Category Archives: story

Recovered Tales– The Black Tooth Gang

Today I was examining some old 3.5″ floppy drives, with an eye to recovering old writing files, when I came across this story.  I wrote it in 1994, which corresponds to the Jurassic period of my writing (I have Permian and Devonian periods, as well, about which the less said, the better).  It’s kinda silly and maudlin, and was part of that great mass of scribbling I produced decades ago that never saw daylight.  But it has some moments, and I thought I’d fling it out here just for fun.

I’ve previously posted old abandoned writing fragments, but I may just start posting a few more complete stories I find in my archives, assuming they’re not too embarrassing.

Copyright 1994 (whew, I feel old) Douglas Daniel

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“Keep your goddamn hands where I can see them,” the fairy said.

I did as I was told. The little creep had me dead to rights. The piece he leveled at me was a flechette-gun; tiny, like all fairy weapons, but also very high velocity and high rate of fire. It wouldn’t penetrate deep, but enough sustained hits could be unpleasant. And more of the little jamokes, hundreds of them, all armed and in a bad mood, were pouring out of the rafters of the old warehouse at the guard-fairy’s shout. They were an ill-favored crew– black leather, tattoos, and earrings. It looked like a fairy remake of The Wild One.

“What’cha got, Kekero, what’cha got?” they were all saying at once. Their voices were less like rainwater tinkling into forest pools than fingernails on a blackboard. The whole squadron circled me, exuding far more menace than fairy-dust.

“Got us a meat-mountain snooping around,” said the guard-fairy. “Gweezle, you and Slow-fizz search him. The rest of you joes, watch him.”

I kept very still while two of the fairies peeled off and started to search me. I’d been frisked by fairies before, but I had never gotten used it. Every search by fairies is a skin search.

The one called Gweezle came out the bottom of my trouser leg. “He’s clean, Kekero. Not even a pocketknife.” He looked up at me. “You should more talc, fella.”

The other one pulled out my wallet, opened it with the assistance of three others. Their wings hummed with the effort to keep the weight of the billfold aloft. “Hey, this guy’s a private dick.”

The guard-fairy buzzed closer to my face. He jammed the muzzle of the flechette-gun up my right nostril. “What are you doing here, human? You should know your kind ain’t welcome on this part of the waterfront.”

“I’m here to see your boss,” I said.

“You got an appointment?” Gweezle said. The whole, swirling, dancing bunch laughed; and if you’ve never heard gang-fairies laugh, count yourself lucky.

“What makes you think the big boss will want to see you, meat-mountain?” asked Kekero. The barrel of the flechette-gun went a little further up my nose.

“I have a message for him.” I stared the little punk down. “From the Seattle High Fairy Council.”

That persuaded them. Kekero put a heavy guard on the door I came in, and led me back into the depths of the warehouse. It was dusty, broken-down place; a lot of the freight that passed through Seattle had gone from ship to zeppelin-carried years before, and the surface trade wasn’t enough to keep all of Harbor Island busy. Large sections of the waterfront had gone to seed, and had been taken over by squatters, human, fairy, and otherwise. This warehouse was fairly typical. Broken crates littered the floor. Several shipping containers, rusting and empty, were scattered like some giant child’s forgotten toys. The place was built in the shape of a T– main storage area here, work space and loading docks in the back, through an archway large enough to squeeze three Russian dragons through. Sunlight shone dimly through the dirty encrusted window that penetrated the walls, high up close to the ceiling.

The fairies led me up a creaking flight of stairs that threatened to collapse under my weight at any moment. The dust lay thick on the steps. Kicking it up made me sneeze, which gave the tiny creeps something to laugh at.

Their headquarters was in one of the old warehouse offices, in a half-floor over the work-space. The only human piece of furniture left was an ancient mahogany desk. The rest of the office done up in Fairy Provincial. The floor was littered with bones, rat and other kinds I didn’t want to think about, an old, worn-out Playboy, and dust-balls.

I saw at once why these low-lives called their leader `the big boss’– he was eight inches tall and as burly as a fairy got. Uko the Pummeler, chief of the Black Tooth Gang, reclined on a throne carved from a single hunk of redwood, covered with the pelts of cats and festooned with the skulls of past enemies, set in the middle of that mahogany desk. Nymph-fairies dawdled about his booted feet. He smiled confidently as his boys brought me in. His golden eyes were touched with sardonic humor. Definitely too much Frazetta, I decided.

“My good fairies tell me you have a message from our worthy adversaries,” he said. For such a little guy, his voice sure carried. “Concerning what, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I think we both know, oh mighty Uko.” I went into the pitch, just as I had practiced over and over. I found I had to work to stay focused. Uko had something I hadn’t counted on– charisma. Buckets more than most of the humans I knew.  In one of the Faerie Folk that sort of thing can be overwhelming, even when the package reads “individual serving”. I had to bite my cheek to stay on task.

“The High Fairy Council of Seattle wishes to inform you that it is ready to bargain for the release of your hostage. They are anxious to get her back.”

“I’m sure they are,” said Uko, smiling. Around the office his gang laughed, sending shivers racing down my spine and back. Several of the little thugs buzzed about my head, chortling, poking my hair with the muzzles of their weapons.  “Although it took them long enough to respond to our summons.”  He peered more closely at me.  “How did the High Council settle on a human to do its dirty work?”

