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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Change

Someone asked me why I never update my blog the other day, and I thought "Sure I do. It hasn't been that long." So I checked in, and realized its just about a year to the day since my last update. Wow. I'm a slacker.

So what's going on?

Well, in my personal life, a lot. On October 21 we lost Bear, and I was pretty devastated. I'm still a long way from moving past it. I loved that dog.

Kenny is finally nearly toilet trained, after a number of on again/off again attempts throughout the year. He's less than a year away from school, which is mind blowing. He still sleeps perfectly, and is a smart, polite well behaved boy most of the time.

The biggest news which I completely skipped on the blog, is that we now have a second child. Josephine Mae Dunkley was born on August 13, and is currently causing my sleep schedule much distress. Like her brother, she is about as cute as humanly possible, and she's at that stage where she's smiling a lot, and kind of playing as well. Kenny loves her dearly, and can't wait to show her how to play avengers and go on long walks.

My sister also brought another family member into the world, my nephew Declan. He's an awesomely cute little guy that is destined for football - already he's built like a linebacker. Because of a hectic life of late, I have not seen him nearly enough, but hope to remedy that in the near future.

As for writing, the main reason I suspect any of you come here, I'm sure you can guess progress has been limited. I have been puttering at some short stories, a bit of work here and there on Iron King and World Without Heroes, but mostly I have been rereading snippets of my work trying to get back into the "zone". I have not stopped writing, and never will. It's just been delayed a bit. I hope to have something more to share soon.

Lastly, on the topic of this blog itself. I can't promise to post more, butI want to, and will try. Along with bits about my life and writing, I am considering sharing some other thoughts, on the world around us. Things that have me thinking. Things that have me worried, or excited. I guess we will see what the future brings.

Thanks for sticking with me!

Friday, November 23, 2012

For Kasey

Just Another Day.

3:07am


"Did you hear that? What was that? Is it morning already? Kasey, what was that? Is it time for breakfast? Hey hey, I think it must be morning. Kasey? Getupgetupgetup!"

"Oh god" I grumble. "Go back to sleep. It's the middle of the night." I open one eye anyway, knowing she is wrong, but still needing to double check; I am kind of hungry, after all. The room we share is nearly black, our two beds shrouded in darkness. I'm curled up in mine, and I take a moment to glare at my sister. She's standing on hers, her whole body rigid with quivering anticipation. She is such a morning person. She makes a noise deep in the back of her throat, and I hiss at her to be quiet. "Don't wake dad!" The door to our room is closed, and I think I can make out the eyes of one of the cats up high on a shelf.

I hear a door open in the hallway, and roll my eyes; Bear's little stub of a tail is whipping around like a propeller, and I wonder that it doesn't come clean off. She launches herself at the door and I'm sure she is going to smash right into it, but instead she skids to a halt and drops to the floor just before it, her nose pressed to the slit underneath. Light spills in, and I hear some noise in the other room. Just mom or dad, going to the bathroom. I rest my head back on my paws, and roll my eyes. "Bear, it's not morning. It's not time to come out yet. " Of course, she ignores me. Her little stub is moving so fast I can feel the air move from across the room. My tail wiggles a bit, much to my chagrin; her excitement can be contagious, I'll give her that. I still my own tail with an embarrassed frown; I'd have blushed, if I could.

Moments pass; the toilet flushes, the taps in the sink run, and then the light turns out. Another second or two, and the door to our parents' bedroom clicks shut. Bear, the silly twit, still thinks it's morning. "Bear, cut it out. I'm going back to sleep." I close my eyes, and soon enough I'm dreaming of squirrels. Likely Bear is still standing at the door as I sleep.

6:59am

There's light outside, now. I have to pee, and I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever eat again. I'm sure it's been weeks since the last time we had a meal. Weeks! Bear's awake, but the silly monster is lying on her back, a dazed expression on her face. She's drooling a little bit, too. It must be almost time to-

The bedroom just opened! My sister beats me to our door only by a tail -and a stub of a tail at that. Her tail is at it again, but then mine is a little out of my control too. I don't care; I'm nearly positive that its breakfast time! We hear the bathroom, and mom talking to the cats. The felines are crowded outside our door; they get fed in here, while we go downstairs to eat. Humans have the strangest ideas about these things.

Our door opens, and ohmygodtheresmommy! For a moment, everything's chaos; cats bound in past us, heading towards their prospective spots. Bear and I charge mom, circling around her in a rush. "mommymommymommymommymommy" Bear is repeating over and over in excitement, and I'm embarrassed to admit I'm almost as bad. She pushes past us, muttering something that sounds annoyed in Human that I don't quite make out, and the door clicks shut. I hear the cats demanding their breakfast, so I charge downstairs; Bear remains outside our room -by running ahead of her, I avoid being trampled on the stairs by my gigantic klutz of a sister.

