Monthly Archives: November 2013

Throwing in the Towel

Alright, NaNoWriMo has beaten me. It’s unfortunate and frustrating and more than a little embarrassing, but I’m reasonable enough to know when I’m not going to make a deadline. With five days to go before the end of the month, and less than half of the book written, it ain’t happening.

It’s not all bad, though. At the risk of sounding saccharine and cliche, this has been a valuable learning experience for me. Despite having failed this time, I’m more confident in ever before that I’ve got a novel lurking somewhere within me. I’ve also come to accept that I really need to write to my strengths. Quick and brutal and straight to the action and the gore! That’s the way the next draft will be! I already have ideas that I think would better serve the story I want to tell, and I’ll be taking the rest of the month off to get started on that novel. Expect more short story goodness on December 2nd going through the end of the year! To those who have read along, I apologize for ending the story prematurely.

Hopefully I’ll have something sooner rather than later to make up for it.

Final Word Count: 22,239/50,000

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Dark Bowers, Ch. 10, Pt. 2

Lawrence woke up with his head on the desk, a puddle of drool forming underneath him. “Oh, goddamnit,” he groaned, blinking and trying to get his brain to turn over and begin parsing out the information it was receiving. His senses were feeding him data, his mind interpreting it a few minutes later. It was still dark, so he hadn’t been asleep for more than a few hours, probably. The journal had been safely pushed aside, so he hadn’t ruined it with drool, thank God for small favors. And the fact that he woke up at all meant he hadn’t fallen asleep with a flame burning in his hand and set the house on fire, so that was nice.

He cast a glance at the empty cans that had once held sugary, caffeinated beverages. A few of them were still upright, but one had been knocked over onto its side, a small puddle forming under it as well. Lawrence’s eyes narrowed to slits and he balled up his hand into a fist and shook it menacingly at the empty cans. “A fat lot of good, you were.”

Lawrence stood up, rubbed his eyes. He had no memory of falling asleep. No memories at all, really, after he sat down and opened the book. He remembered that he had cracked open a can, chugged its contents, but he couldn’t recall a single thing that had been on the pages.

He sighed. Rookie mistake. Like I’m a freshman or something. “Oh, I’ll just cram the night before, that’ll work great!” As if. Still, he did feel refreshed. Maybe that power nap had been just what he’d needed.

He paced around the room, did a few half-hearted stretches, and then sat back down to resume his studies. The journal was preposterously thick, the size of some old phone book, and he was only a third of the way through the thing (at least, he only remembered the first third,) despite the fact that he’d basically been reading it non-stop since he and Anna had found it in a hidden compartment under the throw rug the night before. It was slow going trying to decipher his granduncle’s writing. The man could be perfectly lucid on one page, with carefully chosen language and thoroughly detailed diagrams, and the next page would be disjointed ramblings, the handwriting changing in size and legibility, hastily made scribbles replacing intricate drawings.

It reminded Lawrence of an experiment he’d once seen where scientists had given different drugs to spiders and observed the webs they’d produced. The handwriting and even the thought processes at play seemed to be different every time the journal went off the rails, like his granduncle had chemically altered in some different way each time. Poring over those pages made Lawrence’s head hurt, made his own thoughts fuzzy in his mind, like a contact high absorbed through the pages. Like LSD, I guess? Isn’t that how LSD works? Drug-laced ink on blotter paper? Contact highs? Flashbacks?

He shook his head. Focus, damn it! Close your eyes, deep breath, count to ten.

When he opened his eyes again and looked down at the book, the page read, “Nov. 23 – Cryogenic Acceleration, Water Polymorphs, Seed Crystals.” He stared at the title for a few seconds, his brain still a car’s engine sluggishly turning over, when he remembered one of his thoughts before he went to sleep. “Oh! Right! More ice caps! Well, shit. That’s convenient.” And it was, too. This was one of his granduncle’s more comprehensible discourses, going on and on temperature variation in various forms of ice, the movement of supercooled water molecules, the pioneering work of the Cryomancers of Bazt Il’Dan, the–

…wait, what the fuck? Lawrence read that passage again and again, tried to force it to make sense to his half-rested mind.

“Growing frustrated with my lack of progress, I returned to the sending stone and reached out once more to Kan Mo Vec. The divinorum tea sat warm in my stomach, fortifying me somewhat against the freezing night air. I cut my wrist, drew the sigil upon the surface of the stone, and called out, ‘Kan Mo Vec, heed my call! In the name of the seventh prelate and by the cold light of Aldebaran, I summon you! Answer me my questions!’ That frozen visage appeared before me, the face perfectly expressionless, the eyes alive with anger, and I heard its voice echoing in my head. ‘What do you want, Benjamin Steinman? I have more important things to do than listen to the inane shrieking of some barely sentient ape.’

“But he talked. If there’s anything I’ve learned about the Cryomancers, it’s that they love the sound of their voices too much to keep their magics to themselves. Perhaps they guard it more jealousy from each other, but in their minds what does it matter if they tell a ‘barely sentient ape?’ After all, such a simple creature can do no harm. It’d be like if I taught a dog to split the atom.