I shrugged. “I’m a disinterested party. I get a commission however this turns out.”

Uko lounged back in his throne, stretched languidly. “So tell me– what inducements am I offered to surrender the best hostage we Black Tooths have had a couple of centuries?” he asked. “We won her fair and square, by the rules of feud that have governed the Faerie Folk since before you humans were knocking each other on the head with rocks. Holding the Queen means I hold the whole West Coast Fiefdom by their tiny, luminescent balls.” He leaned forward. “And I haven’t even begun to squeeze yet.”

“Let me be plain, sir.” I paused, waiting, then lifted my hand as if to emphasize a point. One of the little jamokes harassing me, making about his fifth orbit, smacked hard into the back of my hand. He moaned and spiraled to the littered floor. His compatriots, far from taking offense, thought it a great joke; there was much twittering and tittering. “I am very sorry. As I was about to say, I must be honest with you. It is true, that in the short run, you can cause a great deal of trouble. It is also true, sir, that a prolonged hostage situation will only exacerbate the feud between you and the Fiefdom, a heightened state of conflict which– I have to be honest with you– you cannot win.”

Uko cocked his head at me. “Can’t win? Did I hear you right? Did you hear what he said, boys?” The gang laughed, and if I shivered before, this group guffaw practically put icicles on my privates.

Uko stood. He rose up on wings a foot long each, until he was eye-level with me. “Do you think those pansy West Coast simps are any match for us, meat-mountain?”

At the moment I rather doubted it, but I merely shrugged my shoulders. “It’s not my place to judge such issues. My comment was prompted only the obvious fact that the Fiefdom outnumbers you considerably.”

He snorted with contempt. “Let’ em all come. We’ll kick their asses, like we always have. Right, boys?” The fairies cheered and brandished their weapons. It was like listening to a horde of combat-ready chipmunks. “We even got other hideouts. You found us here once, meat-mountain, but you won’t on a return visit.”

“Yet no hiding place is secure forever,” I said. It was hard, playing the voice of cool reason, with these little punks buzzing about and yelling. And the script wasn’t going quite to plan. “In the end you will be brought to battle.”

“Then we’ll cut her throat,” said the chief. “Tell the almighty Fiefdom that.”

I held up a hand again. Three of the bastards did evasive maneuvers. This was not going well. “Before I return to the Council, I must give you the whole message which they charged me to deliver. For the safe return of their Queen, they are prepared to offer the sum of one hundred thousand.”

Uko sneered. “Dollars? You’ve got to be joking.”

I shook my head. “Not Federal greenbacks. Damarzi scrip.”

The whole crowd fell silent, except for some character who let go a long whistle. The Dwarvish scrip was legal tender only in their stores and Caverns, but it traded as one scrip note to ten U.S. dollars on the black market. Uko stared at me, a gleam of calculation in his eye. No one said anything for a long moment.

Then a grin grew over Uko’s face. “Hell, if she’s worth that much now, she’ll be worth even more later. Sure, the High Council can give us the money. As a down payment!” He laughed, and the whole crew laughed with him. My heart shrank to a burnt nubbin. “You go tell the Council that, meat-mountain. You tell them send money, and keep it coming. And you tell them that if they try anything funny, we’ll kill their precious Queen and throw her stinking corpse into Elliot Bay.”

I kept control of myself. Everything we had been working for, the weeks of planning, was going down the toilet. The Fiefdom had been in an uproar for a month and more since the Black Tooths snatched their queen. This would go over like a lit match in a powder magazine.

“I’ll tell them, but…” was as far as I got.

The explosion shook the whole warehouse. I nearly lost my footing; the floor bucked and heaved like a carnival ride. The fairies around me wailed in fear and rage. Glass broke somewhere. There were shouts and gunfire.

“You double-dealing bastard!” Uko yelled. “You tricked us. Kill him!”

I didn’t try to reason with the little jerk. Even as he yelled I moved.

Two long steps, a leap up on the desk. One of the gang didn’t get out of the way fast enough; he squashed with a satisfying pop! under my shoe. The back wall of the old office was glass, dim with dirt and cobwebs. I covered my eyes and jumped.

Glass crashed around me as I landed in the corridor beyond, fetching up hard against the far wall. I scrambled up, ignoring the assorted new cuts and bruises I’d acquired. I jerked the heel off my right shoe, and flung it under the shattered window. In the room the beyond the gang was still milling in bright confusion. One of the punks got off a burst that splintered the wall over my head as the shoe-heel began to smoke. Blood agent, specific to fairies– most it would give me was the runs. Anybody who goes into a gang-fairy hideout completely unarmed deserves what they get.

Two of the jamokes tried to fly through the rapidly spreading cloud to get at me. They screamed and dropped to the floor, convulsing. I could hear Uko ordering a retreat. The sounds of gunfire downstairs swelled; another explosion rocked the walls.

I jerked the heel off my other shoe. It was now a low-yield grenade, would explode on contact once I threw it. I took off down the hall.