I hear the door open, and mom starts down the stairs. Ok, I admit; at this point I'm pretty excited. I can smell the cat food upstairs, and I can smell my own food in that darn frustrating plastic bin. Why are human's so slow? Doesn't mom realize I'm starving to death here?! "Mom!" I shout, "C'mon! Hurry up!"

Bear crashes down the stairs with her usual grace; I wince a bit at the colossal crash as she smashes into a wall while trying to take a tight corner, moving at about ninety past the speed limit. With all the elegance of a horse standing on an ice rink she slides into the kitchen, nearly knocking me over as she skids to a stop at her food bowl. "Food?" she asks me with a goofy smile.

And then mom is there, and everything is ok.

7:38am

I'm in my chair. It's a cozy thing, just the right size for me to curl up in, next to the big window. I love my chair. I can watch the birds, and I can see when dad gets home, as he pulls his car up almost right next to me. I love the feel of the sun on me in my chair, and I admit tanning is something of a guilty pleasure; I know, I know, I've heard about the risks of sun tanning, but it just warms up my fur and makes me so toasty, well, I can't resist. Especially now that Spring is here, and everything is warming up. I love this time of year! There are so many things out there to smell, sometimes I wish I could stay out there all day! Of course, then I'd get hungry...

Where was I? Mom and dad are rushing around the house, with Bear tagging along hopefully. I lift my head a bit, and try to get her attention; she ignores me, but I call out to her anyways; "Bear, they're going out. We have to stay here."

"Can I come?" Bear asked mom. She didn't seem to hear; humans seldom do. "Mom, Can I come?" Her tail was spinning again, with such force that her entire back end was swaying back and forth like a transport trailer on a winding road. She gave up as dad entered the room, and turned to him instead. "Dad, can I come? Are we going to the park? I love the park. Dad, can we go to the park?"

Dad glanced down at her fondly, and scratched her between her two black ears. He said something in a nice voice, and I could make out "go" and "work". I felt a brief stab of jealousy that he was petting her and not me; but she was just a kid and nearly twenty years younger than me, after all. And I guess if I had been begging for attention like her he would have petted me too; but I have more dignity than that.

Mom and dad are moving towards the door, and Bear is frantically zipping around them in a panic. "Don't forget me!" she was crying, "I wanna come to!" Pathetic. I jump to the floor, feeling the strain in my legs even for such a short drop -I guess I must be getting old. I calmly walk to the door to say goodbye as they leave, and watch Bears tail suddenly go as still as a stone. I guess she realized she's staying here.

I hear the car start up, and I return to my chair. Before I settle, I deal with an itch on my back leg, gnawing just a bit for relief. Then I settle in. A few minutes later, Bear trudges her way back upstairs. I hear her climb slowly on the big bed in the guest room; that's a nice spot, too. Lots of sun. Maybe I'll join her in a bit.

11:02am

Bear is snoring. And taking up most of the bed. I moved up to join her an hour or so ago; I guess I like her company, but don't ever tell her that. That darn Rottweiler is sprawled out and taking up at least three quarters of the bed. I'm curled up next to her, but I admit I appreciate her warmth. It’s sunny outside, and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t rather be outside. I sigh contently. Bear twitches a bit in her sleep.

Kozmo, one of the cats, jumps up on the bed; he freezes for a moment. I don't think he realized we were already up here. He looks at me as if he were asking permission -not that felines ever listen to what us canines have to say, even though it's pretty much a given that what we think makes a lot more sense. I glare at him for a second, and think about chasing him a way. "Whatever," I mumble, and rest my head on Bear's flank. Other than the twitching, she hasn't budged, by the way. And humans say Rottweiler's are supposed to be guard dogs. Kozmo curls up next to Bear, and closes his eyes.

I wish it was lunchtime. I'm hungry. Ah, well. Mom should be home soon.

1:31pm

Mom’s still not home. I’m sitting in the window downstairs, where I have a good view of the driveway. It’s sunny and warm, and I can see little specs of dust dancing in the beams of light that gather in pools on the hardwood floor next to me. There’s a bird on the fence next door, but I was never much interested in birds; I’m a beagle after all, not some silly retriever with no thought in his head except “fetch!”

At the sound of a car, I know she’s home; Bear crashes down the stairs and arrives at the front door right after me. She pushes past me, eager to greet mom first; the silly canine doesn’t really mean to be so pushy, she just doesn’t realise her own strength. Still, I growl at her in warning, and she apologizes.

Mom steps in, and we rush her; she’s carrying something, but I can tell right away it’s not food. I dismiss it, and run for my bowl. Bear runs in circles, her long legs slipping and sliding on the kitchen floor, and she almost manages to trip mom. “Food!” I bark impatiently. “Please!” I just think to add. Dad’s always telling me not to be rude.

We eat pretty quickly; I watch Bear out of the corner of my eye as I eat, making sure she doesn’t try to sneak some of my food. I’m not kidding – I’ve seen her do it. She’s watching me as she eats, too, though I have no idea why. I’d never do anything like that to her. Honest.

