Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Days of Nano Past 3: Undying 2007

In honor of Nano this year, I'm posting a series of snippets from my past attempts at Nano.  This one is the opening pages from 2007.




He stepped onto the mountain top just as the first gleams of sunlight appeared on the horizon.  He had hiked in the dark for nearly five hours to reach this point, to prove to himself that this was the spot he wanted; and for that, he had to see how it looked as the sun rose.  He had barely made it.

Exhausted, he dropped his duffel, collapsed onto a rock, and let his eyes take in the surroundings as the dawn light illuminated them.  There were rocks and boulders galore, with a few patches of snow decorating them, the last survivors of a long, cold winter.  Further, beyond the cliff face, he could see for miles, and there wasn't a single sign of civilization.

A bright flash of color caught his eye.  Not ten feet from where he sat, an early bird of a spring flower had forced it's way through a patch of snow. 

Perfect, he thought, smiling at the bloom.  He closed his eyes, letting his body soak in the dawn light, the spring chill, and the scent of the new flower.  He was content, and in that moment he knew he had made the right decision.

This would be the perfect place to die.


He had found the spot, and now time was short.  There were trips to be made, preparations that had to be in place.  Working his way back down the mountain was much easier in the light.

At the base of the mountain, as far as the road would allow, he had left his pickup truck.  When he reached it, he put the keys on the driver's seat; he wouldn't need it anymore, and whoever found it might have a use for it.  It had served him well for many a journey, and he patted the fender as he walked around it, almost like a cowboy saying goodbye to a tired old horse.

What he needed was the footlocker in the bed of the truck.  Getting it to the top of the mountain was not going to be easy, but it had to be done.  He caught the handle with his right hand, and dragged the box across the bed, almost dropping it on his foot.  No sense smashing it open, he thought.  It had to at least survive the hike.  He avoided using his left hand, and tried to muscle the crate up the path, but barely made it a hundred yards before dropping it in disgust.  At this rate, it would take a week to get it up there.

He sighed heavily, and closed his eyes, as if accepting a monstrous burden...or fighting internal monsters.  He opened his eyes, and stared firmly at the deformed thing that had once been his left hand.  It quivered, spasmed, almost fought.

Reaching down, he grasped the handle of the footlocker again, but with his left hand this time.  Effortlessly, the box came off the ground, and he made his way back up the mountain.


The circle was chalked, though it probably wasn't necessary for this particular ritual.  All of the important magic would be inside his own head.  He placed tall, thick candles all around, wherever he could find a rock to hold them.  They probably wouldn't stay lit if the mountain kicked up even a slight breeze, and he knew that that probably didn't matter either.  Still, it kept him focused on what he was doing, and helped to filter out distractions.

The preparations were done, and the sun was near to setting.  The ceremony itself would involve sitting through the night, mostly silently, waiting for the next--the last--sunrise.  He would have preferred to do it alone, but that wouldn't have been right.  He wasn't even sure if the ceremony would work or not, but even if it would, it still would have been...wrong.  No, he would have company on this long, cold night...and likely unfriendly, unwelcome company at that.

He turned to the footlocker, and kicked the lock open in disgust.  He raised the lid, slowly and carefully, like a snake charmer dealing with an angry cobra, but nothing jumped out, everything was as he had left it.

With a grunt, he toppled the footlocker, scattering the contents across the mountain clearing.  Leather bags, some as small as a baseball, some as large as a grown man's leg, rolled across the ground.  He selected one, righted the footlocker, and emptied the bag on top of it.

The decapitated head that fell from the bag bounced and rolled a bit, and he reached out, and stood it aright.  It sat there, leaning slightly to the right like a drunken sailor, oozing a stain onto the lid of the box.

He gazed at it for a few seconds, and then walked a few feet away.  He settled himself in the dirt, crossing his legs Indian style, and waited.

After just a few moments of silence, the eyes opened in the bodiless head.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Days of Nano Past 2: Tangler 2005

In honor of Nano 2009, here's another snippet, another dream scene from Tangler.




...he was sitting in class, and the clock was frozen...fifteen minutes until the end of class, and the clock hand just didn't seem to be moving.

