Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dragon*Con 2014

Another Dragon*Con is in the bag, and I have to admit that it was one of the best yet for me. The con has grown so much, and it does not appear to stopping. There is something cool about all of the people, having so much to do, so many things to see, meeting up with old friends, and hopefully I made some new ones. No two Dragon*Con experiences are alike, but I would like to take a moment to talk about mine and what caught my attention.

Friday was mostly panels for me, because there were a lot I wanted to see, and I have to say that my schedule was so much easier this year thanks to the Dragon*Con app. After getting my badge I made it to the What If…Elseworlds panel with Peter David, Mike Miller, and Dave Johnson, which was a fun romp through some excellent comic stories and discussions on the freedom of non-continuity. Also, Peter David is hilarious, especially calling out one fan for how the Young Justice show ruined his characters, when he had written the episodes in question. It is also great when one of the panelists agrees how dumb a recent comic death was, that the guy sitting next to him helped with.

The next was a Women in the Video Game Industry panel that really needed more time, but I was glad to see it packed. The next bit was light hearted and fun, An Audience with James Urbaniak and Dana Snyder, which involved a live radio show and a lot of silliness. Both men are renowned actors and thespians, but are best known as Dr. Venture (Venture Brothers) and Master Shake (Aqua Teen Hunger Force), and they did not disappoint.

I closed out the block with two writing panels, Building Alternate Worlds and Times followed by Critique Groups and Beta Readers. Each had a slew of awesome writers, too many to name, but I will say that it was a pleasure to speak with Delilah S. Dawson again, and to finally meet and have a beer with the wonderful Michael J. Martinez. Friday closed off with a few drinks and meeting some friends for food. And although it may sound like a lot of fun, I took some notes and set up some things for the future as well. This, combined with day two’s networking, was worth the trip alone, but it gets better.

Saturday began with Martinez’s author reading and some time left open to meet friends and wander about. I find that to be a fun part of the con itself, and always discover something fun or interesting. I palled around with Cary and Stephen for a chunk of the day while we traversed the dealer’ area, which is still too crowded, and hit up the gaming floor. I think my two friends were bad luck though, as for the first time in my personal Dragon*Con history, a panel filled when we had actually gotten there an hour early. This seemed to be a common problem this year with panels though, as several I attended were just in too small of rooms or should have honestly been offered at more times. Something I hope to see addressed in the future.

After running into Kim and Danny in the food court I did make it to a wonderful Race and Gender Issues panel, that really needed to be about an hour longer, but after that I decided that it was time to meet up with Evan and Wesley. We could not get into the IT Crowd panel for the same reasons as above, but took the opportunity to go check out some of the cosplay in the Marriot. There was some great stuff as always, and I love the subtle stuff or really obscure characters, like seeing Haley and Jeff from American Dad, or Simon Dark. I thought I was the only one who read that comic book. After some photo ops though it was time to hit up the parties with Jessica, and after dancing with a female Deadpool and talking to a random Fire Emblem character about Smash Brothers, it had been a long fun day. So long in fact that I got on the wrong MARTA train, but that is a story for another time.

My last panel was on Sunday, Journalism and SF with Emilie P. Bush and some other ladies who all had backgrounds in journalism and law apparently. It was an interesting approach to the subjects at hand, and overall confirmed that every panel I saw was interesting in one form or another, also rounding out my networking attempts. I want to thank Andy for letting me pal around with him and his friends for a while, trying the dealers’ rooms one more time and getting the talented and all around nice David Mack to sell me on Daredevil: End of Days and sign it for me.

I had one final adventure as I wandered the hotels and took everything in. Jim Sterling from the Escapist had been tweeting that he was at the con all weekend, and after a vigorous search I finally found him in the lobby of the Hilton. He was not a guest of DC, just an attendee like myself, and it was incredibly awesome to meet someone in the field I am trying to get more involved with. I am not one to get star struck by any means, but this was rather cool and I just had to get a picture. Meeting him was a pleasure, and I may have shamelessly given him my business card, but in the end, it was the perfect closing to my Dragon*Con 2014.

I am already looking into next year, and one must start early for something so packed. I had a great time, and have enjoyed recording it all down here as well. This will be a hard con experience to top, but I am looking forward to giving it a try. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

You Were Made for Loneliness

This is my excerpt from the twine game You Were Made for Loneliness, which you may play at this link: http://philome.la/Tsukaretablues/you-were-made-for-loneliness

Lucinda hated working as a maid for Lady Annabelle, but of all the chores the lady of the house gave her to do each day, she hated making the beds the most. There were a lot of chores, all of different varieties, but this one stood out. Whether it was just Annabelle’s bed that she had to tend to, or several, depending on how many the guests the dear lady had allowed to stay over, each bed she made annoyed her. It made no sense, her annoyance, because this act was a simple part of her job. Lucinda did her best to keep any emotions she had in check while at work, because Annabelle idealized her employees as servants, robotic and without personality.   

It was the sheets specifically. She had just realized that. When the bed was ready, Lucinda would grab the fabric, standing at the right side of the bed and fling them high above the mattress while holding on to the ends. Her time spent as a housekeeper, maid, whatever the title, allowed for some level or precision. It was this motion that was the crux of her discomfort. Watching the sheet fall so slow and carefree irked her, even if that was hard to admit.

Was that really it? Freedom?  

Annabelle ordered her sheets changed quite often, but most of the sets she owned were some shade of blue or purple, so in the end there was little difference. Today it was the light blue sheets for the lady’s bed, replacing the deep purple ones that had only been used for three days previous. The purple sheets were stripped first and laid over her arm. Now the blue sheets would be placed properly, before the purple ones were folded and sent to be washed. There was an order to this; one Lucinda feared breaking, because sometimes the slightest things could upset her employer.

With the two purple sheets placed snuggly on her left arm, Lucinda set the blue sheets with her right hand, preparing to toss them. They could have just as easily been placed and not tossed up, but this was the way she had been taught. She had performed this fluid motion thousands of times. It had taken her a few hundred times to perfect it, and a few hundred more to realize that she did not like what it made her feel. She had been stressed as of late. A combination of things had set her nerves on edge.