I finish up, and head right for the back door. Mom’s already there waiting, and she opens it and lets me out. As I’m moving through the door, Bear again smashes her way past, pushing past me like she can’t even see me. And dad calls me rude!

I gotta go pretty bad, but once outside I stop and sit on the edge of the deck. I close my eyes for a minute, and raise my muzzle to the sun. Winter is fine enough, I suppose, but boy am I glad spring has arrived. I can hear the birds, and another dog down the street calling hello. The air smells fresh and crisp, like dirt and water, flowers and fur, like an endless meadow right in the middle of the city. The warmth of the sun feels like its charging me, filling me with life. Even the wood of the deck beneath me is warm, and feels pleasant on my flanks.

I break out of my revere and head down into the grass, and do my business. Bear has already finished, and is standing off to one side, waiting for me. I could just ignore her, and she would go away eventually. But I’m feeling pretty good. I’m even feeling a pleasant burst of puppy like energy, so I break into a sudden run towards her. She braces herself, trying her Rottweiler best to look tough, and I hit the brakes just before her, laughing. I dart off in the other direction, and she chases; she’s laughing with me.

I lead her on a chase around the yard, and then we trade and I chase her for a bit. A little later we chase a squirrel. Mom has looked out at us a couple times, but seems fine with letting us stay outside and play. Spring was created just for us canines, I’ve decided. Could it ever be more perfect?

5:32pm

“Is dad here yet?” Bear asked in a murmur. She’s been napping again, and looks to have just awoken. She looks a little out of it –again- as she rests her gigantic head on the chair next to me. She sniffs at my face, and I grumble at her not to be rude.

“Does it look like he’s here?” I reply sarcastically.

Bear actually lifts her head and looks around. “I don’t see him,” she sounds puzzled.

I sigh, letting my breath pump out like a bellows in exasperation. No one realizes how tough it is to be me, I swear. “You silly twit, I was being sarcastic. Of course he’s not here.”

Bear let her head fall, resting again on the cushion next to me, as if supporting her silly head next to me would somehow actually hold up her entire body. She looks a little disappointed. “Oh,” she mumbled. I actually almost feel bad that I might have hurt her feelings.

Mom is moving around the house, and I hop past Bear to the floor. She follows me, as I go to see what mom’s up to. She’s in the kitchen, and I can smell something cooking. Human food smells so much better than ours! It hardly seems fair.

Bear hears something, and rushes past me to our spot in front of the window. Her bum is swaying back and forth like an uneven load in a transport tuck, and I jump up beside her. The car is in the driveway! And there! Its dad! He’s home! My tall is whipping around out of control, but I don’t care. I call out to him, and Dad looks up at the window and smiles. He waves, and starts down the driveway. As if shot from a gun, the two of us race towards the front door, nearly ending up in a collision and pile-up there. The door opens, and he steps in. “Hey guys,” he says. “Yeah, relax, I’m home,” I grab a cat toy, and offer it with a smile. “Look what I brought you dad!” He takes it, and I could just die from happiness.



Dad’s home!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Another Story Bit


Heaven. I had heard of Heaven. Everyone had. Heaven was a Gatari built station out in the middle of nowhere, far out on the arms of the Milky Way. Unlike most stations, Heaven was not actually within a system, but floating in the black in between. I’m not sure what her Gatari name was, but Heaven was the English name it won as soon as the earliest human travelers arrived. As the story goes, a pirate/smuggler/trader (depending on who is telling the tale) had docked, and when her captain walked onto the commons, he loudly announced “I’ve died and gone to Heaven.” No one is sure whether he was referring to the prostitutes that walked the decks in a dozen species, the sprawling black market, or the abundance of drug, violence, liquor and depravity – because shortly after the remark was heard, he was stabbed in the back there in the commons. He bled to death on the deck while scavengers sold his crew into slavery, and dismantled his ship for parts. Or so the story goes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The May 2-4

When I was younger, the May 2-4 –the Canadian long weekend celebrating some queen or something but actually celebrating the summer, and booze – was a time best spent at a cabin or camp ground, with a stack of booze and a murder of good friends. Then, I thought that to be the best possible way to spend the first real long weekend of the summer.
This year, I did it different (though I did still consume a respectable quantity of rum; Bacardi Oakheart, for those interested). I took Friday off of work to hang with my son; Nicole works till 1:00, so we had the bulk of the day to ourselves.
We went to Breithaupt Park, and spent most of the morning there. He played on the swing, the teeter totter, the bouncy whale thing (as seen below) and the jungle gym slide. We went for a walk in the woods for about an hour, and he collected a couple more rocks. We had a little picnic in the shade of a tree, and he ran through the splash pad fully clothed.

We went home and puttered in the yard till Nicole got home. I put up a gazebo we inherited, and Kenny helped by passing me tools. He also took the time while I was reading the instructions to perform a little maintenance on my trusty old mower.