“That’s fine by me. I don’t care how little love they have for me, how little respect for my intelligence, just so long as they share their secrets. I cut an icy path around the lake today, four miles in diameter. In the spring, I’ll plant marigolds at the points of power, and the lake will be my own personal satellite dish, reaching to places so distant, the men and women at SETI would never believe they exist.”

Lawrence took a deep breath and set down the journal. “Jesus. Jesus Christ.” He sat in silence, trying to process what he just read. Worlds beyond imagining. Inhuman entities with fantastical abilities. The lake as some kind of communicator. “Amazing. Just amazing. Fantastic. So you really were just some old hippie stone out of your fucking gourd. Good job, Uncle Ben.”

He sighed. What a load of shit. No wonder he’d fallen asleep. Still, the fire thing had worked. He clenched his hand and opened it up again to convince himself that the ability was still real, that he hadn’t, in fact, made up in some kind of insane dream. But there it was, hot to the touch. Fire in the palm of his hand. Maybe this would work, too.

He glanced through the journal again, skipping over the mystical bullshit, and held his hands parallel to each other in front of him, focusing on the space between his palms, the space between stars, molecules, atoms. The void in all things.

“Think cool thoughts,” he whispered to himself.

 

Word Count this Post: 1,098

Total Word Count: 22,239/50,000


Dark Bowers, Ch. 10, Pt. 1

Lawrence

Infinitely more tolerable. If there was a phrase to describe the night’s dinner in comparison to last nights, it had to be “infinitely more tolerable.”

That’s unfair. There was nothing wrong with the dinner itself. The food was goddamn delicious. It was drinks afterwards that were infinitely less tolerable. Infinitely terrible. Enfants terrible. He shook his head. My fucking friends, man. Show them the coolest thing since sliced bread, and they get hung up on insignificant little details. Forest for the trees, man. Forest for the fucking trees.

Once Kore had gotten all the questions out of her system, things had gone much more smoothly. The burgers were delicious (but then, pastured beef is always more delicious than the feedlot stuff crammed full of corn,) the drinks were good, and the conversation had been light and airy. They’d told jokes and stories from the old days, the kind they’d told a thousand times before. The kind that were about them, but weren’t about them. Funny how they didn’t fight when they were talking shit about other people, laughing at the follies and foibles of others.

Lawrence got that. Sure, it was kind of shitty, but it was just human nature. It was more strange to not get a laugh at out of that terrible tattoo Brad Kirkman got, or how Ruby Figuera’s parents had given her a nosejob for her birthday on year, or any of the other stupid shit that they had seen that come to define entire people. It was just human nature. “Hey, did you hear about So-and-so, the guy with the pickles that one fucking time? President of the United States now.” “Oh, no shit? Pickle Eater? Wow, good for him.”

Still, as enjoyable as it was to reminisce and bullshit about nothing, there were other things that had to be done. Once the sky started to darken and the air had gotten a bit cooler, Lawrence stood up and excused himself. “Sorry, guys. I think I’m finally starting to crash.”

“I bet you are,” Ted said. “You’ve been awake for like thirty-six hours.”

Lawrence thought about it. “Thirty-three. But yeah, way past my bedtime. You guys stay up as long and as loud as you want. I’m going to throw in some earplugs, so I don’t think anything short of pounding on my door will wake me up.”

Madison smirked. “You brought earplugs? Why?”

“Because sometimes Ted snores so loud, you’d think he was the second coming of Curly Howard.”

Ted laughed. “Fuck you too, buddy.”

“Love you, bro.” And he did. He loved his bro, and he loved his girls, and he was happy to be here with them, even if he thought that sometimes they were all just a few minutes away from strangling each other, but goddamn did he want to get back to Benjamin’s journal. Kore’s stupid questions had planted a couple of doubts in his mind (no, not doubts. Curiosity. He knew that his granduncle had been on the path to discovering and exploring something huge. He just didn’t know the specifics of what the old man had been looking for or how his discoveries had worked,) and he intended to find the answers, even if it meant another all-nighter.

That was, after all, the startup lifestyle, the entrepreneur’s mentality. You work until the job’s done. You seen an opportunity, you take it, no matter the cost. Lawrence smiled as he walked through the dining room, stopped at the kitchen to grab a few cans of energy drinks. There were secrets untold in that journal, but more than that, there was shit ton of money if you looked at it the right way. He was loath to admit it, but Kore had been right. The fire he’d conjured up had been burning without any fuel source that he could see. Madison had called it magic, but Lawrence called it clean renewable energy. His mind extrapolated from there. If he could manipulate heat to make fire, then why not manipulate it to chill things. To condense water from the air, or create ice?

Jesus, there was a fortune for you. If you could do it on a wide-enough scale at no energy cost, then you could bring water to deserts, or maybe even halt global warming, reverse it. Ice caps melting? Fuck it, we’ll just make more!

Christ, he could save the world. He could really, truly do it. Cars with mustaches? Social networks that devolved into platforms for advertising and soapboxes for morons to scream their opinions at each other? Child’s play. Who in their right mind would give a good goddamn about any of that when Lawrence was fixing real problems, not just making up solutions to issues that only affected assholes to begin with?