When the sheet was thrown up it rippled outward and expanded, catching the air, cupping it snuggly under the folds so it could glide. As it fell though, Lucinda’s fragile state forced something else up underneath the sheets. The tone of the light was softer here, in this other place, away from the sterile and pristine white walls of the mansion, where Annabelle had the bright lights and off-white curtains. Here though, in this moment, the bed was smaller and the lights were dimmer, kind of a honey color—natural and soothing. That was where she lay, under the falling sheet. The expression on her face confused Lucinda at first. She was gleefully smiling, but could not remember why at first. This had to have been such a long time ago.

Close to giggling, batting her eyelashes under the shade of the blanket, one hand was resting on Lucinda’s bare stomach, while the other rested behind her head. The matching dark blue panties and cut-off tank top were comfortable, and her skin was warm from the foreplay and teasing. It was not Lucinda who had thrown the sheet though, not in this time. A head poked up under the sheet at the base of the bed, followed by a set of hands that helped the body crawl up towards her. Gerald. That was his name. Lucinda had not thought about him in years, and there was little that stood out as memorable, but now she could place the moment.  

Gerald was smiling also, a glow of pleasure about his features as he crawled up to the awaiting female figure, hands almost trembling as they touched Lucinda, anticipation mounting. Everything was at a pitch when Gerald’s fingers gave a long caress upon the spectacle of humble beauty before him. At least, that was what he had called her at one point. The touch, accented with all of his attention, caused her body to shake and her legs to contract tightly around his head, forcing him down to finish what he had started. His motions were soft, meaningful, and deliberate. Lucinda knew that he had been good to her. Gerald was not only an attentive lover, but Lucinda could never attempt to show the level of compassion he had. She had not learned how to love, even all of these years later. It was soon that she would break Gerald’s heart, but it would not happen tonight, and not in this bed that he had made for them.

The excitement was palpable. They both could not wait to get the other’s clothes off, to touch, to sweat, to feel. Gerald’s name was on Lucinda’s lips again, for the first time in so long. Still, something caused her lips to move, even if she felt nothing for him anymore. For the first time in performing this dreadful task, Lucinda had not immediately tucked the sheet underneath after it had fallen onto the bed. This was quickly corrected. She had to pause afterwards though, her brain not able to rationalize what was wrong with her anymore.  

This small lapse had left Lucinda behind on her normal routine, and she still had the purple sheets to properly fold and setup for the laundry. There was a part of her though that wanted to stop and rest on the bed, but she couldn’t. She took those purple sheets from her arm, turning towards the large window to fold them as she normally did. Her motions were almost robotic, practiced, and helped her to lose focus on what was actually bothering her. Her fingers put the exact pressure on the fabric to assure a crisp crease.

Making the neatly folded rectangle out in front of her, that was what set off the next emotional spark, pulling up another memory, triggered by the most glancing of blows. Lucinda held the folded material to her face, covering her eyes as if she were not controlling the motions. The makeshift blindfold was soon turned into a real one that rested above her small nose and pouty lips.

Lucinda was tied to a wooden chair by several men’s silk ties, hunched over, trembling with excitement, anticipation, and a realistic dose of trepidation, naked, but not alone. Lucinda knew immediately when and where this was, where the memory had come from, and also knew that this had been her idea, a dark dream discussed between her and a special partner for months, that now came to life with candles, oils, and some soft appropriate music.

Between these thighs is where my rhythm lies,” the speakers chanted to the chorus, filling the room with melodic tension.  

Lucinda’s excitement was almost at a boil when she heard him approach her again. The blindfold was really doing it for her. These new sensations, all of it was made better by his dedication to the role. It was not his thing, she knew that, but there was some excitement on his part as well, now in the moment. Lucy, as he liked to call her, needed that excitement more than he did, it kept her from having to worry about if things were getting serious, as well as kept her other wild ideas in check. The temptation to pick up, move, change her name and become someone else, someone worse, an idea that was always in the back of her mind, at least back when she had that freedom. She had never let anyone else call her Lucy after him, not another lover at least.

He was behind her now. There was a pause for effect, right before two cold pieces of ice were placed to her back. Lucinda gasped as her body shook and bounced against the chair. If she had not been stimulated already, she was now, along with her skin trying to crawl away from the cold, she was not pushing against the restraints. That all faded when his hand wrapped around her throat though. It felt good, but Lucinda thought he was not gripping her tight enough to make it feel real.

Lucinda did not like that memory as much as she used to. Not only was she now stopped, daydreaming, and even further behind in her chores, but she had no idea why she was forced to remember this. These thoughts were absurd, but worst of all, they were distracting. It would get her in trouble. Lucinda placed the sheet in her free hand, deciding that more drastic measures would have to be taken. She would ask Annabelle for a day off, ask to go see someone. If that was not possible, there was a particular bottle that had helped her solve problems in the past.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Red - Pt. 3