It was a very good day.
Friday night I hung out at a bonfire with some neighbors after Nicole and Kenny went to bed, and they invited us to an alley party on Sunday. Cool beans.

Saturday was grocery day, and Kenny went for his 18 month photos for his great-grandma (a family tradition; she has one of all her grandkids and great grandkids). We puttered around the house a bit in the afternoon while he napped, and then puttered some more after he got up.
Sunday was spent doing yard work, while Kenny played. And yeah. I took lots of breaks to play with him too. I got one of our weed gardens all ripped up, and I’m almost done building a new brick perimeter. Later afternoon and into the evening we had the alley party.

Boy, that kid can run now. Nicole and I took turns chasing Kenny. He tore after the TONS of older kids, and had fun exploring the alley and disappearing into the neighbors back yards. We had a great time hanging with the neighbor’s and making some new friends, after only 6 years living here ;)
Kenny went down like an exhausted sack of potatoes at bed time, so mommy and daddy got to go back out to the alley to drink with our new friends. Good times. Oh, and the Veggie Chip things that Nicole’s mom gave us to bring were not that bad, I’m told, and tasted a bit like cold McDonalds French fries. I passed on those.

Monday Grandma Grace (my mom) came to visit and we all hung outside for the day, and Kenny and I splashed around in his kiddie pool. When he went down for his nap, Nicole and I crashed; we relaxed and watched a movie (Don’t be afraid of the dark, not very exciting) and decided to order pizza. Exhausted after a long weekend, we all stayed in for the evening and rested. And I went to bed two hours earlier than normal (10:15) and slept like a baby. Kenny also slept like a baby ;)
So looking back, it was one of the best weekends I can remember. And it had nothing to do with rivers of alcohol, and everything to do with time spent as a family, working, playing and relaxing. Our little buddy Kenny has filled in the gaps in our life that we didn’t even know where there; I wouldn’t trade a minute of yard work with Kenny hanging off of my leg for a hundred long weekends spend drunk out of my skull, and any time he wants to dash away laughing and screaming, I’ll be there to chase him down, tackle him, and tickle him till he needs a diaper change.

video

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Untitled.



Another story. I think the intention is for this one to be a shory story. Untitled as of yet. Its pretty rough, fair warning.
Devon stood in the sprawling field of grass, shaded his eyes with one hand, and muttered, “Fuck.” With a sour grimace, he watched the rapidly diminishing silhouette of his ship, The Star King. Soon enough, she was nothing but a speck of light in the atmosphere, and he turned away to take in his surroundings. The grass, a tall resilient species tinted with the slightest shading of blue, went on forever around him in waves, raising and falling with the uneven ground, lazily swaying with the gently urgings of a dry wind. In the distance, a cloud of dust was already approaching. The gondyr moved fast; they would be upon him in minutes, and there was nowhere he could hide. The damn beasts would be able to track him upriver through a bloody stream of lava anyways, so running would be pointless at best.  He sighed in bitterness, and sat on the naked ground in a huff.
He took quick appraisal of his possessions; he was wearing a battered brown shirt, dark grey jeans, and simple running shoes; his pockets contained his small pocket knife, acquired on his first salvage operation so long ago, a stick of gum, and lint; he had no weapons, and even his sunglasses were still aboard the King. He muttered quietly about the glare from the sun, and popped the stick of gum into his mouth. He chewed the sweet with a sour expression.

What a colossal bitch, he thought fiercely. So maybe he had pushed her limits a little further than usual; he deserved a good hard slap –knowing her as he did, a sharp roundhouse to the face might be a better fit. Stealing his ship and ditching him on a medieval alien crap hole of a world? That was just mean. And his good-for-nothing crew had gone along with it. Sure, she had been armed; but they could have stopped her, if they wanted. He was reasonably confident they would eventually come back for him; he just had to make sure he survived that long.

The ground started to vibrate underneath him, so Devon climbed warily to his feet, facing the near-dust storm his hunters were kicking up, and rested his hands on his hips, his thumbs tucked into his belt.  They arrived with the rumble of thunder, trampling the grass around him. They rode massive lizards that he knew could run him down without breaking into a sweat. As they circled, bowstrings were drawn back, as the gondyr took careful aim; not that it made a bit of a difference, Devon thought. Laser or poisoned arrow, dead was dead. The leader of the gondyr party unslung a particularly nasty looking rifle, and took careful aim; “damn it, what are the odds?” He easily recognized the model of rifle; he had sold it to them earlier that month. He could also clearly make out the display that indicated this rifle still had plenty of charge.

“Well Captain, this be justice harmonic,” the leader with the rifle said with amusement.

“I think you mean justice poetic, Kiiya” Devon scowled. He found little about the scene amusing.

Kiiya laughed; the sound reminded Devon of a ruptured valve, leaking gas with a stuttering hiss. Kiiya sat atop his lizard with a straight back, his rifle firm in unwavering hands, and the muzzle casually yet clearly aimed at his chest. He looked like a million other of the gondyr; Devon admitted he could seldom tell them apart, but Kiiya wore the badges of office that he had earned as tribal Entat.

