The newness never wears off

I’m launching my seventh book, and it’s still as exciting as my first.

Okay, maybe it’s a little easier and faster because I’ve gained experience in doing this before, but it’s still a thrill to see your latest baby come to life.

The “faster” part of this refers to the final steps needed to format and ready the book for launch. Unfortunately, it does not refer to the process in writing this particular book. This milestone took not one year (my average time with previous works) but about five. Along the way, I’ve learned to push things aside because of job changes, new grandchildren, and a number of great new TV shows.

“Werewolf for Hire: The Ghost of Goresthorpe Grange” was completed only because I chose to unlearn some of those things.

When we procrastinate, we choose to procrastinate. Life is all about choices; the famous motivational speaker Zig Ziglar boasted that he “lost a lot of weight after gaining 200 pounds on purpose. I say on purpose, because I cannot recall ever accidentally putting anything into my mouth.”

I chose to grab the time where I could find it: late at night, early in the morning, when my wife is catching up on her soap opera recordings. I don’t sacrifice family time, events with the grandchildren, taking out the trash. Pick your battles, but make sure you win enough of them to continue on.

I’m excited to officially launch (projected date January 12, 2017). But you can pre-order an autographed copy at over 10% off by clicking the “Autographed Copies of Books – Online Store” under the Books links on the right.

Right now, I’m choosing to engage in a number of activities to market the book and let people know it’s out there. Sooner than later, though, I’m going to choose to start writing the next chronicle in the Mordecai Black series.

The newness never wears off.

Inspiration can come from the strangest places

We used to participate at my former employer in a city-wide artistic competition. It expanded from art into literature, so I jumped in and won an honorable mention (see The Vending Machine elsewhere on my blog).

One of the short-lived categories was “The World’s Worst Opening Sentence.” This was limited to no more than fifty words and could have its own title that didn’t count toward the word limit.

Here is what I came up with:

Stanley Bristol, Werewolf for Hire

The sallow moon meandered languidly over the tree-line like a wrinkled helium balloon that has escaped from an unruly child, casting its pallid gleam o’er the molting werewolves emerging from their ghastly haunts to rend and shred unwary midnight travelers on the road to Kensington, which was pleasant in springtime.

At the time, I thought that the concept of a werewolf for hire was so insanely illogical as to be comical. Over time, however, the title kept tugging at my brain until I realized that the phrase was attention getting. It would also be a superb title for a real book.

Once I began viewing this as the ultimate writing challenge, I started laying the foundation for a logical, (I know, a logical werewolf story? But you gotta understand how my mind works) interesting fantasy/adventure story.

It’s been five years since my last book. There were many stops and starts, several job changes, new grandchildren, all of the things we like to credit for delays other than our own procrastination. But no longer.

Today I ordered my proof copy of Werewolf for Hire: The Ghost of Goresthorpe Grange from CreateSpace. This will allow me to check cover layout and interior formatting before officially publishing in 2017. Also my wife wants to read/proof it for me, but she feels more comfortable with a physical book than an e-reader, and this route is cheaper than printing it out myself.

It’s nice to see the finish line in sight. There’s still a lot of work ahead: marketing, interviews, signings, sales, still a Kindle edition.

Still, it’s a good feeling.

The Hero’s Journey – from a different spot on the dial

I love the concept of the Hero’s Journey, a classic format that frames the path of every hero, and is repeated in every heroic story. If you’re not familiar with it, you can find a helpful summary here:

http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero’s_journey.htm

As every seasoned writer knows, one of the advantages of knowing the rules is knowing when you can bend or even break them. This was my goal when I experimented with taking a classic hero’s tale, but instead of starting the hero in the typical world of the normal, I begin the adventure at the point of his life and death struggle and travel the circle from there. It makes for a fascinating study, and I call this story:

The Infinity Bomb

I know it will be bad if I can’t stop the bomb.

The countdown timer is at fifty seconds now. It’s racing toward zero, trying to keep up with my heartbeat. 48, 47, 46 …

I remember that my Boy Scout knife has a Phillips screwdriver built in. I flip it open and back out four screws. The lid pops off easily and I’m staring at a rat’s nest of colored wires.

Of course it’s wires. What did I expect from this nightmare, micro circuits? It has to be another deception filter. I glance at the timer. 20, 19, 18 …

I’m out of time. Have to take a chance. I unfold the large blade and slice through a blue wire.

