Blog Chain

This post is part of the May 2014 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s prompt is “Take a Character, Leave a Character”

MELINDA: Hello and welcome to our program! We’ve got quite the show for you here today, as always! But first, let’s meet our panelists. First up is Ulgathk the Ever-Living, Elder Lich of the Seven Lands. Tell us a bit about yourself, Ulgathk.

ULGATHK: Well, Melinda, I’m currently a sitting member of the Council of Undeath, sole ruler and commander-in-chief of the Unholy Army, and Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs in the Obama Administration. In my spare time, I do volunteer work to help rehabilitate the public image of what I like to call the ‘neglected undead:’ liches, wights, ghouls, ghasts, and my other non-zombie and non-vampire brethren.

MELINDA: Touching! Executive experience, leadership, and volunteering? He’s a triple threat, ladies and gentlemen.

ULGATHK: I am a threat to all that lives or cools in undeath, Melinda.

MELINDA: Our next panelist is sure to be familiar to all you sports fans out there. It’s Tom Hicks, color commentator for NBS Broadcasting. Tom, I hear next season is looking pretty good?

TOM: That’s right, Melinda. I look forward to providing meaningless patter to help fill the otherwise dead air in between sacks, home runs, zombie attacks, and other pulse-pounding moments in sports.

MELINDA: And what would you say to people who call sports commentary boring or vapid? Are they wrong?

TOM: That’s right, Melinda. I would challenge those people to actually listen to one of my rambling monologues, delivered in a sports voice, during the interminable pregame show for a major sporting event. In addition to the usual useless statistics that assume causation, I touch on themes as universal as the philosophy of consciousness, artificial intelligence, and predestination as I am chained in that chair for hours on end with airtime to fill but no one paying attention. Unable to live, unable to die. Back to you, Melinda.

MELINDA: Also joining us on our celebrity panel is Dowager Empress Cnhyn Hallud of the Crimson Empire. Viewers of the popular reality show Princess Search know her as a judge there, but before that she was the 19th and final wife of Crimson Emperor Testarossa, plucked from obscurity for her beauty before outliving the Emperor by 40 years and counting.

HALLUD: The many splendid mushrooms of peace be upon you and yours, Melinda. I seek only to see the beauty in everything, especially that which has no beauty. For what is life but a journey of self-discovery and love and flowers and smiles and puppies and rainbows and love?

MELINDA: Dowager Empress Hallud, how do you respond to critics that call you out of touch, given your fabulous personal wealth and unimpeachable position as stepmother to Crimson Emperor Testarossa II, or criticize the Crimson Empire’s human rights record?

HALLUD: I don’t think about it for even a moment, Melinda. I was a lowly milkmaid until my beloved Testarossa executed his former wife in my favor; as a self-made and powerful person, I seek to help others realize the self-actualization and harmony with nature that I have already achieved. Human rights are but a fleeting shadow substituted for true enlightenment, as my old bocce ball partners Elena Ceausescu, Imelda Marcos, and Madame Mao would tell you.

MELINDA: Here in the corner, still in his neural interface suit and HUD rig, we have noted RPD (remotely-piloted drone) jockey and interstellar prospector Cameron “Cam” Hickson, RPD (remotely-piloted drone) jockey. Cam, I understand that RPDs use faster-than-light communications technology to remotely survey the far reaches of our galaxy with the human pilots safely back on Earth.

CAM: Bullseye, Melinda. Communications are fast, spaceships can be made fast, but we humans are awfully, awfully squishy. Space exploration becomes an order of magnitude easier and cheaper when you strip out the parts needed to keep humans from becoming chunky salsa.

MELINDA: So you sit at home and pilot your drone all day? What makes you any different from a gold miner in an MMORPG like Dungeons of Krull?

CAM: Well, for one thing, I am paid in cash for my surveying and prospecting, and I own my own rig, and I don’t have to kill a hundred kobalds to level up my piloting mojo. For another, when your character in Dungeons of Krull dies, you just respawn. There isn’t a chance of a neural feedback loop that might kill you. And instead of farming the same patch of ground endlessly, I–or, more accurately, my drone–am out there finding real things that will be actually exploited to make life better for everyone. Provided that claim jumpers and psychotic griefers don’t wreck my rig.