The teacher was droning on in his usual fashion, and Joey was trying desperately to take notes; the teacher was moving much too quickly for him to get everything, but he was at least trying to keep up. "Node line intersections are points of great power," he wrote. "Interstitial connection lines, conversely, are hazardous to traverse."

He let his pen travel across the page on its own, and let his eyes travel to the window. The drone of the teacher's voice faded as he looked out at the sun-swept playground. It would be so much nicer to be there than here, he thought. With a sigh, he turned back to his page.

He looked, but he couldn't find the sentence he had just written. What was on his paper now was "Man, this guy is incredibly boring, I wish he would just shut up." wasn't even in his handwriting...

He reached to tear out the page, get rid of it, start taking notes again, but as he did, a shadow fell across the page.

The teacher was a short, ugly man, with a long face and greasy black hair. He was frowning in quiet fury at what he saw on the page. "Up!" He pointed to the chalkboard, and Joey walked the long trail to the front of the room, passing desk after desk after desk.

His fellow students were all in shadow; there was just the walk down the aisle, only thirty more rows to go. He could hear the tittering and murmuring behind him, though.

He finally got to the front of the room, and turned around, looking at the sea of desks and students he had just swam out of. There were bright lights in his face, so he couldn't see any of the students, but he could hear the teacher's voice above the low grumble of gossiping students.

"Now, Joey," the voice said. "Why don't you tell us the history of the intransigence vector trinomial factor?"

He shielded his eyes from the harsh glare, and tried to see into the gloom. "Huh?" The classroom chatter rose, and the teacher had to raise his voice just to be heard.

"Or can you explain the significance of the frammiz massive..." The rest of the sentence was lost in the noise.

Joey tried harder to pick out the teacher among the shaded ranks of desks, but couldn't find him. Just the mocking, insulting voice. "I'm sorry, I don't understand the question?"

"Of course you don't!" This was a new voice, his father's voice, and it came from the front row. A spotlight picked out his father, calmly sitting in a desk three sizes too small for him. He was glaring at Joey over the top of a newspaper with a headline 'Idiot kid in trouble in class!'

"You don't understand because you're not paying attention," his father continued. "Break out of your stupid fantasy world, and get to living in the here and now."

'But I'm not," Joey cried. "I'm...I..."

"You're goofing off and daydreaming, and I won't stand for it!" He stood up, the desk melting away as he did. Behind him, the teacher stood with a satisfied and triumphant grin on his face. The dark eyes bored into Joey's soul, making him feel small...and defeated.

Joey wanted to run away, to hide, but there was no where to go except back through the sea of desks--and that meant walking past his father and the sadistic teacher. He turned, left to right, left again, looking for a way to get away--and another pair of eyes met his. Sparkling emerald green, in the front row, on the far side of the classroom from his father. There was concern in them, worry; someone in this classroom did care about him.

His father was raging while the teacher egged him on. "Lazy, good for nothing, daydreaming, little..." But Joey didn't look at them...he didn't take his eyes off the green ones locked on his. And then he took a shaky step towards them, towards her, and then another step, and as he walked, she smiled at him.

There was a shriek of noise, "NO!" from the teacher. The world tilted around him, classroom, desks, all crumbling away to nothing. The last thing he remembered was that wonderful smile.


Joey sat up in bed, covered in sweat and trying to catch his breath. The dream had left him exhausted, and puzzled; he had never had that sort of dream before. Oh, sure, he had had the occasional 'oops, I went to school naked' dreams, but none of them had held the malevolence of this one. This had felt like a sadistic monster had spent an hour toying with him, like a kid pulling the wings off of butterflies just to watch them squirm. And die.

This wasn't the first bad dream he had had lately, either, he realized. There was a darkness to his dreams that had never been there before. He didn't always remember his dreams...but he remembered the feelings he had from them...and the feeling from this one was not good.

He turned off the alarm clock that was due to go off in twenty minutes, and headed to the bathroom for water. He drank a full glass, and then a second one; he splashed water on his face, and tried to get his heart to quit racing.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Days of Nano Past: Tangler (2005)

In honor of Nano this year, I'd like to offer up a few tidbits...a random sampling of the random dribblings that trickle out of that word-generating subsection of the grey matter in the back of my head. This piece is from the beginning of my very first shot at a Nano challenge.


There was blood on his knuckles, but not on his face.