            Taylor did order a drink: vodka, neat. She downed it quickly and pondered a second as her mind raced, not noticing the man who had watched her consume the liquor—impressed. Taylor placed a hand on her purse that sat on the bar in front of her, fingers sliding around until she was sure Julia was still safely tucked away. It was the foolish hunter who didn’t know where her gun was at all times. Any gun could work, but these were specially made for killing the demonic horde. Small silver rounds, low caliber and designed for speed and precision.
            She clutched the purse close to her as she attempted to pay for her drink, but the usual bartender wouldn’t let her, knowing she was a close friend to Malcolm. She forced a smile and turned to head back down. Two young men passed her on the steps, but she barely noticed them eyeing her. The music from the downstairs club was filling her ears now, drowning everything else out. One thing Raven had said really stuck out to her, burn off some steam. There would be plenty of time to get shot at and stabbed later.
            Her feet were already moving more to the beat than they were walking when she was in the hallway. Bright lights of all colors flooded the room and were reflected off of large mirrors that lined the walls. There were three different raised platforms in the room, one for the bar and two dance floors that lit up on the bottom, similar to an old disco. So many bodies moved in front of her, each up all night to live, to dream, to get lucky, or to forget, like she was. No matter what the reason, she moved into the crowd on the first dance floor and blended into it with no problem. The strap of her purse was placed around her neck, putting her arm through to let it rest against her hip. From that point her hands raised and her body moved with a smile of red lips. Her similarly colored hair moved in waves as she glided from song-to song, forgetting the rest of the world while the music played.
            Taylor wasn’t sure how long she had been dancing, how much time had passed since she left Malcolm’s office. She didn’t care. She had dropped her guard a little too much though. Taylor was focused on enjoying herself and letting go of everything else that she hadn’t seen Paige slip in and begin dancing beside her.
            Paige smirked playfully when she was sure Taylor saw her. Taylor’s nearly-startled reaction almost cost a guy dancing to her right an accidental elbow, but she pulled back.
            “Shit,” Taylor said under her breath.
            “Hey!” Paige shouted her hello over the music, “fancy seeing you here.”
            Fancy indeed. It wasn’t hard to figure that this is one of the places Taylor would have gone to get out of the apartment, and since she hadn’t returned Paige’s call, here she was. Taylor wasn’t sure if she wanted to congratulate her friend on preservation or chalk this up to creepy stalker skills. Either way, Aspect was suddenly a place she didn’t want to be anymore.
            Paige was still dancing, eyes fixed on Taylor as she waited for a response.
            “Hey,” she said almost pitifully. “I was just getting ready to leave.”
            “Oh? Cool. I’ll come with you. No fun if you aren’t here.”
            Both girls winced at the line for different reasons. Taylor decided that no matter what happened, it was best to take this conversation somewhere a little bit quieter. She brushed past Paige gently, continuing to slide between the other dancers in the club as she made her way to the door. Paige was behind her, and for a split second she was sure that she could break into a run and disappear before the other girl could finish exiting the club. That was stupid. This was her friend. Taylor told herself that she was being stupid and now was as good a time as any to go ahead and deal with this. She fought a demon earlier tonight for crying out loud. How hard could a conversation be?
            “So, where are we going, back to your place?”
            Taylor bit her tongue slightly and turned to face Paige.
            “What are you doing here?”
            “What, what do you mean?”
            “I mean,” Taylor paused, already starting to doubt this idea. “Look, I should have called you back, but something came up.”
            “It’s okay. I know you have your own stuff going on. I understand space,” Paige added reassuringly.
            Taylor felt something about to fly on the tip of her tongue and quickly reeled it back in.
            “Paige, did you come down here because you wanted to talk to me?”
            “Of course, we haven’t hung out in forever.”
            Taylor watched her friend smile but now she was sure. She shook her head.
            “I mean talk. I mean we haven’t talked since what happened last time.”
            “There’s nothing to talk about, Taylor.” Paige tried to assure her, “I just wanted to hang out with my bestie.”
            Paige’s grin grew in a genuine nature, which for some reason that she couldn’t explain to herself only made Taylor’s anger grow. She was about to say what was really on her mind in a rather loud tone, until she realized just how many people were standing outside the club and around the other bars that could have heard her.
            She grabbed Paige’s wrist, perhaps a little harder than she meant to, and pulled her down the alleyway between the club and aged brick of the downtown office building. She placed her hands on Paige’s shoulders and gave her a very serious look before finally spitting it out.
            “You shouldn’t have done that. It was way out of line and-and just not what I expected.”
            There was a pause. Neither girl moved, but rather just stared at one another. Taylor broke the silence and turned her head first.
            “And don’t try to do it again as an answer.”
            “I wasn’t,” Paige argued defensively. “You freaked out on me last time, remember? Then you wouldn’t return any of my phone calls left me cr-,” she stopped herself. “I just wanted to hang out with you tonight, spend some time with my friend. You know, like normal?”
            Taylor dropped her hands and rolled her eyes.
            Paige turned sideways, folding her arms together underneath her chest as she tried to look away, but her gaze fell back on Taylor.
            “I’m sorry,” Taylor said softly. “I shouldn’t have ignored you.”
            “You should be,” Paige answered, attempting to be angry.
            “I didn’t know what to say,” she said sincerely, “Thanks and all? I appreciate it, a welcomed surprise, but no thanks?”
            “Probably would have worked better than freaking out.”
            “I didn’t freak out,” Taylor protested, putting air quotes around the last two words. “You just caught me off guard.”
            “I realized,” Paige said with a nod. “I could tell by how red your face got.”
            Taylor’s face, and its returning redness, was telling Paige more than any number of words could. Her fists clenched and she counted backwards in her mind, attempting to calm herself. After a moment she realized that Paige was smiling at her.
            “Alright,” Taylor told her friend. “I was-I am flattered, but that wasn’t cool.”
            “Clearly,” Paige laughed. “I thought you were going to break my neck. I know you take self-defense classes but you treated me like a knife-wielding mugger or something.”
            Taylor directed the conversation away from her abilities, hoping Paige hadn’t lingered too long on that one.
            “Is this going to be a thing? Do we need to sit down and have a conversation about this, or can I just say thank you, but no thank you?”
            Paige paused. Her smile faded. It was a moment before she responded.
            “Nah, we’re good. As long as you don’t ignore me because of this,” Paige said with her eyes pleading to her friend.
            “Of course not,” Taylor outstretched her arms, giving her friend a light hug. “Why did it take you so long to tell me? I didn’t know. It’s not like I was going to look at you as if you had two heads or something. I thought,” Taylor stopped herself, afraid she was about to put her foot in her mouth.
            “It’s a long story I guess.” Paige returned the hug.
            As the two were speaking they had heard the whistling down the alleyway. The tune was deep and pronounced as it filled the air with something that sounded old and slightly eerie. Both girls had ignored the song at first, continuing their conversation, but as they began to embrace in the hug it had become louder and a shadowy figure could now be seen at the end of the alleyway, the whistling continuing.
            Taylor looked, her hug on Paige becoming almost a protective embrace now. The man at the end of the alleyway opposite of them was coming closer, but his face was obscured by shadow and a large wide-brimmed hat. The pale blue lights on the two hanging fixtures in the alleyway were dimming slightly. Taylor couldn’t make out much, but she thought what she could see of the man’s face was a devious smile.
            “Paige,” Taylor addressed her sternly. “Go back inside and wait for me.”