The bomb’s innards shimmer like a mirage in the desert. The wire clutter vanishes, replaced by a neat forest of chips impaling a motherboard. And one big red button.

I figure they keep the dangerous red buttons on the outside of bombs, so I punch it and pray. Someone must be watching out for me because the whole business evaporates. In fact, the entire warehouse disappears and then I’m staring at my best friend Corey.

“Hey, why did you run off like that?” I demand.

Corey gives me a funny look. “What do ya mean? We’ve been right here in the tree house for the past hour. Uh oh, is that your mom calling?”

“Jimmy!” Yeah, it’s Mom.

I stick my head out the window. “Coming!”

“Well, hurry up, honey. You need to mow the lawn before you go to the movie.”

“What?” I scramble down the rope ladder and stare at the grass in disbelief. “But I mowed the yard an hour ago.”

Yet there it is, six inches tall and more ragged than my haircut.

My stomach sinks. “This is so weird. But even more than that, I feel like there’s something I need to do, something important.”

“Yeah, well, you better mow this lawn first or we’re not doing anything,” Corey sighs.

It takes a while to mow down the jungle. I’m sure I cut it earlier. Finally I slide the mower back under the carport and grab a fresh tee shirt. Corey and I head for the movie theater.

“Corey, there’s something really strange going on today, honest. It’s like I’m remembering things before they happen.”

“That’s crazy talk, man! Did you have weird dreams last night? Maybe you’re remembering those.”

“I dunno. You know how when you first wake up from a dream, you can remember parts of it? Then you start to forget, until it gets so fuzzy you can’t remember any of it.” I stop in my tracks as a gorgeous twenty-something woman walks by. “Leah?”

She whirls, her eyes steel. “How do you know that name?”

“I don’t know. It just came to me. Is that your name?”

“Anything else ‘come’ to you today, kid?”

“Well, I thought I mowed the lawn earlier, but the grass was still super tall and I had to mow it again.”

She turns to Corey, pushing a strand of jet-black hair from her eye. “How about you? Anything strange?”

“Jimmy said something about me running off. I don’t know what the heck he was talking about.”

She sighs deeply. “You’re both in this. Come with me, we haven’t much time.”

“Hold on,” I say. “I don’t know you …”

“Apparently you do. Or did. Or will again. Come on, I’ll try to explain.”

We follow, trotting to keep up. “I’m tracking a device called a time reaver. It’s set to go off any minute. If it blows, it will destroy history as we know it.”

“Who would be looney enough to do that?” I ask.

“Terrorists who lost their war. They came back in time to set off the reaver. They don’t care about their own survival, they only want revenge.”

“Wait a minute,” Corey gasps. “You’re from the future?”

“Not if we don’t find that device. I’ve narrowed the location down to a nearby warehouse. The device is tricky, though. It projects deception filters to camouflage itself to look like something harmless or worthless.” She pauses and points to a run-down brick building. “That’s the warehouse.”

A sound like a supersonic mosquito whizzes close by. Leah grunts and collapses, grabbing her ankle. “Sniper!” she moans. “They’ve found me!” She clutches my arm and looks me in the eye. “Jimmy, I can’t walk. It’s up to you and your friend to get to the warehouse and stop that bomb!”

“Huh? I don’t even know what it looks like.”

“It will look out of the ordinary. I can’t give you a clear description.” Her brown eyes implore me. “I think you might have seen it before, though. You may have triggered some kind of protective reset cycle while trying to disarm it. That’s why you’re having these flashbacks.”

Another mosquito ricochets off the asphalt inches away, making sparks. “Jimmy! Go now!”

I zig-zag toward the door, dragging Corey behind me. We make it without getting hit. I look back. Leah has a gun in her hand now, and she’s shooting at someone. We duck into the building.

“Look, some kids must have been playing in here,” Corey says.

There’s a piece of cardboard, decorated badly with tempera paint to look like a computer. It even has a used sour cream container taped upside down for a dial, and an empty Butterfingers wrapper glued on for a button.

“No way this junk could blow up,” Corey grumbles.

I press the Butterfingers wrapper and the cardboard starts beeping. The sour cream container spins a quarter turn and the whole thing morphs like a transformer into a high-tech metal box with shiny buttons and everything.

“Crap! It’s real!” Corey screams, and he runs out.

I look at the glowing display. It’s counting down from 60, beeping in sync with the numbers.

I know it will be bad if I can’t stop the bomb.

