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.

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.

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.

Creating the Perfect Villain

Every story has good versus evil in it. You represent the good with the hero. Heroes always have some minor flaws, like being shy or afraid of snakes, but they triumph in the end because they will do the right thing. Their flaws make them human and likeable.

Don’t forget the villain.

The villain is the second-most important character in your story. A good villain creates problems for the hero to solve. Without problems, there is no conflict. Without conflict, there is no plot to move the story forward. Stories need mystery and tension to make us want to turn that next page.

So how do you create the best villain?

Villains are heroes in their own minds. That’s what makes them so scary. They believe that they doing the right thing, through their own twisted view of the world. The crucial difference between a hero and a villain is that a hero is ultimately self-sacrificing in order to do the right thing. A villain is selfish to the core.

Just because a villain is selfish doesn’t make him totally unlikable, though. In the same way that a hero has flaws, a villain can have endearing qualities. A villain may love his mother. A villain may adore animals. Think of Inspector Gadget’s enemy Dr. Claw who is always petting his M.A.D. cat. A villain is even more frightening when he or she can still commit horrible acts in spite of being able to show affection or love in some way. Don’t make your villain totally evil, or he won’t seem real to your readers.

Characters are usually transformed into villains because of things that happen to them. For example, maybe your villain was teased by bullies as a child. Maybe she saw her mother living in poverty. Having bad things happen to a person is not an excuse for them to become a criminal, but that can often be an excuse to be a bad person in his or her own mind.

Remember the story of David and Goliath? Both of them were loyal to their countries, both wanted their side to win, both were confident. The difference was that Goliath fought for pride and personal glory. David fought for his God, not for himself. They are alike in many ways, but David is the flawed hero and Goliath is the villain we still talk about as the example of unequal battles. Their choices make the difference.

Finally, make your villain smart. Heroes need a smart opponent; no one cares if you can outwit a dummy. Plus, a smart villain is choosing their evil path, which makes them all the more blood-curdling. Mix a little compassion into the villain’s black set of morals to turn it an unpredictable gray, and you have a character that will raise goose bumps on the back of your neck. And hopefully, that of your hero.

Click here for a short workshop exercise to create a perfect villain!

Create your own Spooky Halloween story!

I’m bringing back an idea that I loved even when I was no longer a kid. There was a series of books that let you choose your own adventure. Nearly every page ended with a choice for the reader: Do you want to go down the staircase? Turn to page 74. Do you want to open the door? Turn to page 143. Each choice led you to a different storyline, making the tale unique each time you read through it.

I often wished that I didn’t have to then turn to a different page to continue the story. Too often I was tempted to read snatches of other story lines while searching for my page continuation. Sometimes I would catch spoilers without meaning to. If only we had hyperlinks in books that could whisk us to the next page!

Now it’s Halloween time, and I just completed a new book. It’s web-based, so you really can click the link to continue. I hope you have as much fun reading these stories (yes, there are several plots all woven together to make this mystery) as much as I did creating it.

Click here to begin

Hint for making your screen viewing size larger: most systems will toggle to full-screen by pressing the F11 key. Press F11 again to return to normal mode.

Enjoy!

The Vending Machine

Today I’m sharing a short supernatural story that won an honorable mention at the 2009 Art/Work: Creativity from the Cube city-wide competition in Kansas City, Missouri.  This is the first in a planned seven-part anthology dealing with the famous “Seven Deadly Sins” dating from medieval times. Each story will be limited to 1000 words. Enjoy!

Update: This story also won 1st place in the Young Peoples’ Fiction competition at the 2010 Liberty Arts Squared festival!

The Vending Machine

by Duane Porter

This is so cool, Andy! Come look at this!” Mike marched down the alley to a large metal box.

Andy followed tentatively. “Hey, it’s an old vending machine! And it’s still got candy in it!”

Mike’s brown eyes glowed as he pushed his black hair out of his eyes. “Check out the prices! Twenty-five cents!”

Andy nodded. “How long do you think it’s been here? Why would they leave the candy in it? Stuff’s probably crawling with worms.”

Chicken!” Mike drew a quarter from his pocket and jammed it into the slot. Quickly he punched in a code. “They have Butterfingers!”

So do you, apparently,” Andy grinned. “The Butterfingers are on G1. The bag from G2 just dropped into the bin!”

What? No way!” Mike pushed the door open and pulled out a red bag labeled ‘Lucy’s Red Hots.’ “Aw, geez, I know I pushed G1! Have you ever heard of this crap?” He shook the bag in Andy’s face.