            “What? Why?” Paige asked before turning to face the man. “You know this guy? He kind of looks like a creep.” Paige whispered the last part, squinting to try and make out the mysterious figures facial features.  
            “Just trust me, will you,” Taylor asked as her hand released its loose hold on Paige and made a move for her purse.
            “You aren’t in some kind of trouble are you?”
            Paige didn’t need an answer to her question. She caught sight of Julia’s silver plating out of the corner of her eye, just before darkness enveloped them. Paige opened her mouth to yell something to her friend, but what came out was muffled and hoarse, the feeling of choking on the darkness overpowering her.
            Taylor was more resistant and her eyes were quicker. The shadows that had attacked and shrouded around them were their own, leaping off of the brick wall and becoming thicker, drowning them out, bringing them further into the night. With one hand she raised Julia, the other pushing Paige roughly out of the alleyway.
            Paige saw several flashes from the gun as bullets flew but the light the muzzle flashes generated were small and subdued, the shots barely making a sound. She stumbled backwards from the opening of the alleyway, seeing the shifting darkness as small strands of it reached towards her, attempting to pull Paige back in. She froze for a moment, feeling her heart pound and a thumping so loud between her ears that she thought it may have been more shots being fired.
            She looked left first, then right. She needed to get her friend help from…whoever that was. Paige wasn’t thinking clearly, sure that he was a mugger, or perhaps a rapist. Things clicked for her just a little bit more though as people passed her by. She had opened her mouth to ask them for help, but her own emotions now drowned out her voice rather than the shadows. That was when Paige saw it though, no one else did. The realization that what was going on in the alleyway looked so much like a simply distorted darkness that it caught no one else’s eyes, even those that passed by her.
            Paige paused as her heart tried to calm, staring into the blackness. Her face grew closer as she studied it. She couldn’t make out anything in there, but that was where her friend was. She reached a hand up and was ready to push her way through, no matter what.
            The wall of darkness pushed and the shadows were torn through as Taylor pushed and ripped at the darkness. Her face was angry and there was scratches on her cheek and shoulder from what Paige thought must have been glass. Taylor quickly shoved Julia underneath her jacket so that no one else could see the weapon other than Paige.
            “Walk, let’s go.”
            Taylor grabbed her friends arm, just as hard as last time, but higher up and already in motion. Taylor’s pace was quick and her head was on a swivel.
            “Just go, you have to trust me.”
            “Wait,” Paige said, walking but trying to get her arm back, unsuccessfully. “Who was that? What was going on back there? What was with the stuff back there, I could barely breathe.”
            Taylor shook her head as she pulled Paige, turning the corner abruptly as she tried to figure out if there was any chance of explaining away what just happened.
            “Drugs,” she spit out, “crackhead or something I think.”
            “Are you serious,” Paige almost yelled as they rounded another corner, she finally managed to get her arm free. “You are way too calm, and pushy. You know what is going on, you know more than I do at least.”
            Taylor stopped walking for a moment and looked at her friend. She had known Paige for almost three years now, no matter how much she was rethinking her friend lately, she wasn’t stupid. The real question that Taylor needed to answer though: could she be trusted?
            “I’ll explain everything I know,” Taylor said calmly, “once we are somewhere else, somewhere safe.”
            “Are we in danger?” Paige’s question left her mouth gaped open slightly.
            It was in that moment that Taylor realized why her mother was so strict, what the old man had warned her about, why she had so few friends. She had just put this innocent girl in danger and she had let the man who had seen them together get away.
            “I’ll protect you,” was what she said out loud, while in her mind she cursed herself. She should have stayed and finished the job; killed the demon that had seen them together. She was angry at herself, but would it have really done any good? She needed to get Paige somewhere safe and get away from her, for Paige’s own good.
            “I need to grab some things from my apartment first though. Come with me and then I’ll take you home, make sure your safe.” She meant what she said, even if she had to hunt down every demon in the city to make sure no one hurt her friend.
            “Then you’ll explain what happened?”
            “Yes, then we’ll talk. I promise.”
            Paige nodded. Taylor took another moment to look around them. She didn’t like how long they had been stationary. She quickly planned a route to her apartment that was a few streets over and up the hill, moving them along as soon as she was sure which way was the best to go. Paige was oddly quiet as they walked, trying to make sense of everything. It worked out. Taylor had her own thinking to do as she realized how much she had messed up already tonight.
            What finally did break the silence a block away from Taylor’s apartment surprised her.
            “You’ve killed people, haven’t you? You didn’t hesitate to try and shoot that guy.”
            Paige was just full of surprises these days.
            “Did you make that black stuff appear?”
            “Wow,” Taylor said, and couldn’t help but smile, “two hardballs. I thought we were going to wait?”
            “How do you expect me to not ask? I’ve been thinking about it since-“
            Taylor raised a hand, stopping Paige abruptly in her sentence.
            Her building was in view from here, several windows still lit up and Mr. Linden out on the front patio smoking while he checked his phone, which was all normal. It was the SUV in the parking lot behind the building that bothered her. The vehicle was parked in an odd place, setup perfectly to keep an eye on both of the doors that residents used to get into the building. She ushered Paige to back up a little bit. That was when she saw the other one walking out from the alleyway on the far side of the old renovated hotel. Two people she had never seen before, both in all black looking for someone. She motioned Paige to stay buck and duck down behind the tall bushes of old home.
            “This isn’t good.”
            “What is it,” Paige asked.
            “I think they’re here looking for me,” she said as she watched the one on foot, making sure he wouldn’t be able to spot them. “Getting into my apartment may be tougher than I thought.”
            “You…want me to try and distract them?”
            “Hell no,” Taylor said softly, snapping her head around. “Don’t do anything stupid like that.”
            Taylor noticed that Paige wasn’t looking at her anymore. She thought that she was about to have to subdue her friend. Good intention lead to getting shot, at least, that was what the old man had told her. She followed Paige’s gaze though to the man that was on foot. He had been sniffing the air, and now he was knelt closer to the ground doing it. His face didn’t look like it had though, more animal like now with two sets of nostrils flaring, consuming air and information around him in what looked like a cross between scales and a snout. His eyes flashed a light gold as he looked up right at the two girls.
            “Shit,” Paige uttered. “What do we do?”
            Paige listened this time, pushing her feet against the pavement in her crouched position behind the bushes and bursting out into a full stride as she hit the sidewalk. Taylor took one last look at the beast that was staring her down, wondering what the best way to handle this was. She considered giving Paige time to run while she stayed, faced what would come, but a sense of fear or preservation, perhaps both, sent her running after her friend.
            Taylor didn’t need to stay and watch to know what was about to happen next. The man with the nose would head to the SUV. With his ability and the advantage of a vehicle it wouldn’t be long before they would overtake her and Paige. She couldn’t risk an all out fight against two hellspawns and guarantee Paige’s safety, or maybe even her own. The devils seemed determined tonight. What if the one who could control shadows wasn’t far behind either? It was a time for tactics.
            Paige was quick on her feet, but Taylor was quicker, and used to this.
            “Keeping going,” she urged her friend as she caught up.
            The two came to the four-way stop, both pausing for the slightest moment until Taylor saw the answer she had been looking for.
            “This way,” she said taking off.
            “Wait, really? We’re going in here?”