The gondyr were short heavy creatures that sometimes walked upright – most often, Devon figured, when they wanted to impress aliens with the opinion that they could be as civilized as any space faring bipedal civilization. They had short stubby fingers on beefy hands, just barely nimble enough to manipulate the controls on a particle rifle. When on all fours they could actually run faster than the lizards they rode; they had only begun using the creatures for transportation in the last hundred years or so. Devon suspected that some of the early “traders” to trade with them had given them some old westerns; likely that was also when a number of words showed up in their language, like sheriff, jail, and a favored expressed, you are under arrest. He’d also heard them say “howdy, pilgrim” enough times that it had stopped being funny.

“You are under arrest, you lying cheat,” Kiiya announced now, doing his best to imitate a human smile. Devon sighed. It was hardly the first time he’d heard the words, but they never really sounded any better. He watched the expression of the Entat’s face. It was hard to read the alien faces of the gondyr, but he thought Kiiya looked pretty serious. Their thick muzzles kind of made it look like they were smiling all the time. Devon actually thought it was a little creepy.

“C’mon now, Entat Kiiya. Why would you call me that? You trying to hurt my feelings? You know I would never cheat you. Hell, that’s my rifle you have pointed at me, which I’m none too happy about. You know as well as I what happens if you pull that trigger. You wanted strong weapons, my friend, and you have them. What’s with all this hostility?”

Kiiya growled. Devon did not lose hope; the growl could be meaningless. As the Entat -the leader of his tribe by right of fierce, brutal combat – he pretty much had to growl, or lose face. They might shout and threaten, growl and posture, but at the end of the day the gondyr were as interested in the almighty dollar as pretty much everyone else. Unfortunately, this time, there was a good chance he actually had cheated the gondyr.

“Yeah,” Kiiya grumbled. “This gun work good, for sure. This the last though. The others, not so much. You told us these guns gone make us strong, and would not need ammo like the others. You lied, captain.”

Devon signed; it was exactly what we was afraid of. He should have figured the bastards would fly into blood frenzy the minute he left, and use up what should have been several months worth of charge. He wondered how many neighboring tribes were now distant memories; the gondyr certainly had no qualms against genocide.

Most of the weapons that had found their way to the primitive world had been good old powder weapons, guns that required shells and ammunition. Some of the earliest traders had even provided the skills to produce native gunpowder, and the ability to replace the ammunition. Devon, when he had been here a few weeks back, had needed something special; the usual weapons had not cut it, and he had traded them some rather powerful energy weapons. He had not lied, exactly, when he claimed they needed no ammunition; they did, however, need a standard power outlet to recharge.

“Look, Kiiya, maybe you managed to break the others? I could take a look at them, if you’d like,” he stalled. He knew damn well they would not let him anywhere near the weapons.

“You think we is stupid?” Kiiya demanded. The heavy gondyr leaped from the saddle, and rushed him on all fours -a sure sign the Entat was pissed off. The creature was fast; before he even knew what had happened, Devon was on the ground, and Kiiya was on top of him. The Entat’s muzzle was inches from his face, and yellowish ooze dripped from slathering jaws, splashing all over his face with a sickening odor; he held his breath, knowing that their slobber, while not actually poisonous, held enough bacteria to cause him serious issues.

“You under arrest, liar! We gone hold a lawyering, and when I prove you the lying scumbag I’m gonna bash your stupid face!” The Entat pulled back, and then lunged forward with both arms falling like comets towards his face; Devon didn’t even have time to flinch. Pain. Blackness.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Time Off

So pretty much since Kenny was born, I have been neglecting this blog. Well, I have also been neglecting my writing. Honestly, I just haven't had a lot of time. Every spare waking moment has been spent with Kenny (totally by choice, I should add; I love spending time with that boy). I've had an hour here and there, but I've been tired enough that the writing zone has pretty much eluded me, and I have spent it either playing a video game or catching up on reading.

That being said, I seem to once again be in that writing purgatory right on the edge of the zone; this cozy little place where I'm starting to feel this building pressure, this itch that needs to be scratched, and the only way to get at it is to dive feet first in and write something.

So... I'm not sure what I'm working on next, but I'm browsing through some old files trying to decide. I have a bunch of short stories, two or three novels that are NOT the sequel to Savage Queen, and yes, a hundred pages or so of the sequel, the Iron King. Because I never really came close to the numbers I wanted on Savage Queen, I'm a little sour on the series at the moment, so I’m not sure I’m ready to head back there just yet. I’m still hoping I can find an actual publisher, and sell a lot more. That would definitely encourage me to work on Iron King, which by the way, promises to be a much bigger, much more epic (awesome) book.

So... In the spirit of re-entering my little neglected headspace of creation, I present to you a project with a long history of on again/off again. This was my attempt at a post-apocalyptic take, mashed together with another genre I have also loved. So I present to you the opening of World Without Heroes.