The school bully was on the ground in front of him, eye already swollen shut, blood running from his nose and lip and tears streaming from his eyes.

Beyond the bully, Joey's little brother Mick was getting to his feet, brushing the dirt from his clothes and face. He looked up adoringly to his brother. And beyond him--

...beyond him was the green-eyed girl, and the look she gave when their eyes met was electric.

The bully got to hands and knees, and looked up at Joey with raw, undisguised hatred. His face was long and narrow, with thin lips below ice-grey eyes and greasy curly black hair. He got to one foot, and Joey put his hands on his hips, ready to square off for round two.

The bully opened his mouth to hurl some insults--the normal retreat of a defeated bully--but what came out of his mouth wasn't a voice. It was a shrill, high-pitched buzz, getting steadily louder and more annoying...

Joey smacked the alarm clock in disgust. It took three whacks to finally hit the snooze button, and he angrily rolled away from it in the dark, burrowing into the covers.

Why did he have to wake up anyway?

He tried to return to the dream...tried to find his way back to the ugly bully...and the green-eyed girl...and failed miserably. That was the problem with dreams...they only seemed to come when they wanted, not when he wanted.

The alarm went off again--was it actually louder and more obnoxious this time, or was that his imagination?--and he hit the snooze button...a bit less forcefully and a bit more resigned to the inevitable.

He lay there in the dark, staring at the ceiling, as the pre-dawn light slowly lit up the room. He was mostly covered by the ugly checked bedspread knitted for him by his aunt.

Above, more than a dozen airplane and starship models hung from lines attached to the ceiling. Some were even shooting at each other, with red and yellow yarn playing the part of tracer rounds and laser beam fire. Many of the models showed extensive battle damage...or, rather, many of them had been used as toys, and broken, before Joey's father came up with the idea of hanging them out of reach. He had gotten tired of gluing small parts back onto them when they broke. So, as they went up, Joey and Mick had painted red and black combat scars on the worst breaks, and even had two going "down in flames" with a wing hanging from a second thread. It had seemed really cool to look at three months ago, but now, he just missed their mock dogfights, chasing each other and screaming sound effects, even if it did leave sharp plastic booby-traps in the living room carpet for his parents to find.

Now it was bright enough to see the poster on the far wall, past his feet, just to the left of the window. It was a cute, cuddly kitten, dangling from a branch by its paws, with the old familiar "Hang in There!" caption at the bottom. That was his mother's contribution to the room's decor. He had much preferred his older poster--the cutaway view of a starship, showing the decks and levels and stations and their scale--but his mother, following the advice of some book supposedly written by some child psychiatrist, had found the humor and cuteness to be more "inspirational" somehow.

He thought a starship, and the idea of unlimited travel that a starship implied, was a lot more inspirational than some kitten that was too stupid to let go and drop the three feet to the ground. He stuck his tongue out at the poster, as he had done every morning for the last month.

The sun peeked over the horizon, spilling golden light across the sky and into his room...and his eyes. He flinched away from the brightness, squinting his eyes shut until they adjusted to the light. He had to blink a dozen painful times until it was bearable.

He stuck his tongue out at the sun, too, just on general principles.

The alarm went off again, and this time, he fumbled around and shut it off. He hopped out of bed, slipped on his glasses from the nightstand, found his slippers under the edge of the bed, pulled the blankets up into a semblance of a "made" bed, and headed off for the bathroom.

The glare from the lights over the sink was even worse than the rising sun, and he frowned painfully at them. Then he looked down into the sink, to avoid looking in the mirror. He brushed his teeth that way, and tried to run a comb through his hair without looking, too, but he couldn't do it. He finally gave in to the inevitable, and looked in the mirror.

The shiner was a glaring ugly purple, with the eye not quite swollen shut. The lip wasn't fat anymore, but there was a major scab where it had been cut.

At least the nosebleed hadn't lasted too long.

He hadn't yet decided which was worse; the fact that Eddie, the school bully, had decided to beat him up, or that Mick had come to the rescue. Mick--big for his age, almost as big as Joey. Mick, the athlete and brain and over-achiever...where Joey was the skinny dreamer, more interested in a book than a ball.

He finished combing his hair, and went back to his room to get dressed.