Paige asked her questions between gasps, trying to breathe as she slowed to a fast walk, but Taylor was committed. She sighed and turned her head slightly, just enough to see the headlights of a vehicle bouncing down the hilly roads not far behind her. Paige cussed as she ran through the back entrance of Temple Hill Cemetery. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Red - Pt. 2

             Taylor Hawkins has had a rough life, but that was her lot. When she was young and asked her mother important questions about life, Christine didn’t lie to her. As a single mother on the run, raising her daughter in an uncertain world, she told her child the truth so that in the future, nothing would shock her. The first questions were about her father and why he wasn’t there.
            “He was killed by evil men.”
            Taylor was confused though. Whenever people they didn’t know asked about the little girl’s father, Christine told them that he was a bum, a deadbeat, no one she wanted to talk about. It was only when they were alone did she speak highly of him. Taylor wanted to run away. She and her mother rarely got along the older she got and every time the young girl finally began to make friends, it was time to go again. Constantly running, but never quite sure why; she followed her mother’s lead, because she had no one else.
            At thirteen Taylor was diagnosed with brain cancer. She was in a hospital for nearly three months. Taylor was scared and in pain. She asked her mother countless times why this was happening to her and when she would be okay.
            “You’ll be fine soon, honey. Just be tough,” Christine constantly replied.
            There was no fear in the young mother’s voice, and only the slightest bit of concern. She simply sat in Taylor’s hospital room with her legs hung over the arm of the chair as she thumbed through the pages of numerous romance novels. Christine was also not surprised when her daughter woke up in those nights in a cold sweat, talking about visions and vivid dreams.
One night Taylor had even tried to run away from the hospital. Feeling alone and helpless, the young girl thought that she could run away from the cancer. It took longer than Christine had though, but after three months Taylor began feeling better, stronger. Soon after a new team of doctors confirmed that she had been misdiagnosed with brain cancer, which had instead been some sort of nasty virus. That night Christine took her daughter from the hospital, skipping out on the bills and any further questions.
On her fourteenth birthday Christine told her daughter that they were going somewhere special. She had lied. Christine drove the old station wagon down a long and winding dirt road to drop her only child off with an old man that she would live with for almost three years, a man whom she couldn’t run away from, even though she tried. Taylor didn’t see her mother again until her seventeenth birthday, and from that moment on she never trusted her again.
Like many people, Taylor ran from her destiny. She did what she had to but refused to let anyone else control her life after the old man let her go. Taylor shirked the responsibility, unsure why anyone expected anything else from her. As soon as everything was set up she left her mother on her eighteenth birthday to find a new start where most teenagers do—college. She had chosen a quiet school down in Waycross, a place big enough for her liking but small enough to hide out in away from everything and everyone else, at least she thought that.

