Christmas Recommendations–Music


English: This is a photograph of rapper Hopsin...

English: This is a photograph of rapper Hopsin in his basement recording studio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kylie and I put up a single run of Christmas lights across the front wall of our apartment.  We also bought and wrapped our first presents.  The holiday spirit haunts us early this year.  We even have a gingerbread candle burning on the table.

Thanksgiving is coming up in two days, and I don’t know if you participate in the Black Friday riots to kick off the nationwide pre-Christmas shopping spree, but we’re doing another free promotion for Book One on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.  If you know anyone with a Kindle, feel free to recommend it to them.

I’ve been drinking strawberry wine from the farmer’s market tonight, so I thought this would be a good time to give some recommendations for Christmas gifts.  I’m going to do this as much as possible until the year is over, with emphasis on things I’ve discovered this year.  Let’s start with music . . .

Two Recommended Albums

Up From Below by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Raw by Hopsin (WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT)

I’ve discovered two new and exciting musicians this year, both up-and-comers, largely (or completely) independent, and completely different from one another.

The first is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a folk, blues, rock, hippie band in no way represented by these genre tags.  Kylie and I saw them live with two friends at Iroquois Amphitheater in Louisville a few months ago.  The only other band I’ve ever seen who delivers such a crisp performance while seamlessly changing tempo, improvising, jamming, etc., is the Dave Matthews Band.

The front man of the group, Alex Ebert, shares the stage with his wife, Jade Castrinos.  Wait, this is the internet.  I can just embed a YouTube video.  And I know what I’m going to pick.  Their David Letterman performance of “Man on Fire” from their newest album Here:

My other recommendation is Hopsin, a completely self-produced rapper who even makes his own music videos.  Hopsin raps in a way that makes you feel like he’s speaking to you directly.  He raps in conversation, in speeches.  It’s quite unique.  He also acknowledges what the music industry has done to rap music and seeks to have a positive influence on others through poignant and revealing parody.

Here is an example of what Hopsin is all about.  It’s called “The Ill Mind of Hopsin 5” and again, I warn you, this music contains explicit language and adult themes.  Please do not click play if you are one who is easily offended:

What do you think of these guys?

My Guest Post on Self-Publishing


Today author Red Tash, who recently interviewed me for LouisvilleKY.com, published an article I wrote for her blog on the subject of self-publishing.  Check it out!

the object hovering over the louisville kentucky skyline

Get Your Copy of The Object: Book One


We begin the serialization of Book Two in May 2013.  Check back for some exciting announcements about a new dynamic we’ll be introducing to the reading experience.

In the meantime, download the book!

the object hovering over the louisville kentucky skyline

The Object: Book One, Kindle Edition

For Paperback

Please share this post and tell everyone you know about The Object!

Thoughts on The Walking Dead


English: Intertitle from the AMC television pr...

English: Intertitle from the AMC television program The Walking Dead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ATTN: SPOILER ALERT!

Sunday night, we all saw the aftermath of Lori’s death by Cesarian section: Rick is turning into Captain Kurtz from Heart of Darkness.  Or the Anton Chigurh of zombie-killers.  I find myself holding strong to my feeling that if the camera would simply pan away from this terrible character, the show would be a lot more interesting.  Shane and Lori are dead.  That’s two out of three.  Now someone needs to off Rick.

Another problem I have with this show is that it has a lead character at all.  Really?  In the zombie apocalypse, where survivors are of random selection based upon skill, timing, and luck, why does anyone deserve to be the front man?  Why not give the characters more equal time like HBO’s The Wire?

I don’t mean to dishearten fans of the show.  I do enjoy the atmosphere, some of the plot, and some of the characterizations, but The Walking Dead succeeds in pissing me off more than anything else.

Why did T-Dog have to die?  You introduce a new black guy into the story and you have to kill the old one off?  The American public won’t tune in otherwise?  You’re telling me that in the deep south, a group of survivors who band together during a zombie apocalypse will be a near all-white crowd?  Seriously?

T-Dog was a sturdy character who never got his due share of camera time.  He was one person the group really needs–just as I thought the group really needed Dale.

But no, they die, and we get to focus on Rick turning a world of zombies into his own persona soap opera.

Now the Governor is a character I can get into . . .

Bittersweet Comics by Justin Comley

Bittersweet Comics Volume 1


Bittersweet Comics

by

Justin Comley

____________________

man beating wife comic, art by justin comley

Copyright Justin Comley, 2012.

____________________

depressed man driving off cliff comic, art by Justin Comley

Copyright Justin Comley, 2012.

____________________

cat and buttered toast challenge comic, art by Justin Comley

Copyright Justin Comley, 2012.

____________________

brick wall around my heart comic, art by Justin Comley

Copyright Justin Comley, 2012.

____________________

jerk spoiling movie endings comic, art by Justin Comley

Copyright Justin Comley, 2012.

Pieces of Barry on a Coathanger


Contrary to what the title might imply, our beloved attorney Barry Schafer is not dead.  Strips of his flesh do not currently dangle from a coat hanger.  He’s alive and well and, as you know, about to unleash Hell upon the city of Louisville, if anyone is left alive for Book Two at all.  No, “Pieces of Barry” is an old short story.  Today I’m experiencing a little nostalgia after receiving a message from Matt saying he’d dug up some of the old recordings from the band we formed in high school and

uploaded one to Soundcloud.  That got me thinking about all the time I used to spend holed up in my attic-space bedroom cranking out short story after short story, only breaking to strap on a bass guitar and go make terrible noises with my friends, who were much better musicians than me.

Ceramic gun art by David Hellman

Recent work by David Hellman. Photo Copyright David Hellman, 2012.

Matt and I started a band in high school with our friend David Hellman, an amazing drummer who now has a master’s degree in ceramic arts.  We’ve all been friends for years.  In the summer of 2009, I rented a room from David for three weeks while I attended an advanced writing workshop at Western Kentucky University under the instruction of Pulitzer Prize-finalist Lee Martin.  A lot of Sailor Jerry’s rum bottles turned up empty during that time.