MELINDA: Perhaps our most distinguished panelist is next: French filmmaker Auguste Des Jardins, director of Les trois Juliets and multiple Oscar nominee and Palme d’Or laureate. Forgive me for asking, Mssr. Des Jardins, but didn’t you die in 1976?

DES JARDINS: A man must have his secrets, Melinda, and a filmmaker even more so. A wiser man than I once said that no one dies until the last person who knows them through their works can no longer remember; by that measure, I have never been more alive and have, I hope, many long years ahead of me.

MELINDA: Mssr. Des Jardins, your films are as divisive as they are critically acclaimed. There have been widespread reports of seizures, hallucinations, and out-of-body experiences viewing your cinema, especially your last film, The Sacred Cenote. Would you care to respond?

DES JARDINS: I will only say that filmmaking as a whole is a violent seizure, a vivid hallucination, an out-of-body experience of the most profound kind. It is a linking and a meeting of minds, of souls, and I was able to make only very gradual progress toward that ideal with my work. The Sacred Cenote came closer than all my other works combined to the true unity to which I realized I had been aspiring all along. If that makes people uncomfortable, there is always Jaws.

MELINDA: Splendid! Our final panelist was chosen from a pool of applicants to help add a more popular dimension to our program. Please welcome Odessa “Dessie” Mullin, paranormal enthusiast and native of Hopewell, Michigan.

DESSIE: Oh man, it is just such a huge honor to be here, Melinda! I watch this show so religiously that I really ought to be ordianed in it as a high priestess or something. I do just want to say, though, that ‘paranormal enthusiast’ is kind of a misnomer. I do love all aspects of the paranormal, but my first and truest love is zombies. And, in fact, I sometimes slip into a horrifying alternate dimension where the zombie apocalypse, or zompocalypse, has already occurred, and-

MELINDA: Ms. Mullin? I-

DESSIE: -it hasn’t done anything to decrease my love for those lovable brain-eaters. On the contrary, I love them more than ever! But I also love ghosts, and ghouls, and liches, and banshees, and wights, and ghasts, and barghests, and Ulgathk the Ever-Living, and…you know what? Maybe ‘paranormal enthusiast’ is an okay thing to call me after all.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:
Ralph Pines
Sneaky Devil

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

“When Vicente Mejia died, you inherited his job. You also inherited his deals.” Eldridge Hensley lit a cigarette with the stump of the old, flicking the butt into the dry bed of Sucker Creek. “We paid Mejia to let us land a few planes full of White Widow from Ontario at the airport while your outfit is tearing it down.”

Francisco Garza, supervisor for Norris Construction after the untimely death of that bastard Mejia in an automobile accident, was stone-featured. “For the same price?” he said.

Hensley laughed. “That money’s already been spent. You’re going to do it for free.”

“Considering what will happen if I get sent up the river for that,” Garza said evenly, “you’re going to have to do better than that. Mejia was an asshole and I owe you nothing.”

Hensley toyed with his cigarette. “I’m a big fish in a small pond, Garza,” he said. “I know things. I make it my business. It’s the only way to keep things smooth when some Johnny Law or John Q. Public decides to interfere with my livelihood.”

Garza was silent, expressionless.

“It might be one of my boys found some brake parts going through one of those Norris Construction bins that that two-bit county airport you’re tearing up, looking for scrap,” Hensley drawled. “How was it that Mejia died? Brake failure, wasn’t it?”

“Is that supposed to scare me?” said Garza.

“My boy was wearing gloves, too,” continued Hensley. “It’d be an awful shame if the law dusted them brake parts for prints.”

Turning away, Garza put his back to Hensley.

“Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to let my bird land until the runway’s torn up, and do a damn slow job of that, and you’re going to use your Norris Construction company car to help me move my product. And if you don’t…well, them’s the brakes.” Hensley chuckled softly at his own joke.

The small-time drug lord’s laughter stopped quickly when Garza pressed an old electric cattle prod to Hensley’s ribs and fired it. Sucker Creek was a corruption of the old French Soucher, but in this case it was awfully accurate. There was a shallow grave dug in the fields further back from the road–Garza had come too far, sacrificed too much, to let anything stand in his way.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

Sedena Vorobyova, assassin-for-hire, glared over the sights of her high-powered rifle. “You should be terrified,” she intoned evenly in her butter-thick but comprehensible Gorky accent. “It’s not every day that someone takes out a contract on your life, least of all goes to the trouble of hiring one from another story.”

