The Hope of Annihilation

When the trailer for Annihilation dropped last month I went to the library that day to pick up the book it was based on. I finished it in three days. It was a giddy reading experience. I stayed up late reading and took the book with me out in public on the off chance that I’d have a moment to sit down and read some more pages. I finished it in three days.

I went back to the library looking for other books by the same author. I came home with Borne.

I like Borne. It is very much in the same style as Annihilation, half-explained monstrosities, impossible in our world, yet existing in our world nevertheless. Even the characters are very similar, both of them intrepid women who once loved the mysteries of the sea.

But Borne hasn’t grabbed me like Annihilation did. In Annihilation the characters were venturing into a landscape they didn’t understand, maybe couldn’t understand. They were explorers, tasked with unraveling the mysteries of this place that had swallowed up so many explorers before them without trace.

Borne has none of that sense of exploration. The impossible world simply is. The protagonist has lived in it long enough that she has stopped questioning the nature of the things around her. She knows she has no hope of finding the answers, so she focuses instead on surviving.

There’s something draining about the book. Reading it is less an adventure and more of an ordeal. It’s not that I dislike it, but it makes me realize that there is something in the act of trying to solve a mystery that is inherently hopeful. Even if all aspects of the mystery are never revealed, even if the answers could never be understood, the search for those answers is an artifact of hope, hope that things can be understood, that life can be untangled into some kind of understandable order.

When Pandora opened her bottle and let out all the demons into the world there was one creature left behind. Hope. I’ve always loved the ambiguity of the ending of that story. Is Hope a cruel force in the world, just like malice and selfishness and pride, driving humanity on through bad times into worse? Or is it the balancing factor, the antidote to set right Pandora’s mistake? I tend to think the latter.

At least I hope it is.

Monstrous Molly and the Lonely Zombie

Molly smelled the zombie before she heard it.

At first she thought it was the smell of some dead animal that her shovel had unearthed as she dug. It made her squidge up her nose in disgust, but for a while she kept on digging.

The hole was looking better than any hole she’d ever dug before. By now it was twice as tall as she was and the walls were almost perfectly vertical. They formed a circle six feet in diameter. The dirt was solid and held together well, and when she looked up she could see roots sticking out of the sides like bony fingers and bits of hair.

She liked the digging. I helped her forget. Forget about the fire. Forget about school. Forget about everything.

She heard the zombie before she saw him.

He wheezed and moaned as he approached, and her first reaction was anger. Why would people not leave her alone? She went out of her way not to be in theirs. She had tramped back through these woods for twenty minutes before she picked this spot to dig.

She knew people didn’t like her. It was because of the fire, what the flames had done. The doctor said he could fix her face, but Pappy said that even if he had that kind of money he wouldn’t spend it on a kid that wasn’t even his. Momma didn’t like it when Pappy said that, but Momma was in prison after the fire, so she was with Pappy and that was that.

Pappy said she was a monster. “Like some freak out of some horror movie, ain’t she?” he’d told his friends one night when they were getting drunk and loud. Molly knew all about horror movies. She had watched them all the time when Momma was around. She had a big binder full of DVDs that had belonged to Momma and late at night after Pappy had gone to bed she would sit in her room and watch guts splatter and the blood spray until she couldn’t keep her eyes open any more.

She knew little kids weren’t supposed to watch those kinds of movies, but even when she was scared of the things on the screen it made her think of Momma, made her remember curling up on the couch and falling asleep in her arms.

The moaning got louder, and Molly started to worry. She took the rusty shovel she’d found in Pappy’s old tool shed and tossed it out over her head. Then she grabbed the knotted rope she’d tied to a tree, and pulled herself out. She was still climbing out of the hole, legs scrabbling against dirt, hands clenching the rope when she saw the zombie. It was only twenty feet away, but it was facing away from her, maybe staring after some squirrel that it had seen skittering through the leaves.

She knew it was a zombie right off. She’d seen enough of them in the movies to know what a zombie looked like; tattered clothes, rotting flesh, the low almost guttural moan that escaped its lips when it breathed out.

But this zombie was alone. In the movies zombies came in big packs that would surround the heroes and try to eat them. That’s what made them so dangerous. But one zombie alone…even she could deal with him.

She climbed out of the hole as quietly as possible, and picked up the shovel. It was too big for her, and the zombie was taller than she, but she thought she stood a decent chance of bashing in its skull if she got a good swing going. She adjusted her grip on the handle. The zombie still hadn’t moved, hadn’t noticed her standing there.

“Hey…you,” she called uncertainly

The thing turned, groaned, lurched toward her arms out. So this was a proper slow zombie then, and not one of the running ones. Momma always said that the fast ones weren’t really zombies, but Molly thought that it probably didn’t matter really as long as the person had been dead and now they were alive again. Staying out of its reach was easy enough. She could walk faster than the poor shambling thing, never mind running.