The corridor was lined with office doors. I checked each one, kicking down doors where I had to. I cursed the whole way. Someone had jumped the gun. The strike team was supposed to lie low and wait for me to come out. If the Black Tooths accepted the ransom, everything was on track to pay it and bring the Queen out. In any event, the Fiefdom forces were supposed to wait for me to come out. Some junior commander had gotten overeager.

All we had now was Plan B, which stood for bungle, and probably bollix and blunder, as well.  The real problem with Plan B, though, was who had the starring role.  Myself, of course, meat-mountain or sacrificial lamb, depending on your point of view.

I forced myself to focus.  The Queen was somewhere in this dump; that much we were certain of. I had to find her before Uko got to her first. I’d lied to him about one detail– if the Queen died as a result of this operation, I’d get no commission.

I kicked doors, shattered glass, and found nothing but dust and broken furniture. The sounds of fighting were louder. A thin layer of smoke permeated the corridor, making my eyes sting. I could hear shouted orders, those of the strike team amplified and resonating through the warehouse.

A burst of fire chewed the wood of the wall next to me. Three Black Tooths were buzzing at the head of the far stairs from the warehouse floor. They fired again. I felt pain rip through my left cheek and arm. Grunting with the hurt, I tossed the heel and dropped.

The explosion shattered all the remaining glass in the hallway. The shock wave crushed me against the floor and was gone. I looked up. Smoke rolled thick through the corridor, but no one was shooting at me.

I staggered up, wiped blood from my upper lip, and groped my way through the smoke. The remaining doors were all sprung from the blast; at the second one I heard, “In here!”

I battered the door aside and went in. High up, hanging from a hook in the ceiling, was an old bird-cage. Its bars were freshly painted gold. Those Black Tooths were some very sick customers.

As carefully as my wounds allowed, I stretched up and took down the bird-cage. Within– how do you describe beauty beyond the understanding of men? The Queen of the Western Fairies danced a dance of joy within the confines of her prison. Her wings shed light about the smoky, dirty room like a blessing; she was bright and glorious, exquisitely beautiful, golden and delicate. For a moment, I regretted being born a lumpish human– I could have wished to have been a fairy, if just to follow this wonderful creature.

“Thank you for coming for me,” she sang. It was like sweet chimes rung at midnight. “But hurry! You’re in grave danger.”

“That’s for damn sure.”

Uko hovered in the doorway, as his bully-boys, chortling and smirking, filtered into the space around him on buzzing wings, weapons ready. “You almost pulled it off, meat-mountain. Almost. Too bad we don’t give out prizes for second place.”

I wrapped my arms around the bird-cage and charged. If I could get through the cloud of creeps and make it to the stairs, I might be able to reach a Fiefdom strike team. I bellowed and ran.

Fairies squalled and tried to get out of my way. I ran two or three down– they crunched like bugs against the floor. Others battered into me as I ran, like moths against a windshield. Some of them tried to fire, but by then I was in the middle of them, and mostly they hit each other. Fairy screams rang in my ears. But the volume of fire was such that I took hits all over, including a burst that stitched me along the curve of my right butt-cheek.

Angry, contorted fairy-faces flashed before me and I was in the hall. All I had to do was turn right, go a few feet, down the stairs, and I’d be home free. Behind me the Black Tooths were yelling for my blood.

That’s when one of those coincidences happened that convince me that, not only is there a God, but He has an incredible sense of timing. As I turned, another explosion ripped through the warehouse. Maybe my hand-grenade had weakened the floor, maybe not; in any case, under this new insult the floorboards gave way with groaning shriek and collapsed.

I fell. It was twenty or so feet to the floor of the warehouse and I fell hard. I bounced off a pile of rotten burlap sacking, which probably saved my life, rolled and hit the concrete floor.

It knocked the wind out of me. I lay flat on my back for a long time, trying to re-establish comm links between brain and lungs, while all around me the battle raged. It didn’t help when I realized I had lost my grip on the bird-cage sometime during my misadventure. I glimpsed flame, smoke, and flitting forms; both Black Tooth and Fiefdom troops were zipping about, engaged in a flying firefight that surged back and forth. Flechettes sang through the air, chipping concrete and slicing tiny bodies.

My lungs caught with a wheeze. Breathing hard, I sat up. Nothing seemed to be broken, but I was sure going to have one hellacious bruise.

I glanced around. The bird-cage lay on its side ten or so feet away, rocking gently on the concrete. Gasping with pain, I crawled toward it.

The buzz of wings stopped me. Black Tooths swarmed down from the busted ceiling, like a cloud of well-armed hornets, and settled between me and the cage. Most of the itty-bitty bastards covered me, while others lifted the cage. The Queen was still alive, apparently unhurt– she gave a cry of distress that stabbed me.

Behind his gang came Uko. He hovered above me and smiled. “It’s just not your day, is it, meat-mountain? Look on the bright side; you won’t have to worry about how to spend that commission.” He nodded to his flunkies. “Kill him.”

Uko turned in mid-air. The back loading dock doors had been burst inward by explosions; October sunlight poured through. He headed for the open sky, followed by a gaggle of Black Tooths, who between them managed to get the cage airborne.

The fairies covering me closed in, charging their weapons. This time they couldn’t miss. I backed up, trying to see a weak spot in the crowd. There was none. I wouldn’t be running out of this spot. What I needed was a shotgun with birdshot, or a flamethrower.