What Part of “TSA Pre” Do You Not Understand?

Maybe it was the full moon last night.

The coming potential “historic winter storm” of January 2016 was en route to blanket the East coast with up to two feet of snow. I was just finishing up my first solo assignment with my new company, setting up an imaging and document system for a university just outside of Philadelphia. Yep, time to get out of Dodge. Or Philly, in this case. I had already consumed my requisite cheesesteak.

My flight on Southwest was at 7:35 Friday morning. As I enjoyed my final meal at Tokyo Bay at the King of Prussia food court Thursday evening, I grabbed my first opportunity to review my email messages on my phone.

Hello, this is Southwest Airlines. Your flight has been canceled.

Man, and this General Tso’s chicken was tasting so good. Well, time to hit the road and get to my hotel at the Philly airport so I can sort this out. My phone battery was fading fast, and I needed to get to a plug in. I couldn’t wait to use Southwest’s call-me-back feature, because my phone would be out of juice at that point.

Once I reached the hotel and called to get into the queue (35 minute wait) I called my wife and let her know what was going on. Cathy is wonderful at scheduling these travel arrangements, as she travelled extensively in her job for a while. She suggested looking at another airline, perhaps American, as they occupy four of the six terminals at Philadephia International Airport.

American’s queue was 37-51 minutes (amazing how they can predict these things with such pinpoint accuracy) so I was fairly certain I would be armed with Southwest’s response by the time American called back.

Hi, this is Southwest. We’re ceasing operations at Philadelphia airport at six PM Friday, all flights before that are full or cancelled, but we can get you out sometime on Sunday.

Well, that’s one option.

American had an attractive flight, reasonably priced, set to go out at 8:30 and get me back to Kansas City about 11. Running low on options, I booked it online.

Cathy called almost immediately. “Did you look at what you selected? That flight is at 8:30 PM!” Oops. See, I told you she was better at this than I was.

National had no car rentals available, denying me even the faint hope that I could drive north out of the coming blizzard to another city or even drive all the way back home.

When American called back, I was feeling pretty low. However, the agent explained that because of the weather crisis, they were waiving all of their change fees. She found a flight for me from Philly to Chicago to KC that left at 5 AM Friday morning. No extra charge. I jumped on it.

My hotel is literally at Terminal B at the Philly airport, so I could just cross the walkway and be at security. I found that the airport didn’t even open until 4 AM, so I had plenty of time to take the escalator down one level and print out my boarding passes.

TSA Pre was printed on the boarding passes.

My wife introduced me to TSA Pre when we started flying together more frequently. TSA Pre Screening allows you to walk through a simple metal detector rather than the I-see-everything X-ray cylinder, you can leave your laptop in its case, your CPAP in its bag, your shoes on, your belt in and your pants up. The belt really helps with that last bit.

As I confidently approached security, the agent said “I see you are TSA Pre. We don’t have enough staff to run two lines yet this early in the day, so you’ll have to go through the regular line. I’ll stamp you for expedited, though.”

With expedited I only had to liberate my laptop and CPAP, keeping my shoes and pants safe. That’s what I thought, until my goods were slow to come out of the X-ray belt, and a TSA worker emerged holding my CPAP machine gingerly, with a worried look on her face. Maybe people are healthier in Philly, and they’ve never seen a CPAP machine?

Then a business-like young TSA agent approached me and said, “Sir, I’m going to have to pat you down.” I know as a general practice that you make more flights if you fully cooperate with the TSA, even if they are behaving under the influence of a full moon.

I was subjected to the most intrusive pat down I have ever experienced. The shoes came off (inexplicably, the light jacket stayed on, even though I offered to remove it) and I was patted down and pressed over just about every part of my body. He examined the top edge/band of my pants inch by inch, all the way around. I guess they’ve not seen the trousers with the expandable waist before, either. After the search, he swabbed his gloves with a ticket (pre-tested to ensure it was not contaminated prior) and checked the ticket in his machine. It turns out I was not carrying anything explosive beyond the blog that was forming in my head.

I was actually bemused by the entire affair, as I knew I had plenty of time to make the flight. It was interesting watching an already short staff make the choice at four in the morning take this amount of time to make sure a polite 60-year old man with a CPAP machine and TSA Pre clearance was not a terrorist threat.

To be fair, I was flying on a one-way ticket. To be fairer, I imagine there were a LOT of people flying on one-way tickets this morning.