She raised the shovel for the killing blow as the dead man shambled toward her, but something gave her pause. He was wearing dirty blue jeans and a shirt for a band called the Insane Clown Pose. She’d seen some of Momma’s old friends with the same shirt. Momma didn’t like the band, which Molly never understood, because she thought Insane Clown Pose sounded like the name of a great scary movie.

She didn’t think she recognized the zombie, but it was hard to tell with its flesh all grey and rotting.

She kept her eyes on it, backing away slowly, leading it on toward the hole. When she reached the edge of the pit she skirted around the hole as close as she dared without falling in. The zombie lurched onward. If it was smart it would go around the pit and she’d have to lead it back around and knock it in with a branch or the handle of the shovel. But she didn’t have to worry. The zombie stumbled straight forward and fell down into the hole. It landed with a grunt and a raw snapping sound that wasn’t quite like anything she’d heard in the movies. She tiptoed back to the edge of the pit and looked in, worried that the zombie might have hit his head too hard and split his skull open, but when she looked down into the hole she saw that the zombie had only broken his arm. The bone was sticking out of the rotted flesh at an odd angle, but she’d seen worse before, and anyway everyone knew that zombies didn’t use their arms for much anyway.

She sat down cross-legged at the edge of the hole, and watched as the zombie scrabbled dumbly at the earthen sides of its prison. “You can’t get out you know,” she said. “And anyway if you did someone would shoot you.”

The zombie groaned its zombie groan and looked up at her with dead eyes.

“Not much good being one zombie is it?” she continued. “I mean, I’m only a little girl and you’re not much danger at all. You’re supposed to come in big hoards.”

She tossed a twig into the pit. “You like that word? ‘Hoards’? It means a big bunch of people or creatures. I saw it in one of mommy’s scary movies.”

By now the zombie had gone back to scratching feebly at the dirt surrounding it.

“What happened to your hoard?” Suzy asked. “Did they leave you? Were they taken away? My Momma was taken away after the big fire. Pappy says she’s in prison for cooking something, but that’s silly because Momma couldn’t cook to save her life.” The girl sighed and leaned back looking at the leaves rustling overhead. “Maybe you never had a hoard,” she said. “Maybe you’re the first. You know what that means? That means you’re unique, and unique means special. You’re the only zombie in the whole wide world and I found you.”

From far away she heard the sound of Pappy calling her name. “You stay here,” she said. “I have to go now, but I’ll come tomorrow and bring you something to eat.”

Pappy sent her to bed early that night, but she lay there awake for more than an hour thinking about zombie. She knew zombies didn’t get lonely, or worried or scared, but she thought that maybe her zombie did. Just a little. And it made her sad to think of him out there scraping against the dirt walls of the pit all by himself in the dark.

The next day, school took forever. Scotty Preston pushed her into some bushes and Laura Darcy and Stacy Stiles laughed and called her trailer trash. She waited until they couldn’t see her before she let herself cry.

When the bus pulled up on her road she almost tripped on the bottom step she was in such a hurry. But she didn’t go straight into the woods. Instead she swerved off the path to the left where old man Jenkins mobile home sat, half-buried in a pile of old trash bags. A colony of rats had infested the heap, burrowing tunnels through the thin plastic bags and rotting food like huge ants.

Molly liked the rats. Momma had sometimes watched movies where princesses in beautiful dresses had singing and talking rats for friends. Molly didn’t like these movies as much as the ones with the monsters and the zombies, but she liked idea of talking rats and sometimes when she was bored she would come down the lane and talk to the rats. The rats never talked back, though Molly couldn’t be sure if this was because they didn’t know how or simply didn’t want to talk to someone as scary looking as her.

Today, she merely waved and said “Hello rats!” as she passed the mound of trash. She marched right up onto the porch where Mr. Jenkin’s cat Captain Tinkles was lounging in the sun. Captain Tinkles probably wasn’t his real name, but Molly had never heard Mr. Jenkins call him much of anything other than “lazy cat” and saying “Captain Tinkles” made her laugh.

Captain Tinkles was sitting on the porch, watching the rat mound with a look of practiced disinterest. He barely turned his head when Molly walked up and said, “Hello Mr. Tinkles.” But when she wrapped her arms around him and tried to stuff him into her backpack the formerly lazy cat fought and clawed at her arms so much that eventually she gave up on using the bag and decided to carry him instead.

Captain Tinkles didn’t particularly like being carried, but Molly suspected that the rats didn’t particularly like being eaten and that had never stopped Captain Tinkles, so she didn’t see why it should stop her either. The cat scratched at her arms all the way back into the woods, but she kept a firm grip around his body. If she lost him now she’d be all afternoon chasing him down again, and there was a spelling test she needed to study for and Pappy wouldn’t like it if she came home too late.