Lawrence snorted. Forest for the fucking trees. “You can make fire? Lawrence, don’t you need to get FDA approval and register with the Better Business Bureau and blah blah blah?” No! I don’t need to do shit! Just look at this, look at the potential!

He slammed his bedroom door shut behind him and locked it, took Benjamin’s journal out from where he had hidden it behind the bookshelf, and went to the table. Pull out the chair, mainline some caffeine, pop in the earplugs, and get comfy. Turn on, tune in, drop out.

It’s going to be a long night.

Word Count this Post: 898

Total Word Count: 21,141/50,000


Dark Bowers, Ch. 9

Kore

“So,” Lawrence said, grinning wider than ever. “Who wants to know how I did it?”

Everyone was silent. Kore was dimly aware of Anna’s eager, impressed grin, of Madison’s confusion, of Ted’s skeptical indifference. All she felt was a growing fear in the pit of her stomach. Someone would say he’d rigged the gas grill somehow to respond to the sound of him snapping his fingers, that he’d just had a timer, some mundane thing like that.

But she had a good view of him as the grill burst into life, and she’d the thin stream of fire burst forth from his fingertip like he’d been holding some kind of flame-throwing squirt gun. And maybe he had something just like that. A little pocket flamethrower of some kind. A special wrist-mounted machine with little pads that sat on your head and picked up your brainwaves and fired when you thought about it. Maybe this was his killer idea. This was going to be his startup, a product he could sell to idiot teens and the military both. Want to set something on fire from a distance? There’s an app for that.

Except she had had that perfect view of him, and there had been nothing in his hands. No gun hidden in his palm, nothing on his wrist, no flame-projecter on the back, and certainly no little electrodes on his head. Which meant, what that the fire had come from nowhere? From the gods? Was he some kind of smug savior, Prometheus in a polo come to disrupt traditional methods of fire distribution. Why were we letting ourselves be slaves to the established deities and Big Fire?

It had to be something mundane, some clever little trick she hadn’t noticed. A drone, maybe? Was that possible? Well, it wasn’t impossible, and that meant that somebody would be the first to do it, and why couldn’t it be Lawrence?

That had to be it. That had to be it, because the simplest explanation, the one her brain kept coming back to was so big and uncomfortable and threatening that she could feel her world buckling under its weight. Her head pounded and her vision blurred at the edges every damn time the word even came close to slipping into her brain.

“How’d you do that?” she said, her voice a hoarse croak. She forced a smile to her face. “I’ll bite, Larry Bird. How’d you do that?”

Lawrence smiled, eager to keep playing the part of the showman. “So, Benjamin Steinman. He was a smart guy, right? Real ‘outside-the-box’ kind of thinker. You know how you get modern philosophers and scientists who try to blend the spiritual and the scientific? They hear about the Hindu concept of Brahman and they link it to the Big Bang? Well, that was what Benjamin was doing thirty, forty-some years before it was cool. And the really impressive part is that back before the days of the internet, ol’ Unky Ben found a group of like-minded folks and got in touch with them.” Lawrence’s voice had been slowly rising, his words coming quicker, like he was getting more excited as built to some kind of grand revelation.

“You’re not answering the question, Lawrence,” Kore said.

He fixed his eyes on her and smiled. His tongue darted from between his lips, a quick pink blur that moistened his lips and tasted the air. Like a lizard. Or a snake.

“I’m getting to it, Kor, I’m getting to it. Anyway, this group of folks experimented with what you might call pseudo-sciences. Lots of New Age hippie bullshit, mostly. Crystals and ley lines and orgone and all that. The others didn’t have Benjamin’s scientific background and his keen analytical mind. They were a bunch of rich wannabe intellectuals content to light candles and hold seances and do whatever the hell else it is that rich wannabe intellectuals do. Who knows.”

Anna coughed. Lawrence didn’t notice. “They were useless as far as getting results, but the ideas they discussed kindled Benjamin’s desire to really understand the universe through a different lens. He had a couple of patents under his belt that had made him rich, so he traveled the world speaking with experts and recording his experiences and collecting all the obscure books he could get his hands on.”

“Wait,” Ted said. “Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. You said that you didn’t really know the guy and that your parents never talked about him. How do you know all this?”

Lawrence waved away Ted’s question. “Almost there, almost there. So once Benjamin had had his fill of travel, he came back home. Nobody in his family wanted anything to do with him, so he took what was left of his money, bought the land, and had the cabin built to his specifications. Spent the rest of his days here, doing his research and his experiments.”

“The rest of his days?” Madison said. “You mean, he died here?”

“He died on the property, but he didn’t die in the house.” Lawrence smirked. “Don’t worry. It’s not haunted. Anyway, Ted, to answer your question, I know all this because I found one of his journals–”

Anna coughed. Loudly. Lawrence rolled his eyes. “Anna and I found one of his journals in the master bedroom the other night. I’ve been up ever since reading it–”
“Damn, dude. You didn’t go to sleep at all?”