I wished the young man a good day and proceeded to the gate, and eventually made it back to Kansas City safely.

As I share this now, I can’t help but offer that TSA Pre might be a new oxymoron. It certainly felt that way under the full moon.

A Christmas Story

“But how are you going to start it?” asked the apprentice.

“I don’t know yet.”

The author began to jot down whatever came to mind, striving not to over edit as the words appeared. He felt his breathing strengthen and slow as he did so, feeling more comfortable with each
passing moment.

“But you haven’t finished anything in three years.”

“Not true, my apprentice. I’ve finished a couple of short stories, and edited the werewolf story at least three times. It’s all work, good work, some of my finest. In fact, I added another chapter to the novel last year. As you well know.”

“A year and a half ago, as I recall. Your creative juices have not been percolating as they should. Have you given up?”

The author paused at the keyboard, sighing softly. “Not yet. I pray not ever. It’s been hard. It’s been hard listening to your constant whining and complaining, my ever-present companion. You forget the multiple job losses, the work challenges, the time constraints, the new grandson. There are so many – distractions.”

“Oh, my, yes, especially the distractions you record on the DVR. You may claim it saves time because you can fast-forward through the commercials, but when I look at the hours you spend staring into that screen – don’t tell me that your problems are all external. And it doesn’t help that you’ve got a new, larger screen that makes the watch so much more enticing.”

“All right! All right! I get it!” The author returned to his writing. “I’m trying to change that. The least you could do is give me some encouragement.”

“But why should I believe that this time will be any different? Why is this not a paraphrase of Mark Twain?”

“I know where you’re going with this. Twain famously said ‘Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.’ You have a point, it’s simple to say I’m going to start writing, put it off for a day, then until next week, or crank out a short story to assuage my guilt before slipping back into my bad habits. I see it as well as you.” The author paused for a moment, closing his eyes. “But I think I’ve reached a turning point.”

“Well, do tell!”

“Buddha said that ‘An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.’ I’ve always had interesting ideas – from drunken leprechauns to werewolves for hire, but they have limited impact, if any, until I write the book and share the magic. I’m proud of being a published author, but just the other day I had an energizing experience.
“My web site has had broken links for years now. I wasn’t getting any hits on my storefront that I was paying big bucks for, so I dropped the service. No problem since all of my books are on Amazon and kindle, right? But I never updated the links to point to where folks could buy them now.”

“That was dumb.”

“That was the same problem as the writing. I put things off because I didn’t see them having an immediate impact in my life. But I enjoy sharing the stories. I love being an author. So many people out there can’t believe it’s possible to become a published author. I can, because I love stories. So I decided to do something about it. Not just think about it like I have been, but fix the broken links. It took me a while to rediscover where I put everything, but I did it. Now people can see the reviews, order from anywhere in the world, and it looks more professional.”

“How does that fix your writing problem, though?”

“It felt good to see everything working like a well-oiled machine. Satisfaction? In spades. And it made me feel that if I could fix the links to my books, I could start writing on a regular basis again. I could finish my novel, update the blog, maybe enter a short story contest. I guess you could say this is my first stab at it. Writing again, I mean.”

“Well, you are writing, and that’s a start. What keeps you from stopping right now, though, filing the story away and going to bed? Lord knows you could use the rest, you’ve had a busy day.”

“That’s what I’m talking about. It’s Christmas. And Christmas is still a special day. Do you know why?”

“Of course I know why. It’s because of all the presents and the food and the joy in your grandchildren’s eyes.”

“Don’t be stupid, apprentice. It’s because of the story.”

“Which story?”

“The story of Christmas. The real Christmas that we celebrate at heart, the coming of the Son of God to earth, Jesus born in the manger while angels sang his glory to simple shepherds. The hope of all mankind, as God gave his creation the greatest present ever on the first Christmas. The story that inspires all of us.”

“Point taken. But why does that help you to write?”

The author shook his head. “You’re not paying attention. It’s stories that capture people’s imaginations, that motivate them to rejoice, or rage, or care. The idea for that story is lost if not put into shoe leather. If I keep a story, a good story, a great story locked up inside my head, it’s wasted. Some kid or adult somewhere will never enjoy the twists and turns of the plot, or admire a character if I don’t bring them to life on the page. So I’m energized, and I want to start and keep going, and… well, it’s Christmas. What better time to turn over a new leaf? What better opportunity to change for the better?”