“Oh, I’m terrified, I assure you, ma’am.” Priscilla “Prissy” Deerton said. Her elaborately embroidered duster was spotless over fine silk trousers and a matching blouse, with a glistening broach and a pair of fine hard leather boots to match–the benefits of being the daughter of the town haberdasher. “I will endeavor to keep Reynard calm, though I must warn you that, while terrified, I am not so much so as I’d be were you a spider.”

The assassin’s workaday cargo pants and combat jacket were certainly no match for Prissy’s finery–the drawbacks of being the daughter of a long dead Soviet apparatchik who’d drank himself to death. “Reynard?” said she, cocking her head. “Spider?”

“Where? Where?” Prissy shrieked. She undid the button on what looked like a small bulging at the bottom of her coat, revealing a fancy rat with a vaguely cow-like pattern of splotches. “Reynard! Spiders! Go to Pattern Delta!”

Her rat obligingly scurried up one of Prissy’s trouser legs, and Sedena incredulously followed the resulting rat-shaped bulge with her telescopic sight until it emerged above its owner’s starched collar to perch on her shoulder.

Reaching into her pants, Prissy produced a pair of small-caliber derringers—.32 caliber Sharps Pepperboxes by the look of them—and scanned nearby nooks and crannies for eight-legged interlopers.

“It was a question,” Sedena growled. “I didn’t actually see a spider.”

“Oh,” Prissy said. “Don’t scare me like that.”

“Thank you, though, for revealing to me where you kept your weapons,” Sedena added coldly. “On the ground, please.” The .32 caliber blackpowder bullets wouldn’t even make it to her position a short distance down the road, let alone pierce her ballistic vest, but it was always better to be thorough with a mark.

“Spiders are ruthless, you know,” Prissy continued, lowering the hammers on her Pepperboxes and placing them neatly on the ground. “Vicious, remorseless killers…not unlike you in that regard, but where you face my enemies down and kill them honest-like with bullets, spiders sneak around and use venom and poison like assassins in the Crusades.”

“I’m sure they do,” said Sedena, rolling her eyes. “I’m beginning to wonder if all the characters from your story are crazy or at least mildly imbalanced.”

“Don’t you know that aranea mactans, the black widow spider, has a bite that can cause premature birth, heart attacks, false death, actual death, agonizing pain, and pain like unto a thousand suns? They’re tiny, they wait for you under the bed or in the privy, always in wait, and the little red hourglass on their butts gets redder as the hour of your death approaches!”

“Then they must be awfully red right now,” Sedena said grimly.

Prissy, looking for a moment of distraction to dip down and scoop up her oft-abused Pepperboxes, saw something moving in the sand near Sedena—a very large, very brown camel spider. Her eyes widened.

“So where are the rest of your compatriots?” Sedena continued. “I’ve a contract to fulfill and if they’re as weak and pitiable as you, it should be the easiest I’ve ever had. I might even be able to claim a double bounty for bringing you all in alive.”

The camel spider began a leisurely scuttle up Sedena’s boot; for her part, Prissy had gone ashen-colored and could be heard hyperventilating, but with the assassin’s M14 trained on her more carefully than ever, she couldn’t cry out to Reynard to go to Pattern Delta.

“You’re right to be scared, but that’s not going to keep me from learning what I need to learn.”

Reaching the top of Sedena’s boot, the spider continued onto her cargo trousers, oblivious in the way that only arthropods can be that its presence was on the verge of shattering Prissy’s mind.

“I said-” Sedena began. Then she noticed the camel spider herself. The resulting scream echoed off the canyon walls, audible for miles around.

Prissy retrieved her fallen guns and aimed one at the rapidly diminishing silhouette of the assassin. “That’s right!” she cried. “You’d better run!”

The camel spider, flung far closer to Prissy by Sedena’s sudden retreat, began to scuttle towards the only remaining victim possible. Prissy, her face hard, blasted it with her other Pepperbox, flinching only when it seemed like the resulting spray of goo might splatter on her finery.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

This post is part of the February 2014 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s prompt is “Characters Writing About Authors”

I come down the stairs into the first floor of my dingy and cluttered house, but I am surprised to see that it is more cluttered than usual. Someone has set out a semicircle of mismatched chairs and filled them with a motley assortment of figures who I recognize but can’t quite place.