“And I’ve mastered a few of the basic concepts.” Lawrence flourished his hand and a gout of flame burst from it, like a splash of gasoline poured onto a bonfire. “Benjamin called this phenomenon the ‘autonomous conflagration.’” The others looked at him silently. “What? He was a friendless scientist that lived alone in the woods. Of course the man called it the autonomous conflagration. There was no one around to tell him that that name would never sell.”

“Hold on, recap,” Madison said. “Your creepy-ass mad scientist uncle built a cabin in the woods, filled it with dead things and old books, and then died here.”

“That’s a little–”

“And you found one of these books, what, hidden in a secret compartment? And now you can do magic?”

“It’s not magic, Mads, it’s–”

Madison stood up. “Nope. That’s it. I’m out. I’m going inside.”

Lawrence’s face fell at that. Kore blinked in surprise. Magic at his fingertips and her disapproval still cuts through his ego? “What?” he asked, his voice rising, a hint of a petulant child’s wine in it. “Why?”

“Uh, sorry, Larry, but I’ve seen this movie and I know how it ends. The beautiful blonde is always the first to die.”

Madison’s words hung heavy in the air. Kore looked at the faces of the others, processing them just as she processed the beautiful blonde girl’s words. Lawrence was pale, his wild eyes sobered by the realization that his wits had failed him, that for the moment he couldn’t charm his way out of Madison’s observation. Ted was silent and inscrutable, and Kore was not even sure that he’d registered Madison’s comment; his own eyes kept darting between Lawrence’s face and the fire that still burned behind him.

Anna arched an eyebrow. “Wait, you think the chick that always dies first in horror movies dies because she’s blonde and beautiful? Like, the moral of the story is that the universe will punish you for being hot?”

No one responded to her. Kore shot Anna a look that said shut up. Anna frowned, muttered something under her breath about nobody getting her.

“That’s not the same thing at all,” Lawrence said. “Come on. I’m not summoning demons and resurrecting an ancient axe murderer here. This is energy and change! This is states of matter!” He held out his hand palm up, and a tongue of flame appeared in the center, dancing in the air. “Look at this! This is science!”

Lawrence closed his hand around the little flame, but instead of smothering it, when he opened his palm, the flame had spread to his fingertips. He fanned his fingers out, brought them together, fanned them out again. His eyes softened, and he stared down at the little flames with a smile. Like he’s some kind of a proud parent or something.

“Why isn’t your hand burning?”

Lawrence looked up from his reverie with disdain in his eyes. It was only there for a second before a fake smile replaced it. “Hm?”

You heard me, you bastard. What, are you trying to think of an answer we’ll buy? Or one that will quiet your own better judgment? “It’s science, right? Fire needs fuel. Wood, charcoal, gasoline. Your fingers. Why aren’t your fingers on fire?”

Lawrence frowned. Kore pushed harder. “Hell, for that matter, why aren’t you in pain? Even if the fire were using something other than your fingers for fuel, which it must be, why isn’t convection burning your fingers anyway?”

Lawrence snorted. “Maybe I am and I’m just hiding it. Maybe it’s adrenaline from the excitement of discovering what is essentially an all-new branch of science. Did you ever think of that, my little doubting Tomasina?”

“Dude,” Ted interjected. “No way. You’ve got no tolerance for pain. Like, none whatsoever.”

Lawrence grunted in irritation. “Wow. Thanks, buddy. Love you, too.”

Kore sighed. Let’s try something different. “Lawrence, I’m not trying to call you a liar. The opposite, in fact. I believe you. I just want you to think this through. You’re excited, I get that. Who wouldn’t be excited if they had superpowers?”

“I don’t have superpowers, damn it, this is sci–”

“But you’re not asking enough questions.”

Lawrence was silent. He held his hand before him, fingers splayed, considering the fire carefully. He sighed, and then waved his hand in the air. The flames disappeared. “I suppose you’re right. There’s more research to be done. You’ve got to go through alpha and beta before you can release, right?”

Kore blinked. She had no idea what that meant. “Right.”

“More research, then. But later.” He picked up the spatula and the tongs he’d been holding earlier and turned his attention back to the grill. “For now, who wants some barbecue?”

Proclamations of hunger filled the air. People shouted out orders for Lawrence to fulfill. Quietly, Anna said, “Hey, you’re not cooking the food with Hellfire that’s going to taste delicious but damn our immortal souls, are you?”

Lawrence stuck at his tongue at her. Everyone laughed.

Everyone but Kore.

Word Count this Post: 1,750

Total Word Count: 20,243/50,000


Dark Bowers, Ch. 8, Pt. 2

Ted had run for a good thirty minutes before he decided to take a break. He’d been occupied by other thoughts as he’d run at an easy pace on a trail that started a ways away from the house and led to a ridge that circled the lake. The scent of pine and earth that hung in the air. The sound of distant laughter coming from his friends off somewhere he couldn’t see (he assumed.) The bunches of golden flowers that appeared every so often along the trail. The solitude of it all. There were no cars, no planes, no signs of human civilization at all. Hell, the only tracks that were even on the trail other than his own were the ones that had been left behind by the wildlife. Damn, I wish I’d gone camping more as a kid. But then, the family would have been there, too. Nothing would have ruined the serenity of the setting more than his dad and brother and whatever harpies they’d been dating at the time all screaming at each other.