The pit was just as she’d left it zombie and all. She’d been worried that he might get out somehow and get himself shot but he was still there not moving much just standing there and waving his arms a bit.

Molly called out, “Hi zombie, I brought you some food like I said.”

Captain Tinkles seemed to sense that something was very wrong indeed here and began to scratch and squirm more than ever. But Molly held on tight to the cat and held him out over the pit. The zombie turned its head up and gave a low groan and Molly dropped the cat into the hole.

Captain Tinkles put up a pretty good fight. He ran circles in the bottom of the hole for a while, and because the zombie was slow he couldn’t catch him at first. He tried a couple of times to climb up the side of the hole, but his paws couldn’t find purchase in the dirt wall and he sank back to the bottom both times. It wasn’t long after that the zombie caught him. Captain Tinkles rowled and thrashed in the zombie’s rotting arms. He swiped out with his claws and tore off half of the zombies nose, but the zombie didn’t much seem to mind. He tore into Captain Tinkles’ soft stomach with yellowed teeth and ripped out chunks of bloody fur. After a while Captain Tinkles stopped thrashing.

“And now you know how the rats felt when you ate them,” Molly said.

That night she ate microwaved pizza in her bed and watched an old movie about birds that killed people and took over the world. It was in black and white and the gore wasn’t as good and nasty as it was in a lot of movies, but she watched it all the way through. Pappy was out tonight and there was no one to yell at her to turn off the lights and go to bed.

When the movie was over she got out a piece of paper and wrote down what had happened in the movie. Then, she wrote about the zombie in the hole because she thought that might be interesting too. When she was done she put the letter in an envelope and put Momma’s prison address on it.

Pappy had said the Momma didn’t have movies in the prison where she was, so Molly always wrote down the things she saw in movies and sent them to Momma so she wouldn’t miss out.

The next day she was on her hands and knees looking under the soda machines at school for enough quarters to buy a stamp with when someone kicked her hard in the backside and sent her sprawling forward so her face hit the ground hard. Her lip split open and started to bleed and hot tears welled up in her eyes. She tried to get up and fight back, but he pushed her back down and ran away laughing.

In the bathroom she held a wad of paper towels against her lip until the bleeding slowed. She didn’t like it in the bathroom. There were too many mirrors.

She remembered what she looked like before the fire, and every time she looked into a mirror the monster that stared back at her frightened her more than any of the movie monsters she’d ever seen with Momma.

“That’s not who I am,” she would tell herself, but she saw the way that people didn’t want to look at her, even nice people, and she wasn’t so sure. Maybe Scotty and the rest of the kids were right to be mean to her. On TV the good people were always beautiful. Only evil people were ugly.

When she got home Pappy was drunk. He was waving a piece of paper around and yelling and cursing a lot. He seemed sort of mad at her, but he was crying too, and between the blubbering and slurred words he was hard to understand so she took the paper he was waving around and read it.

It was about Momma, and there were a lot of words.

Molly got tripped up on “exs-angui-nation” which she looked up and found out meant “bled to death”, but others like “suspected suicide” she understood just fine.

Molly didn’t cry. She wanted to, but she didn’t. She though of the face in the mirror. She couldn’t imagine that face crying. Monsters didn’t cry.

Momma was dead, and monsters didn’t cry, and there was a zombie in a pit she had dug in the forest.

Monsters. Didn’t. Cry.

What did monsters do?


It was harder than she expected to get Pappy to come out to the pit. He was planted on his bed in the dark, sprawled out like a bag of blubbering lard.

“You need to come with me,” she said. And when he didn’t reply she said again, louder, “I need your help.”

Pappy mumbled something that sounded like, “Go to your room.”

She paused for a moment trying to think what she could say that would budge him out of his drunken stupor, finally settling for, “There’s a man. He fell in a hole in the woods and he can’t get out. He’s hurt real bad.”

All of this was more or less the truth. Momma had always warned her not to tell lies except to the police if you had to.

Pappy still seemed unlikely to move, so Molly played her trump card. “I thought about calling the law to help, only-”

Pappy swore and rolled off of the bed, planting his huge feet in a pair of camo crocs. “Were’s this feller at you say?”

She led him back into the woods. She was worried it would be hard to push him into the hole with her zombie. Then she thought of her dead Momma and the face and the mirror and all the mean things Pappy had said about her.

It wasn’t hard at all.

She waited until the screams died out and then walked back to the house. She walked to Mr. Jenkins trailer and knocked on the door. She said, “Mr. Jenkins I think my dad is hurt.”

When she pushed him into the hole his neck snapped. But it didn’t kill him. Not before the zombies could bite him.