David and Matt were and still are serious musicians.  I was only in the band to pluck away a simple bass line.  I was writing my first novel at the time and wasn’t serious about playing music.  Still, we had a lot of fun.

This is the song Matt uploaded to Soundcloud.  It’s called “A Crash Downstairs” and is purely instrumental.  Remember, we were just kids.  Haha.

But our collaborative efforts didn’t stop with tape-recording our underdeveloped songs on my back deck or at night in the daycare David’s mom owned and operated.

Matt and I also wrote a short story together in high school, taking turns writing exactly one page apiece, sometimes leaving a sentence unfinished, until one of us brought it to conclusion.

stack of short stories by Winston Emerson

Stack of old stories.

“Pieces of Barry” told the tale of a man whose wife cheated on him with an attorney named Barry, who also turned out to be an alien.

When we started to develop the idea for The Object, I had no recollection of this link: that two projects Matt and I worked on together, ten years apart from one another, share a character named Barry, an attorney.

Now I’m sitting here in front of a stack of short stories six inches thick.  It’s been quite a while since I looked through them all.  Maybe I should go through them, find one I’m not ashamed to let people read, and post it on here by taking photos of every page.

Want to read a story I wrote in high school?  Let me know and I’ll start rooting through them.  I may even pick a few, give you a synopsis, and let you vote on which one you want to see.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like . . .


Here in Kentucky, we’re really starting to feel the change of the season.  Fall goes by so quickly and then suddenly snow starts hitting regions closer and closer to you, until finally something like this happens:

“He shut the living room light and crossed the room and wiped the frost from a window and peeked out.  Darkness so thick he couldn’t see the ground.  Snow fell in heavy curtains and it whisked and spun and danced and away it flitted formless into the void.  If eyes are out there in the windswept dark they see now a dull maroon square quivering in the air like a harvest moon and in that square a shadow small and black and entire.  The shadow begins at once to swell and dissolve of its form as its referent moves on.  Finally the light snuffs out of the darkness and there is nothing.” — A Circle in the Woods

The weather has me thinking a lot about A Circle in the Woods because this time last year I was racing to finish the book in time to submit it to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.

A lot of people on Facebook are posting daily status updates to note the things for which they are thankful and earn their slice of turkey come Thanksgiving.  I don’t read most of them, nor do I participate, but with so many cool things going on in my life, I suppose it’s proper to give my own shout out to the cosmos for aligning the world so perfectly these past few months.

Last year, I had no writing career whatsoever.  My life has changed dramatically.  I can feel myself getting closer and closer to being a full-time writer, and I have many people to thank for that, from the folks at Ereader News Today to my author cohorts like J. Eric Laing, from bestselling author Colleen Hoover to author/blogger Jeff Bennington.  All my friends and family who put up with my constant book talk.  The good people at Authonomy.  Matt and Justin.  Lots of people have helped me get to this point as a writer.

I’ve decided to do a Christmas Giveaway, which will include books, prints, and, if we get things aligned in time, some other cool stuff we’re cooking up.  If you’d like to be entered to win, all you have to do is comment here and say so.  You’ll also want to subscribe to the blog so you’ll be notified when I post the winners.

In the meantime, I’ll be mixing eggnog and Sailor Jerry’s spiced rum, with a little cinnamon and nutmeg sprinkled on top.

Winston

Need a Christmas gift for your reader friend?

Try The Object: Book One

Introducing “Bittersweet Comics”, a New Series at The Object


Bittersweet Comics by Justin Comley

Bittersweet Comics coming soon to The Object

Introducing Bittersweet Comics by Justin Comley

In 2009, The Object’s illustrator, Justin Comley, began working on a hand-drawn comic series called Bittersweet Comics.  Dark, disturbing, often hilarious, Justin would appear now and again with a few new frames to show his friends.  We all loved them, but with no idea how to make them available to more people, he moved on to other projects.

Luckily, his good friend and second cousin–yours truly–has devised a way to bring Justin some much-deserved exposure, so I’m happy to announce that we’ve got something new for you guys while you await Book Two: Bittersweet Comics, which we plan to post every Monday, indefinitely.

Bittersweet Comics are short, hand-sketched comic strips similar to those in the Sunday paper, only the content is intended for an adult audience.  The stories or images depict heartbreak, anger, frustration, and injustice, but not without a sprinkle of humor and hope.

We must warn you in advance that the subject matter can be pretty grim.  If you keep your reading and viewing content to a PG-13 level or lower, you might want to skip these posts.  Otherwise, we hope you enjoy them.  Stay tuned for the first ever Bittersweet Comics posting, coming up today!

A little about Justin:

Justin and I met as students of Western Kentucky University, both living in Pearce Ford Tower, the tallest dorm in Kentucky at 27 floors.  Eventually we got an apartment together, along with our horticulturist friend Rick Heavrin, who is now the head gardener at a famous author’s house.  (I actually went to visit him over the weekend.  Didn’t get to meet the famous author, tough.)  After living together for several months, Justin and I found out we’re actually second cousins.

His artwork ranges from landscapes to monsters of his creation to commissioned illustrations to the human form.

Justin featured in the Bowling Green Daily News

Justin’s blog: Trevor Inkwell

self-portrait using cardboard by Justin Comley

Copyright Justin Comley, 2012.

ARTWORK BY JUSTIN COMLEY

All images Copyright Justin Comley, 2008-2012.

"Homo Devoro" skull art by Justin Comley

“Homo Devoro”

"Ballerina" art by Justin Comley

“Ballerina”

waterfall art by Justin Comley

“Apophenia”

Behemoth underwater creature art by Justin Comley

“Behemoth”

skull and crawdad, book photo for A Circle in the Woods, Justin Comley

“Grave and Refuge”

plague doctor art by Justin Comley

“Plague Doctor”

The Object Interviews Author Paul Freeman


The Object’s author interview series continues with Paul Freeman, who’s here to tell us about his new book,  Tribesman.  Mr. Freeman also talks about why authors shouldn’t be afraid to self-publish, his experience on Authonomy (a popular online writer’s community), and is favorite scene from the new book.

author Paul FreemanWELCOME, PAUL FREEMAN!