I am never going to go home, he decided on the spot. Fuck them. I’ll stay with Lawrence for a bit, and then go straight to training camp. They can read about me in the papers.

The trail became less well-maintained as Ted approached the far side of the lake from the cabin. There were parts that were overgrown, parts with fallen branches and trees blocking the path, and even a few spots where it seemed to disappear all together. The golden flowers never disappeared, though, even when the trail did. He began to use them as a marker that he was on the right path. The lake was there, obviously, so he couldn’t get too lost, but the golden flowers told him that he was at least following a trail someone had once taken the time to carve out of the wilderness.

The whole run was a good eight or ten mile loop, Ted figured. It’d taken him a few hours, allowing for breaks and stops to admire some particularly compelling bit of scenery and a few childish indulgences where he’d climbed into a tree or scrambled up a rock. By the time the cabin was in sight again, the sun was just beginning to consider the process of setting. There was still ample light left, but he could hear the sound of indistinct voices, male and female both. Oh, good. Everyone’s back at the cabin. Maybe we can get dinner going earlier than last night.

Ted approached the cabin slowly, walking the last leg of the journey to allow himself some time to serve as a cool down. Lawrence and the girls were standing on the back porch of the cabin, a gas grill looming between them like a machine none of them could figure out how to work. Anna saw Ted coming up the trail first, his shirt soaked through with sweat from his run, his sweatpants bundled up in his hand, replaced by the shorts he’d been wearing underneath them. She waved enthusiastically, her hand bouncing back and forth like a hyperactive metronome. He waved back.

The others turned their heads then, acknowledged him. Kore and Madison waved, although neither with the energy that Anna had. Lawrence just grinned when he saw Ted coming up the trail. “Ah, finally! The prodigal son returns!” he called out. “Ted, we need you to get the meat and stuff from inside.”

Ted snorted in irritation. There was no way they could hear him, but that was okay. It was more for his benefit than anyone else. “Hello to you too, buddy,” he called back. He walked, ascended the steps leading up to the porch, and when he was close enough to see Lawrence’s face, he paused. There were dark circles under his friend’s eyes, and his skin seemed somehow saggy and sallow. Christ, did he not sleep last night? Is he tweaking or something? Ted’s eyes darted over to the chair where Kore sat watching him with a drink in her hand. She wore an expression just south of neutral shrugged, as if to say, “Yeah, I see it too. Your guess is as good as mine.”

Ted didn’t say anything. He just pushed on into the dining room, the kitchen. The food was all arrayed on the island in front of the refrigerator, hot dogs and hamburger patties and buns and an assortment of veggies. Good thinking. The girls aren’t going to be content cramming burgers into their mouths without something else to balance it. God knows Madison won’t eat if all she has to choose from are “greasy burger” or “greasy hot dog.”

He scooped up the goods in his arms, took them outside, and dumped them on the table next to the grill. “Thanks, man,” Lawrence said. “We would have gotten it ourselves, but, you know.” With a broad sweep of his arm, he indicated the grill, Anna with an array of books spread before her, Madison lounging in a chair reading, and Kore sitting quietly with her drink. “Super busy.”

“Clearly.”

Lawrence had a spatula in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other. He turned to the food, eying it hungrily, clacking the tongs like some kind of monster with its pincers. He was grinning as he looked down on it all. Jesus, Ted thought. He looks manic. Suddenly the grin disappeared from Lawrence’s face, was replaced by a look of wounded betrayal. “Ted,” he began, his voice dripping with pain. “Ted, where’s the lighter?”

“What lighter?”

“Ted, I need a lighter for the grill.”

“You’re telling me that thing doesn’t have a push-button ignition? Really?”

“Ted, I can’t cook us dinner without fire.”

Ted frowned. “You didn’t… Whatever. I’ll go grab it now.”

Just as he was about to turn and leave, Lawrence raised a hand to stop him. That grin reappeared, wider than ever. His eyes took on a mischievous light, to boot, and Ted thought, Oh, shit, what is he planning? “Actually, don’t worry about it. Silly me, what am I thinking? I’ve got a light right here!”

Ted’s eyes drifted over towards Kore, passing Madison and Anna on the way there. Madison had lowered the book to her lap, was regarding the whole situation with a cool detachment. She didn’t know what was going on, but judging from Anna’s smirk and the way she had closed the book she’d been pouring over and set down her pen, she might.

Kore just had the same concerned look from earlier. Maybe a bit more concerned than before.

“You’ve got to love these gas grills, man,” Lawrence said, his back to the grill, addressing his friend like he was some kind of pitchman pushing the latest and greatest home product. “So simple. No fussing with lighter fluid, or newspaper, or chimney starters. None of that nonsense. You just hook up the tank,” he said, nudging the tank with his foot. “Turn on the valves,” he added, doing so. “And light it.” Lawrence took a step back from the contraption, cast one last glance over his shoulder at his friends, and grinned that smug grin of his. “It’s a snap.”

