Dani & Jak-Jak : the second draft

Danielle waved to the bus driver as he closed the school bus doors. Squaring her shoulders, Dani shifted her backpack and started trudging down the sidewalk towards home. That booger-faced doodie-head boy from three rows back had thrown a blob of gum at her again. It was still stuck, tangled up tight in her wavy red hair. It wasn't fair. Nobody bothered her on the bus when Liz was there too, and Liz was two whole years younger. Sighing, started pulling it out, trying to leave as much of her hair in the ponytail as she could. She was focusing so much on the gum she almost tripped over the box on her front porch. Got the gum out through.

Dani flicked the gum off into the bushes by the porch, off the side with the empty planter that Mom kept promising to fill ‘next weekend.’ Then, Dani fished her key out of her backpack, scooped up the box, unlocked the door, and headed inside.

Looked like Aunt Fran (well, great-aunt really) had reused an Amazon box again. It was probably Liz’s ninth birthday present. If so, it was a week early this year. Last year, the Christmas presents hadn’t shown up until January.

Dani locked the front door behind her, ditched her shoes and backpack by the door, and headed into the kitchen. Mom and Daddy weren't home yet to tell her not to eat any toast, that she'd wreck her appetite for dinner. Toast was better than dinner anyway. It was Mom’s night to cook — rubbery chicken and mushy veggies. If she was real unlucky, it'd be lima beans. Maybe it was how Mom made them, but that dry, gritty texture was just gross. Daddy never made limas beans. Besides, Dani was really hungry. She'd been grabbing a snack after school, when Daddy came home, AND eating all of dinner all week. Mom hadn't even noticed yet. Stupid growth spurt.

Dani pulled the step-stool out of the broom closet, dragged it in front of the fridge, climbed up, and grabbed the squishy white bread from the bakery of breads on top the fridge. Nobody in the house particularly liked the squishy white bread, Daddy just kept it in the house for emergencies since it never seemed to go bad. So, nobody besides Dani was going to notice when she finished the loaf. Probably by the end of the week at this rate; Dani pulled a couple slices out of the bag and put the bag back in the basket.

Dani eyed the box where she'd put it on the counter as she dropped the bread in the toaster (set for just starting to brown — that'd take less time than how brown she really liked it. She was hungry.) Dani really wanted to know what was in that box. Aunt Fran sent neat stuff. But she should really be a good girl. This was Liz’s present. Grabbing the slices out of the toaster and starting to nibble, Dani walked over to the counter and stared at the brown box again.

Aunt Fran had gone practical this time. Or maybe lazy. The Christmas boxes had drawings and Aunt Fran’s fancy writing all over them. This one was very plain. Huh. Dani counted at least three layers of tape on this thing. There was the Amazon branded tape, a layer of clear stuff half of some letters were trapped under, AND another layer on top of that. Aunt Fran had written in Mom & Daddy’s names and the address in black sharpie.

If she got some packing tape, she could tape it back up, good as new.

Dani bit her lip. She should really be a good girl. Mom and Daddy let her stay home instead of going to those stupid after-school activities. She really should be good…

Dani grabbed the tape and a pair of scissors out of Daddy’s messy craft table and ran back to the kitchen. Grabbing Aunt Fran's box, she moved everything to the kitchen table and climbed into her usual spot on the wall bench seat.That wasn’t as far up anymore. Soon it wasn’t going to be a climb at all... Dani shoved the overly puffy pillows Mom and Liz liked out of the way and sat down. Carefully slicing open the box tape revealed a blue gift bag, with black tissue paper peeking out of the top, laid on its side. Ignoring the card attached to the bag, Dani stood it up, looked inside, and felt her heart melt.

Aunt Fran had gotten Liz a stuffed puppy. It was purple and soft and had floppy ears long enough to trip over. Its paws were the size of Dani’s fists and the stuffed tail was curled around and under its butt as it sat. The collar was fuzzy and black and had a circle hanging off the front that said ‘Jak-Jak.’ His muzzle was shaped like a mastiff's and he had a dopey, goofy, happy grin. Dani had never wanted anything so much in her life.

Dani wanted to cry. It wasn't fair. Liz didn't like dogs, she liked Disney. Dani loved dogs and Mom and Daddy wouldn't let her get one. And now Aunt Fran had given Liz a stuffed puppy, not her.