Now the hole was getting crowded. She went to Pappy’s old shed and got a ladder. The sun was starting to go down by the time she dragged it back out and let it down into the hole. She waited to make sure the three groaning zombies were smart enough to climb out then she ran back toward the house as fast as she could.

She dumped a whole can of gas onto Mr. Jenkins trash pile and set it alight. The flames burned hot and hard and for a moment she thought of the fire that had burned her face.

Now the firemen would come and find the fire.

Then the zombies would come and find the firemen.

She went back into Pappy’s house, turned on the television, and put in Night of the Living Dead. It was in black and white, and she didn’t like it as much other zombie movies, but it was one of Momma’s favourites.

A little later she heard screams and the crack of gunshots coming from down the drive. She turned up the volume and kept watching. But before the movie was over her eyes grew heavy and she fell into sleep.

And as she dreamed the world filled up with monsters.

Shark Season

Spring broke early that year. It came tromping in through the middle of February, sending the bitter nights and biting winds of winter scurrying back into the shadow of memory.

Roger Gabriel stood on the deck at the edge of is his pool, thinking it was about time to get the old pump going again. The water had grown thick and slimy, green from months of stagnation; dead leaves and the husks of drowned insects drifted like derelict ships across the surface.

The sun shone down from a perfect blue sky, and the warm breeze tugged playfully at the collar of his shirt. Roger took a deep breath and let it out. It occurred to him he was very close to being happy, and he tried to remember the last time he had felt this way. Not for more than four weeks weeks. Not since-

The phone rang. The sound carried through the window Roger had opened to let the spring air into the house, clanging alarm-bell urgent in his ears. His heart jumped in his chest, and he felt a familiar terror begin to claw at his gut. He squeezed his eyes shut and shoved his fingers in his ears like child, but he could still hear the sound, dim and distant, braying its accusation at him. “Go away,” he whispered. “Please just go away. It’s not my fault. It isn’t ME you want. I didn’t do it.”

Eventually the ringing stopped. It would come again.

“Filters,” Roger told himself. “We need filters. Get rid of the bad, keep the good.”

At the store when he swiped his debit card to pay for the filters and the chemicals, the register made a strange squawking noise; the cashier, a painfully young girl with her hair back in a ponytail, informed him that his card had been declined. He nodded numbly, and reached for the last of his cash.

It was only twenty dollars, but he had been saving it, hiding it really, planning to splurge on something nice. And now it was gone. Because of her.

Back at home he installed the filter in the pump and set it running. He poured the various quantities of chemicals into the pool, imagining himself a mad scientist preparing deadly toxic goo in a huge cauldron. But when he looked down into the green water he saw a kind of darkness there that he did not like.

The phone started ringing again the moment he stepped inside. He looked at it and felt his stomach twist into a knot.

He could ignore it, just let it ring.

But he was struck with the strange superstition that the person on the other end of the line knew he was there. It was silly of course. It was only coincidence that the phone had begun ringing at that moment, the very moment his foot had crossed the threshold of the door.

This he knew. But he did not believe. And with trembling fingers he reached out and picked up the receiver.


“Hello, am I speaking with Mr. Gabriel?” The voice on the other end of the line was young and sweet. Too young. Too sweet. Roger thought again of the girl who had checked him out at the supermarket. When had the world gotten so young?

“Mr. Gabriel?”

“Yes,” he croaked. “That’s me.”

“Mr. Gabriel, my name is Samantha Harrington, and I’m calling on behalf of Regis Debt Consolidation about the unpaid balance on your Visa credit card.” She rattled off the account number and Roger caught himself nodding, as if she could see him.

“That’s-” he swallowed hard, “That’s my wife’s card. She’s not here right now, but-”

“Mr. Gabriel, the account is more than three months overdue with a balance owed of nineteen-thousand eight-hundred and sixty-two dollars. When can we expect payment?”

“I can’t. It’s not-”

“Mr. Gabriel if you don’t make a good faith effort to pay on this account I’m afraid I’ll have to transfer your debt to our legal team.”

Roger felt something snap in his mind, his carefully-measured restraint breaking with what he almost believed was an audible popping sound. “It’s not FAIR!” he shouted, suddenly past caring what this girl thought of him. “I didn’t do it. Not one red cent. I tried to stop her. I tried to tell her to be careful, but she wouldn’t listen. And YOU…”

“Mr. Gabriel-”

“…you put it in front of her like a pile of candy in front of a child. What did you think she was going to do? Did you think she would show self restraint? Did you think she would stop? With a wallet full of free money and those wonderfully low minimum payments. You’re  all nothing more than loan sharks, you hear me? With big names and legal departments instead of guns. Well you’re going to have to transfer that account, Samantha. You’re going to have to send your legal goons after me to break my kneecaps. Because there is NOTHING…LEFT!” His voice had pitched up into a shriek, and he slammed the phone down into the receiver and sank down to the floor, his shoulders shaking with grief and rage. When the phone rang again he ripped it from its mooring and hurled it across the room. It landed with a satisfying clatter, made a final lonely, “ting” sound and fell silent.