He turned his head back to the grill, took a deep breath, and snapped his fingers together. A thin line of fire burst forth from his extended pointer finger, hitting the grill in the center of the burns. A fireball three feet high burst of the grill. The others screamed, gasped, swore, but Lawrence just stood there, laughing and laughing.

 

Word Count this Post: 1,267

Total Word Count: 18,493/50,000


Dark Bowers, Ch. 8, Pt. 1

Ted

 

Ted woke up to a thin sliver of light shining directly in his eyes. He grumbled, rolled back and forth for a moment, and pushed himself up in the bed, the thin sheets and the light blanket falling away freely from his bare chest. The room was surprisingly dark and it took him a moment to see why. In front of the room’s single window was a haphazard stack of pillows, bags, wadded up blankets and towels, anything he could find, stacked up almost to the top. Only a tiny fraction of the window was uncovered.

Huh. Don’t remember doing that.”

But in truth, there was a good chunk of last night that Ted didn’t remember. The details of the evening were all sort of blurred together in his head. Oh, he remembered the dinner well enough, and he remembered sitting down in a loveseat in the living room after, but everything else kind of melted together into a party just like every other one he’d ever gone to. Someone had pulled out a joint, and then there was an argument, and then he had a few more beers, and then he must have gone to bed at some point. He had a vague memory of Lawrence being mad, of Kore being upset, of Anna snapping at him, of Madison being upset.

“Jesus. Everyone’s got drama but me.”

It was at once something that made him a little sad, but also something he was a little proud of. It was unfortunate that they couldn’t seem go to more than a few hours without getting into it over something or another, but it was nice that he never seemed to be at the center of it.

Unless he’d started it when he’d been drunk. But he didn’t think he had. He could kind of remember talking to Lawrence and Anna, but what would he have said to piss them off?

Oh, well. If I said or did something wrong, they’ll be more than happy to tell me over breakfast, I’m sure.

Ted fumbled for his phone, checked the time. Christ, 12:30? Well, I guess if we were up until three or four that’s not too bad. The justification did nothing to ease his conscience. Too many days up at the crack of dawn running and drilling had left him with a work ethic that was irritated by sleeping in until past noon.

Of course, he did it, but it always bugged him. At least a little.

A night spent drinking and breathing in second-hand smoke had left him with only a mild headache, but Ted had come to expect that. Hell, the others were probably worse off than he was. After all, he was a big guy, 230 pounds and most of it muscle. He could eat and drink damn near whatever he wanted, so long as he kept up his routines, and he had every intention of doing just that. Throw on some clothes, scrounge up some breakfast,go for a run, rinse and repeat.

As he stepped into the hall, he saw that the girls’ door was wide open. They must already be awake. He didn’t hear anyone else in the cabin as he descended the stairs, but he figured that was just as well. He could just hear Madison teasing him for exercising in sweats and a t-shirt instead of some moisture-wicking workout whatever, and the others piling in once they smelled blood. And that was fine. He could take whatever they could dish out. But if he didn’t have to, so much the better.

Jeez, is that a healthy attitude? Maybe I did start shit last night. With any luck, he’d run into Kore before anyone anyone else. She’d set him straight.

Madison’s door was open. Lawrence’s was shut, but Ted didn’t hear any snoring, and Lawrence Steinman was nothing if not a consummate snorer. Ted tapped once on the door, but there was no response. He shrugged and moved on to the kitchen.

The scent of bacon and assorted fried goodness hung heavy in the air. It was an old scent, a couple hours, he guessed, but it was still strong enough to set his stomach to grumbling in anticipation. There were two plates on the dining room table, two more in the sink, pans soaking in soapy water, glasses everywhere, but no food out. Ted went to the refrigerator, saw three sticky notes in bright colors on its shining metal surface.

 

Guys,

Madison and I went to the lake. Back for dinner!

– Kore

 

and underneath it:

 

Theodore Roosevelt and/or Anna Banana

went to go investigate the “sacrificial altar” kore wouldn’t shut up about. the girls made breakfast, so there’s leftovers in the fridge. pull out the ground beef in the freezer so we can have burgers tonight por favor. hugs and kisses!
– L-Dawg

 

and underneath that:

 

Ted,

This Is Just To Say

I have left you

a note

underneath

these other notes

 

that our friends

have written

because they are

anal retentive

 

Forgive me

this joke was too funny

and obvious

to pass up

– A Dog

 

Ted looked at the notes, reread them in order. “My friends are fucking ridiculous,” he said to the empty kitchen. He took its silence as agreement, and he opened the fridge. There was a mountain of eggs, a decent scoop of fried potatoes, and a few strips of bacon in the fridge, each in their own containers. It didn’t bother him that no one had made a plate for him. He had, after all, spent most of his life taking care of himself, and he didn’t need anyone serving him. But it did seem silly or short-sighted to expect there to be leftovers after four people and then a soon-to-be-professional football player got at the food. Honestly, he’d once seen one of the linemen eat a two-pound cheeseburger, a plate of French fries, and a chocolate shake for lunch. Granted, that had been more to show off than out of genuine hunger, but still.