Author of Tribesman

Winston: Tell us a little about yourself.  What made you decide to be a writer?

Paul: Well I’m from Dublin Ireland. I like to think I am a warrior, adventurer, and zombie hunter. All in my own head of course, but hey, it’s a fun place to be. Tribesman is my first novel to be published, it is an epic fantasy based around love, loss, betrayal and of course adventure. I have also recently signed a contract with Spore Press who will be releasing a horror novel I wrote with three other writers called, Season of the Dead, in spring 2013. A little while ago I was asked to contribute a short story to a steampunk anthology being published by a new press, Kristall Ink. That anthology is now out, it is called Strange Tales From The Scriptorium Vaults. I’d never written steampunk before, so as well as a challenge, that was a lot of fun.

To answer the second part, I’m not sure if I ever made a conscious decision to be a writer, it just sort of happened. As a kid I was always making up stories, and games, it was just a natural progression I suppose.

Winston: Who are some of your favorite authors?  Do you see some of their inspiration in your own work?

Paul: Oddly enough, although I do write fantasy, I don’t read all that much of it. Of the fantasy writers I’ve been inspired by I think David Gemmell stands out by a mile. I’ve also taken a lot of inspiration from mythology and ancient history. Anything to do with swords and magic and you have me hooked. I’m a big fan of Historical fiction, among my favourites are Bernard Cornwell and Robert Low. If even a touch of their style and class has rubbed off on me I will be more than delighted.

 Winston: You’re a member of the HarperCollins writing community Authonomy.com.  What was your experience like there?

Paul: I had a very positive experience on Authonomy. When I first joined and uploaded my novel, Taxi, I was very green, and new very little about the publishing world. Not just writing technique, but more mundane things like correct formatting, how to approach agents and publishers, or not to as the case may be. I made a lot of friends through the site, learned a hell of a lot from them, and realized there are thousands upon thousands of people just like me all over the world. I also learned that everybody has an opinion, and that while it is great to get advice, and share knowledge, knowing which to take and who to trust is key.

On a more practical level, to the best of my knowledge I am still the only person to have made the ‘editors desk’ with two books in the same month. In fact while on my way to the desk I was approached by three publishers asking me to submit Tribesman, one of them eventually offered me a contract. No offers for Taxi, although it received a very positive review from Harper Collins.

Winston: Tell us a little about Tribesman, how it came to be, and what kinds of readers would enjoy it.

Paul: Tribesman is an, old school, epic fantasy, with a grittier edge. I love adventure stories, and Tribesman is an adventure. A warrior banished from his homeland because of a dark deed, sets out upon a mission to rescue a merchant’s daughter. Along the way he meets a girl from a race of desert nomads, together they battle demons, men, and the warrior’s own dark god, bent on controlling him.

I like my heroes to be flawed, to forever balance on the edge between dark and light, and that is what Culainn is, a complex hero with a code of honour that may not always match the values of others. In real life bad things happen to good people, and good people do bad things, so it is in what I write.

I think anyone who enjoys a good story and seeks escapism, From Lord of the Rings fans, and Robert E Howard, through David Gemmell, to fans of Brent Weeks and George RR Martin will like Tribesman.

Winston: Describe your favorite scene from the book and tell us why it sticks out to you.

Paul: In Tribesman, the war god of the north, Culainn’s homeland, is called Morrigu. I based her loosely on a figure from Celtic mythology, The Morrigan. She can take any shape but prefers that of an old crone, or a dark raven. In one particular scene, Culainn is helping defend a town from an attack by an army of desert nomads. The besiegers break into the town and kill everyone but Culainn.  He is in the town square surrounded by his enemies, when a raven swoops down and lands on a body at his feet. I have a really strong visual of that scene, I’d love to see it played out in film.

 ~ ~ ~ ~

Out of nowhere a raven swooped down and stood proud on top of a corpse at the warrior’s feet. It pecked at a gaping wound in the chest extracting a long crimson string. With the morsel hanging from its beak it flapped its wings and flew up to perch on the snarling warrior’s shoulder. He could see fear mixed with awe cross the faces of the nomads. The white sea parted then, leaving a gap for a dark shadow-like figure to float through. The mage. Culainn spat and waited.

“They fear you and what protects you,” the bald mage rasped, his emotions hidden. He brought a long tube up to his lips and blew into it. Culainn felt a sting on his cheek, like an insect bite. And then he was falling.

He tumbled through the darkness. An image materialized of a warrior armored in a chainmail shirt, his face a mask of horror covered in blood, his hair matted to his head in gore, his arms soaked red from his enemies. A sword in each hand, on his shoulder perched a raven, croaking a triumphant song of defiance. He knew the warrior, recognised the face that would strike terror into the hearts of all men. His name was death.

Warrior born.

~ ~ ~ ~

Winston: You went with Cogwheel Press to publish Tribesman.  How has your experience been with this small press publisher?

Paul: Pretty good. I went in with my eyes open. I understood a small publisher would never be in a position to give the same sort of marketing and distribution support as a major publisher. Obviously the ultimate goal would be to see the book on bookshelves around the world, but it’s a start and I realize most of the marketing will be down to me. However it’s a great boost to have a publisher albeit a small one prepared to put their money behind you, to have faith in you and your work. The contract I have is also a lot more generous than I would ever get from a major publisher, of course that is all relative, but yeah I’m happy with them. The small group of authors and editors we have are like a family, all supporting one another. Hopefully we can all grow together.

Winston: The publishing world has changed a lot in the past couple of years with advancements in self-publishing, so much that for the first time ever independent authors are attaining success.  What’s your opinion on self-publishing?  Yay or nay?