But that wouldn’t stop them, he knew, it wouldn’t even slow them down. There were other ways they could get at him. So he got up and returned the phone to its place. Temper tantrums were for children. He had to be better than that.

He was just plugging the cord back into the wall when he heard a key turn in the lock and saw the front door begin to open.

His wife stumbled through, her arms wrapped around two shopping bags that would be filled with clothes or shoes that she would likely wear once, if at all.

She looked up at him, her eyes momentarily wide with surprise. “You’re home early,” she said, an uncertain smile playing across her face. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,” Roger said. “Fine. It was- well you know how nice the weather’s been lately, and we finished early on the project we were working on, so I asked Mr. Howard, and he said that it would be okay with him if I, you know, knocked off early.”  He was aware that his words were running into one another, and his palms were sweating, but Stephanie didn’t take any notice.

“That’s nice dear. And before you say anything, I know you said we should try to cut back a little, but these shoes were just to die for and they were practically giving them away, so I thought it would be okay, just this once.”

Roger wanted to scream. But he didn’t.

She smiled and drew him in for a kiss, and he found himself giving in in spite of himself, her arms around his neck, his circling her waist drawing them together, lips and bodies moving against each other with a need that had not faltered through ten years of marriage.

She broke it off after a moment, gave him a smile that said “We’ll have to explore this further later,” and trotted off to the bedroom with her bags.

He loved her. He hated her.

He needed her, and for that he hated himself.

The phone rang.


He lay awake that night long after his wife had slipped off to sleep, and tried to find the words to tell her the truth. The conversation always played out the same way in his head, always ended with her leaving him, finding someone younger, more handsome, richer.

It had been four weeks, and he still hadn’t told her. Four weeks of leaving in the morning just like he always did and sitting in the McDonalds down the highway, nursing a cup of their cheapest coffee and staring out the window at the cars flashing by on the highway.

And thinking. So much thinking.

Finally, around three in the morning, after hanging somewhere between a nightmare and the terror of his conscious imagination he slipped quietly out of bed and went outside. He had thought only to get a lungful of fresh air, but once he was out there in the dark he heard the pump running and found himself climbing the stairs to the wooden deck that surrounded the pool. He stood there for a long time watching the moonlight flickering off the dark water.

On an impulse, he climbed down into the pool, still in his pajamas, tensing against the chill of the water, jolted into wakefulness.

He pushed off the ladder, lay back in the water, and looked up at the stars overhead. If he held his head just so all he could see was the black starry sky. He could imagine himself drifting slowly, forever through an endless ocean, peaceful, suspended beneath a glittering black firmament.

The image it formed in his mind was so perfect that when the bubble of the idea finally burst he found his eyes filling with bitter tears.

He shook his head, righted himself, tried to stand. But instead of finding the vinyl floor of the pool his feet kicked down into water far deeper than it should have been.

He thrashed about in a sudden panic, and for a moment his head dipped below the surface. He kicked over to the edge of the pool where he clung to the ladder, shaking. He looked down into the water, eyes searching for the familiar blue nylon and finding only blackness instead.

It couldn’t be. Someone had…what? Dug out the bottom of his pool and filled it with water again? It didn’t make any sense.

He took a deep breath and ducked under, pushing himself down the ladder rung by rung, feet dangling down into the impossible dark water. He ran a hand along the curved side of the pool, down down down, until…

It simply ended. He could feel the edge of the thin strip of nylon and beyond it, impossibly, was more water. He pulled himself up toward the surface, mind reeling, and just then he felt something scrape against his foot, something rough and jagged like sandpaper. He looked down and caught a glimpse of a ghostly white shape, and then he was heaving himself up and out of the pool, collapsing on the deck, clinging to it, something solid. Something familiar.

It couldn’t be real.

Of course it wasn’t real. He’d been under a lot of stress. He was tired. His mind was prone to…tricks. That’s all this was. A trick. Nothing more.

He got up then, keeping his gaze carefully averted from the pool, and went back to bed.


By the time Stephanie shook him awake the next morning, telling him he had overslept his alarm clock, Roger had convinced himself that the whole episode had been nothing more than a dream.

He stood over the sink crunching a piece of jellied toast while Stephanie told him her plans for the day, and scolded him for not hurrying along faster to make up for lost time.

“Sometimes I wonder if I’m really meant to do this,” he said casually, brushing the last of the crumbs from his shirt. “Sometimes I think I’ve missed my calling.”