Sanders; or whatever was riding his body was the first one she had seen in almost two years. She could tell too, because she was rusty as hell. Taylor took a quick minute for clean-up, getting the small bits of blood off of the hardwood floor and pulling the smashed bullet from the copy of The Great Gatsby that it had lodged itself in. She paused for the briefest of a laugh, realizing how appropriate that was. A knock at the door ended her jovial moment abruptly.
“Taylor,” the voice of the older man called out. Mr. Benton, the apartment supervisor. Someone must have called about the gunshot.
She quickly hit the light switch and the apartment dimmed to a dull reddish-purple. The only light now was coming from her lava lamp. Taylor slid her shoes on as the man knocked again.
“One second,” she yelled in response.
One last look around the apartment before she opened the door, but nothing could be done about the bookshelf. When she did finally open up, Taylor kept her body between Mr. Benton and the bookcase, hoping he would be distracted enough by her as he usually was.
“Hey, Mr. B,” she said with a smile.
“Taylor, are you alright?”
“Yeah,” she said quickly, sliding out the door and shutting it closely behind her so that he had very little chance to see the damaged furniture. “I was just heading out.”
Mr. Benton looked over Taylor’s shoulder but the door was already shutting firmly and the key was almost in the lock before he got anything else out.
“There was noise. Several of the neighbors complained, said it sounded like a gunshot.”
“A what,” she feigned ignorance. “I don’t- Oh, I bet I had my music too loud again.” The distraction was easy for Benton to buy, as all good lies go, it was laced in truth. “I’m sorry, I’ve –REALLY- tried to get better with that. I hope I didn’t bother poor Ms. Phelps down the hall there.” Taylor gave her performance with near-genuine expressions, her time in theatre paying off.
“Oh, your music again,” Mr. Benton said with a smile. “You really do need to be more careful about that,” he said wagging a finger at her. “You aren’t the only one who lives on this floor you know.” Benton was about to launch into some other semi-flirtatious attempt at conversation, but Taylor was ready to cut him off.
“I know Mr. B., and I will, bye!”
Before he could get anything else out she had already hit the door to the stairwell; gone before her gleeful goodbye had finished registering. Taylor’s feet padded down the old gray steps quickly until she saw the side doors that lead out. Pushing through the first, then the second, she reached the street and took a much needed deep breath when she felt she was far enough away.
“Cool it. Handle it,” She encouraged herself.
The street was lit up by bright orange lamps that hung over her in a haze of humidity that the pale moon could not pierce. It had rained earlier. The wet black pavement reflected the orange of the lamps and the bright blue and white accent lights from the houses of the historical area of Waycross. The fresh night air was still filled with the scents of rain and freshly cut grass, a pleasant mix that represented the southern town quite well.
The walk was actually doing her some good as Taylor ran scenario through her mind, trying to figure out why that had just happened in her apartment. She had wanted to get out tonight, but not for this reason. Tonight was supposed to be about forgetting her problems, Paige and all. Sanders presented a different type of problem though. Now, Taylor was at defcon one.
She took her normal route through the backstreets of the city, by the old houses that had been turned into small apartments for the college students and the brick telephone building with the wrott-iron gates that she loved. That was when it hit her. Taylor immediately turned down a small road that she didn’t normally take. She eyed the unfamiliar white houses and the small dentist office that still had Christmas lights hanging on the window sill.
Taylor told herself to stop it, she would be jumping at shadows soon if she didn’t exercise some control over her fears. Her training was starting to come back. So there was an encounter, just get to a safe place and prepare. Once that was done, work on the how and the why. It had not happened in so long that she didn’t even have a weapon at her place. That was sloppy. The old man would have made her pay for that one if he found out. That notion made her feet move faster more so than the thought of running into another jacker, at least that was what she thought Sanders was, being ridden by some malicious entity. He had been like that for a while though, his eyes barely looked human. The more the spirits rode a host, the less of the host there was.  
Downtown was crowded for Waycross, but Thursday was college night, and this was a college town. Taylor was getting further into downtown, in between the taller buildings and parking decks. She hurried past the family owned camera shop that had been there for two generations and up by the courthouse with its statues honoring the towns founders.
The buildings began to change from private practice offices and dress shops to cafĂ©’s, restaurants, bars, and clubs. The new light that filled the sidewalks were brightly colored purples, reds, and greens of entrance signs and advertisements. That meant that she was close. Taylor had slowed her pace slightly though, more cautious of the people around her. Without knowing what was going on, an attack could come from anywhere. She should have grabbed a knife or at least another pen from her apartment. Something, anything that she could use for protection would have been better than walking out empty handed.
That didn’t matter now. She was laying eyes on her goal. Aspect. The two story dance club and bar was a safe haven in multiple ways for Taylor. The outside walls thumped with the music that came from the inside and there was a small line outside with one of the usual bouncers checking ID’s. Taylor almost cut through the line, but didn’t want to draw any unneeded attention. When she got up to the man at the door he simply smiled and nodded her through without checking anything. Not only was she a regular, Taylor had the owner’s favor.   
            The club had two entryways in the lobby. The door to the right enticed her with the loud bass and flashing lights. That would only help to relieve the small problems though. The person she was looking for would most likely be upstairs though, as he was most nights she was actually able to see him. He would only help with the main problem, but that was what troubled her the most right now. Maybe after that, Taylor thought, she could have some time to herself to unwind.
            Taylor turned to the left instead. A rather plain looking archway greeted her instead that led to a dull brown staircase with a few hanging portraits of UK bands and rock stars. On the ceiling at the top of the stairwell a Union Jack flag hung that made way for the football memorabilia on the walls for the various clubs. The upstairs was more of a bar setting than the club below it. On Friday and Saturday nights there would usually be a live band or karaoke’ night set up. The long bar stretched across the rectangular room against the mirrored side wall. Small red and white lights hung from the ceiling, coupled with the mixed culture decor that was lit up on the wall. Taylor made her way through the tables, past the row of booths and up to the bar.
            Taylor looked down the long bar and was about to check the back of the room before she saw his reflection in the mirror. She blinked; sure that he wasn’t there a moment ago. She approached him, dressed in his gray slacks, black vest, and the rolled up sleeves of his button-up shirt. He hadn’t turned around, making himself a drink from what she could tell in the mirror.
            “Malcolm,” she addressed him. “Malcolm,” a bit louder, but still he didn’t turn around. She began to say his name again very loud over the rock music that played, but stopped when she saw his hand raise to his ear, mimicking that he wasn’t hearing her. Taylor sighed.
            “Raven,” the name trailed off as she cut her eyes at him harshly.
            Finally the sharply dressed club owner with the spiky brown hair spun around and took a sip of the alcoholic beverage in his glass. He was smirking as he leaned over the bar and looked Taylor from bottom to top, taking another drink.