As if in answer to a prayer I hadn’t spoken, a jet of flame shot from my left and washed over the Black Tooths. Screams reverberated. The flame was so close I had to shield my face. Tiny corpses, crispy black, rained out of the air, pattering on the concrete. The flame cut off; none of the Black Tooths had escaped.

A winged form the size of a horse came around the pile of burlap. Wicked claws scratched the cement; leather wings arched ten feet.

“That,” said the dragon, “will teach you to pick on somebody your own size.”

“Roscoe!” I said, overjoyed. “You scaly son-of-a-bitch! You saved my hide.”

“As usual, boss.” My junior partner examined the toasted evidence of his handiwork. “Looks like it’s a good thing I didn’t dawdle.”

“No argument here. Wait.” The joy went leaking out. I struggled to my feet. “They’re getting away.” Roscoe helped me up, a gentle, taloned claw pulling me to my feet. I hobbled to one of the loading dock doors. The steel doors had been blasted aside.

High over the rooftops of Harbor Island, I glimpsed a flash of gold in the sunshine.

“There! They’ve got the Queen. Lift me, Roscoe. We got to get after them.”

Roscoe looked mournful. “Boss, I ain’t wholly recovered from the hernia I got the last time.”

“Just do it!”

Roscoe moaned as he lifted me over the warehouses and docks and turned in pursuit of the Black Tooths. They were headed southwest, toward West Seattle, rather than north over the Sound as I expected. “Faster!” I said.

“I’m about to split a gut now!” Roscoe yelled back. But his wingbeats increased in frequency.

Fairies, at their fastest, hardly outpace the common housefly. Even loaded with me Roscoe could do twenty to thirty miles an hour. We steadily whittled away at the Black Tooths’ lead. The Duwamish Waterway passed underneath, with straggly trees and old houses behind the port terminals along its banks. We were close behind the bastards when they suddenly spiraled down toward a landing on the municipal golf course.

“Land, land!”

“I don’t like it, Boss.”

“I didn’t ask your opinion; just do it!”

Roscoe obeyed. He set me down a few yards from the Black Tooths, close by the ninth green. A party of golfers stared open-mouthed at the interruption, then betook themselves rapidly elsewhere.

I swayed to my feet as Uko screamed, “Get them!” His remaining gangsters charged us, wings whirring.

“Boss!” Roscoe tossed something to me; I recognized it in mid-air, caught it fair, and blessed the dragon. It was a revolver, one of my specials. Where Roscoe had had it hidden on him, I couldn’t tell, and at the moment I didn’t care.

The Black Tooths charged, firing; flechettes tore up the ground around us. Roscoe flamed three or four. I pointed at a cloud of the twerps and fired. The round burst in front of the barrel; a clouds of pellets scythed through the Black Tooths. It was a shaped-charge, set for muzzle-action and propelling a clouds of tiny balls– a miniature, airborne claymore round. I fire once, twice more, and there were no more Black Tooths flying.

I advanced on Uko. He had the Queen out of the cage; he was holding a knife, fairy-sized, but quite sharp, to her throat. “Stop right there!”

I did. There was maybe twenty feet between us. I calculated distance, speeds and trajectories and didn’t like the answer. “Let her go, Uko,” I called. “It’s over.”

“Bullshit!” The guy held the knife tighter against her throat. Even at this distance I could make out the Queen’s eyes. They were calm and ready, full of meaning. “I can still hurt this piece of baggage. So you and your pet iguana better back off.”

Iguana!?” Roscoe said. “You little…”

“Watch your language!” said Uko. “Nasty words can hurt.” He stared us down.

“Back away, Roscoe,” I said, waving a hand. Roscoe muttered but did as he was told.

“You, too,” said Uko.

I shook my head. “Not before I tell you something.”

He stared at me with suspicion in his golden eyes. He hesitated, but finally said, “What?”

“I just wanted to tell you that I lied. I’m not a disinterested party.” I said the words slowly, clearly, thinking them up as I went, hoping I had read this guy right, hoping I understood what the Queen was trying to silently tell me. “I took this job because I wanted the chance to kill fairies.”

“What?” said Uko.

“I like killing fairies. I like it when they go crunch and pop.” I sounded like some Humanity First street thug; it was their kind of rhetoric, and part of the reason gangs like the Black Tooths existed. “They squeal so nice. I think I killed several today. I’ll be glad when they’re all wiped out.”

“You shit meat-mountain!” yelled Uko. He glared at me, and his attention on his prisoner wavered. The pressure of his knife on her throat lessened.

The Queen writhed about in his grip and bit him on the face. Fairy teeth are sharp, even to other fairies. She bit hard, and Uko screamed and let go of her.

She dropped to the ground and huddled in a ball as I raised the revolver and fired. I aimed high, so most of the pellet-cloud would miss. Even so, three or four struck the chief. He toppled end-for-end, spraying blood on the green grass.

 

They drove the aid car right up on the green to tend to me, while a whole crowd of golfers stood by and complained about the interruption in their game. The Fiefdom troops came and hustled the Queen away under heavy guard; I hardly had a chance to say goodbye before she was a fading dot in the sky.

The paramedic checked me over. “You’re going to need to go to the hospital to get those fragments removed. Still, looks like you were pretty lucky. Nothing vital got hit. Sit quiet while we get ready.”