Grabbing the scissors and Jak-Jak, Dani dashed off, first back to Daddy’s crafting bench to return the scissors, then to her room. Depositing Jak-Jak on her bed, Dani scrubbed at the tears in her eyes with the heel of her palm. She hated being this moody. Everything always felt too big, and she ached, and her feet wouldn’t go where she put them; it was embarrassing. Stupid growth spurt. Dani scooped up her Tigger plushie and tried to brush off … well, everything. Turning him over in her hands, Dani bit her lip again. It was a fair trade… Liz loved Tigger, she was always stealing him from Dani’s room.

Dani dashed back to the kitchen and tried to gently stuff Tigger in the gift bag. Once he was more or less hidden in the bag, Dani laid the bag back in the box and taped it back up. Sloppily like Aunt Fran always did. Then off to hide the box in Mom and Daddy’s closet with the rest of the gifts for Liz’s party next week. In the same place they’d hidden Dani’s gifts two months ago. And the Christmas presents before that. They really needed to find a better hiding place.

Dani walked back to her room. She had maybe another half hour to play with Jak-Jak before Daddy and Liz would be home. She'd have to hide him in her backpack. Or Liz would definitely find him next time she snuck into Dani's room. The little sneak was thorough.

Dani stopped just inside her doorway. She stared, a little panicy. Jak-Jak wasn't on the bed where she'd left him. And he hadn’t fallen onto the floor. Where could he have gone? Dani felt tears coming back into her eyes.

A deep, reverberating, oddly high-pitched yip came from Dani’s left, from behind the open door. Right before a large something crashed into Dani and she hit the floor, with whatever it was on top of her.

Dani looked up at very large, purple-furred muzzle a couple inches in-front of her nose. The rest of the doggy head it was attached to was huge, bigger than Dani, bigger than her bed! As she started to get real scared though, all of the doggy started shrinking down. The huge feet, the enormous floppy ears, the barrel chest wider than Daddy, everything shrunk until the doggy was the size of a full grown mastiff. But still puppy shaped. Dani erupted in giggles as its floppy, slobbery tongue gave her puppy kisses and its tail wagged furiously. Ticklish!

Dani reached up and vigorously scratched behind the ears, before rolling the puppy over to wrestle. There wasn’t a collar or tag anymore, but the fur was exactly the same color as the stuffed puppy had been.  This one was much more muscular than a stuffed animal could look, but the feet were the same shape, the ears the same floppy length, and the expression was just as goofily happy. The puppy rolled over from where he and Dani were wrestle-petting and dropped its head and front paws dropped into a bouncy puppy bow.

“Play?!” yipped Jak-Jak.


286 words added to the second draft: feels like a reasonable addition of description. I could (probably should) add even more, but it's time to let this one sit. Both to clear my mind for an honest assessment the next time I look at it and to maybe pop it up on Scribophile for more feedback.

I am proud though of putting in a little bit of more characterization by having Dani consistently use a more informal term for her father and a more formal term for her mother. It's the little things that make me pleased, when I remember to write them in.

Dani & Jak-Jak : Critique

One of the goals I had for writing the Dani & Jak-Jak vignette (or at least a goal I set once I started writing) was to keep the language to a 5th grader's voice. I tend to write like I speak, which means a 30-something reader's vocabulary and sentence structure. So long, clause heavy sentences broken up by the occasional sentence fragment and frequent subject elisions. Also, lots of interesting spelling — thank goodness for spell checker and internet dictionaries. They're not all the best writing habits, but I'm at least aware of my habits. 

So, an eleven year old. Every time I reached for an adjective, I tried to find a shorter, boarder version of the same concept. I decided to try for shorter, more declarative sentences. That... worked better the longer I wrote. That it happens with first drafts for me, I get further into (or plain-old find) the actual voice for the piece as I go. Second drafts are for making the voice consistent through out.

And then, after I finished the first draft, I asked Partner to read through it for spelling bloopers and whatnot. I'd already decided to do this post walking through the first draft and mentioned that. So... I got a critique from him instead. 