            “Ello’ there love. You come for some company or just to bother me?”
            “I had a run in,” she said seriously, “with a jacker I think.”
            “Well that is a bother,” Raven said, downing the rest of his drink.
            Raven came from behind the bar and motioned Taylor to follow, waving his two fingers towards the door, beckoning her. The two walked past the last booth in the back, past the pool table and the overly loud speakers to the plain brown wooden door that Raven unlocked with a silver key from his key ring. Like the gentleman that he was half the time, he held the door open for Taylor to enter with a waving motion.
            The office was deceptively large. When the door shut, all of the ambient noise from the bar and downstairs club was shut out, almost too quiet actually. There were two couches against the walls and a large wooden desk with two chairs. A globe with several oddly colored areas on the sphere sat on the dexk. Bookshelves lined the back wall with different tomes and volumes in multiple languages and a computer monitor was hooked up to an old typewriter on a table next to it. In an odd way, it was kind of what Taylor expected.
            “Nice place.”
            “Eh,” Raven replied with a sour twist of his lips. “I work with what I have. You should see my flat sometime; make you feel right at home.”
            He took a seat on the sofa and motioned for her to join him. Instead, Taylor turned the chair on the opposite side of the desk to face him.
            “I didn’t come here to flirt with you, Malcolm.”
            “This again?”
            “Raven, whatever,” she trailed off in frustration. “I’m not even sure your accent is real.”
            “Course it is,” he said, insulted. “I guess I do keep it a little thick though. You southern girls practically swoon over it.”
            “Will you stop, I told you what happened.”
            “No, you said one word. Explain.”
            Taylor sighed and crossed her legs, throwing her head back and closing her eyes as she felt a headache coming on. It was probably from Raven. She took a breath and then regaled him with the story.
            “I’m pretty sure it was a jacker that found me in my apartment somehow. It knew where I was and it put up a decent fight. The thing had a gun. By the time most of them find me they are too stupid to use guns.” She looked to the side. “Not going to lie, I’m a little worried. What if this wasn’t just a random attack like the last one?”
            “I told you this would happen.”
            “It’s been two years!”
            “Well,” Raven said shaking his head. “The world let you run from what you are for two years longer than it lets most people. The stronger you get the easier that they’ll be able to find you.”
            “I’m not like you,” Taylor protested.
            “Of course you aren’t, you git.” Raven stood and began explaining a bit more passionately with his hands. “You’re an anomaly in a world full of freaks. You stick out more than an albino at a meeting of the Farmers of America.”
            “Okay, I get it!”
            “No, precious,” Raven said, leaning down to look her in the eyes. “I actually don’t think you do. I’ve been trying for over two years now to get you to accept the world you try to ignore, to learn and be ready. You disregard it so much that you still call me by my human name even when it’s just us.”
            “Raven sounds a little too Emo.”
            “Fine, be cute,” he turned. “See if I’m here to help you when the jackers, the leeches, the incubi and all the others decide they want to put you out of their misery.”
            Taylor didn’t know what to say. She simply stared at him for a long moment before looking down at her hands that had been folded neatly across the black shirt.
            “What do I do?”
            “Way I see it you have two options: run, or do your job.”
            There was another pause as she considered his words. There was that thought of running, trying a new state, maybe in an even less populated area. He had warned her before though, the stronger she became; the more they would be able to find her. She thought about her other problems too, with the school, with Paige. It was an odd mixture of wanting to run, to make everything easier, but realizing that for the first time in her life, Taylor had actually begun calling somewhere home.
            “I… I mean this can’t be that bad, right; a small infestation, a minor demon or something, nothing big, right?”
            “I don’t know,” he crossed his arms and mused for a moment. “What about the gargoyle thing? Think they still have it out for you?”
            “This wasn’t a gargoyle, Raven. I know that much.”
            “They could have hired someone, made an alliance.”
            There was a long pause. Raven stared at her. Taylor stared at the wall as her fingers tapped nervously on the arm of the chair, echoing in the quiet room.
            “No,” she finally said out loud to the wall.
            “No, what?”
            “I’m not going to run.” Taylor stood. “I’m going to go find out what is going on and take care of it, and then I’m going to take a vacation.”
            “Vacation? This is the first we’ve seen of anything in two years.”
            “Not just from this,” she corrected, “from everything. Trust me. I need it.”
            Raven shook his head and stood, muttering, “Whatever you say. But, you’re going to need weapons if you’re going hunting.”
            “What did you have in mind?”
            Raven walked over to the bookshelf behind his desk and let a hand fall onto an old brown book with a smudged title that loosely spelled out Wuthering Heights.
            “Luckily, your mum had me hold something aside for you. She knew you’d be needing it eventually.”
            Taylor felt a cold chill on her spine as her mother was mentioned. She looked over her shoulder at Raven and saw the bookshelf shift slightly when he pulled the book from the shelf. There was a four foot safe behind it that she couldn’t see very well with him in the way, but instead of hearing the tumblers or a keypad, there were four notes of distinct sound that escaped into the otherwise quiet office.
            Taylor had an idea what it was, but her mouth still gaped a bit when she saw the open box. It was beautiful. The small wooden box held in it a silver-plated Beretta 92FS, an extended clip sitting next to it on the felt fabric of the box.
            “Dad’s gun,” Taylor said in a hushed tone.
            “He called it Julia,” Raven informed her, “and now it is yours.”
            She picked up the weapon gingerly, as if it were a fragile thing. The name of the piece was mouthed again by her lips, paying reverence to an artist’s creation as the pads of her fingertips ran down the side and she checked it. Taylor was no stranger to guns, not at all. They were one of the preferred weapons of hunters, one of the many disciplines she had been trained in, but it had been quite some time since she had held one.
            “Glad you approve, but the box is mine.” Raven’s words pulled her out of the state of awe. He handed her the clip and closed the lid on the receptacle, placing it back in his safe and closing it as well. “I’m also fresh out of silver-tipped stilettos. You’ll have to get your blades elsewhere.”
            Taylor didn’t indicate if she heard him or not as she ran a thumb over the exposed bullet at the top of the magazine before loaded the gun. She pulled back the slide and aimed the pistol at one of Raven’s older paintings, judging the sights.
            He stepped in front of her with his hands slightly raised, protesting the abuse of what he called good art.
            “No, no. Stop it. Why don’t you go downstairs and have a drink, burn off a little steam by shaking your bum, and not put any holes in anything of mine while I promise to put my ear to the ground and listen for whoever might have it out for you in the underworld. Agreed?”
            She nodded and slid the gun away into her purse. Taylor felt his arm wrap around her shoulders, leading her to the door. She looked up at him as it opened, feeling like there was more to say.