So I sat on the bumper of the aid car and just worked on catching my breath. Roscoe came and sat by me. He said nothing. He didn’t have to.

So it was he was around when General Hekuro, High Commander of the Fiefdom’s forces, came by with his retinue. He hovered, incandescent in the sun, and cleared his throat. “I wanted to thank you, Mr. Parker,” he said in formal tones, “for your efforts today. If not for you, we might have had more difficulty recovering the Queen safely.”

I glared at the pompous little pimple. “You wouldn’t have had any trouble if one of your boys hadn’t jumped the gun. Which one was it? I’ve got some very choice words for him.”  Not to mention a nice thump on the noggin.

The General cleared his throat again. “No one, as you put it, `jumped the gun’. I ordered the assault.”

I guess I gaped. “You? You’re the butter-brained twit who nearly got me scragged?”

“We had to move. We had a high-gain mike on you, Mr. Parker, and heard most of your…ur, interview with Uko. We determined that her Highness was in grave danger, and that we had to move immediately.”

“You almost got her killed anyway,” I pointed out. I sighed and leaned back against the aid-car. My side and butt were singing harmony to the counterpoint of the most of the rest of my body. “All right, General, I don’t need your thanks. Just make sure my payment gets deposited as agreed.”

The General coughed discretely. “Well, yes, we need to speak about that. When I made those commitments, Mr. Parker, I did it in advance of formal approval from the Fiefdom’s Budget Oversight Committee. I’m afraid the matter will have to go to them first. I have to tell you that they may not authorize the full amount.”

I growled– an actual growl, from deep in my throat. “Oh, no, you little stuffed shirt. You’re going to pay me the money you promised or I’ll put you in a bird cage.”

Hekuro drew himself up. “You have no right to speak to me so. I’m the Queen’s first adviser, I’m General-in-Chief, I’m…”

His recitation was interrupted by a small burst of flame. Not much, by dragon standards– about the equivalent of a human sneeze. But it was enough to set the General’s golden hair smoking. He bounced around the sky for some seconds, yelping and yoodling, while his aides tried to pat his tonsure out.

“Sorry,” Roscoe said, wiping his snout.

I sat back against the aid-car’s door, feeling content. “Thanks, Roz. That’s another one I owe you.”

He waved a dismissive paw. “All in a day’s work, boss.  All in a day’s work.”

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Sunday Photo Fiction – July 30th 2017- Talking Heads

A response to the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for July 30th 2017– two hundred words based on this image–

207-07-july-30th-2017
© A Mixed Bag 2009

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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“It is poorly preserved,” Dr. Angg said.  “The slackness of the jaw, the orange tinge of the skin— you’d think even a hundred years ago the curators could have done better.”

I said nothing.  Angg was the Imperium’s leading expert in xenobiology and off-world artifacts.  We had found the alien head in among old displays in the museum’s archive.  There were many relics of humanity’s early, freebooting days in interstellar space in the vaults.  There were alien weapons, and strange religious artifacts, and more than a few trophies of the vicious wars of that era.  Angg and I had already examined a collection of Te’measkini scalps, gathered by the members of the Fifth Punitive Expedition.  It was gruesome stuff, and offensive to modern sensibilities.  Inclusion of multitudinous species was now Imperial policy, and we had been charged with cleaning out the collection.

“How do you think it died?” I asked Angg.

“Probably a victim of the Rilhalan War,” Angg said.  “The species looks correct.  Huge beings, they were—doubtless the head was taken as a trophy, and the body left to rot.”

“A lot you know, buddy,” the head said, as it sprouted spidery legs and scuttled off.

Sunday Photo Fiction – March 27th 2016– A Vessel for Dreams

A flash fiction for the March 27th Sunday Photo Fiction challenge—  200 words based on this image–

149-03-march-27th-2016

More than usual, this is clearly an excerpt from a larger story.  On the positive side, it’s a concept for a larger story that sprang into existence the moment I saw this picture, so the challenge is certainly helping my creativity.

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

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I came around the corner and stopped.  I stared. “It’s a bus.”

“Yeah, isn’t it great?” Steven said.  “I got it cheap.”

“It’s a bus.”

“Don’t fixate on externalities, John,” Steven said.  He threw an arm around my shoulder.  “Think of this as the vessel into which we can pour our dreams.”

I removed his arm.  “You’re crazier than I thought.”

“No, just willing to see the possibilities,” Steven said.  “We can do this.  I’ve got the concept, you’re the nuts and bolts man, Cecelia is getting our fuel….”

“If she doesn’t get arrested,” I muttered.

“You are so negative,” Steven said.  “Look at it this way– we need to be inconspicuous, or we’ll get shut down.”

“Inconspicuous?  How the hell is a red, double-decker bus inconspicuous?!”

“They won’t be expecting it.”

I stopped.  “Okay, you got me there.  But will it be strong enough?”

“Yeah, with our gear in it!” Steven said.  “With our equipment we can take this baby anywhere.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I said, but I sighed.  “All right.  I volunteered for this insanity, so I guess I can’t complain.”

“Great!” Steven said.  “You won’t regret this, John– building the world’s first starship is worth it.”