“Don’t be silly. You love your job. And it pays so well.”

He shut his eyes and felt his teeth clench together. “When I was younger, I used to think one day I’d be some sort of artist,” he said, forcing calm into his voice. “I was never very good with paints, but I did some good stuff with pencils and charcoal.”

She laughed then, not a mocking laugh, but a sound of true mirth, and somehow that cut him even deeper. “I can’t imagine you as an artist,” she said. “And I certainly can’t imagine myself as an artist’s wife.”

“No,” he said, picking up his briefcase and heading for the door. “I guess I can’t either.”

And later, as he sat at the table by the window facing the highway the conversation festered inside of him like a sore.

When he’d met Stephanie he’d thought she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Now, even after ten years of marriage, he still thought so. But he had learned that if you wanted to pay with the shiniest toy in the store you had to pay the price.

She was ten years younger than him. And that had been ten years ago. The years had been kind to her. She was the same perfect creature she had been when she first caught his eye. He had not been so blessed. At thirty he had been vaguely handsome, his gut only slightly thicker than it should be, his hair only showing the first signs of thinning. Now he was downright pudgy and wisps of what was left of his hair drifted over his scalp like winter clouds. Once, last year when he and Stephanie had been out on a date night someone had mistaken her for his daughter.

If Carl had been a more cynical man he might have thought of his wife as a gold digger, but that line of thought didn’t ring true. He hadn’t been even close to the biggest fish in her pond when it came to money. She’d fallen in love with him because he’d worked very hard to make her fall in love with him.

He was a dog who’d finally caught the car he’d been chasing, teeth ripped from their gums, body lying broken in the road waiting to be flattened into a bloody pancake by the oncoming traffic of life.

He pulled a cheap ballpoint pen from his pocket and stared at it long and hard, as if he might divine some deep truth from its design.

Then he was scratching, scribbling, scrawling on a wrinkled napkin, the point of the pen ripping through the thin paper leaving shreds of the material hanging like tattered ribbons of flesh. When he was done the napkin was covered in ink from corner to corner, angry lines crisscrossing, a chaos of intersections across the paper. The only place left untouched was at the center, where a patch of white marked out a strangely familiar silhouette, a thing of power and grace that lived in the void between the lines. Roger looked at the thing, at the sleek torpedo of its body and the razor curve of its fins, and saw without understanding the thing he had created. But had he created it? Or was it there all along? Just under the surface, lurking, gliding, hunting…

Then he thought of the pool; and understood.

He left the coffee, cold by now, sitting on the table, but he slipped the napkin in his pocket, folding it carefully so as not to muss the edges.


Stephanie was gone by the time he got home, off socializing with one friend of hers or another; he could never quite tell them apart. Roger didn’t bother going into the house, but instead went straight to pool in the back yard. Here in the light of day, there was no denying what he was seeing: there was no bottom.

The water was dark, yes, but it was clear. And down below where the pool’s walls ended the water went on and on in limitless blackness.

He grabbed the extendable pole with the net on the end used for dipping leaves and other debris from the water.  He plunged it into the pool, pushing it down as far as it would go. It didn’t hit bottom.

He heard the phone start to ring, but it was a distant thing now, holding no more terror than the half-remembered monsters of his childhood.

He went inside and found a spool of string and a heavy lead fishing weight and then back out to the pool where he dropped the weighted string into the water. The plastic spool spun and spun in his hands for a long time until the string ran out and the sudden jerk yanked the spool out of his hands. It fell, bouncing once on the deck then disappearing over the edge into the water. Roger lay on his belly and crawled toward the edge of the pool peering down into the water. There was no sign of the spool, but down there in the impossible depths he thought he saw something move, no more than a hint of a shape, a grey-white streak against the perfect darkness. And then it was gone.

He took the napkin out of his pocket, and looked at the thing he had drawn once again, and then he understood what he had to do.

At the store again he rummaged through clothing racks in the women’s section. He saw a sales girl giving him an odd look, and he flashed her a smile. She turned away with something like disgust on her face.

On his way home the gas light in his car came on with a ding. He ignored it. It didn’t matter now.

He put the things he had bought in an old gift bag printed with red hearts he’d used for Valentine’s two years ago.

He was just shoving some tissue paper into the mouth of the bag when he heard her car in the drive. He met her coming in the front door. She kissed him like she always did, but there was something different in her eyes.

“I’m so glad you’re home early,” he said. “There’s something I wanted to show you.”

She didn’t seem to hear him. “I saw Arthur in the store today,” she said. “He said-”

“I got you a present,” Roger said, bringing the bag around from behind his back.

“He said you’d been laid off,” Stephanie went on, not even looking at the bag he pressed into her hands. “Nearly a month ago. Is that true?”