            “Don’t worry love. I don’t plan on letting anyone hurt you. At least not until all your debts are paid.” He smiled and noise flooded back into the upstairs bar as he closed the door behind her. She stood there against the wall for a moment, hesitant about what the night may hold. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Red - Pt. 1 (Introduction)

In a familiar but different world, with a horrible future…

            A familiar song signified a huge problem as it woke Taylor from her nap in the cool darkened apartment. Her hand fumbled on the wood of the bookshelf, feeling for her glowing phone as it rang. She couldn’t see it at first, unwilling to remove the pillow that covered her head that she had become so acquainted with. She didn’t have to look at the screen to see who was trying to video call her, she knew from the person’s personalized ringtone. Taylor needed to see the image of Paige’s face though to remind her why she didn’t want to answer the phone.
            Putting the phone back where she had found it, the only noise in the apartment now was the roaring of the old window-unit air conditioner. She brushed strands of red hair from her face and nestled back into the pillow while readjusting the blanket over her legs, just the way she liked it. The red glowing numbers of the clock had caught her eyes though just before they closed; 10:10 p.m. on a Thursday night. She could sleep, but there were also a lot of other things that she could be doing if she was going to ignore her best friend.
            Taylor threw the blanket from her and leapt up onto the hardwood floor from her low-sitting mattresses. The wood was cool on her feet, in a calming way that she let overtake her as she stretched and curled her toes, enjoying the feeling with a smile. She reached over to the desk and turned her laptop on. Bent over, checking her e-mail, she glanced back at the bookshelf across the room. Paige hadn’t tried calling back again, which meant she was probably crying right now because there was no one willing to pick up on the other end. Taylor tried not to think about that. She turned the volume as loud as it would go on her attached speakers and let the heavy bass fill her small apartment.
            Her hips began to move to the beat in the small black boy shorts she wore. Smiling, she pushed all of her problems to the side, as long as the music continued. She opened the bathroom door and took a glance in the mirror as she continued to move and even sing along with the music. Reaching over, she turned the shower on, barely missing a beat. The apartment building she lived in was old, so the water would need a minute to warm up. That was alright with Taylor, more time to dance. She reached down and pulled the checkered tank-top up over her head, thrashing her long red hair to each side as she sang, tossing her clothes on top of the pile. She finished her performance in the shower before thanking the imaginary audience and giving the encore while drying off with the towel.
            Taylor’s closet was large, one of the reasons why she didn’t mind her apartment being as small as it was. She browsed her clothes, trying to make a choice with her hair still wrapped up tightly in a second towel atop her head. Tapping her chin, genuinely perplexed by what to wear, she sifted through her underwear drawer after tossing one of several makeup bags onto her bed. She had decided on the black mini skirt with the gray top that she got last Christmas. It would go well with the black jacket with the hood she loved so much from her last trip to Atlanta.  
            Taylor was finishing up her makeup, sitting on the bed. Eyeing her phone for the third time in the past five minutes, she wondered if she should call Paige, her feelings were getting in the way. Nope. There was no reason to. Paige had opened this can of worms all by herself. She needed to stew on that while Taylor took some time to herself. Bestie or not, what had happened was not cool. Stepping back into her closet, she was looking for shoes when she heard the knock at her door. Taylor froze. If that was Paige, if she had come to her apartment unannounced, she would be furious. Maybe this would good though, now they could finally have it out. Paige wasn’t doing herself any favors or making it any easier doing it like this though.
            It was in that moment that she decided to wear the two inch black heels. Those were a gift, and she liked the way they looked on her. The knock came again, louder. She left the heels where they were and stepped out of the closet to the front door, glancing briefly again at the mirror that hung on the inside of the closet door, even if it was Paige.
            “I’m coming, hold on.”
            Stepping up to the door she un-latched the chain and turned the deadbolt that held her door closed. There was a smile, then the silver 9mm that was pulled on her. Taylor would have usually answered the door with the chain still latched if she didn’t know who it was, but she really had thought it was Paige and the frustration with the whole situation had caused her to be careless. It was lucky for her that the man who intended her harm outside the door didn’t seem on his best game either.
            With her hand still on the door, she slammed it on the gun barrel and moved out of the way as a shot fired, lodging breaking through the side panel of the cheaply made bookcase. Taylor cursed loudly, upset that she had not caught the man’s hand in the door as well, and that she would need a new bookcase. She let up on the door, not wanting him out in the hallway where he could shoot someone else. The assailant took her up on the offer, pushing in halfway, but she was ready. Launching herself almost off her feet, Taylor slammed her head into the older man’s face, breaking his nose.
            He grunted, raising the gun again as he tried to angle it. Her elbow kept it back as her free hand punched him in the throat. The door fell open and Taylor pulled him inside, slamming the door. She turned and brought her bare heel across his face with a kick that sent spit and blood flying.
            “You know I just cleaned!”
            His jacket fell open as he tried to reach for the gun again. He was an older man with a jumpsuit for some local business. The label said his name was Sanders, but that was probably not the case anymore. Taylor fell on him, straddling, her knees pressing his arms down so he couldn’t reach the gun, couldn’t hurt her or anyone else. She reached across with a precise lean to grab the pen from her desk.
            “Which one of them sent you,” she demanded. “Which one of them do you work for?”
            The thing beneath her looked back up with an almost blank stare. It struggled to push her off, but wasn’t strong enough. It wasn’t going to answer. It didn’t know anything.
            “Right, why did I even ask,” she questioned herself.
            Taylor raised the pen with her right arm as her left hand grabbed what hair was available on the man and held it still. The writing instrument came down into one of the glossy eyes, shattering it, and then in the other. For a brief moment Taylor’s small dimly lit apartment erupted into a bright blue light as Sanders’ body vanished from beneath her.

            “Really,” Taylor complained out loud to no one. “On top of everything else going on this week? I need a vacation.”