*Heads up, this one contains a bit of adult content.


World Without Heroes

The town ahead of him on the dusty road looked from a distance like a hundred other towns he had walked into. The sun to the west was slinking behind the hills, casting the broken town in a reddish light, making him think of blood; broken and bloody, the town of Alma seemed to his tired eyes. The wind had dropped away, leaving behind an eerie quiet, the only sound the crunch of his heavy boots scattering debris on the cracked, desolate highway. Behind him, the road seemingly stretched away forever.


Desmond straddled the road like a cowboy would sit astride his horse, confident and sure. He strode along the broken road as if he has every right in the world to be there, his dark eyes straight ahead, his motion steady, unwavering. He stood six feet tall, though the cocky way he carried himself –head high, shoulders thrown back, thick chest puffed out –made him appear somewhat taller. The pale skin of his face was gritty and spattered with the dirt of the hard road, though he gave no sign that he noticed, or cared. His thin lips, also pale, were drawn tight, not quite a frown, but miles away from anything resembling a smile. On another man, his pronounced jawbone and sharp features could be almost feminine; on Desmond, they were simply fierce. He dressed plainly; heavy leather boots, faded blue jeans, now more grey than blue, a torn yellow t-shirt that may have started out white, and a brown leather coat that hung midway down his thighs. A thick black belt encircled his waist, and a bulky satchel hung from a knotted strap over his left shoulder, next to an empty quiver. He clutched a walking stick, a foot taller than he and nearly two inches in diameter, with his right hand. Encased in a shiny black sheath, the only item he carried that appeared cared for, even polished, hung from his belt on his left.

On the side of the road, on his right, he passed a makeshift sign announcing the name of the small town. Though the name itself was printed on the sheet of plywood with dripping black spray paint, as if done in a hurry or at least with a lack thought to how it appeared, the two rows of hexes underneath were stenciled neatly, drawn in a dark copper he recognized as faded blood. Because the symbols were clearly a warding against daemons, he guessed the blood had belonged to livestock. Or at least he hoped so. Damned superstitions.

He moved into town, taking his surroundings in with barely a glance. Alma was just another small town, perhaps once a farming community, a collection of buildings stuck on the highway like a way station. The buildings were like a thousand others he had seen in his drifting. Run down, washed out. What paint remained was so faded that it might not have existed at all, and only one in ten windows contained glass. On his left, three houses in a row were burned out shells, debris scattered onto the highway. An old television sat at the side of the road, its blank screen staring at him as he passed. He stepped around a pile of horse droppings, and nodded in appreciation. At least it wouldn’t be another ghost town. Maybe there was something to the hexes after all. He grinned at the thought.

From somewhere ahead and to the right, he could now make out the sounds of life. The rumble of a gathered crowd was almost music to his ears. At his brisk pace, he reached a crossroads in only a few minutes. The buildings were a little denser now, packed closer together, and though they appeared just as run down as the ones further out, something gave the impression of recent inhabitation that the previous buildings had lacked. One lonely traffic light still stood on one corner, its lights long since gone dark. Desmond turned right, following the noise, and crossed to the far side of the road, stepping up onto a crumbling cement sidewalk. The noise no longer reminded him of music. There was cheering; but it was drunken, rowdy, angry. Not daemons, then, but man had always been able to create their own trouble long before the daemons ever came. And above the cheers, above the sound of the mob, another voice.

He paused, then. It would be better if he just continued on his way. He needed no part of the trouble that took place there. And yet, he made no move to leave.

Desmond stared a particular building, the source of the noise, even though he had it memorized in a glance. The building was a tavern; a faded sign that hung from the gutters read Mary’s. The building was as old as any other in town, but fresh red paint had been applied to the double doors and wood trim around the windows. A long porch ran along the front of the building, stretching out into the unused parking lot, and though it sagged some in the middle, it was clear this building was well maintained. It seemed Mary’s was more successful than the rest of the town.

That other voice cried out again, high pitched and feminine, thick with desperation, humiliation and fear. She shrieked for help, and Desmond turned to leave. He would continue on his way. He needed no part in that kind of trouble.

“Mister!” a new voice called, high and desperate as well, but not quite feminine. “Mister, please! Help!”

He looked back. A sandy haired boy, no more than eleven, ran towards him from the side of the tavern. On of his eyes was swollen shut, a nasty shiner marring most of his young face, but his open eye blazed with rage. Desmond faced the boy, his fingers twitching. It sure looked like a boy, but it wouldn’t be the first time he had been wrong. He waited, silent, as the boy approached.

The child skidded to a stop only feet away, his face wet with tears. The boy’s eyes flickered to the samurai sword hung at his belt, and quickly looked up to meet his eyes. “Mister, you have to help!” he choked out, his high voice, not yet changed by puberty, choked with emotion. “They’re attacking her! Its awful!” His eyes again flickered to the sword, “You can stop them! You can save her.”