Never seen ‘em before.”

Man, it doesn’t even feel like there’s anything in here.” He tore open the end and peered inside. “Holy Cow!”

What?”

Mike drew out a piece of paper the size of a business card and a ten dollar bill.

Crap, no way! Anything else in there?”

Empty.”

What does the card say?”

Mike stared for a minute. “It’s some kind of poem.”

Greed is the downfall for seekers unwise.

Three times you may profit, but the fourth will surprise.”

They looked through the dirty glass. Sitting in row G2 were three more packages of Lucy’s Red Hots.

Andy, you think those other bags have ten dollar bills in ‘em, too?”

Andy shook his head. “I don’t know, Mike. Why would anyone leave money in candy bags?”

Mike had already rolled another quarter into the slot and punched G2. The second bag of candy fell into the bin.

Andy shifted nervously as Mike ripped open the bag. “It’s a twenty! Geez, Andy, I got thirty dollars for fifty cents! This is freakin’ incredible!”

It looks like there’s another card, too.”

Yeah, big deal. This one says:

Twice you have gained, so much more indeed!

Beware that you do not fall prey to your greed!”

Who writes this crap?” Mike scowled. “I wonder how much is in the third bag?”

Andy felt a surge of panic. “Mike, don’t get any more bags, please! This is creepy!”

Mike merely laughed as he fished for another quarter. The boys listened as the money rolled down the pathway. The third bag dropped into the bin.

Rrripp! “Oh, man! This is freakin’ unbelievable!” Mike held up a crisp fifty dollar bill.

That’s the third one, can we go now?” Andy pleaded.

You’re kidding, right? Hey, don’t you want to read the card?”

Andy grabbed the card this time and read out loud.

You are quite brave to buy more than two.

Now you have three; what will you do?”

Mike’s eyes dilated with anticipation. He fumbled in his pocket for a quarter.

Mike, are you nuts? The card said bad things would happen if you took more than three! Let’s get out of here – Mike, noooo!”

Mike jammed the last quarter home and watched the final bag fall from the rack.

As his hand closed on the bag his eyes widened in shock.

Mike? What’s wrong?”

Mike seemed to wither, as if all the fluids were being sucked out of him. He collapsed like a deflated balloon and was sucked inside the vending machine door. The red bag of Lucy’s Red Hots popped out onto the alley, and the vending machine door banged shut.

Andy moaned in disbelief. He looked inside the vending machine. A single green bag sat in row G2. It had a cartoon-like picture of a boy with black hair and brown eyes under the label ‘Mike’s Sour Apple Treats.’

Oh, no, no, no, no…” Andy mumbled as he searched in his pocket. He pulled out a quarter, shoved it in the slot and punched G2.

Nothing happened.

He hit the coin return, fished his quarter out, and tried again.

Still nothing.

He collapsed in front of the machine and put his hand out for support. He jumped as he touched the bag of Lucy’s Red Hots.

Slowly he ripped open the bag. Inside were another card and a bill with Benjamin Franklin’s picture on it. “A hundred dollars,” he whispered.

He turned the card over and read:

My goodness gracious, your life’s at an end.

Unless this last note is being read by a friend?”

Andy gasped as he realized what he had missed before.

The price below G2 now read $100.

Andy didn’t even think about it. He fed the hundred dollar bill carefully into the machine and pressed G2. Slowly, agonizingly, the spiral rack rotated and the bag of Mike’s Sour Apple Treats dropped.

Andy jumped as his quarter clattered into the change return. Shaking, he put his hand into the bin and pulled out the bag. It felt empty.

He tore one end open and the bag puffed out like popcorn in a microwave. Glittering blue sparks shot out of the bag and formed the outline of a boy, quickly coalescing into Mike’s familiar form.

Andy grabbed Mike’s arm. “Mike! Is it really you?”

God, what happened, Andy? I felt really strange for a second, and then I was back here with you – hey, what happened to my money? The ten, the twenty, the fifty – they’re all gone!”

Forget about it, Mike. You won’t believe what I …” his voice trailed off.

What is it, Andy? Why are you looking at the vending machine again …”

Both boys stared at the four bags of Lucy’s Red Hots sitting neatly in row G2.

Seconds later only the sound of running feet echoed down the deserted alley. A chill wind blew between the buildings, sucking a crumpled green candy wrapper into the air. The abandoned vending machine waited silently in the dark.