Paul: Yay for sure. I think it’s great that so much control is now in the hands of authors, they no longer need to stuff their jiffy envelope with reams of paper and wait six months or longer on a yes or no from an agent or publisher. It’s also great for readers. Now the market can decide what it likes, not a bunch of faceless executives following or inventing trends. On the downside, it means there are a lot of vanity projects that maybe would not have otherwise being published, but I think in time it will balance out and the quality will show. I’ve read some fantastic books by self-published authors, including Circle in the Woods, I might add. Eric Laing springs immediately to mind and several others. There’s a lot of rubbish out there too, but there’s a lot of rubbish put out by publishers also.  I think the cream will rise to the top.

Winston: Where should our readers go if they want to learn more about you and stay updated on your new releases?

Paul: You can follow my blog for updates and occasional short stories I post, find me on GoodreadsFacebook, and Twitter, or be really nice and buy me on Amazon. At the moment Tribesman is only available for Kindle, but should be out in paperback by the end of November.

Tribesman on Amazon.com

Tribesman on Amazon.co.uk

Winston: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at The Object.  We’ll leave you with one final question related to our particular area of focus: do you believe in aliens?

 

Paul: Yeah sure. Maybe not as in little green men in spaceships, but I’m sure somewhere out there, there is a planet with life, maybe they are more advanced, or maybe on a par, or even behind us. But I’m sure there is life out there somewhere. It would feel kind of lonely otherwise.

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Tribesman, a novel by Paul Freeman

Tribesman, available on Amazon

the object book one by louisville author winston emerson

Some Sleep This Month? No?


The past three weeks have been insane.  I set myself a tough deadline for finishing and publishing The Object: Book One along with scheduling guest posts and interviews to help promote it.  Now that I’m done with everything, it’s time to kick back and relax for a while before undertaking my next project, right?

Wrong.  I’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  I tried last year and failed, but with the writing marathon I endured in October, I think it’ll be pretty easy to keep up the momentum.  (Though I am three days and 5000 words behind already.  Hoping to catch up today.)

A while back, I asked you guys which book you think I should write next.  You can see the results here.  If you haven’t voted on this poll yet, please do.  While I’ve already decided what I’m going to write this month, your vote will help me decide what to begin working on in December.  (In January, I’ll be committing myself to Book Two of The Object.  I plan to have the entire novel done before the first episode posts this time.)

I’ll be posting updates on my word count and maybe some sneak peeks at the story.  I won’t tell you which book I’m writing yet.  The voting I mentioned above is pretty close, and I’d like to see some more opinions weigh in first.

Check out my interviews at LouisvilleKY.com and Tales of the Wolf Queen and also my guest post at JadeKerrion.com.

Today is the Day!


That’s right.  The Object: Book One will be available in a matter of hours.  We’re just waiting on it to finish processing with Amazon.  I’ll have more on that later (along with a link to the book).  Right now I have to go to work, which sucks because I haven’t slept since the night before last.  I’m just excited and wanted to post something quickly.  I’m going to need a long nap later.

Woohoo!

53 Hours Until It’s Over


The good news is in 53 hours I can stop talking about it.  I just hope we cross the finish line.  The Kickstarter campaign has racked up $715 of our $1,000 goal.  We need $285 more in the next 53 hours.  With a few promised pledges on the way, we still have a chance to make it, but these won’t get us all the way there.

If you haven’t pledged but think you might be willing, take a look at the rewards we’re giving.  This is our final plea.  The next post you’ll read concerning this campaign will be the results, and then we’ll move on to more interesting things.

Fingers crossed.

Winston

Stepping It Up–Followers, Please Read


We’ve passed the halfway point in the campaign with less than seven days to go, and right now we’re exactly halfway to our goal with $500.

This sounds great, but $500 of $1000 is actually $0.  So to encourage you guys to throw us a bone, I’m making a modification to a few of the reward tiers.  I can’t make these changes on the campaign itself (you can’t edit a tier that has already been pledged), but I hope you’ll trust me to make good on these modifications, or else you probably shouldn’t be subscribed to my blog.  Haha.

Here they are the modifications:

For a $3 pledge I will send you a digital copy of all my books, including those published under the pseudonym Lily White.  These can be in any ereader format or in PDF.

For a $15 pledge, I will send you digital copies of all the books along with your paperback of The Object: Book One.

For a $40 pledge, you will receive the two paperbacks promised for the $35 pledge, digital copies of all books, and a print of any illustration from the current episodes.

Visit Kickstarter Page

If you can’t tell, we’re really counting on this Kickstarter campaign completing.  This is our chance to turn the city of Louisville on to the story and gain the local following we need in order for the story to grow.  The great thing is that you, as a reader, will benefit from this in a big way.  With popularity in Louisville, we’ll be able to attract some of the better artistic and musical talent in the area to collaborate with us and make your reading experience so much better.

We appreciate your participation in The Object, and we really do want to be able to offer this story to you for free.  That’s the whole idea of this thing, and it’s one of the reasons I run free promotions on Amazon so much (that and the guaranteed sales boosts thereafter, which provide the income to comfortably run this blog and serial).

But we hope you’ll understand that we’re just getting off the ground, and we need help.  We won’t ask you for money again.

Thanks everyone.

Winston

If you make a modified donation, submit your name and email here so I can contact you when the campaign ends.

News, Updates, and Other Fun Stuff


The Object has had quite a day!  We’ve landed a sponsorship from Costello Stone, a Bowling Green-based stonemason company whose work appears all over Southern Kentucky, including places like Western Kentucky University and Baker Arboretum.

I’m talking to several bookstores and it looks like we’ll have widespread opportunity for this tour, as long as our Kickstarter campaign meets its $1,000 goal.  We’ve climbed up to $353, by the way!  An unbelievable response so far.  The only thing we can do now is wait and see what happens!

We’ve also had the fortune to gain two pretty large cash pledges from local supporters, which will secure an immediate purchase of some paperbacks, so the good news now is that even if the Kickstarter campaign fails, we’ll still have enough paperbacks for our first signing, and if we do well there, we can use the money to order more and do another.