“So – what are you going to do about it?”

“For starters, I’m going to post this story to my blog. Second, I’m going to link the story to my Facebook friends. Believe it or not, I have a lot of folks rooting for me to write my books. I need to get on that bandwagon, too!”

The apprentice nodded and smiled. “See there, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you forever. But you’re kind of like Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you can’t go home even if you have the power to do so, until you believe in yourself. Now you’re taking that first step.”

“I know.” The author smiled as he typed in the final paragraph. “One last edit and I’ll post this on Christmas Day. It does make me happy. But do you know what’s better?”

“Of course I do, I’m your loyal apprentice. It might make someone else happy, and give them hope.”

The game is afoot

I’m working on my new novel, “Werewolf for Hire” set in the times and locales of Sherlock Holmes. I’m musing on the amazing things happening on our trip this weekend. We’re staying in room 221 (B?) and we passed the Strand Hotel on our way out of town.

I can but wonder if the spirit of Conan Doyle is guiding my steps today.

The Dog Days of Spring

Spring is in the air, and it’s time to renew one of my favorite pastimes: Playing ball with the dog in the back yard.

I know; it may seem boring to throw the ball, the dog returns the ball, then you repeat the routine all over again. But you can make this activity exciting again by injecting some risk and reward into it.

I’ve created a list of results a reasonable pet owner should strive for. Each result awards you a point score, either positive or negative depending on the desirability of the outcome. Feel free to add results that reflect the hazards or challenges of your own back yard.

For example, we have a fenced back yard with limited access to the neighbors, a swimming pool, a narrow strip of grass reachable mainly only by throwing the ball over the pool, and a dog that is faster than Satan. Here is my list tailored for our combination of challenges:

 

Keeping the ball in the yard: 0 points

Getting the ball beyond the dog: +1 point

Getting the ball all the way to the back fence: +2 points

Throwing the ball into the swimming pool: -20 points

Throwing the ball over the fence: -100 points

The dog is ready to quit before you are: +20 points

The game ends without getting any dog slobber on the ball: +1000 points

 

This system may lead to some unintentional side-effects, such as dunking the ball in the pool a few times to eliminate the dog slobber, but overall I think these incentives contribute to a fun and relaxing time with your canine pet.

Get out there and put that Spring back in your step!

Hope for the Future

September 11, 2001, was America’s modern day Pearl Harbor.

Once again, an enemy attacked without an official warning, this time striking at our battleships of finance and government. They succeeded in taking nearly 3000 lives and impacting millions of others.

But despite the sorrow and shock, America found a beacon of hope that very day. United flight 93 was hijacked by terrorists and approaching a probable target in Washington, DC. The passengers and crew mounted a counterattack inside which caused the plane to crash in Pennsylvania, killing all on board. It was a shining candle of courage and will, flickering brightly among the dark clouds billowing from New York and Washington.

9-11 created a period of American unity rarely seen before or since. It reminded us that we are capable of coming together for a just cause, that we don’t always have to argue over less important matters. It showed us that ordinary Americans can make a difference, and that by working together, we can accomplish what seems impossible.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of that awful day. We have not forgotten the pain, but much of the unity has dissipated over time. We see our children reading names of the 9-11 dead on national television while politicians continue to burden those same children with a growing national debt. We can achieve unity in death, but remain bitterly divided over the issues of life.

America must once again reach for unity, this time to heal our way of life and not merely comfort our sorrow. We cannot afford to build another memorial ten years from now to the former United States of America.

An early Halloween

When my writers’ group put together a Halloween anthology last year, I wrote a story to be part of the fun. I learned a few things along the way.

1. My story was rejected by the editors for inclusion in the anthology. Reason? This is a children’s writers group, and my story was technically told by an adult, outside even the YA genre. This was interesting because the story started when the characters were children, but by the time it was told, children no longer. I was gaining an education on the definitions of genre.

2. The editors recommended rewriting, perhaps limiting the story to the portion where the character was still a child. This I did, and also experimented with a first-person viewpoint, which was enlightening to me. I liked the result, but wanted readers to be able to access the entire story/backstory by referencing a link on my website.

3. The editors rejected the link idea as well — still not a children’s story. So I wrote a completely new story and submitted that for the anthology.

I still wanted to share the complete story, which brings us to today. The first story that follows is the rewrite in the child/YA first person perspective. It’s an introduction to the complete tale that you’ll be able to link to afterward — if you dare.