“What’s all this?” I say. I only came downstairs for a glass of Coke, to raise my screaming kidneys to a new tenor, after all, and certainly not expecting anyone else to be in the place I shared with me, myself, and I.

“What do you think? It’s an intervention, chief.” Leaning on the wall near the front door is my muse, the personification of my creative impulses, in a greasy A-shirt and boxer shorts. Ironically, he’s not even an original idea, but one shamelessly jacked from Stephen King.

“An intervention?” I say. “What for? I don’t even drink!”

“I suppose you’ll need an intervention for that too, sooner or later,” says my muse, sucking noisily on a half empty beer bottle. “But that’s not what this is about.”

“You write lousy endings for your characters, when they even get the dignity of an ending.” The speaker is Vasily Albanov, the Russian star of a science-fiction novel I wrote and which successfully accumulated 75 rejection slips. “We’re here to intervene and talk about it.”

“What? I don’t do that,” I say, incredulous.

“No? You basically made me watch the love of my life die, after betting beaten up first by her and then by monsters, and all I got was a lousy ‘maybe things will get better from here on out’ ending looking up at the stars!” says Albanov.

“You left me with my hometown destroyed, my friends and family and allies scattered, and no clear way forward, you miserable polecat!” chimes Virginia McNeill, the heroine of a revisionist western I’m in the middle of revising.

“I gave you an epilogue!” I say, waving my arms. “It was very optimistic!”

McNeill makes a derisive farting noise with her mouth. “Suggesting that things are somehow going to get better for my great-grandchildren is about as optimistic as Schindler’s List,” she snorts.

“I got basically the same ending, except I had to be content with a goddamn dream,” adds Peg Gregory, the anti-heroine of a space opera trunk novel I tried to salvage years back. “I was abandoned by my selfish excuses for friends, left to take the rap for what was all the fault of an inconceivable alien lifeform, and all I got was a goddamn dream? Most soap operas get better than that!”

“Look, I-” I begin.

“At least you got an ending!” The other side of the room speaks up, led by a scruffy and sullen-sounding youth I recognize as Eric Cummings, the snarky hero of what I had imagined would be a very serious literary novel. “You gave up on me maybe a quarter of the way through!”

“I wrote you an ending!” I counter. “A very heartwarming one! In advance!”

“It was the same as the one you wrote for Peg!” Eric groused. “You stole an ending from your trunk novel to paste somewhere else and thought that no one would notice!”

The chorus was joined by the hero and heroine of my unfinished action novel, the hardboiled protagonist of my noir novel, and a host of others. The room was such a cacophony I could barely hear.

“I’d break out the hors d’oeuvres, buddy, and fast,” whispered my muse from behind me. “This intervention’s about to turn ugly otherwise.”

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:
Sneaky Devil
Anarchic Q

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

This post is part of the January 2014 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s prompt is “Retro Gaming Icons”

NARRATOR: It all began with an idea.

[DR. JOHN CARLTRON, Distinguished Emeritus Chair of Interactive Media History at Southern Michigan University, appears in an excerpt from an interview]

DR. CARLTRON: The name of the Musjido Co., Ltd. has long been the subject of speculation; the official company line is that it is a contraction of the Romanji phrase “Musekinin-Jigoku-do,” roughly “let the irresponsible ones be banished to hell.” Reportedly coined in response to the firing of Musjido’s first batch of employees for laziness, the name stuck. The company was a small regional developer of pachinko machines before the war, and it entered the lucrative home arcade market in January 1984 with its “Home Electronic Pachinko Computing Engine.” Retooled as a cartridge-based game system for a worldwide release, the redubbed Musjido Multimedia System (MMS) was an astonishing success.

NARRATOR: For the 30th anniversary of the Musjido MMS, Kyoto Processed Ricepaper Concerns Films (in association with Liberty Pictures) presents Behind the 8 Bits: a documentary event reuniting Musjido employees, fans, stars, and more.