Desmond sighed. “Boy, there are no more heroes.”

The boy collapsed, his strings cut. From the ground, he muttered, “I tried to save her, I did. But I’m just a kid. She asked O’Neil to pay his tab, and right away I knew there was trouble. He had some of the other locals with him, and the whore house shut down a couple months back, and they just got this look and… I tried to stop them, I did. I tried. She took care of me. Please help her, mister.”

Desmond frowned. He had figured it would be something of that sort. He had seen it too many times. But for every one that was saved, how many more were not? It was a losing battle. There were no more heroes, not for a long time. He would have ignored it. Forgotten about it. Moved on. But the boy – he could hardly say no now. He pulled off his coat, and handed it down to the weeping boy, along with walking stick, sack and empty quiver. “Hold this,” he muttered. “I expect it all back when I return.”

The boy said something as he walked away, but he wasn’t sure what. His thoughts were focused ahead. The tavern loomed ahead of him ominously. He stepped onto the porch, the wood groaning under him. He hit the latch, and the left door opened with a creak that wasn’t even noticed by the crowd inside. He stepped through, into a scene he had seen too often before.

The interior of Mary’s was like so many others. Along the back an old stained bar ran the length of the room, a collection of mismatched stools placed in front. A door behind that stood ajar, leading to the kitchen and a collection of smells he could have lived without. Desmond noticed a fat man in stained whites, his bald head shiny with grease or sweat, wringing his hands and peering out into the commons room. A makeshift fire pit, formed by a scattering of bricks and chucks of concrete, stood cold in one corner of the room, a battered tin pipe above it to vent out the smoke in the winter months. The rest of the room, atop a rough sawdust covered floor, was filled by any number of tables and chairs, also mismatched and stained. It was mostly clean, which was a surprise, the sawdust fresh, and not quite as run down as the rest of town. Fresh red paint, like the window frames and doors outside, had been used to paint much of the dark interior. The lighting was provided by thick beeswax candles, placed on each table and in sconces along the walls. A cloud of thick smoke, pot and tobacco and who knew what else, hung above them like a brewing storm.

With a quick glance around the room, no more than a pair of seconds, Desmond took everything in. An old couple in one corner crouched low at their table, too afraid to move lest they be noticed. A couple men scattered about, enough humanity left in them to not want to participate, but still unwilling to help; still, he noticed at least two men watching the scene in the middle of the room with too much curiosity, as if they too were thinking about joining in. One of them noticed Desmond’s searching eyes; his own eyes shot down to the table, ashamed, as if he knew that Desmond knew what he had been thinking.

The voice again rose above the mob, shrill, “Please god! Someone help me! How can you just sit there and-” the voice broke off with a pain filled shriek. The mob responded with laughter, full of sadism.

The rest of the room, maybe twenty men and a scattering of woman, stood in a circle around one of the bigger tables like the cheering section at a ball game. A man stood there, his tan pants down around his ankles. In front of him, bent over the table, was the source of the shrill voice. A second man knelt on the table before the woman, his member now engorged in her mouth, cutting off her screams. He leered at the room, his face shinning with pride, like a boy that for the first time has ridden his bike without help, beaming at his father as if to say look what I’m doing, daddy!

Desmond drew the sword, and advanced. The crowd parted before him as he went, and some remote part of him was reminded of that ancient story of Moses and the Red Sea. The second man noticed him first, even as the mob fell silent, and fell backwards off the table. The first man, holding the woman down and taking her from the rear, glanced over his shoulder and met Desmond’s gaze. The man even had the audacity to grin.

“What, you can’t wait your turn, fucker?” he joked merrily, withdrawing from the woman. He bent to pull up his pants, and Desmond reached him. The blade flashed. The first man collapsed, muttering something about being unarmed with his last breath. The crowd drew back, afraid for the moment. But Desmond knew mobs; they would be over it soon enough. He would act quickly.

The second man regained his feet, his penis hanging obscenely from the open fly of his jeans. He made no move to cover himself, but instead drew a long knife from his boot, a shining blade nearly a foot long. The man lunged even as Desmond reached the far side of the table, the knife held expertly before him. Desmond stepped aside easily, and the knife slashed at nothing but air. Behind them, the room was starting to mutter angrily. He sensed the woman move as well, but could spare no attention on her. Unlike the first man, so stupid he wasted time and effort on modesty while in a fight, this man had skill. And fast – three fast slashes came within inches of Desmond’s face, and he almost missed a second knife appear from nowhere and slash at his side.

Desmond moved forward faster than the other had expected. His sword slid forward, as he stepped between the others arms. Their faces were only inches apart before the other man realized he was already dead –Desmond’s sword extended a good two feet out the other’s back, cleanly through his guts.

Desmond spun to again face the room, startling two others that had begun to cautiously move forward. They fell back immediately, even as the corpse of the second man fell to the floor.