This was not part of the plan. “Stephanie, I-”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I wanted to. But…well-”

“I checked our bank account. We’re overdrawn. How are we going to-”

Listen,” he said, more sharply than he meant, then again, more softly, “Listen. I didn’t want to worry you. Things have been bad, yes, but-”

The phone started to ring. Stephanie stepped toward it, but Roger put out a hand to stop her. “It’s probably a telemarketer,” he said, trying to keep his voice calm. He could feel the old panic trying to overwhelm him, but he pushed it down. He was in control. He could do this. “I’ve looking for a new job,” he said, his voice strained as he struggled to maintain the facade of normalcy. “I’ve got some good prospects. I just didn’t want you to worry.”

She shook her head and an infuriating look of pity came into her face. “I’m your wife. We’re in this together. For better or worse, right?”

“Till death do us part,” he agreed, fingernails digging into the flesh of his palm. “But right now I want to forget about all of that just for a while. Open the present I got for you.”

She still looked uncertain, but she dutifully tugged away at the tissue paper, and when she saw what lay beneath a mischievous smile danced across her lips. “I thought I heard you running the pool pump the other day,” she said.

Almost there, he thought. “I know it’s early, but it’s been so warm these last few days. And I just thought, well…”

She gave him a peck on the cheek. “Give me a minute,” she said. “I’ll be right out.”


He was sitting in one of the deck chairs soaking in the sun when she came out the back door wearing the two-piece bathing suit he’d bought for her.

It was a simple thing: no frills, no pattern. It was red. Red like love. Red like blood.

He stood up, all too aware of how his gut hung over the elastic of his swim trunks, and gave her an appreciative smile. “You look great honey.”

She said nothing, only wrapped her arms around him, and raised her lips to his. When he broke off the kiss, she ran a hand down his arm. “We’re going to be okay,” she said. “You and me.”

“I know,” he said, adjusting his grip on the pen knife in his hand. “Now how about that swim?”

He jumped into the water first, dropping in cannonball style, and she followed his lead, splashing in with a giggle.

She surfaced next to him, a confused look on her face. “I don’t remember it being this deep,” she said.

He didn’t say anything, but under the surface of the water he opened the pocket knife and buried the blade in his thigh. A stream of blood leaked out into the water.

Stephanie was too distracted by the bottomless pool to notice. “What happened to the pool?” she asked worry creeping in at the edge of her voice.

He paddled over to her and wrapped his arms around her. “Don’t worry,” he whispered into her ear. “We’re going to be okay.”

That was the moment that he felt the shark’s teeth sink into his leg. It pulled him down, rolling it’s great pale body, trying to rip the limb completely off. He held Stephanie as he went under, heard her scream for just a moment before be head ducked under the surface of the water.

She thrashed against him, kicking and pounding with her fists, finally managing to free herself.

He watched as she kicked to the surface and tried to pull herself out of the pool. But the ladder was gone, he’d seen to that, and before she could try to heave herself over the edge he saw a second shark swimming toward her violently kicking legs.

He was sinking faster now. He could see the circle of light shrinking slowly above him tinted red by the clouds of blood that billowed in the water. Stephanie was a thrashing silhouette, ragged strips of flesh hanging from her as now a third and then a fourth shark joined the feeding frenzy.

He wanted to call out to her, wanted to tell her to stop struggling, that this was the only way. But he was tired and numb, and it seemed as if the water around him was getting so much colder.

Now the pool had shrunk to a point of glittering light and he was astonished to see that it was not the only one; a thousand other points of light glittered overhead. Like stars, he thought.

As the last vestiges of his consciousness faded away the ravaged remains of Stephanie’s body drifted down next to him. As they sank together into the impossible deep her remaining hand brushed against his. With the last effort of Roger’s dying will his fingers curled around hers. And what little the sharks had left of them fell into the darkness, hand in hand.

The Hiro and the Failure: thoughts on Snow Crash and Timmy Failure

I recently finished reading two books virtually simultaneously. I would like to claim that this is because I’m an incredibly dedicated reader with amazing time management skills, but actually I cheated. One of them was an audio book. Which, while we’re on the subject, is it appropriate to tell people you’re “reading” an audio book? It feels like a lie, but the absolute truth feels clunky and awkward to explain.


Book one was Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephen Pastis.  It is a book with pictures. It is a book for children. It is amazing.

Book two was Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. It is a seminal work of science fiction with high action mixed in with history, philosophy, and comparative religion. It is…okay.

Now at this point I’m thinking I sound kind of shallow, but hear me out. Because you know what Timmy Failure had that Snow Crash didn’t? A polar bear named Total.* No wait, I’m sorry. What I meant to say was, “internal conflict and character development.”

In Snow Crash Hiro Protagonist is trying to save the world from an virus that infects your mind. In Timmy Failure, our eponymous (I love that word) hero is trying to get back his mom’s Segway which he was not supposed to be riding around before his mom finds out he’s lost it.