[ROBERTO, star of Musjido’s breakout hit Roberto’s Adventure, appears in an excerpt from an interview]

ROBERTO: But-a moreso than the-a fame, it’s-a really the-a memories that-a I cherish. For-a my first title on-a the-a MMS, I had-a to punch salamanders on-a my way to-a fighting Yukke the-a Salamander King. I still-a remember screaming when I got-a their slime all-a over my gloves the-a first time!

[The scene shifts to footage from Roberto’s Adventure while ROBERTO continues to speak. Highlights include Zone 1-1, fighting Yukke in Zone 8-8, and dying in multiple ways to 8-bit salamander attacks]

ROBERTO: You would-a think that-a my fondest memory would-a be punching Yukke into-a the lava for the first-a time. But-a no, it-a is still the-a first salamander I punched. It’s-a been 30 years, and-a I’ve punched millions more-a, but you never-a forget your first.

[MONDO MAN, cyborg star of the multi-platinum Mondo Man series from Rockcom, appears in an excerpt from an interview]

MONDO MAN: Before the release of the MMS, Rockcom only made arcade games. End of line. But the success of the platform led to them starting the series with me. End of line. The original game was programmed by three college kids, but it’s still the template for all games of the same sort ever since! End of line.

[The scene shifts to a montage of Mondo Man gameplay, mostly from Mondo Man 2. Clips include the legendary spike drop in Spike Man’s stage, the notoriously difficult block-jumping segment of Lava Man’s stage, and a montage of 10 different ways to die in the first Doctor Vile stage]

MONDO MAN: How do you choose a moment that stands out from the MMS era, with ten games in ten years? End of line. I could mention the fight against Mushroom Man in Mondo Man 6 or the introduction of the dash mechanic in Mondo Man 4, or even the Mondo Jet I was able to ride in Mondo Man 5 through Mondo Man 10. End of line. I can only say that each time I defeated ten evil cyborgs, unmasked the villain to be Doctor Vile in disguise, and demolished his Vile Fortress, it felt like the very first time. End of line. I’ll always be grateful to Musjido and the MMS for giving me the chance to shine before my developer all but abandoned me. End of line.

[More clips of interviews and gameplay continue to scroll silently in the background, including F’SCOT from Fitzgerald’s Quest, AREOLUS from Subterranoid, and FIGHTER/MAGE from Dragon Fantasy I]

NARRATOR: Behind the 8 Bits, coming this fall from Kyoto Processed Ricepaper Concerns Films in association with Liberty Pictures.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:

Ralph Pines
Anarchic Q

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

This post is part of the December 2013 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s prompt is “250-Word Story Chain, or, The Blog-O-Phone.”

“Holy Hell on a Hershey’s.”

Old Man Wiggins looked over the scene of devastation on his property. His house was ablaze, lit up by an exploding snowmobile, his loyal dog Ginormous needed a quadruple-digit vet bill, and everyone on his land, trespassers or not, was running around dangerously like beheaded chickens.

“Well, that tears it. I’m not going this year.”

Wiggins pushed away the neural net interface that linked him to the mathematically certain predictive model of his property. If he left, a mob of those idiots from town would descend with their axes to chop up his trees, little realizing that they were key parts of the neural botany net that made Wiggins’ invention work. Every Xmas tree they cut down was another year to recalibrate the system by digging up and repositioning copper wires buried and snarled by roots.

The Seventeenth Annual Conference on Neuralpredictive Botany in Tampa Bay would just have to wait. Wiggins would email his paper, fine-tune the predictive simulation, and put up some more barbed wire and possibly a motion sensor with a laser grid.

He got up and went upstairs in search of a coffee as Irish as Colin Farrell, not noticing that the door was ajar.

“Grandpa?” Claire entered the basement after hearing a noise, and saw that Wiggins’ device, which he always said was a ham radio, was still on.

She sat down and slipped the harness over her head.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:

Ralph Pines

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

This post is part of the December 2013 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s prompt is “250-Word Story Chain, or, The Blog-O-Phone.”

Cal, Alan, and Beth regarded each other coolly, the former two dripping with red dye that formed a rosette around the coveted tree. They all wanted the standoff to end, but none was willing to let their guard down.

It was a Mexican standoff, in the snow.

An unexpected sound broke the treehunters’ focus. A shadow on the branches, a wheezing intake of breath, and who should appear shuffling through the snow but Old Man Wiggins himself, clutching a gas can after finding out the hard way his fuel gauge was kaput.