I also wanted to let you know there’s a Reader Decision poll at the end of Episode Eleven, which I posted last night.  In the poll are five characters, and you can vote for which of them you most want to see live long enough to get to Book Two.  Vote by choosing your favorite in the poll and then sharing the episode on Facebook or Twitter with the corresponding status/tweet.

I guess that’s all for now, except that I may be posting Episode Twelve tonight or tomorrow.  I’ll be on and off Facebook and Twitter tonight, so if you have any questions about the Kickstarter campaign or Book One, feel free to message me at either place or email me using the form on the Contact page.

Thank you for contributing to such an exciting week!

Winston

Episode Eleven, The Object: Book One

Episode Eleven


The Object: a free serial novel

Episode Eleven: “Is That You, Sprinkles?”

Want to comment as you read?  Open this episode’s discussion thread.

~ ~ ~ ~

            This was pointless.  Why didn’t he just go back to the van and drive around to look for the cat?  He was easily a mile from where he’d parked with no clue how to get back.  He’d made so many turns, ducking through alleyways and the back yards of dilapidated houses and duplexes, chasing shadows and investigating sounds that might have been meows.

Where was he now?  Fifteen Street?  Sixteenth?  Even with two handguns stuffed into his pants and a shotgun resting on his shoulder, he didn’t feel safe.

The alien that had eaten those children was gone for now.  He’d watched it swim back up to the bowels of the mother ship.  But the thing Sprinkles had fought, that slow-roasted zombie with superpowers, he could be anywhere.  Crouched on a rooftop, peeking through a dark window, hiding up in the tree where Roger now stopped to take a leak, right in front of a tiny blue house.

At least some light was returning.  An upside-down dawn, the orange sun falling below the object’s horizon and sinking fast to the rim of the Earth.  Then real night would fall, and Roger didn’t want to be in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

He didn’t want to be in this city at all.  The military had blocked off all the roads, but there were still plenty of ways to escape.  He could swim across the Ohio River into Indiana.  Or maybe head west.  Follow Muhammad Ali Boulevard all the way out to Shawnee park and then follow the riverbank all the way down to where it bumped up against Dixie Highway.  He could bypass any military barricade, maybe stop off at one of the strip clubs in the area, then head down to Highway 44 and follow it back to Mount Washington.  It would only be about a fifty mile walk.  Why not?

He didn’t want to call out to Sprinkles, as much trouble as that had caused him earlier.  This time Sprinkles might not be around to blast the area with his supersonic meow.

Maybe with Sprinkles, he could just stroll right through the barricades.  Maybe Sprinkles could sweep tanks off the interstate like a leaf blower clearing a sidewalk.

Of course, he had to find the cat first.

Every instinct he possessed told him to turn around and bolt for the van, but he kept walking deeper into the bad part of town, farther and farther from safety, if safety were more than a fairytale told to keep children from wetting the bed at night.

Maybe that’s what kept him searching.  Under the object, no place proffered any greater comfort than another.  The only thing that kept his blood pressure down and his fear in check was that damned cat, who couldn’t sit still if all the mice in the world were his reward.

Roger zipped his pants and stepped down to the sidewalk.  Whatever road he was one stretched as far as he could see in either direction, lined with houses on both sides.  Not much tree coverage.  There were quite a few cars parked on the curbs, which meant a lot of people hadn’t fled the city in this area.

He heard a cough across the street and noticed someone was sitting in a small porch enclosure in the house opposite where he’d just peed.  A red ember from a cigarette flitted in the dark like a lightning bug.

“You lookin’ for somethin’, buddy?”  The voice of an old black man.

“My cat,” Roger said.

“What you got in your hand there?”

“A shotgun.”

“Prob’ly need one ’round here,” the old man said.  “You don’t need nothin’?  I got anything you’re lookin’ for.”

“No thanks,” Roger said.  In truth, the offer was enticing.  Roger had quite a history with cocaine.  That’s why he didn’t have a wife to go home to.  He could even go for a joint right now, but alien invasions and paranoia don’t mix well.  He came across the street, closer to the old man.  “You haven’t seen a white cat around here, have you?”

“No suh,” the old man said.  “Seen a raccoon little bit ago.  Knocked over that trashcan there behind you.  I seen somethin’ else, too.”

“What was it?”

The old man laughed.  “Ain’t confident I can describe it.  It was pink, I think.  Looked kinda like a jellyfish, floatin’ through the air, ‘cept it changed shapes.  You know like a jelly fish does, fans its body out to push itself along.  Looked like a jellyfish one minute, then it looked like a blanket, then it rolled itself up and looked like a bolt of lightning, just sittin’ there.  It come as close as where you’re standin’.”

Roger looked about himself, up at the sky, all around the neighborhood.  Then he turned back to the old man.  “What did it do?”

“Oh not a thang, son” he said.  “I’d venture it was friendly enough a spirit.  I said hello.  Then it went on about its way.”

“A spirit?”

“Yes suh, couldn’t be nothin’ else.  You could see right through it.  Looked like it wasn’t made of nothin’ but light.  Now you tell me if somethin’ like that ain’t a spirit.”

Roger wanted to leave, not because of the old man but because he could hear people shouting in the distance.  Maybe they’d encountered the pink jellyfish spirit, and maybe it turned out not to be so friendly.

“Can you tell me what street this is?”

“Hale Avenue.  I’ve lived here 47 years.”

“How would I go about getting to Muhammad Ali Boulevard?”

“Well now,” the old man said, standing up slowly.  He came down off the porch putting his hand in his pocket and producing a soft pack of cigarettes.  He lit one and pointed to the right.  “You wanna go all the way down to the end.  That’s 15th Street.  You wanna go left and go–oh, I don’t know how far.  It’ll take you to Muhammad.  You ain’t from around here?”

“Mount Washington.”

“Country boy,” the old man said.  “I hear you Bullitt County folk don’t like black people.”

Roger smiled nervously, embarrassed.  “Hey, we’re not all the same,” he said.

The old man chuckled.