For your early Halloween enjoyment — The Wishing Mirror.

Harry Bales is my best friend. We do everything together. Oh, we aren’t juvenile delinquents or anything like that, but we drive our moms crazy because we’re not exactly angels, either.

Goodfield, Kansas is a good place to grow up, I guess, even during President Hoover’s great depression. Goodfield is small; you can’t get lost with only four hundred people in town. Then again, there’s not a whole lot to do, either. This year seems more boring than usual since we both turned sixteen. Mom blames it on hormones, but Harry and I think we’re simply bored out of our skulls. It’s funny that I’m thinking about skulls on Halloween.

“Harry, you wanna sneak into the old Simpson place?” I ask.

“That’s clear over on the south side of town,” he replies, stifling a yawn.

“I know, but it’s Halloween night and it’s the closest thing that Goodfield has to a haunted house.”

“You think it’s really haunted? I’ve heard stories, y’know?”

I groan. “Little kids wetting their pants over some spooky night noises. Give me a break!”

“No, I’m serious! Wasn’t there a kid who went there years ago and was never seen again?”

“Harry, there are always stories. Haunted house stories are supposed to be scary, to keep up the reputation.”

He thinks about it for a minute. “I guess you’re right. I shouldn’t be worried about a stupid ghost story.” Then he smiles. “Let’s do it!”

“Now you’re talking!” I hoot. “Let’s go bust some windows!”

Wyeth’s Drug Store still has their lights on as we turn the corner to walk down Maple. We get about twenty feet when I hear her voice clear across the street. Geez, of all the times for my big-mouthed little sister to see me.

“Jack Hunter, where do you think you’re going? You’re too big to go trick-or-treating!”

I paste on my best fake smile and reply as sweetly as I can. “Why, Cassie, Harry and I heard there’s a vampire roaming around town looking for little girls to bite.”

“You ‘spect me to believe that? What could you do, anyway?”

“Me? I was planning on showing the vampire where the really loud and nasty little girls live, so he can drink their blood quickly and get back to his coffin for a nice, peaceful rest before the sun comes up.”

“Ooh! I hate you! I’m telling Mom!” She sticks her tongue out at us and then runs for home, her yellow pig-tails bobbing behind her.

Harry slaps my palm. “Good one, Jack!” he chuckles. “You’re going to be in trouble for that tomorrow, though!”

“Not if we find that vampire first!” I laugh. “C’mon!”

We jog over to Spring Street and follow it past the last row of houses to where it curves into 10th Street—as far south as you can go and still be in Goodfield. The old Simpson place on the corner hasn’t been lived in for years. It used to be a reddish-brown color. Now it’s charcoal-gray and the boards are all warped from the weather.

Leaving Harry to stand guard at the sagging gate, I circle the house looking for a way in. “The front door is padlocked, but I found a window open in the back,” I whisper when I return. “You got the flashlight?”

“Yeah,” he whispers back.

There isn’t much left on the first floor beyond a lingering odor of garbage. What vandals didn’t destroy, the mice chewed to bits. The second floor is something else, though. We creep up the grand staircase to where the musty air turns warm. Harry finds the door half-open leading to the surprisingly intact master bedroom. And it’s far from empty.

Harry lets out a whoop of approval. “Look at this cool stuff!”

I sniff. “It’s only a bunch of old furniture covered with sheets. Yuck, there must be an inch of dust here.” I brush my hand across a table and start sneezing my brains out until the cloud subsides.

“This looks interesting. What do you think it is?” Harry pulls the sheet from a tall, slim mysterious-looking shape. “Hmmm. Not as much dust on this one.”

“Jeepers. A full-length mirror. I am so impressed. Pardon me while I call the Tribune.”

“No, Jack, this is really neat! This is a real wrought-iron frame.” He shines the light at the intricate scroll work. “This must have been worth something in its day.”

“That day is long gone. C’mon, Harry, let’s break out a few windows and go scare some trick-or-treaters.”

“Well … okay, Jack.” He looks wistfully at his reflection. “This is a better mirror than we have back home. Do you think I’m looking older?”

“I know I’m getting older. Are you through?”

“It’s just that we’re sixteen, and pretty soon we’ll be out of high school, and I can’t even afford a car. What I wouldn’t give to have my own …”

He pauses and inhales sharply. “Jack, would you look into the mirror for a second?”