Commentary

(1)Long sentence and I'm having trouble picturing this. Laura here in red - I agree with this and need to break it up. Although I am totally keeping the 11 year old insults.
(2)Wants more transition. Yes
(3)Sentence fragment. I think that's a style thing and partially about how I hear Dani speaking, but I need to think about it more
(4)Was the house locked? How did she get in? What color is the porch? What does Dani think about it? Does Daddy keep it in good repair? Does Mommy care about the bushes? Yup, need to add more description here
(5)Fragment see (3)
(6)Why is this negative? How does Dani feel about lima beans?see (4)
(7)Evocative fragment. :D :D
(8)Go through the process of an 11 year old making toast. Where is the bread? Does she use a toaster or a toaster oven? Does she like butter or jam or both or neither? What color is the toast? What color is the butter? How does it taste?
(9)Describe the box. How does it loom in Dani's mind? Was it plain before? Does Aunt Fran use decorations? Or is she very practical? What does Dani remember about the Christmas presents you mentioned earlier? I should also contrast the box with the bag/present inside, especially if the box is very plain and the bag very decorated.
(10)Maybe - walk through Dani planning her naughty deed more. Where does Daddy keep the supplies?
(11)DESCRIBE MORE
(12)Is the bench high for her to climb up on? Does she remember it being difficult to climb into her spot? Is it a hard bench? How does she feel about sitting at this spot and doing her homework? Is the bench hard or padded?for 8-12: yeah, I definitely need to describe more
(13)Don't forget - BIG emotions.
(14)Great-aunt Fran's appelation has changed a few times. Was that on purpose? Does Dani keep forgetting the right thing to call her? Does she actually know her very well? Who's aunt is she? Mom's father's sister or Dad's mother's sister? Does Dani know or does she have trouble remembering?Yeah, I need to figure that out and make it much more consistant... Aunt Fran it is, with one digression to indicate that Aunt Fran is a great-aunt.
(15)Describe Liz, Tigger, and or the last time she stole the plushie from Dani's room. Yup, I need to do this.


(I think by this point poor Partner has given up on noting all the places I NEED MORE DESCRIPTION...)























Danielle waved to the bus driver as he closed the school bus doors and pulled away from the curb. Squaring her shoulders, Dani shifted her backpack to settle again and started trudging down the sidewalk towards home. (1)Halfway to the end of the block, the blob of gum that booger-faced doodie-head boy from three rows back had thrown at her finally pulled some of her hair out of her ponytail enough that she could start trying to pull the gum out. It was stuck, tangled up pretty tight in her wavy red hair. It wasn't fair. Nobody bothered her on the bus when Liz was there too, and Liz she was two whole years (2)younger. Dani was focusing so much on the gum she almost tripped over the box on her front porch. (3)Got it out through.

(4)Dani flicked the gum off into the bushes by the porch, then scooped up the box and headed inside. Looked like Aunt Francesca (well, great-aunt really) had reused an Amazon box again. It was probably Liz’s ninth birthday present. (5)A week early this year. Last year, the Christmas presents hadn’t shown up until January.

Dani locked the front door behind her, ditched her shoes and backpack by the door, and headed into the kitchen. Mom and Dad weren't home yet to tell her not to eat any toast, that she'd wreck her appetite for dinner. Toast was better than dinner anyway. Besides, it was Mom’s night to cook — rubbery chicken and mushy veggies. If she was real unlucky, (6)it'd be lima beans. Besides, Dani was really hungry. She'd been grabbing a snack after school, when Dad came home, AND eating all of dinner all week. Mom hadn't even noticed yet. (7)Stupid growth spurt.

(8)Dani eyed the box where she'd dropped it on the counter and nibbled on her toast. She really wanted to know what was in there. Aunt Fran sent neat stuff. But she should really be a good girl. This was Liz’s present. Gulping down the last bite, Dani walked over to the counter and staredlooked over the (9)box again. Huh.

Huh.(10)If she got some packing tape, she could tape it back up. The addresses wouldn't be damaged. And Aunt Fran had clearly taped it up other times before.

Dani bit her lip. She should really be a good girl. Mom and Dad let her stay home instead of going to those stupid after-school activities. She really should be good…

Dani grabbed the tape and a pair of scissors out of (11)Dad’s craft table and ran back to the kitchen. Grabbing Liz's presentAunt Fran's box, she moved everything to the kitchen table and climbed into her usual spot on the (12)wall bench seat. Carefully slicing open the box tape revealed a blue gift bag, with black tissue paper peeking out of the top, laid on its side. Ignoring the card attached to the bag, Dani stood it up, looked inside, and felt her heart melt.

Aunt Fran had gotten Liz a stuffed puppy. It was purple and soft and had floppy ears long enough to trip over. Its paws were the size of Dani’s fists and the stuffed tail was curled around and under its butt as it sat. The collar was fuzzy and black and had a circle hanging off the front that said ‘Jak-Jak.’ His muzzle was shaped like a mastiff's and he had a dopey, goofy, happy grin. (13)Dani had never wanted anything so much in her life.

Dani wanted to cry. It wasn't fair. Liz didn't even like dogs, she liked Disney. Dani loved dogs and Mom and Dad wouldn't let her get one. And now (14)Aunty Fran had given Liz a stuffed puppy, not her.