Then the gunshots started.

~ ~ ~ ~

Sprinkles watched the shootout from under a hedge bush.  Ten humans shooting at two other humans.  Police.  Staci had watched police on the television every night, though they had just been moving shapes to Sprinkles then.  Now Sprinkles understood things better.  He understood humans when they spoke.

He understood that he was dying, and there wasn’t much time.

One of the police fell down and was bleeding.  He wanted to help them like he’d helped the man Roger.  His intention had only been to hiss, but something else had happened.  A great wind had come out of his mouth to knock the humans over.  Then he’d found the other man.  Ted, whom he needed to kill.  He didn’t know why.  He only knew Ted was bad, and his need to kill Ted allowed him to move big things with his thoughts.

But doing so had made him sick.  His body wasn’t strong enough for what now lived inside him.  He had to find her.  The girl.  He could see her in the back of his mind.  He could feel her.  She would know what to do.

Sprinkles crawled out from under the bush and ran up the street.  As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t help the police.  It might kill him.

And he had to find her.

~ ~ ~ ~

The phone rang while Barry was in the shower.  It rang again when he came out in nothing but a towel.  He knew it was his brother before he even answered.  Barry had invited him over for drinks, and Derek was the type of person to call ten times before arriving.  For the sake of preparedness, for the sake of pissing Barry off.

He picked it up and said, “Damn it, Derek, what?”

“Just thought I’d let you know there’s a warrant out for Hayden,” Derek said.

“For what?”

“Assault.  He beat the shit out of Louis.”

“Louis who?”

“Wesley.  The doctor.  Remember?  You played golf with him last month.”

Barry sighed and pulled the towel off his waist to dry his bald head.  “Tell me something, Derek, do I give a shit about anything you’re saying?”

“Just thought I’d let you know,” Derek said.  “I’m on my–”

Barry hung up and went to the bedroom to get dressed.  He had his pants on when the doorbell rang.  The girls he’d ordered from the escort service, unless Derek had called from the parking lot.  He came out and answered the door.  A tall blonde and a shorter brunette, both in tight white mini dresses.

“You’re Barry?” the brunette asked.

Barry smiled and nodded.  He put his hand on the door frame and leaned forward, studying both their bodies.  “Either of you girls know how to cook?”

The brunette curled her brow, but the blonde kept smiling and nodded emphatically.

“Good,” Barry said.  “I’ll be right back.”

He closed the door on them, relishing the confused and angry expression on the brunette’s face as he jogged to the kitchen.

He reached down, hooked his hands under his dead wife’s arms, and dragged her stiffening body into the bedroom, where he deposited her in the walk-in closet and closed the door.  Then he returned to the living room, opened the door, and invited the girls in.

“That was rude,” the brunette said.

“Apologies, ladies, I’m a little scattered today,” Barry said.  “What are your names?”

“Sheila,” the blonde quickly responded.  “This is Hailey.”

“You look lovely, both of you,” Barry said.  He clapped his hands together.  “Okay, first order of business.  I’ve got four t-bone steaks in the fridge.  I like mine rare and so does my brother.”

“Your brother’s coming?” Sheila asked.

“Yes, and I’ll warn you right now, he’s an asshole.”

“Must run in the family,” Hailey said.  She stepped past him to the kitchen.  Barry watched her walk, her dress clinging tight to her thighs, so high up a shorter person could probably see her ass.

He turned back to Sheila and said, “Gotta grab my shirt.”

When he went to the bedroom, she followed him.

“Sorry about that,” she whispered.  “Hailey’s been in a bad mood all day.  I think she’s having boyfriend troubles.”

“In your line of work, I imagine so.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing.”  He put his shirt on and when he started buttoning it Sheila stepped up and took over.

“You can report her if you want,” Sheila said.  “They’ll send another girl.”

“Not necessary,” Barry said.  “I like a girl with an attitude.”

Sheila frowned deliberately.  “I can be mean, too.”

He smiled.  “I’m sure you can.”

“No, really.  I can be way more mean than Hailey.”

With the shirt buttoned, Barry headed out of the room and Sheila trailed him so close he could feel her behind him.

“I can be whatever you want,” she said.

He was getting annoyed.  “I like you just the way you are,” he said, half distracted.  “There’s nothing wrong with being nice.”

“You should try it sometime, then,” Hailey said.  She had emerged from the kitchen carrying a glass of bourbon on the rocks.

When she put it to her lips, Barry said, “Is that for me?”

She stopped, lowered the glass, and then thrust it out at him.  He stepped up to her, smiling.

“You’re feisty, aren’t you?”

“Only when I’m around rude assholes who think I’m a cook,” she said.

“Is a cook a step down from a hooker?”

“I’m not a damn hooker.”

“What?” Sheila said.  “Yes you are!”

“Well so are you,” Hailey said.

“I know!”

Barry laughed for a moment but when the girls started raising their voices he said, “Hey, hey, shut up, both of you.  Are those steaks done yet?  What the hell am I paying you for?”

“Not to cook,” Hailey said.

“Well then make yourself a drink, sit down, and shut up.  Sheila, get to cooking.”

“No problem, I’m on it,” Sheila said, giving Hailey a mean face as she passed by.

Hailey’s mood had improved drastically by the time Derek arrived.  She downed five glasses of bourbon, becoming less and less testy with each gulp.  Barry sat with her for a time, listening to her whine about her loser boyfriend, some kid who worked in the office of the escort service.  She had him convinced she didn’t sleep with her clients, but apparently someone had spilled the beans.

“I’m pretty sure it was her,” Hailey whispered, pointing in the direction of the kitchen, from which came the sounds of sizzling meat and Sheila’s rather impressive singing.  She must have wanted to become a vocalist but let the wrong guy lead her down the wrong path.  Barry had seen it before.  A singer is told she should be a model.  A model is told she should pose nude, that it will help her career.  Next up is stripping.  Then this, if you’re lucky enough to land an escort gig in lieu of standing on a corner.

