her head down, underneath the hood of her cloak, and folded her hands within each other. The less anyone could see of her, the better. She glanced down at her worn, brown boots and wondered if she could find a new pair of shoes in this place. It would require money or rummaging, neither of which she was willing to offer up. She would already have to expel her energy on crafting a new cloak from the special material she had acquired in the last place she had the chance to call home.

Four figures came out of the shadows, each holding a weapon: a chain link, a bat, a two-by-four, and a pistol. The fourth figure, the one with the pistol, was female. Valentine could deduce that from the individual’s simple hourglass shape, even though the woman could easily be mistaken for a man from the garb she wore. Each individual wore a patchwork of leather and metal pieces, giving them the appearance of bandits.

The man with the bat grunted, stopping a few feet in front of Valentine. “Look at this pretty specimen. I didn’t think cuties like you still existed.”

“Little Red Riding Hood!” the guy with the chain link squealed.

The third man and the woman both remained silent. Valentine decided to give them a chance to talk their friends out of doing anything stupid. Valentine wanted to fight, wanted to cast the blood of these four morons across the streets of Old Providence - as it had been called by some - but she would control herself if it meant she could complete her task and leave sooner rather than later.

“What brings you here?” the man with the bat asked.

Valentine said nothing. Her goal, the reason she was here in Old Providence, lay just up the street. She could sense the corpse.

The man with the bat stepped closer, cautiously attempting a peek under Valentine’s hood. “I asked you a question.”

Valentine moved her arms up, adjusting her sleeves, flashing the sun mark on her right hand, and then returned to her original position.

The man with the bat raised his weapon. “I asked you a question, Little Miss Red.”

The female with the gun grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “You don’t want to do that,” she whispered.

“Why the hell not? This is our city.” He turned to Valentine. “We don’t take kindly to trespassers.”

“Because,” the woman with the gun explained, “I’m pretty sure this is Valentine. The mark on her hand...the Sec owns her.”

The man’s eyes scanned Valentine, his teeth grinding loudly as he did it. “Impossible. The Sec died in the war.”

“She’s right,” the man with the two-by-four stated. “That cloak...see how it shimmers?”

The man with the bat took a closer look at the material that made up Valentine’s red cloak. “That doesn’t mean it’s blood. Could be silk.”

The man with the two-by-four nudged the man with the bat, moving him to the side. “Please,” he said to Valentine, “we don’t want any trouble. Get what you came here to get, and please be on your way.”

Valentine wasted no time in passing between the four individuals to continue into Old Providence.

“You’re going to let her in just like that?” the man with the bat grumbled. “She could be a thief.”

“We have nothing to steal,” the sensible man said. “Besides, I’m sure she’s Valentine. I recognize that cloak anywhere.”

“Soaked in the blood of her enemies,” the female added.

Valentine left them to their pointless discussion. Whether Valentine was a thief or not, she would have entered the city, either through peaceful means or by force. Bloody good force.

Walking down the street, Valentine looked up from beneath her hood at the rubble on both sides of her and attempted to match the layout with the pictures she had seen of what Providence looked like before the Dark War. She imagined the tall buildings, the beautiful lights, the little shops. She let her imagination run rampant, imagining horrific scenes of terror when Legion and the Dark Army entered the city. Chaos, Evanescence, Legion’s master entity. Nathan Pierce had fought them all. In the end, Evanescence took her army and ravaged the city. Then she went after those who had fled to the mountains, but by the time she reached them, everyone had found hiding places within the caves and forests. The witch wasted no time in setting the forests on fire, and sending her demon Hellhounds into the caves. Hundreds were slaughtered.

Valentine saw the massive black puddle of dragon’s blood shimmering across the concrete and then scanned the area for the corpse she was here to collect. Positioned on the sidewalk, encircled by clusters of various colored flowers and tea lights, a large mass of white sheets caught her attention. Valentine approached to examine the pile and found that the symbol of the Sec had been clumsily painted on the top sheet, telling her this was the body she was here to retrieve: the body of a hero. This was the body of a girl who had fought the dragon, Chaos. This was the body of a girl who had sacrificed her life for the one she loved, to give him a chance to battle the darkness, to give him a chance to escape.

Without ceremony, Valentine lifted the mass of sheets – all of which were wrapped tightly around the corpse – in her arms and began her long journey back to Serentina.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

December Update

I can't believe it's December already. Man, the year has flown. As we near the end of another season, here's a little update as to what you can expect from me in the near future -

This Friday is the first Flash Fiction Friday (FFF)! I'll be posting a brand new piece of short fiction which I'll put up on my blog on Friday - and a new one every Friday after that. I expect all stories to take place in the same universe/canon as my Black Earth and Expired Reality series, so if you were wondering what happened after the events of Black Earth: Exodus, then you might want to check out these stories...

I am also currently writing up a story for 'The Untold Podcast'. Right now, the story is called The Factory, but that's probably going to change before the story is converted into audio format for the podcast. I managed to blow out about 1500 words in the first draft last night, and I really like where the story is going. To give you a hint, The Factory takes place shortly after the events of Black Earth: Exodus, but involves brand new characters. That's all I'm willing to reveal right now.

On top of those two writing projects this month, I will also be working on the profiles for VRKA (which will be 'activated' in January), crafting more of The LZR Project (which has a tentative release date of March of 2014), and just enjoying the holidays with my family and friends.

Come back on Friday for Valentine, the first Flash Fiction Friday installment!