Grabbing the scissors and Jak-Jak, Dani dashed off, first back to Dad’s crafting bench to return the scissors, then to her room. Depositing Jak-Jak on her bed, Dani scrubbed at the tears in her eyes with the heel of her palm. She hated being this moody. Everything alwayswas felt too big, and she ached, and her feet wouldn’t go where she put them; it was embarrassing. Stupid growth spurt. Dani scooped up her Tigger plushie and tried to brush off … well, everything. Turning him over in her hands, Dani bit her lip again. It was a fair trade… (15)Liz loved Tigger, she was always stealing him from Dani’s room.

Dani dashed back to the kitchen and tried to gently stuff Tigger in the gift bag. Once he was more or less hidden in the bag, Dani laid the bag back in the box and taped it back up. Sloppily like Aunt Fran always did. Then off to hide the box in Mom and Dad’s closet with the rest of the gifts for Liz’s party next week. In the same place they’d hidden Dani’s gifts two months ago. And the Christmas presents before that. They really needed to find a better hiding place.

Dani walked back to her room. She had maybe another half hour to play with Jak-Jak before Dad and Liz would be home. She'd have to hide him in her backpack. Or Liz would definitely find him next time she snuck into Dani's room. The little sneak was thorough.

Dani stopped just inside her doorway,. She startedshocked and maybe a little panic-y. Jak-Jak wasn't on the bed wherewhat she'd left him. And he hadn'thasn't fallen ontointo the floor. Where could he have gone? Dani felt tears coming back into her eyes.

A deep, reverberating, yet oddly high-pitched yip came from Dani’s left, from behind the open door. Right before a large something crashed into Dani and she hit the floor, with whatever it was on top of her.

Dani looked up at very large, purple-furred muzzle a couple inches in-front of her nose. The rest of the doggy head it was attached to was huge, bigger than Dani, bigger than her bed! As she started to get real scared though, all of the doggy started shrinking down. The huge feet, the enormous floppy ears, the barrel chest wider than Daddy, everything shrunk until the doggy was the size of a full grown mastiff. But still obviously puppy shaped. Dani erupted in giggles as its floppy, slobbery tongue gave her puppy kisses and its tail wagged furiously. Ticklish!

Dani reached up and vigorously scratched behind the ears, before rolling the puppy over to wrestle. There wasn’t a collar or tag anymore, but the fur was exactly the same color as the stuffed puppy had been. This one was much more muscular than a stuffed animal could look, but the feet were the same shape, the ears the same floppy length, and the expression was just as goofily happy. The puppy rolled over from where he and Dani were wrestle-petting and dropped its head and front paws dropped into a bouncy the universal puppy bow.

“Play?!” yipped Jak-Jak.


First, a big thank you to Partner — I love having someone who will critique my short-stories in house. Our conversations at every stage of writing so far have helped me improve my writing. Second, man, converting insertions and commentary from Google Docs to display on here is time-consuming. Writers: Google Docs work well for critiques and revisions (although only one at a time). The tool you want is to share a document and then your critiquer alters their editing mode (upper right corner of the tool bar) to 'Suggesting'. Or in the menu go to View -> Mode and select 'Suggesting'. So useful.

Third, yes, I still need to add all the description to my work. So that's something to keep working on. Or to retreat back to noir for a piece, let my ear drums heal from the cries of 'MORE DESCRIPTION!' You know, six of one, half dozen of the other. ;)

Dani & Jak-Jak

For anyone who's wondered what I sound like, Ross of Role Playing Public Radio has posted a panel I was on with him and Caleb back in August at Gen Con:

Red Markets is a game of economic horror that wrapped up on Kickstarter in June. Come listen to the creator answer questions about the book’s progress & tell us how your beta tests are going. Caleb and Ross recorded this panel at Gen Con 2016.

http://slangdesign.com/rppr/2016/09/panel-discussion/playing-red-markets-at-gen-con-2016/


Turns out creating characters for role-playing games are my writing prompts. So, first draft of a vignette, which if I've done this right, it doesn't matter which gaming system it's set in. So I'll hold off on saying which one until afterwards.

 

Danielle waved to the bus driver as he closed the school bus doors and pulled away from the curb. Squaring her shoulders, Dani shifted her backpack to settle again and started trudging down the sidewalk towards home. Halfway to the end of the block, the blob of gum that booger-faced doodie head from three rows back had thrown at her finally pulled some of her hair out of her ponytail enough that she could start trying to pull the gum out. It was stuck, tangled up pretty tight in her wavy red hair. It wasn't fair. Nobody bothered her on the bus when Liz was there too, and she was two whole years younger. Dani was focusing so much on the gum she almost tripped over the box on her front porch. Got it out through.  