A pity for Sheila in particular, as she had real, raw talent.  Barry had planned to kill both these girls tonight, but he decided he would keep Sheila around for a while.

He looked at Hailey, who was still rambling about Sheila’s betrayal, and began to snicker.  Hailey didn’t know it, but Sheila just saved her life.

“What’s so funny?” Hailey asked.

“Nothing,” Barry said.  The doorbell rang and he stood.  “Sorry.  I was just remembering something funny that happened yesterday.”

“So you weren’t listening to me?”

“I was, I promise.”

He opened the door.  Derek pushed his way in quickly, a disgruntled expression on his face, but stopped when he saw Hailey.  He looked at Barry, smiled, and slapped him on the arm.  “Didn’t know we had company,” he said.  “Is that steak cooking?”

“T-bones,” Hailey said.  She stood, wobbling, and came up to Derek to introduce herself.

Barry left them and went to the kitchen.  Now he definitely wasn’t going to kill them.  Sheila had set the table and was preparing a full dinner.  Salad, asparagus, twice-baked potatoes with bacon and sour cream, stuffed Portobello mushrooms, and a cheese cake.

“How the hell did you manage all this so quickly?”

“I went to culinary school for a year and a half,” she said.  “I dropped out when my mom died.”

“Sullivan?”

“Yep.”

“You have an amazing voice,” he said.  “You could have had a career in music.”

Sheila smiled, but she had sadness in her eyes.  “Thank you.”

“Why didn’t you pursue it?”

She shrugged and returned to cooking.  Barry refilled his glass with bourbon and made a drink for Derek.  Then he called him out to the balcony so they could speak in private.

“Where’s Whitney?” Derek asked when he stepped out into the cool evening air.

“She went to her sister’s,” Barry said.

They sat in the patio chairs.

“Probably a good thing.  You hear what’s been happening today?”

“Aside from that?” Barry said, pointing up at the object.

“The shootings,” Derek said.  “Bunch of west end gangs are crawling through the city like cockroaches killing every cop they can find.  Now they’re hitting fire departments, too.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Engines 16, 17, and 18 so far.”

Barry was surprised.  It’s not often you get more than you pay for.  “Who’s behind it?”

“Hell if I know,” Derek said.  “We sent out a 10-19 to all units, brought them in, gave out every unmarked we have available.  But we’ve still got dozens of cruisers on patrol, and the state boys think they can handle themselves.  They’re all sitting ducks.”

“Maybe you should go on vacation.”

“Wish I could.  That’s how I came to find out about Hayden.  Went to the hospital to see a couple of our boys and saw Louis beat all to hell.  He was mad, too.”  Derek began to laugh.  “Hayden must have jarred his brain loose ’cause he was talking about this girl who came in earlier.  Teenage girl, real cute he said.  Claims she was floating in midair.”  Now he was laughing to the point of hysterics.  “So serious, too.  I mean, Louis is a prankster from way back, but I swear he actually believed what he was saying.”

Barry sat forward.  “He said a girl was floating?  In the hospital?”

“In the ER waiting room.  You should see his face, Barry.  Looks like a damn eggplant!  He probably has a skull fracture, loopy bastard.  Thinks the girl has an alien inside her.”

“Who was this girl?  What was her name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Was she admitted?”

“Don’t know that either.  Why don’t you ask Hayden?  Louis said they left together.  Maybe she’s his girlfriend.  He’s got a girlfriend, don’t he?”

“I don’t keep up with my son’s love life.”

“I thought Whitney told me he did.  Or maybe that was Johnny’s kid.”  Derek sighed.  “Johnny’s dead, by the way.  Him and half my other guys.  This thing’s big enough to call in the national guard, but you can’t get in touch with anybody right now.  Federal government’s shutting us down, Barry, sealing us off.  Doesn’t look good.”

“What do you think they’re planning?”

Derek stood and approached the rail.  He craned his neck upward and studied the object.  “To be honest, I think they’re scared shitless.  I think they’re scrambling to figure out a way to communicate with that thing, and if it doesn’t happen in the next day or two, they’re going to launch a nuke at us.”

“Bullshit,” Barry said, standing.  “That won’t happen.  They’ve seen enough movies to know that thing’s technology has to be light years ahead of ours–or else it wouldn’t be here.  They detonate a nuke, we’ll all be fried and that thing will still be sitting there.”

“They’re gonna do it, Barry.  Mark my word.”

“Not in this day and age.”

“Day and age?  What the hell are you talking about, man?  It’s a new day, a new age.  We’re not dealing with domestic terrorists here.  Have you even put any thought into what that thing is?”

Sheila appeared at the door and said, “Dinner’s ready.”

“Okay, babe,” Barry said.  He stepped up next to Derek and Derek looked at him.

“Well?  Have you?”

“It’s a spaceship,” Barry said.  “So what?  It’s not the freakin’ Death Star.  If it was here to blow shit up, it wouldn’t have picked Louisville.  It would have picked New York or LA or Tokyo.  And there’d be more of them.  Unless it has a one-punch super-weapon that’ll blow up the entire planet, in which case there’s nowhere to go, so why plan for it?  Why not live today like you’re going to see tomorrow?  Whatever that thing is, it’s given us the opportunity of a lifetime.  We can rob this city until it’s naked wearing a whiskey barrel.  No one’s here to stop us, and no one’s here to see it go down.  Open your eyes, Derek.”

“My eyes are open,” Derek said, “and you know what I see?  ICBMs.  They’ve already got them pointed at us.  Right now there’s some young military tech. kid sitting in a little room waiting for the go code.  And that little shit’s eager to push the button.  It’s the American way, Barry.  You don’t understand something so you drop a bomb on it.  Lady Liberty’s got crosshairs in her eyeballs and today she’s looking at us.  You bet your ass.  We need to get out of this city pronto.”

Barry laughed deliberately, though in truth he believed Derek might be right.  The sky could light up at any moment and reduce him to vapor.  But if he could get his hands on whatever was attached to that man’s head he saw today, the military blockades wouldn’t be able to hold him.  That man had flung cars around like Hot Wheels, and from the looks of him he was half dead.