“I know what I look like,” I growl, turning the flashlight tube up under my chin. “But I look much scarier on Halloween in a haunted house, don’t you think?”

“Jack, I’m serious. What do you see in my hand, in my reflection in the mirror?”

I angle the light to bounce off the glass. “Looks like a set of keys. Where’d you get those?”

“I don’t know. I was just wishing that I had my own car, and I saw these keys in my reflection in the mirror. And that’s not all …” He holds up his hand and jingles a real set of keys.

“Go on! You brought those in with you!”

“I swear, Jack, they just appeared in my hand when I thought about a car. Do you—do you think this mirror can grant wishes?”

“If you hadn’t been with me all night, I’d swear you’d been drinking. All right, wish for something else. That will prove you’re dreaming!” I can’t believe he’s trying to pull this lame stunt on me.

“Okay. I wish for a million dollars.”

This time we both watch intently in the mirror. Then, just like a ghost materializing, a leather bag appears at Harry’s feet.

“Harry, move your foot to the left. Do you feel anything?”

“I feel it, Jack. Gosh, it’s heavy.”

We look down at the leather case, shocked. Slowly Harry kneels and opens it up. “Jack, this is crammed full of one-hundred dollar bills! Have you ever seen so much money?”

“I’ve never seen a leather bag come out of thin air, either,” I breathe. “Okay, now this is getting really spooky. I say let’s take the cash and run.”

Harry’s eyes shine. “No, I’m going to make another wish. Just one more!”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea …”

He stands up straight and loudly announces, “I wish for good health and a long life!”

I hold the flashlight on his face for maybe ten seconds. What I see makes me cringe. Harry’s face goes from total joy to a slimy smirk. His expression looks greasier than the bacon down at Flo’s Diner.

“Harry, what’s wrong?”

He looks at me as if seeing me for the first time. “Nothing, Jack, nothing at all. What could be better than having a new car, a million bucks, good health and a long life? Not a thing, except blowing this flea-bitten town. I’m off to see the world. Goodbye, Jack.”

As he picks up the bag, I look into his eyes. They’re empty, without any fondness for friends or sunlight. They aren’t Harry’s eyes at all.

“Who are you?” I whisper, taking a step back.

The creature’s mouth twists into a sick parody of a smile. “Why, it’s me, Harry. What’s gotten into you?” He moves toward the stairs. “So long, Jack. I probably won’t see you again.”

I hear him shuffle down the steps; listen to the creak of the window opening and closing, and then the roar of a roadster coming to life in the yard. Through the window I see him drive off in a brand-new ‘32 Chevrolet BA Confederate.

“So it is a wishing mirror,” I mutter.

I shake my head and plant myself in front of the mirror. “Where is Harry?” I demand.

Behind my reflection in the glass, Harry appears in the mirror. I can’t hear him, but he looks scared and is begging for help. I glance behind me, but nothing is there except the furniture.

Harry is only in the mirror.

“I want to know what’s going on!” I scream.

Suddenly I’m not looking at my reflection any more. Instead of my image, I see something I can only describe as a demon.

Its skin is rough and red, covered with boils. Twin horns grow from its head; two ragged wings sprout from its shoulder blades, and a pair of glowing yellow eyes peer at me without mercy.

“We are trapped here,” the monstrosity hisses. “Trapped in this world of cold and darkness. But we have hope! There are portals, such as this one you see before you, through which we can enter your world. We can exchange our spirits for yours, we can. This is what happened to your friend Harry.”

Cold sweat runs down my neck as I watch Harry crying piteously in the mirror. The demon laughs.

And I know that it hungers for my soul.

If you want to discover the whole story of Jack Hunter, click on the pumpkin.

Warning: The rest of this story is told by an adult, so kids, be ready to hold your parent’s hand!

They might get scared!

Jaded

The second of my “Seven Deadly Sins” inspired stories, 1000 words or less. This episode garnered a first-place win at my workplace and publication in the Kansas City wide 2010 “Art Work / Creativity from the Cube” competition.

Jaded
by Duane Porter

“You’re a sorry-looking sewer rat!” I sneer.

The little turd looks up at me from the mud puddle I just shoved him into. He groans. “Leave me alone, Jake. You’re just jealous.”

“Haw! Why would I be jealous of you?”

He climbs to his feet, pushing his dirty brown hair back. “I don’t know. I don’t know why you beat me up every day, why you steal my money, why you call me names. I’ve never done anything to you.”