Dani flicked the gum off into the bushes by the porch, then scooped up the box and headed inside. Looked like Aunt Francesca (well, great-aunt really) had reused an Amazon box again. It was probably Liz’s ninth birthday present. A week early this year. Last year, the Christmas presents hadn’t shown up until January. 

Dani locked the front door behind her, ditched her shoes and backpack by the door, and headed into the kitchen. Mom and Dad weren't home yet to tell her not to eat any toast, she'd wreck her appetite for dinner. Toast was better than dinner anyway, it was Mom’s night to cook — rubbery chicken and mushy veggies. If she was real unlucky, it'd be lima beans. Besides, Dani was really hungry. She'd been grabbing a snack after school, when Dad came home, AND eating all of dinner all week. Mom hadn't noticed yet. Stupid growth spurt.

Dani eyed the box where she'd dropped it on the counter and nibbled on her toast. She really wanted to know what was in there. Aunt Fran sent neat stuff. But she should really be a good girl. This was Liz’s present. Gulping down the last bite, Dani walked over to the counter and looked over the box again. Huh. 

If she got some packing tape, she could tape it back up. The addresses wouldn't be damaged. And Aunt Fran had clearly taped it up other times before.

Dani bit her lip. She should really be a good girl. Mom and Dad let her stay home instead of going to those stupid after-school activities. She really should be good… 

Dani grabbed the tape and a pair of scissors out of Dad’s craft table and ran back to the kitchen. Grabbing Aunt Fran's box, she moved everything to the kitchen table and climbed into her usual spot on the wall bench seat. Carefully slicing open the box tape revealed a blue gift bag, with black tissue paper peeking out of the top, laid on its side. Ignoring the card attached to the bag, Dani stood it up, looked inside, and felt her heart melt.

Aunt Fran had gotten Liz a stuffed puppy. It was purple and soft and had floppy ears long enough to trip over. Its paws were the size of Dani’s fists and the stuffed tail was curled around and under its butt as it sat. The collar was fuzzy and black and had a circle hanging off the front that said ‘Jak-Jak.’ His muzzle was shaped like a mastiff's and he had a dopey, goofy, happy grin. 

Dani wanted to cry. It wasn't fair. Liz didn't like dogs, she liked Disney. Dani loved dogs and Mom and Dad wouldn't let her get one. And now Aunty Fran had given Liz a stuffed puppy, not her.  

Grabbing the scissors and Jak-Jak, Dani dashed off, first back to Dad’s crafting bench to return the scissors, then to her room. Depositing Jak-Jak on her bed, Dani scrubbed at the tears in her eyes with the heel of her palm. She hated being this moody. Everything was felt too big, and she ached, and her feet wouldn’t go where she put them; it was embarrassing. Stupid growth spurt. Dani scooped up her Tigger plushie and tried to brush off … well, everything. Turning him over in her hands, Dani bit her lip again. It was a fair trade… Liz loved Tigger, she was always stealing him from Dani’s room.

Dani dashed back to the kitchen and tried to gently stuff Tigger in the gift bag. Once he was more or less hidden in the bag, Dani laid the bag back in the box and taped it back up. Sloppily like Aunt Fran always did. Then off to hide the box in Mom and Dad’s closet with the rest of the gifts for Liz’s party next week. In the same place they’d hidden Dani’s gifts two months ago. And the Christmas presents before that. They really needed to find a better hiding place. 

Dani walked back to her room. She had maybe another half hour to play with Jak-Jak before Dad and Liz would be home. She'd have to hide him in her backpack. Or Liz would definitely find him next time she snuck into Dani's room. The little sneak was thorough.  

Dani stopped just inside her doorway, shocked and maybe a little panic-y. Jak-Jak wasn't on the bed what she'd left him. And he hasn't fallen into the floor.

A deep, reverberating, yet oddly high-pitched yip came from Dani’s left, from behind the open door. Right before a large something crashed into Dani and she hit the floor, with whatever it was on top of her. 

Dani looked up at very large, purple-furred muzzle a couple inches in front of her nose. The rest of the doggy head it was attached to was huge, bigger than Dani, bigger than her bed! As she started to get real scared though, all of the doggy started shrinking down. The huge feet, the enormous floppy ears, the barrel chest wider than Daddy, everything shrunk until the doggy was the size of a full-grown mastiff. But still obviously puppy shaped. Dani erupted in giggles as its floppy, slobbery tongue gave her puppy kisses and its tail wagged furiously. Ticklish!