“Holy mother of dog!” he cried.

“It’s not how it looks!” cried Cal, who with hefted axe looked like he was about to chop Alan down like a cedar.

“It’s not how it looks!” screamed Alan, whose own axe seemed poised for a counterblow.

“It’s exactly how it looks!” added Beth, hoping that in her perch she could be mistaken for the voice of Dog imparting divine wisdom.

“Murder! Treason! Trespass!” Wiggins didn’t have his shotgun with him, but he charged the tree anyway, gas can a-swingin’, determined to interrupt the murder in progress before having the perpetrators hauled off to prison and the prison hospital respectively.

Alan and Cal dashed off in the same direction. But a leering snowman, built by the Wiggins grandchildren, soon appeared to block their path.

Beth, secure in the tree, was sure her moment had come…until the branch she was perched on began to give way as Wiggins passed beneath in pursuit.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:

Ralph Pines

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

This post is part of the December 2013 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s prompt is “250-Word Story Chain, or, The Blog-O-Phone.”

Everyone knows that Mossfallow Wood has the best—free!—Christmas trees around. Everyone knows that once Old Man Wiggins leaves town for the month, it’s time to charge in past the no trespassing signs to claim the perfect pine and drag it home. People even camp out to nab the best shot.

As Wiggins’s F-150 trundled down the road, Cal Ostafinski revved the engine of his pickup. He had a reputation to maintain, after all, as having the largest and most well-decorated tree on his block despite his meager salary working on a Matryoshka doll assembly line.

“OSTAFINSKI TREE BREAKS NEW CITY RECORDS FOR HEIGHT, ELECTRICITY CONSUMPTION” the page-six story had said on a slow news day. Ostafinski meant to keep things that way.

A half-mile away, Beth McHugh twisted the throttle on her snowmobile with attached snowtrailer. Her children’s most recent whining was etched into her consciousness:

“Mom, we want our tree this year! We have ornaments from school that need hanging!”

“Fine, fine, fine! Bring Mommy her chainsaw and climbing spikes.”

On another side road, Alan Nussbaum gunned his Subaru with the roof rack, his conversation with his daughter fresh in his mind:

“I have to go out there early to get a tree big enough to impress everyone on the block, especially those finks Ostafinski and McHugh.”

“But Dad, we’re Jewish.”

“It’s the principle of the thing!”

And so all three charged into Mossfallow Wood, unaware of the others and of what awaited them inside.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:

Ralph Pines

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

This entry is part of the NaNo Excerpt Blog Chain 2013 at Absolute Write.

“I tell you, it’s criminal, and I know criminal.” Old Man Morrison was pacing back and forth in the dining room of the McNeill Ranch house. “I saw it when your rotten sister tried to tip my cows, I was it when the O’Callahans were rustling my cows, and I see it now.”

“I’m sure,” said Adam McNeill. Seated at his kitchen table, he had been listening to Morrison ramble for nearly an hour about problems in Prosperity Falls. Time was, Adam would have shown the old coot the door with a Remington in his face for his trouble, not least of which because he had an inkling that the Morrison’s Wonky M ranch had been quietly rustling and rebranding his cows for years now.

But in the atmosphere of fear and paranoia that now ran rampant in Prosperity Falls, Morrison was one of the few Adam could talk to without fear of recrimination.

“The militia took another one of my boys yesterday,” Morrison continued. “For ‘questioning’ as an Ide sympathizer and traitor. Jail’s packed to the gills with ’em! Rangers and the militia is doing as they please and not a soul can raise a finger to stop them.”

“I heard that they seized Scroggins’s store yesterday,” Adam added. “Just threw him into the street and took everything he had for their ‘war effort.’ Deerton’s is the only shop on Prosperity Square that’s still open, and that’s only because Marshal Strasser has them making uniforms for her Rangers and her militia.”

“Militia,” spat Morrison. “Bunch of thugs too low to pass the Ranger Trials even with the bar lowered the way Yale left it.”