 

 

Sunday Photo Fiction – January 17th 2016- ICE

Sunday Photo Fiction for January 17th 2016– 200 words of flash fiction based on this image–

139-01-january-17th-2016

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

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“You have to leave, Grandfather.”

The old man shook his head.  “I would just hold you up.”  His breath steamed thick.

“Nobody’s coming,” Celia said.  “The snow’s too heavy….”

“And you can’t take me,” her grandfather said.  “No, don’t argue with me.  You should go.”

Celia knelt beside her grandfather’s chair.  “I can’t….”

“You must.”  Grandfather smiled.  “Don’t fret.  I’ve done most everything I’ve ever dreamed of.  You need to go and find what future you can. I won’t be able to contribute to this world.  Go.

Tears tracked down her cheeks.  “I’m sorry.”

Her grandfather kissed her on the forehead.  “You have nothing to be sorry for, child.”

Wrapped in layers, Celia stepped outside.  She wiped the tears from her face, to keep them from freezing on her skin.

Her breath hung before her, a freezing fog.  The cars on the street were all frozen solid, welded to the ground by the ice.  She would have to walk out, or die. The houses across the road were all dark.  Beyond them, the wall of ice loomed, massive, implacable.  Celia craned her neck back, trying see its top.  It was lost in the gloom.

She turned and walked south, toward life.

Mondays Finish the Story – August 24th, 2015- A Family Visit

Mondays Finish the Story challenge for August 24th, 2015– 150 words based on the following picture–

 © 2015, Barbara W. Beacham
© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham

and this initial sentence–

“The family had no idea that little Luigi would grow up to be…”

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
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“The family had no idea that little Luigi would grow up to be…”

“Do not speak of it.”

“But, Auntie…the whole world….”

“Silence!”

“…he was such a beautiful child….”

“…Yes.”

“I used to read him stories, remember? He would laugh. Afterwards he would always kiss my cheek.”

“I know.”

“It broke my heart, what he did in Marseille. And then Shanghai. And London…dear God, London….”

“As I said, it does no good to speak of it.”

“Auntie, we have to speak of it. He is coming….”

“…Yes….”

“Where did that little boy go?”

“Power…the world…what some people call ‘real life’.”

“No…something else went wrong. Not enough love…the cruelty of his father, that bastard….”

“Rehearsing it all does not help us now.”

“No. You’re right…. I’m afraid.”

“Courage. He’ll be here soon.”

“But we’re family….”

“Family or no, it’s all the same. All of humanity has to bow to Luigi Cavallo.”

“…Dictator of the World.”

“Do not speak of it….”

Mondays Finish the Story – August10th, 2015– The Mute Witness

Mondays Finish the Story flash fiction challenge for August 10th, 2015– 150 words based on this image–

Ruins – © 2015, Barbara W. Beacham
Ruins – © 2015, Barbara W. Beacham

and this initial sentence–

“Where did they go?”

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel

******************************************

“Where did they go?” Syban asked.

“Nobody knows,” Kour said.

The red-stone ruin lay in tumbled silence before them, as if a mute witness to an ancient crime. Hills beyond sported green foliage, but hints of other structures peeked through the growth.

“These ruins extend for many kilometers in every direction,” Kour said. “Here, and in many other places.”

“To come so far, just to find this,” Syban said.

One of her feet stubbed on a stone. “Look,” she told Kour.

Together they dug and scrabbled away the earth, to reveal a stone tablet, meters long. On it were incised sigils– not random marks, but the symbols of some language unknown to them–

N RTHGAT M LL

They stood back to contemplate the symbols, as this world’s shattered moon rose.

“Cryptic, indeed,” Kour said.

Syban sat back on her hind legs. “I wish I could have met them.”

Mondays Finish the Story – April 20th, 2015 – The Pursued

Mondays Finish the Story challenge for April 20th— 150 words based on this image–

© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham
© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham

and this initial sentence–

“They followed the buffaloes and their babies along the trail heading into the woods.”

Not sure what I ended up with here, but here it is.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
************************
They followed the buffaloes and their babies along the trail heading into the woods. They had no choice.

There were only four of them left—Walt, Pete, Liz, and Harper. Behind them the whole horizon burned.

“We can’t outrun that,” Walt said. He held Pete up, who stumbled, his face covered in blood.

“Look,” Harper said. Giant shapes moved, silhouetted against the fire.

Hunters. “Keep moving,” Liz said.

Deep in among the cottonwoods they found the pool of water. The buffalo all stood in it, up to their bellies. They know this is a safe place.

But not for us. “Harper, open the Path.”

“The Truth here stutters like a man frightened,” Harper said.

“Well, that makes two of us,” Walt said.

“Do it,” Liz said.

Harper took out his moonlight sword. He spun it overhead. Its light glittered, then spread out across the whole pool.

Liz smelled lilacs, felt a cool morning breeze. “Go!”

They all stepped into the pool, and were elsewhere.

Connoisseurs from Elsewhere

Mondays Finish the Story – March 9th, 2015— based on this photo–

Copyright 2015 Barbara W. Beacham
Copyright 2015 Barbara W. Beacham

and this initial sentence–

“On March 9th, 2015, three objects were reportedly seen in the skies over the Borracho Todos los Tiempos Vineyards.”