Dani reached up and vigorously scratched behind the ears, before rolling the puppy over to wrestle. There wasn’t a collar or tag anymore, but the fur was exactly the same color as the stuffed puppy had been.  This one was much more muscular than a stuffed animal could look, but the feet were the same shape, the ears the same floppy length, and the expression was just as goofily happy. The puppy rolled over from where he and Dani were wrestle-petting and dropped its head and front paws dropped into the universal puppy bow.

“Play?!” yipped Jak-Jak.

 

That is set in the Monsters and Other Childish Things setting, as background for my character Dani for the Road Trip Remix campaign I'm playing in with Technical Difficulties. Hopefully it works as a stand-alone story — tell me in the comments where I'm assuming background info and am wrong about that?

Comments/critique from my partner, my responses, and a second draft to come on Monday.

Day 2471

Reposting a short story I contributed to the Technical Difficulties podcast's blog. Come check out our actual plays of Red Markets, Call of Cthulhu, and Eclipse Phase – you can hear what I sound like on the internet.


I was shoveling the fourth scoop of irradiated dirt on top of the bundle at the bottom of the shallow grave when Emil stood up and whined. Abandoning the shovel to the dirt pile, I leaned over to give Emil a scratch behind the ears while I pulled the backpack for my plasma cannon back on. Both of us were watching the ridgeline with all senses on high alert. I’ve never been sure if Emil had one of the smart animal enhancements or had just been well trained before he trotted into my life.

I may have been willing to drop the cannon for this little chore outside, but I wasn’t completely suicidal yet; I was still suited up in full combat armor with rail pistol easily to hand. I’d gotten the backpack strapped down, and the tear tracks down my face mostly wiped away before the metal-on-metal thrumming and the screaming reached us.

At my hand-signal Emil raced ahead as I brought up the rear. Some idiot was about to die by the half-broken TITAN war machine trapped on the other side of the ridge.

Emil was racing ahead, paws digging through the softly crunching dirt and was nearly halfway up before I even made it past the rows of stunted food crops laboriously coaxed out of this fucking planet. My breath was already hitching. Bad day to be short on both water and food rations. I gave a mental sigh for the stupidity of wasting one of my last two doses of MRDR on the fractal-bait I just knew I was going to find on the other side. But I pulled an injector and, shooting my wrist out of the armored arm cuff of my suit as much as possible, pressed it against the skin.

I felt a couple blood vessels in my eyes pop. Just in time for the aches and pains that were my constant background noise to recede.  The rest of the world fell a stutter-step behind as the combat drug sped up my nerves. The world always looks slower on MRDR.

Up the hill. Over the edge of the ridge. Past the stunted trees growing metal leaves. Start down the other side of the hill.  I miss my muse, Galahad. And TacNet. Battlefield awareness has never been my strongest suit.

Combat hasn’t altered the landscape this side since I last saw it. Usually I avoid this side. Half-dead war machine and all. Running, then sliding down the hill – the last of the trees and brush died off months back, it’s just loose dirt now. Stunted yellow grass at the bottom of the hill, a flat area I can charge across safely. All the dangers in this bit are on the mesh; I had turned off my inserts years ago. Burned out vehicles up ahead, reminders of the last stand that partially crippled the war machine, left it in a crater it still hasn’t climbed out of. Futile gesture. Found the convoy the folks who did that bit of military heroism must have been buying time for a mile or two up the road. Well, their decapitated skeletons anyway. Head hunters don’t leave skulls behind.

Half-broken TITAN war machine still in its crater, 250 yards ahead. House-sized center mass with its ever shifting color patterns. Seven tentacles sprouting out, constantly furling and unfurling, the edges fluttering off into ragged fractal fronds.

Too far to see individuals.

Shots ringing. At least they’re using the dead vehicles as cover, sounds like. Two assault rifles, probably the same blueprints, same printer they’re so similar. An SMG, the smaller ammo has more of a popping sound. With a whining clatter, three rail-pistols tossing off bursts. Massed fire? Why?

Snap a shot off at one of the telescoping fractal metal arm cocking back, ready to slam down on a burnt out vehicle, while I’m running up. Plasma leaves a burnt ozone stink. Spot Emil barreling sideways into something before the arm comes down. A pause from the weight slamming into ground. Then a human head pops up from where Emil landed, followed by armored arms and an assault rifle that starts walking shots up the machine arm. Other rifle, also a human morph, comes out of cover 20 yards east to join in the shooting, going for center mass at least. Pause for a better placed shot myself, center mass – must have gotten through some of the armor, couple of the tentacles curl further back.