Ted paced himself as he ate, making a cup of coffee and drinking that, then drinking a glass of orange juice when the desire for something sweet struck him halfway through the plate. Someone had left a book on the table, The Bell Jar, and he flipped to a section in the middle and read without any context. It seemed to be a bout a depressed woman who worked at a magazine, but the publication date was from the 60s, and that seemed about thirty years too early for depressed people to start writing books whingeing about jobs that some poor bastard bored out of his mind in a stockroom would kill for.

I guess no matter what era it is, most folks feel like they got screwed out of something that should have been theirs. Even if it’s just basic happiness.

Especially if it’s just happiness.

Once his food had settled to the point where he was confident he could run a couple of miles without having to stop to vomit on the side of a trail, Ted took up a pen and sticky note, and added to the manuscript on the refrigerator.

 

Guys,

Went for a run around the lake. You’re all frigging ridiculous. Like cartoons.

-Ted

 

He nodded, pleased with his eloquence. “Perfect.” And with that, he stepped out the backdoor and into the early afternoon sun.

 

 

Word Count this Post: 1,237

Total Word Count: 18,493/50,000


Dark Bowers, Ch. 7

Madison

When Anna had walked into Lawrence’s room, she was furious. The token effort Ted had made at stopping her hadn’t done anything (of course it hadn’t. Ted hadn’t tried very hard, and even if he had, she just would have turned her anger on him instead of Lawrence.) Madison had watched Anna disappear around the corner. She’d heard the exchange of harsh words. They’d gone quieter for a moment, and then there’d been laughter. Ted had called out his stupid joke, and the laughter quieted down. Things got quiet. Too quiet.

And then Lawrence’s door shut again.

Ted and Kore hadn’t noticed. If they had, they would surely have said something. Kore wouldn’t have been able to keep her mouth shut. Hell, Madison could barely keep her mouth shut. Thankfully, focusing on keeping her ears open was solving that problem, even if filtering out Ted and Kore’s babbling was making it hard to hear whatever the other two were up to.

Damn alcohol and weed. I could focus better if I had a bump.

Madison couldn’t be sure, but there didn’t seem to be any noise at all coming from the master bedroom. Were they just talking? Probably that was it. Probably they were just talking.

Lawrence had gone out of his way to show her the mater bedroom. It had its own bath. The shower had a proper tub, and the tub had jets. There was a walk-in closet and a queen-size bed.

The sheets were Egyptian cotton. Six-hundred thread count. Silky. The kind of thing not everyone appreciated. It took certain life experiences, a certain amount of class to appreciate the finer things this world had to offer.

Madison pushed herself up off the sofa. “Screw it, I’m going to bed,” she announced. Your bedroom shares a wall with the master bath. Madison stood still for a moment, winced and exhaled in annoyance.

“You okay?” Kore asked.

“Yeah,” Madison said, her voice sharp. Deep breath. Compose yourself, damn it. She smiled, forced a more cheerful tone into her voice. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just, you know.” She gave a little flourish of her hand. “Whee! My head!”

Ted and Kore both looked at her like they did not, in fact, know.

“Anyway. I need my beauty sleep. Don’t stay up too late, you two. If tonight was any indication, Lawrence probably has a five-mile long hike and a luau planned for us tomorrow.”

With that, she walked towards her bedroom, lingering a moment by Lawrence’s door to see what she could hear. But the door was still shut, and there was no sound coming from it at all, not even the whispering of voices. It stayed that way until she fell asleep.

A few hours later, the sound of the door creaking open and the uncertain tread of someone trying to go up stairs quietly woke her up. She almost felt something upon hearing that, but a hangover had already set in and all Madison did was grunt, roll over, and go back to sleep.

* * *

The morning came too quickly, the bright light of the sun and the insistent noises of nature pounding on Madison’s window. She pulled a pillow over her head. It helped to block out the outside world, but it did nothing to alleviate the storm raging within her own skull.

“Oh, fuck me,” she said, her voice barely rising above a whisper, her head sensitive even to that little noise. “No more red wine. Vodka tonics only. Vodka and soda water. Vodka, and chase it with something full of electrolytes.” At least everyone else probably feels as bad as I do.

Still, the day wouldn’t wait. Madison pushed herself out of bed and stepped on shaky feet over to the desk on the far side of the room. Her makeup waited for her, along with an old plastic film canister full of cocaine. Not the most discrete way to transport it, obviously, but it was perfectly fine for a week-long stay in a cabin. She was hanging out with friends, after all. Not crossing the border.

A small bump was enough to cut through the fog of the hangover. The clouds were still there, but she had the energy to push through them. She grabbed some of her things and showered, enjoying the hot water against her skin for longer than she would have if the others had been awake. But there was no sound from anyone. No voices, no footsteps. No squeaking of beds. Just the sound of the water, and her thoughts, and with the absolute privacy, her thoughts were as peaceful as they ever got.

I’ll cook breakfast, I think. I haven’t cooked a real breakfast in months. Eggs and hash browns and bacon. The boys will like that, and I’ll just have the eggs and some toast. I’ll put on some foundation when I get out. Maybe go down to the lake, wear the blue and gold bikini.Kore made it sound nice down there.

Aside from the big damn rock that’s been used for human sacrifices, that is.

But all of that could wait. For now, there was only the water.