I guess I’m in a silly mood.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
************************************************

On March 9th, 2015, three objects were reportedly seen in the skies over the Borracho Todos los Tiempos Vineyards.

06:45– the objects passed over the vineyards. Because of fog, their exact configuration could not be made out. Some observers reported the object with the single light as a sphere, and the other two as disks.

07:05– the objects hovered over the vineyards. A red light swept the area, north to south. Everyone touched by the light lost consciousness.

07:37– stricken observers at the vineyard began to regain consciousness.

Shortly thereafter it was discovered that most of the vineyards’ stock of wine was gone. One hundred gallon casks stood empty, and all bottles had been removed from the vineyards’ wine-cellars, except for five bottles of pink champagne and a single bottle of Gewürztraminer.

A cryptic inscription burned into the floor of the main tasting room was eventually translated as, Thanks, pay you back later.

Moral: didn’t anyone understand naming a vineyard “Borracho Todos los Tiempos” would be an invitation?

How to make money writing…or destroy yourself…

At the moment there is an active thread over on Amazon’s Kindle Authors forum, debating the best way to make a living writing. I’ve restrained myself from commenting on the thread, because I would be tempted to use words like “hack” in my response to the original poster. Name-calling does not foster reasoned debate. Besides, there has already been enough of that kind of thing.

The more I read through the posts, however, the more I start to wonder if the OP isn’t on to something– not necessarily something nice, or useful to me, but perhaps just a spark of truth.

The poster’s point– which he presents as rock-ribbed truth, rather than as opinion– is that, to make money as a writer, we need to identify the “niche markets” that are currently “hot”, and write in those niches. Our personal tastes and desire to express ourselves in our writing must, according to him, take a back seat, if not get shoved into the trunk. He says, “Do you want to write what you love to write or do you want to write what sells?” which just about sums up his attitude.

My initial reaction to this sort of assertion is disgust. I have to admit, though, looking at the current state of publishing, and, in particular, self-publishing, it is hard to argue with his basic premise.

Erotica on Amazon, Smashwords and elsewhere sells well. The world of genre publishing is currently flooded with Hunger Games imitations. Supernatural romance/adventure, particularly involving vampires, zombies and werewolves, is everywhere. What’s left over seems largely occupied by people who want to be the next Diana Gabaldon or J. K. Rowling or Rick Riordan.

And, of course, we are all suffering through the Age of Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps the greatest niche novel of them all. I recently saw a self-published author on Google+ advertise his novel as “Fifty Shades of Grey on Steroids!” The mind boggles.

It is evident a lot of people are trying to jump on a number of different bandwagons. This is, however, nothing new. There was a time when every new fantasy book seemed to be a re-tread of The Lord of the Rings (many still are). When Mickey Spillane was big, everyone wanted to do violent, hard-edged detective fiction. You can, in fact, trace this sort of thing right back to Homer– we know that subsequent writers/poets elaborated on The Illiad and The Odyssey.

There is, in short, an instinct in many writers to want to imitate what has succeeded before. It’s easier, perhaps, to adopt the formulas of others than to create your own, especially if those formulas appear to be lucrative. Hollywood, in fact, nowadays largely runs on this principle. And there has never been a shortage of writers willing to slot themselves into formulas that appear to pay dividends– who are willing to create material, not based on their own creative vision, but on someone else’s.

This all raises a central question– why, after all, do we write?

Perhaps, however, that’s too broad a question. There’s no accounting for all the different motivations people bring to writing. I can really only talk honestly about why I write. And when I focus on my motivation, the answer becomes clear.

I write because I have stories in me. And I always have.

When I was six or so my father bought a plastic model kit for a KC-135 Stratotanker. I watched him as he assembled it. He did a beautiful job on the model, working hard to put it together just right. When he was finished, he mounted it on a stand and put it up where I could not reach it and told me, “Don’t touch.”

I remember going absolutely mad with frustration.

Because I didn’t want to admire the model as a piece of statuary. I wanted to take it down and play with it; to make it fly, at least as well as my pudgy little child’s hand could make it fly. I wanted to go adventuring with it, going on bombing runs (the distinction between “tanker” and “bomber” being fuzzy in my six-year-old mind). Maybe there would have even been an encounter with a UFO or a crash-landing or two.

In other words, I wanted to create stories with it.

Most of my childhood play was story-telling in one way or another, and when I grew older, my play simply transmogrified into actual narrative. My earliest tales were, of course, derivative of Star Trek and Lost in Space and DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, and mostly narratives I told myself before I went to sleep, but they were explicitly stories, and before I was eleven I knew I wanted to write them down.

Eleven was a long, long time ago, and I hope that my tales have become a little more sophisticated and a little less derivative in that time, but they have all come out of the same story-telling impulse. And more and more, I have come to insist on writing down my vision, not someone else’s.

That is my basic motivation for writing. Would I like to make a living at it (or even just a noticeable amount of money)? Certainly, and at one time I thought that was a possibility. In the last year or so, however, that possibility seems to have dwindled away. It’s quite possible, putting it in the terms of the original poster from the Kindle thread, that my Divine Lotus series does not belong to any recognizable niche. In fact, as a novel about a teenage girl that’s not truly a young adult work, and a science-fiction tale that is as much about the impact of development and cross-cultural assimilation as it is about adventure, almost certainly not. It is entirely possible that this is why it has not attracted a noticeable audience.