SMG dashes out of cover, charging straight towards the crater. First rifle, the westward one, starts screaming at him to get back, ‘Azar’ is already dead. Emil’s not going to reach the SMG in time. I’m charging forward after him, wondering why the fuck I’m do–

Neo-octopus

There’s a neo-octopus morph behind the husk of a vehicle 15 yards to my northwest now. Space suited octopus as tall as me. Two railguns aimed and ready, third one having a clip slotted in with the fourth of eight arms. Fractal-hells, when did transhumanity start uplifting octopi? Explains the massed fire.

A screech of metal, the ground shaking again, and railguns firing forward push my attention back on task. SMG is almost to the crater, slowing down like he’s going to jump in and slide to the bottom. Emil is barking up a storm, distracting at least one of the tank’s many limbs. I’ve never seen the damn thing grow more limbs, for once when dealing with a TITAN toy, so hail to the poor dead bastards whose vehicles I’m using for cover.

A burst of speed, and I reach the edge of the war machine’s crater just as the SMG does. A kick to the back of his knee forces him down far enough that I can take another shot over his head. Might have singed a bit of hair; idiot isn’t wearing a helmet. I grab at the back of his neck, find the bar for clipping on a rescue line, and yank him up and off his feet, back towards the neo-octopus. Just as the edge of the crater crumbles under my feet.

I’m on my ass, sliding down, firing as often as the plasma cannon can cycle, when I spot what SMG must have been coming in for – fresh corpse. Must be Azar. I let the slide continue until I’m next to Azar, pulling out my knife as I go. Wish I had an axe for this.

Fire the cannon. Flip the corpse. No helmet. Fire. No neck protection either. Line up the knife at the base of the neck. Swift chop. Fire. Knife got stuck halfway through the vertebrae. Leverage knife back and forth until vertebrae crack. Fire. Saw through more muscle and skin. Fire. Grab head by the hair, throw it up and out of the crater. Fire. Push back up to my feet and start walking backwards up the hill. Fire. Never stop firing. A meter or so from the top, turn and scramble out as fast as possible.

Back out, Emil is racing in a straight line towards home, decapitated head dangling from his mouth. Good dog. The neo-octopus isn’t far behind him, fouling the shot SMG man is trying to line up on my dog. Idiot is kneeling, back to the crater, screaming at ‘Akemi’ to get out of the way. He’s so focused, there’s no resistance as I grab the gun out of his hands, booking it past him. Didn’t even have it clipped to his armor or anything. If he doesn’t figure out to start running away at this point, there’s no saving this idiot.

Both assault rifles disengage and fall in behind me as I hightail it away. Three sets of pounding feet, good. Falling behind, less good. But none of us stop running until we’re back past the flat grassy area, past the metal trees, over the ridge, past the open grave I’d been digging, past the garden I’ve coaxed out of the ground, and in front of bunker I call home. Akemi is standing outside the door, rasping noises coming from the suit’s intake valves, looking at Emil. Emil’s sitting right outside the bunker airlock, head still dangling by its hair from his mouth. He stands up, tail wagging furiously, trots over to me, and drops the head at my feet.

Akemi just stands and rasps, staring at me, as I work through the vertebrae. Two up from the cut, I find what I’m looking for – the grape-sized, diamond encased copy of whoever just died in that crater. A cortical stack. Almost certainly uncorrupted by the war machine. I toss the stack to Akemi.

The other three skid to a halt behind me, wheezing. I turn, backing away towards my front door, and look them over. Armor no dirtier than I’d expect from just that fight. No scrapes, dents, or gouges. One of the rifle users pulls their helmet off to suck in air faster. Bright eyed, no hollow circles under their eyes, cheeks full and round. None of this lot have missed a meal, perhaps ever.

Turning back to Akemi, I prepare to say my first words to another person in almost three years.

“Why the fuck would you come back to Earth?”

 

As always, comments, questions, suggestions, and critiques welcomed in the comments section.

Getting back into writing

Lately I've only been critiquing on Scribophile, trying to be a good member of one of my trading groups, and squeezing in some transcription of audio I'll need for the next big writing project. It wasn't until I sat myself down to write some backstory for my GM for one of my gaming groups that I realized how much I wanted to be putting words to electronic paper. It was also good for me in that a) I had a deadline, which always makes it easier for me to block out time and sit my butt down to just freaking do it already and b) taught me I can write a short story. Yes, that was the first time I've written something short that I felt was complete. Yay! 