* * *

She’d had to put away the plates and glasses from last night and scrape the leftovers into a trashcan labeled compost in bold letters. It was irritating, but there was no getting around it. She’d already decided she was going to cook breakfast, and the inconvenience of doing a few dishes wasn’t going to stop her.

Once the remnants of last night’s revelries were cleaned up, she turned on the stove, taking a moment to admire the silliness of the pop-up fan. She could hear her grandmother’s words in her head. “Anyone can cook, mia bambina. The trick for cooking for other people is having everything ready at the same time.”

Yes, Nonna. The potatoes first, of course. They would take longest. Then the bacon, then the eggs last. Scrambled, because screw it, if she was going to cook for a house full of people, they would eat scrambled eggs and like it. She did take the time to cook two pans’ worth, though. A large helping cooked in butter for the others, and a small serving cooked in olive oil for herself. A few pieces of toast in the toaster, pull out the milk and the orange juice, and that was it. She’d figured she’d serve herself and let the others rest as long as they liked.

As she sat down at the table, her modest plate before her, Madison smiled. She took pride in being able to fend for herself. Yeah, she’d come from money. Not as much as Lawrence, but more than most, and she knew it. And she’d known others who had too, and every last one of them was what her grandmother would have not-so-affectionately called “una puttana viziata.” “You are not allowed to be useless, bambina,” she had said. “I forbid it. I don’t know what happened to your mother. When your father married her, she was not as soft and helpless as she is now. She was both smart and beautiful. She had passion. She had a dream for her life. And now she is just una indossatrice.

“You must be both, Madison Mavelli. You must be everything. You must be beautiful and cunning. You must know how to eat a fancy dinner placed in front of you and you must know how to feed surprise guests when there is no food in your house. You must be comfortable fending for yourself and being waited upon. You are a Mavelli. The blood of Renaissance princes and princesses flows through your veins, the blood of men and women who took up arms against the fascists in the Great War. You are blessed, Madison. You can rule with your mind or your body, but you must know how to use both, for sooner or later, one will fail you.”

Madison smiled to herself. Oh, Nonna. If you could see me now. A night of drinking and drugs, and still I’m up, showered, made up, and cooking breakfast while everyone else is helpless in their beds. She speared some eggs on her fork, and brought them to her mouth. The olive oil never tasted as good as the butter, but it was such a small sacrifice, all things considered.

Kore was the first one to come to the table for breakfast. Madison had already finished eating by then, and she was sitting at the table with her head in one hand, her eyes locked on a book in front of her.

“Wow,” Kore said. “You really are going to be a model someday soon. You sitting there is like something out of a magazine.”

Madison looked up from her book and smiled. “You say the sweetest things, Kor-Kor.”

Kore laughed. “Oh, it’s all just flattery so I can seduce you.”

Madison smiled at that too, but she ran her eyes over Kore’s face, her hair, her piercings, her unassuming sleepwear of a man’s t-shirt and training shorts, and tried to decide just how much Kore was joking. She’s just joking.

“Holy crap, look at all this. Bacon, eggs, hash browns. It’s like being a freshman and wandering into the dining hall to discover all this delicious food.”

“My food’s way better than your dining hall’s, I promise.”

Kore grinned. “Oh, I don’t know… We had a culinary program at my school, and they put all the kids in it to work as sous-chefs.”

“Ah, but how many of them had angry Italian grandmothers telling them, ‘No, no, no, not like that! You do it again, you do it right!’”

Kore picked up a plate and began loading a helping of everything on it. “Probably not that many. They mostly… Oh, my God. This bacon is divine. I take it back. You’re the best.”

Madison smiled. Accept the compliment graciously, share the credit. “If you’re careful, it comes out perfect every time. But honestly, most of the divinity is probably just because Lawrence spent extra on a pig that was loved and pampered and given spa treatments before they turned it into bacon.”

Kore finished her first piece, started a second. “Worth every penny, I say.” She looked down, noticed the book that lay open before Madison. “What are you reading?”

“’The Bell Jar.’”

“How’s that?”

“Kind of depressing.”

“Well, that’s Plath for you. Anyone who sticks their head in an oven isn’t going to be the most cheerful person, you know?”

“I guess not.”

Kore went silent after that, completely engrossed in her food for the moment. Madison studied her. She’d been so agitated the night before over that altar, and now she seemed completely fine. The detective was gone, the activist. There was just the girl she had known for forever, eating bacon and eggs just like they used to years ago when Madison’s mom would cook breakfast for them. My cooking’s better, though.

“What’s on the agenda for today, Kore?”

Kore grunted something that sounded like “What,” only muffled by a mouthful of toast.

“What are we doing today?”

“I don’t know. I was going to read. Maybe hike. Take a nap before dinner. I didn’t really have anything in mind.”

“Come down to the lake with me. I want to work on my tan.”

Kore ran her eyes over Madison’s face, her neck, her arms. “Mads, you’re already tan.”

Madison just smiled at that. Her grandmother’s words left her mouth. “Bambina, anything worth working to get is worth working to keep.”

 

Word Count this Post: 1,934

Total Word Count: 17,256/50,000


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