His eyes flickered to the woman. She would live.

In a rush, the mob fled, a few men pausing only to drag their dead companions out with them. With the instigators dead, the mob mentality fell apart. He guessed many would be returning home to wives, who would wonder at the quiet, ashamed looks on their husbands faces. They would live the rest of their lives with that shame.

Now, he turned to the woman; really more a girl, he judged, no more than seventeen years old. She stood awkwardly, clearly in pain. Her long blonde hair, clean like the tavern, was tangled and hectic. Her face, not quite as pale as his own, was beautiful, despite the bruises and blood that trickled from the corner of her mouth. Her full lips were parted; open as she panted in pain and exhaustion. There were no tears, he noticed. Her top, a simple white blouse, was torn and bloody. She had pulled her jean skirt down, but blood streamed down one leg in an alarming amount.

“Are you ok, Mary?” he asked.

She actually smiled, and then grimaced as the motion strained already bruised and tortured muscles. “Mary was my aunt. She died two years ago, in the big fire. I’m Alice. And yeah, I’ll be fine. Not the first time something like this happened.”

She moved behind the bar, and pulled out two battered tin cups, and a tall bottle of old scotch. She poured two generous helpings, and pushed one cup towards him. “What’s your name, drifter?”

“Desmond,” He answered simply. He took the cup, and sat on one of the stools. The one he took, at random, actually still had some padding atop it.

“Well, Desmond. Thank you. I guess I owe you.”

Behind them, the door opened one more time; Desmond turned and watched the boy enter, struggling to carry his things. A look of relief flashed across the child’s face, and he came forward. “Thank you mister,” the boy said simply, handing over the drifters possessions.

Wordlessly, Desmond took his things back, and set them on the bar. The boy took a stool next to him, and Desmond took a swallow of the scotch. “I am looking for a man,” he announced, looking down at the tin cup between his hands, resting lightly on the counter. A small stain near his hands, the color of old blood, looked slightly like the letter s. “He may have passed through here sometime in the past months.” He looked up then, locking eyes with the girl. “You would remember him. He only has one arm, and a number of scars.”

The boy looked over at him sharply at the mention of the one-armed man, but remained silent with a dangerous look from Alice. Instead, Alice herself spoke. “I remember him. He was here a few months back. A drifter,” she shot him a meaningful glance, as if to say no different than you. “Came in looking for work. Wanted room and board in exchange,” she shrugged, and winced at the motion. “We needed some repairs; he was the man that touched up the paint around here, and fixed a few window casings. A few other things.” She glanced at Desmond, waiting for him to give something away. He remained expressionless, telling nothing of the reason behind his interest in the man. “He stayed about two weeks. Then his welcome… Wore out, and he moved on.”

Desmond nodded. He glanced back down into the depths of his scotch. The turn the conversation would need to take to give him the information he needed was tricky; depending on if she viewed the one-armed man as friend or foe would heavily influence what she would share.

“This man,” he announced, deciding to take the chance. If she refused to help him, he could always track the man using other methods. “He is a good friend. Would you know where he went?”

“That man,” she replied, gesturing to the blood soaked sawdust on the floor, obviously referring to one of her attackers. “He was a dirty pig. This was not the only time he… attacked me. The first was several months back. Your friend,” she said the word with blatant doubt, “stepped in that time. He saved me.” She shook her head warily, “if I thought there was a safer place, somewhere, I would go.”

Desmond nodded again.

“So. I owe you for saving me, but I also owe him. You tell me he’s your friend. Why should I believe you? You have the look of a bounty hunter –telling you would betray him.”

One more time, Desmond nodded. “He left your attackers alive, though likely just barely. That was always Kyle’s way. Let me see if I can earn your trust. He is a mutant. And I can guess the rest of your story. He saved you, using his abilities. And the town ran him off to repay his kindness.” Alice made as if to say something, but he cut her of and continued. “Now. If I were one of His agents, would I bother asking you? They have other ways to gain answers.”

She was silent for a moment, and then answered barely above a whisper. “He did things I have never seen before. But yes, he left them alive. Fear kept them away the last few months; fear that he would come back. Today was the first time I have seen them back in town. His... whatever it was… It scared the shit out of me. What do you want with him?”

“He is a very old friend,” he answered, a faint smile touching his lips. “One that I have not seen in a very long time. In fact, I thought he died years ago. He and I share a kinship, a bond. We also share a quest, though I am not sure if he still fights for that particular cause. I wish to reunite with him; perhaps the two of us can continue something we started long ago.”

Now Alice nodded, and it was clear she had made a decision. “West. When he first arrived, he called himself a historian. Said he was trying to regain the knowledge we have lost, and that there was something he needed to check out in some small town called Cargill, in the north-west, almost to the Huron.”

“Thank you,” he responded simply, bobbing his head in thanks.

She smiled, and Desmond decided he saw nowhere near enough smiles these days. “When will you leave?”

“Right after I tend to your wounds.”