But Barry was strong, in mind and in body.  If he had that kind of power, maybe he could leap from Main Street to Evansville in a single leap.  Maybe he could stop a nuke in midair and send it straight to D.C.

He just had to find the guy and figure out a way to kill him.

Or he could find the girl.

Derek had gone silent.  Still staring up at the object.

It was everything Barry could do not to push him over the balcony right now.  Derek always had been a scared, paranoid freak.  In college he’d spent most of his time developing conspiracy theories and losing girlfriends because he couldn’t shut up about the ruling class and their plots of mass genocide.

When they were kids, Barry used to sneak over to the high school gym and shut himself in one of the unused lockers in the girls’ locker room.  Not only did he get to see all the girls naked, but he also learned all kinds of scandalous information from their gossiping.  One girl, Lindsey Strange, was cheating on her boyfriend with her math teacher, Mr. Parker.  She read a note he’d written her to all the other girls, and when they all left the locker room for gym class, he stole the note and used it to blackmail Mr. Parker repeatedly.  He got a new bike out of the deal, then money.  Next he approached Lindsey and made her strip naked in front of him.  He made her get a really short haircut, which earned her so much ridicule at school that she quit the cheerleading team.  Mr. Parker found another job and moved away, and Barry spent two years wearing Lindsey down to the point that she fell in love with him.  She sat with him on the school bus.  She started coming to his house under the pretense of tutoring him in advanced mathematics.  She went from being his own personal slave to being his girlfriend.

It was all culminating to Barry’s ultimate plan, losing his virginity to her, but Derek ruined everything.  He’d always suspected something was wrong with Barry’s and Lindsey’s relationship.  The first of his conspiracy theories, as it were.  Sure enough, one day when Derek stayed home sick from school he went snooping in Barry’s room and found the note.  Then he slowly began to piece everything together.  He found out where Mr. Parker had moved to and called him.  Mr. Parker explained everything, and then Derek ratted Barry out to their parents, Lindsey’s parents, and the school principal.  Barry was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for thirty days and when he returned Lindsey was gone, having been yanked out of school by her parents and sent to an all-girls catholic school for her junior and senior year.

Barry had hated his brother ever since, and on top of aspiring to one day kill him, he’d also set the goal to sleep with every one of Derek’s girlfriends and as of now had an eighty percent success rate, including Derek’s wife.

“Let’s eat,” Barry said, turning toward the balcony door.

Derek didn’t respond.  He was still staring at the object.

Barry snapped his fingers.  “Hey, Dr. Strangelove, we eating or what?”

“Yeah,” Derek said, distantly.  “Whatever you say, boss.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Roger spotted Sprinkles coming out from under a bush and as the cat scampered up 15th Street, he was left with two choices: stay and help the woman cop whose partner lay on the ground bleeding profusely and screaming, or slip away unnoticed and chase after Sprinkles.

Neither option sounded appealing.  If he ran away, he would carry more guilt than he thought he could live with.  If he stayed, he might never see the cat again.

It’s just a stupid cat, his ex-wife would say right now.  Nina hated cats.  She hated all animals.  That was her term of endearment for Roger on his worse days–the days of fighting, late nights, her discovery of drug paraphernalia above the bathroom medicine cabinet, the time he brought home a girl from a bar when Nina was supposed to be pulling a double at the hospital, the day he punched his supervisor at the warehouse and got fired.  You’re an animal, Roger!  You behave like an animal!

He didn’t argue.  She was right.  That’s why he didn’t fight her when she hired that big bald-headed attorney and took everything except the ’93 Taurus that hadn’t been driven in two years.  He could have had his half, or more, after discovering she’d been sleeping with the guy throughout the divorce proceedings, but he blamed himself for that.  It was over.  There was nothing he could do.

Kind of like this situation.  Sprinkles was already out of sight and he didn’t see which way he went.  He only had one option left: save the lady cop.

The gang members stood like a firing squad in the street from one curb to the other, unloading clip after clip into the squad car, shooting wildly.  They looked like they had plenty of experience holding their guns in cool and intimidating ways but little experience actually target shooting.

Behind the car, the lady cop crouched next to the back wheel, covering her head and crying out, “Please!  Pleeease!

The other officer, a young light-skinned black man with corn-rolled hair, lay flat on his back, his chest spurting blood.  His right hand reached upward and swatted repeatedly, as though a fly were pestering him.

Roger surveyed the scene, the houses and buildings in the area.  The squad car sat diagonally in the intersection of 15th and Hale Avenue.  Roger was hiding behind the house at the corner, on the right side of Hale, facing 15th.  Far down the street behind him, the old man stood out in his yard, probably smoking another cigarette, watching the events unfold.  The gang members stood on 15th Street up ahead and to the left.  On the other side of the street where they stood were two houses not ten feet apart.  That was the spot.  That’s where he needed to be.  He had a plan.

In order to get there unnoticed, he ran across Hale Avenue, jumped the short, rusty cyclone fence, crossed the back yard of the house opposite the ones where he was headed, between which ten men with guns continued to pierce the squad car with .9mm rounds, and came around the side, staying low, until he reached the front.

He peeked around the corner.  Luckily no one had spotted him.  He was very close to the men now and realized some of them were just boys, the youngest of them not even in high school yet.  Most of them held their guns sideways with one hand.  Several stabbed their guns at the air as they fired.  Terrible shooting.  At least Roger had one advantage.

Now came the scary part.  He had to get across the street, and short of circumventing a block’s worth of houses and running the risk of them deciding to advance on the car, his only choice was to stay low and cross the street directly behind them.  This was nothing like the shooter games he spent so much time playing.  The gunfire was deafening, the clank of bullets on metal so impactful the fear of being shot consumed him.  If just one of those boys so much as detected movement in his periphery . . . game over.

Roger rose from his crouched position, readied his gun, and stepped out into the open.

To be continued . . .

Read Episode Twelve

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