“Yeah,” Adam said, thinking ruefully of how many of his ranch hands he’d lost to prison and impressment—or fleeing to Dunn’s Crossing. “Or impressed to fight against their will. I’d raise holy hell about it, or gimp downtown to do something myself, but Marshal Strasser has the City Council in her pocket. Bunch of sheep, letting themselves be led around by Sullivan when she’s just on Strasser’s leash all the same. And the woman took over Strasser Smithy and threw her own uncle out on the street—you can’t reason with a creature like that.”

“You sound like you’re about ready to yellow-belly it to Dunn’s Crossing,” said Morrison.

“No. I don’t care if half the town has gone, either. My parents worked hard to build a life here, and I’ve worked hard to keep this ranch going. Nothing’s going to get me squealing out of Prosperity Falls with my tail between my legs.”

“Not even that rotten sister of yours?” Morrison said, arching an eyebrow over one cloudy eye. “Running off to go join up with the Ide, trying to overthrow Prosperity Falls from without even as Strasser breaks it up from within?”

“Don’t you say a word against her, Morrison,” Adam snapped. “Virginia’s got a lot of my parents in her, and they didn’t always think things through either. I love her, and I trust her, and if you so much as suggest that I do things any differently, I’ll rebut you with my Remingtons.”

“All right, okay, whatever you say, Adam.” Old Man Morriosn held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Guess you’ve got more than a little of her in yourself.”

“The responsibility of running a ranch tends to bury it deep, as I’m sure you know,” Adam said. He was about to continue when a heavy knock sounded at the door.

“Dale! Jeanette!” Adam cried out to his replacement ranch hands. “Whoever that is, let them in so I can tell them to go to hell for bothering me when I’ve got company!”

Before they could do so, if they even heard the command, the front door splintered inward. Two militiamen—identifiable by their pressboard Ranger badges—entered, guns drawn. Rangers Otto Luther and Shemaiah Talbot followed, their deputy marshal badges glinting in the late-day sunshine. Behind them, Marshal Ellen Strasser. Her outfit was immaculate, and she sported her old Colt Lightning revolvers with new ivory grips and the golden mashal’s badge buffed to a fine shine.

Morrison grasped for his double-barreled shotgun, which he’d left on the kitchen table, but Adam waved him away. “Marshal Strasser,” he said. “I’m honored by your presence. You’ll forgive me if I don’t stand, but I’m sure you know my leg’s no good.”

“Adam McNeill,” Strasser said. “You’ve ignored my requisition order. The people of Prosperity Falls need your head of cattle to feed the punitive expedition the Rangers are planning into Ide country.”

“Oh, I haven’t ignored the order, Marshal Strasser,” said Adam. That much was true; he had torn it up and burned the paper. “I’m afraid I was never properly presented with it is all.”

“And yet you are sitting here, well-fed—and armed—at your table while Rangers and militia go hungry for want of beef,” said Strasser icily. “That, to me, smacks of a lack of civic virtue. Or, to be less generous, conspiracy.”

“Oh, these?” said Adam, nodding at the twin Remington model 1858 revolvers on his table. “They are heirlooms. Belonged to my parents.”

“I’m sure you are aware that the requisition order extends to personal weapons as well,” said Strasser. “Even a pair of antiques like that could be made useful. And yet you’ve chosen to hoard them.”

“I keep them loaded with a blank charge and use them to startle cattle and wake up my sister,” Adam said. “Hardly hoarding, and they’re doing me more good than they would any fool used to cartridge guns instead of cap and ball.”

“Ah yes, your sister,” said Strasser. “Virginia. A name sure to eclipse even that of Jubal Sullivan in traitorous infamy.”

“Don’t you say a word against her,” said Adam, his calm slipping a bit. “I will not have my sister, no matter what she is held to have done, slandered in my own home.”

Strasser raised her eyebrows. “Perhaps your…lethargy…in complying with my lawful requests has something to do with that? Could it be that you, too, are in league with the Ide, plotting the destruction of everything I am sworn to protect?”

“Yes, I’m sure the Ide have great need for antique guns, cattle malnourished from confiscated feed, and fighters with useless legs.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Strasser said. She nodded curtly to her escort, who began to advance with their guns drawn. “Even so, you might be a useful tool in bringing that girl to heel. A useful example to anyone else with your same…recalcitrance… as well.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

This entry is part of the NaNo Excerpt Blog Chain 2013 at Absolute Write.