So, flailing a little bit, casting around for what to talk about for this blog post, I decided to use that example, perhaps more literally than I originally intended. But the end result is that I sat down and wrote another short story, some flash fiction if you will. And yes, it's backstory for a character I'm playing in my second gaming group.

The stats:
Status: First draft. Very much so. Written in one sitting with editing and spelling correction happening as I write.
Time: Written in two hours (including the two different 15 minute breaks to play 2048 as a mind clearing move).
Word count: 881
Feelings about: Reasonably pleased. It's a pure descriptive piece, no dialog, which is unusual for me, but that's how everything was working in my mind. And I'm happy to have concentrated on description for once.

Critiques, things you would like to see added (or taken out), typos, spelling mistakes, grammar fails, what you liked and what you hated all welcomed in the comments!

Catrin rolled over and fumbled for the alarm clock on her bedside stand – no need to wake up her parents for this little chore. Especially not at 8am on a Saturday. One of the so very few times in the week she was sure she would have some privacy. She just needed to finish packing her personal things before heading off the other side of the country for college on Monday. The last of the going-away and graduation parties had been thrown months ago, at the beginning of the summer, but there had still been the chance she’d run into someone at her crummy retail job or out on the beach over the summer. With only two days until she started the cross-country trip though, it was time.

Sitting up on the edge of her bed, feet flat on the floor, Catrin rubbed her face briskly for a moment to wake up just a little more. She then grabbed the hair scrunchy on the stand and pulled her hair back into its accustomed ponytail. Standing up, she briefly debated not getting dressed but settled on a loose pair of yoga pants and a sports bra – easier to lie to Mother that she’d gotten up early for one last morning meditation that way. If it came to it. Not that Mother would approve of all her bracelets.

Looking down at the open dresser drawer, Catrin had to admit that Mother might have a bit of a point. Enough thin, single-band stainless steel charm bracelets to form a solid(ish) cuff of two inches up each of her wrists was a lot of bracelets. Slipping them on one-by-one was a bit of a pain in the ass too, but moving from just one to multiple charms per bracelet would make it harder to grab precisely the right one in an emergency. Which had been the entire point in the first place.

Finished slipping all of her bracelets on, Catrin reached in the back of the drawer and pulled out a box. It wasn’t a very interesting box to look at it, just one of those cheap colored cardboard pieces jewelry stores packed your purchases in to walk out the door with. But inside were about half of the charms which had originally come with the bracelets. She was going to need to put roughly three-fourths of those back on their bracelets.

Sitting down in the middle of her floor, in between the packed suitcases and sealed boxes, Catrin began systematically taking off all the bit-and-bobs type of sympathetic tokens she’d collected from her classmates over the past four years of high school. Once those were all off and in a small heap at her feet, Catrin examined one of the teeny-tiny test-tube charms she’d spent so many hours scouring the city for. Be a shame to loose those, but she really didn’t need the scraps of bloody tissues in them anymore.

Trying to work the first of the little corks off the charm nearly sent it flying out of her hands and across the room. Tapping the end of the tube to get the tissue out was not working either. Catrin made a moue of frustration with her lips for a second, before her face cleared and she headed off to the bathroom for the pair of tweezers in there. And the tiny bottle-brush that’d come with the box of test-tube charms.

Half an hour later, the heap of old sympathetic tokens on her floor included all the test-tube contents and all the bit-and-bobs had been replaced with some of the original charms. The cutesiest of the originals stayed in the box – Catrin figured she might need them at some point, like if some of the tubes broke. May she could drive over to that crafting store she’d found the tubes in the first time and pick up another set today.

Catrin paused at a sound from her parents’ room next door. Were they getting up already? No, must have just been turning over in bed.

Looking at the heap of tokens on her floor, Catrin bit her lip. Some of them were probably old enough to have lost their emotional significance to her former classmates. But most could still be magically useful for hexing their original owners. Wouldn’t be fair to the classmates for her to dispose of them only for some other witch to come along an use them. Seemed like a remote chance, but still. Worth the time to do things right, Catrin figured. A cleaning ritual should do it.

From the back of the bracelet drawer came her ritual blade. She did rather hope that Odin would approve of the wisdom or Loki would be amused at the trickery of a butterfly knife as her magical tool. She wasn’t worried that any of the Æsir would object to using a practical fighting knife for magic. After all, what good was a knife you couldn’t fight with?

Kneeling down, Catrin took a deep breath and centered herself. It wasn’t even nine o’clock yet. As soon as she’d cleansed the tokens of their sympathetic links and disposed of them in the trash, she’d have plenty of time to start hiding her sex toys in suitcases before her parents woke up.