I don’t need a reason.” I grin. “You’re worthless street garbage that sleeps on the curb.”

So I’m homeless. You’re better off than I am. Why do you pick on me?” His dark eyes bore into me, almost hopeful.

“I think you like the attention,” I drawl. I push him down again as I walk away. Chester is such a chump. The nerve, thinking he can get on my good side.

In class the next day there’s a stupid math test. Who needs math? I can count the money I take from Chester, isn’t that good enough?

I glance at the little creep. Hmmm… he’s sneaking something out of his pocket, looking at it, then writing an answer on his test. So, the little bug’s a cheater, too! Whoa—something green flashed in his hand as he pocketed it. I better keep an eye on this one.

When we get our tests back I peek at Chester’s sheet. Geez, he got a hundred! I only get a sixty-three and he gets a perfect score? No fair, man. I’ll even things up after school. Just wait.


After the last bell I tail him out of the building. We’re getting close to the racetrack when I have to duck behind some dumpsters. Some dude wearing a suit and a gold necklace walks up and starts talking to Chester. Mr. Cool looks around, and then he hands the runt a sheet of paper. Chester turns his back to the guy, and he—


There it is again! He’s pulling that green thing out of his pocket! It glitters like glass. He stares at the green thing, scribbles something down and then  hands the paper back to the dude. What’s going on? I gotta watch.

The guy leaves for maybe ten minutes, then he shows up again. Crap, now he’s handing Chester a wad of money! Chester peels off several big bills and  hands the rest back to the guy, who grins real big and leaves. What does that green thing do? I gotta find out.

I step out from behind the trash bins. “We’re alone, now, Chester. And you’re going to tell me everything about that green thing in your pocket, or I’m  going to beat your pimply face into pudding.”


Chester looks up and sighs. “I’m not afraid of you. But if you really wanna know—“

“Oh, I do, I do.”

He pulls out this green gemstone that’s about the size of a chocolate creme egg. It has lots of flat sides, kinda like a diamond.

It’s jade. You want my money, too?”

“No, scumbag, I think that jade thing is worth more than all your money. Didn’t you use it to score a hundred on the math test?”

His eyes open wide. “You saw?”

Enough. Tell me how it works, or I start pulling off ears.”

Okay, take it easy. It’s—kind of a prophecy thing. It tells the future.”

Right, and my mother raised a dummy.”

I don’t need the stone to tell me that—ow!” He squeals as I yank his hair.

What’s up with the dude in the suit?”

He brings me the racecard, I tell him what to bet. He places the wager, and gives me part of the winnings.”

Yeah? Why doesn’t he just keep all the money for himself?”

Chester rolls his eyes. “Because, you big doofus, if he doesn’t pay me, he doesn’t get any more winning bets. Ow! Easy on the hair!”

Easy on the doofus, doofus. So you just look at the egg and see all this stuff?”

Yeah—something like that.”

He looks at me, defiant-like. I can’t stand it. Almost like he’s daring me.

But I want that jade egg. I want it so bad my stomach aches. I can do bigger, better things with it than this twerp can.

I pull his mousey face close to mine. “Give it up, loser. You don’t deserve it.”

Then take it from me.” His eyes are spooky, shining. He’s crazy.

I punch him in the face and he drops to the ground like a rag doll. It’s easy to pry the egg out of his fingers. Then I look into the facets and see …

I can’t tell you what I see.

Chester is laughing, lying on the ground and cackling like a hyena. His voice is getting deeper—he’s changing, arms and legs getting longer, clothes  ripping. Geez, he looks twenty.

You’re right! You deserve it, Jake! Has it shown you yet? Do you know your future?” He groans and his body trembles, he seems thirty, forty now. “It makes you immortal, Jake! You won’t ever age until someone takes it from you.”

I feel the hunger gnawing inside me, welding my soul to this cursed gem. It’s everything to me now.

But you can’t tell anyone, Jake! You’ll have to abandon your family and live on the streets because you can’t reveal your secret!” The years are racing
through Chester’s body like a film on fast-forward. Sixty, seventy …

And you’ll learn not to envy what others have, eventually.” His voice wheezes, cracked and hoarse. Ninety, a hundred, his hair gray wisps blowing away in the wind, his cheeks sinking into his skull …

Until the day someone else wants it more than you …” He whispers in a horrible parody of speech, and what used to be Chester crumbles into dust.

I know what he says is true. More than ever, I envy Chester.