“Goddamn yellow journalist,” Virginia cried, throwing down the paper on the bar at Portia’s. “That’s the last time I try to tell my side of the story to someone who made up his own nickname.” She was swaying a little and slurring as she spoke, which was easily explained by the small tower of upended empty shot glasses quietly weeping Madam Daisy-May Portia’s Patented Prosperity Falls Proof Tequila into the wood.

Prissy, seated next to her held up a finger, knocking over her own stack of glasses. “Yes, but imagine the lies that he might have made up if you hadn’t talked to him, Miss McNeill,” she slurred.

“You can stop calling me Miss McNeill,” Virginia said. “No one’s going to call me that unless they hit the bar when they’re aiming for the small of my back.”

“Oh, but I have to!” Prissy said, hiccuping. “I have to keep up decorum. And standards. Standards and decorum. As important in speech as in dress. After all, my plan to meet a strong husband in the Rangers is bust, so I must try extra hard to make up for it. With more class than Harvard.” She wobbled on her stool, spilling a shot of amber liquid on her starched white bustle. “Whoops! Good thing I have a line of credit with the tailor, though Daddy’s said that the next suit of clothes he makes me will be the last. I wonder if that’s a threat, or if he’s just doing tough love.”

“Adam says I can come home whenever I want, despite what this piss-yellow newspaper man says,” groaned Virginia. “But I can’t go back. I can’t. Not unless I’m crawling there wearing a potato sack. I have to make it on my own…somehow…to prove them all wrong. Prove that I have what it takes so they’ll beg for me to come back.”

“How long before you…crawl there in that potato sack?” Prissy belched.

“About two weeks,” said Virginia. “Renting a room upstairs is eating through what’s left of my Ranger pay like a starving dog through a dead man’s ass, and doing stable work at the livery is barely paying for Murgatroyd’s upkeep. I might have to send him back to Adam, but without me around, someone’s liable to send him to the glue factory.”

“I need to find something to do with myself, too,” said Prissy, miserably. “Something that’s not beneath my dignity.” She tipped her head forward onto the bar where it landed with a thump. Reynard the rat, eating crumbs from a plate, hoisted his nose at the sound. “Don’t look at me like that,” Prissy added.

“Maisy-Day! More tequila por favor!” cried Virginia, holding out the least dirty of her shot glasses. “The glass wants booze!”

“I think you’ve had enough, sugar,” said Daisy-May, behind the bar, as she very deliberately corked an enormous bottle of the house brew. “I should know, I was a drunkard in another life.”

“The same life you were a jimador?” Virginia grunted.

“No. The jimador was a teetotaler,” said Daisy-May. “And I’m still cutting you off.”

“What about me?” cried Prissy, her head still on the bar. “Can I get some more, or am I too drunk to get another? Gonna cut me off like a bad fingernail, Mrs. Portia?”

Daisy-May squinted at Prissy. “You’re drinking sarsaparilla, child.”

“So is that a yes, or a no?” Prissy slurred.

“Darling, there’s no alcohol in sarsaparilla,” said the proprietress. “It’s for teetotalers, children, mixing with booze, and calming upset stomachs.”

“Well what do you know, I do feel less upset in the stomach area, Mrs. Portia,” said Prissy, still addressing the bar. “Still feel pretty rotten everywhere else. How about a round of sarsa…sarasap…root beer for the whole place? You know I’m good for it.”

Daisy-May looked around her establishment. It was ten-thirty in the morning, and the only customer was an unemployed ranch hand losing at Faro to Daniel Evans the gambler. “Whatever you say, honey.”

Prissy didn’t respond; she had somehow passed out on the bar and had begun snoring loudly. Reynard the rat sniffed at his mistress and climbed up her increasingly stained outfit to her increasingly disheveled hair, where he made a little drey and curled up to sleep as well.

“What am I supposed to drown my sorrows in, if not your tequila?” Virginia moaned.

“Maybe that’s my subtle and ladylike way of telling you that sorrows are like fish, sweetheart,” said Daisy-May. “They can’t be drowned; getting them wet just makes them grow.”

“Ah, but a fish’ll still die if you put it in booze,” grunted Virginia, holding up a finger. “Don’t ask me how I know that. Mr. Rhodes was really sore about his goldfish, and how was I supposed to know that it was swimming in water and not single malt whiskey?”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

Next Page »