If so, will I be re-writing these novels to fit some niche that’s currently selling?

$%#%@!%! no.

I could try to fit my writing to someone else’s scheme, but I can hardly think of a quicker way to destroy myself. I have written what I have within me; to try to do otherwise would be self-betrayal. Not that I have some tremendous artistic vision, worth of a Sistine Chapel– I just have mine, and that’s enough. And if that doesn’t attract an audience, well, I wasn’t planning on quitting my day job anytime soon, anyway.

So, perhaps there’s a grain of truth in the OP’s assertions. Making money from writing is not the same thing as expressing yourself, and never has been. We live in a cynical age in which a piece of garbage like Fifty Shades of Grey can, somehow, hit the zeitgeist’s happy button and make millions. If you come to writing just to make money, pick your bandwagon and hop on.

But that’s not for me. And I’m okay with that.

Later.

Mondays Finish the Story – February 16th, 2015– Jazz in Amber

Another Mondays Finish the Story challenge, based on this image–

Copyright Barbara W. Beacham
Copyright Barbara W. Beacham

and the initial sentence–

“Little did they know when the photographer took their picture that they would find themselves trapped in a painting.”

Well, I followed the prompt for the most part, but I completely blew away the word count limit, so I won’t be adding my link to Barbara’s page. As usual, I’m not sure this works, but I’ll go with it for now.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
*****************************

Little did they know when the photographer took their picture that they would find themselves trapped in a painting. The photographer was a Derinti cross-dimensional Preserver in disguise. He was so taken with their performance that he felt compelled, in the whimsical way of his race, to preserve it, and the performers.

In doing so, he created the first immortals of the human species—Jimmy, Blake, Lawrence and Steve. The living image in which the four found themselves was now a part of the back wall of the First Mercantile Bank. In this state they knew neither age nor decay. They merely played on and on, and anyone who had the ears to hear could detect their sweet brand of jazz, and, for a moment, feel their hearts lift.

The four musicians saw the building up of the city, in the years of the Great Warming, with massive towers two and three miles high rising to blot out the sun. They saw the towers fall into ruin, during the dark years that followed, and witnessed the savagery of men and women who had forgotten their heritage.

They saw the rise of the New Men, and glimpsed their silver ships rising into the sky as they abandoned the Earth forever.

They saw the return of the ice, and the long frozen wildness that embraced the forgotten husk of the city. They played on when only strange, mutated beasts in their dens of ice were there to hear them.

They beheld the rise of the seas, and for millennia played only for the sea beasts, the great porpoise-whales, the sapient squid and the terrible thalassadonts.

They were buried in sediment, and for ages played on for the secret beings of the deepest earth.

The sediment hardened into rock; in the fullness of time, as the seas receded, and erosion wore away at the rock, they saw the sun once more. The ice returned, encasing the world in glittering armor, and then melted again as the Sun flared and scorched the Earth.

They saw the Sun return to its quiet, ordinary ways, and the Earth grow green once more.

They saw the rise of the Silenidons, who heard their music and worshipped them for millennia. They found this distressing, as Jimmy and Blake were Catholic, Lawrence was a Presbyterian, and Steve, the tuba player, did not believe in God at all. They could do nothing, however, but continue playing. The four saw the Silenidons rise to mastery over the Earth, achieve great heights of intellect, and then fall into war with themselves. Rites of blood were performed before the ruined wall of the First Mercantile Bank, while the four played on. They played on while the Silenidons faded and dwindled away, until there was nothing left but their empty halls.

The four saw more inundations, more burials, the rise of mountains and the delving of seas, more ice and flaring sun, over and over across periods and eras and eons.

At last, they saw the Sun, swollen and dying, rising on the last day over the worn-out and weary Earth, and they played for it. They thought, perhaps, this would be the end, at last.

It was then, following up on a review of the files of the Preserver Corps, a Derinti scout appeared. He beheld the shattered remnant of the back wall of the First Mercantile Bank, saw the faded images of the four musicians, heard their music, and said, “Oh, dear,” which is a very loose translation of the Derintinese, and in no way, shape or form captures the profound dismay of the original.

Even as the bloated Sun reached out tendrils of fire to engulf the Earth, the scout erected a temporal realignment-decoder. With swift commands to his machine, he lifted the four from the wall and transported them back to the sidewalk on which they had been playing, on that one summer day, mere moments after the Preserver had departed, feeling pleased with himself.

For several minutes the four of them stood there, not speaking, not meeting each other’s eyes, while pedestrians streamed around them and traffic passed by. Then, still not speaking, they packed away their instruments and left, each their several ways.

Lawrence caught the Number Five bus across town, to the quiet street where his house stood. He went in, and put his trumpet case down inside the door.

“Lawrence? Is that you?” Millie peeked into the living room from the kitchen. Her apron was stretched over her bulging belly. “Your timing is good—I’m just starting dinner.”

Lawrence went over to her. He peered into her puzzled face for a moment; then he went down to his knees. He embraced her, ignoring her startled protest. He put his ear to her abdomen, listening for the heartbeat of their unborn child.