Now here’s the thing. In Snow Crash, that’s it. That little snippet I just gave you encapsulates the entire plot in a nutshell. None of the characters, and I mean none, ever have to deal with any kind of internal conflict, never have to overcome any personal failings. It’s all swords cutting people’s heads off and Gatling gun duels, interspersed with long conversations about Sumerian mythology and hacking. Which is fine as far as it goes. I really did like the bits with the mythology, and it was nice to have the spoonful of fictional sugar to help them go down. But in the end the story had very little depth.

In the case of Timmy Failure however, there was nothing but depth. Timmy claims he does not live up to his last name. Timmy lies. In fact his detective agency doesn’t actually solve any of the cases he’s given in the book. But the charm of the story is in the layers, in the way we see the world through Timmy’s eyes.

Timmy Failure is an entirely unreliable narrator, because he’s seeing the world through a egotistical, child-sized lens. Through that lens we see the troubles his mom is having with the bills, and how she’s dating a guy who’s a bit of douche in the hopes of bringing some stability back into her and Timmy’s lives. We see how Timmy’s nemesis is really just a girl who wants her dad to spend more time with her.

In other words, the story is about more than what the story is about.

Is Snow Crash a bad book? No. But it’s utterly flat. It makes the mistake of thinking that what the readers really care about is whether or not the world is saved.

Screw the world. Let it burn. What readers really care about is personal. It’s the inner journey that brings power to the story. Without that, all you have is spectacle.


*Seriously, how hard would it be to have a polar bear in a book named Snow Crash? Talk about your missed opportunities.

Advice for Singles in Fact and Fiction

There’s something that’s bothering me more and more lately about single people. Not all single people necessarily, but many of you at the very least are obsessed with not being single anymore. You think you can finally be happy if you find a suitable mate, that one person that understands you like no one else, and you’ll finally have the chance to share life with someone instead of going it alone.

And yeah, as a happily married person, I can say those things are pretty awesome. If you find the right person to spend the rest of your life with, you can count yourself very very lucky.

But lets examine that phrase at the end there shall we? “The rest of your life.” The rest of your life is hopefully going to be quite a long time. I mean even if you’re smoking like a chimney, drinking like a fish, and singlehandedly keeping your local Burger King afloat, you probably have at least twenty or thirty years ahead of you. And the thing you’re missing, the thing I missed until after I was married, is that you’ve got an incredible amount of freedom right now. You probably don’t have a house payment, you don’t have to worry about your kids having enough diapers.

How well do you think James Bond would function as a married man? And I mean really married, like to someone he cares about with long term goals and kids and stuff? How about Luke Skywalker? You think he’d have dashed off to join the Rebellion if he’d had a couple of mouths to feed back on Tattooine? If you do ever run into a fictional character that’s married or got kids, he’s either estranged from them or they’re getting kidnapped for him to go and save. Heroes almost never have to deal with normalcy. 

And that’s you right now. You have options a married guy or gal couldn’t imagine. You can go on a secret mission overseas. You can fly your X-wing and destroy the Death Star. You can move without being bothered by the the fact that you’re underwater on your mortgage.

Okay, so maybe mostly just that last one. But that one’s bigger than you’d think. You have the freedom to take risks us married folks don’t have.

So stop your whining. Stop being bitter. Stop turning Valentines into Singles Awareness Day.

Finding someone to love is awesome, sure, but so is having the option to jump in your car and drive to the Grand Canyon, picking up odd jobs washing dishes along the way. One day you’ll be married. One day you’ll have a kid and a house a dog and, oh yeah, a job you can’t afford to lose because your family counts on those health care benefits.

Don’t stop looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right. But don’t forget to celebrate what you’ve got right now.

Oh, and writers? About all those single characters: I know how tempting it is to write characters with no attachments, believe me, but maybe you could at least consider the fact that attachment raise the stakes. And not just in the cliched sense of “I’m worried the bad guy might kidnap my family.” What kind of character would James Bond be if he had to worry about paying his mortgage, or deal with the guilt of the fact that his child sees him so rarely he doesn’t even recognize him, on top of having to save the world? Think about it.

Hodgepodge and Miscellany

It’s been a while since I wrote anything really substantive in this space. That’s not an apology so much as an observation. Things have been busy. I’ve been busy. I probably could have made myself blog more than I have, but if I’m forcing myself to do something I don’t like…well what’s the point in that. If I’m going to do things I don’t like, I’m at least going to get paid for doing them.

But there are a few things I thought some of you might like to know. First, Thing 1 and Thing 2 are out of our house once again and working toward a more permanent placement with some relatives. They packed up everything last week and headed out of state. The odds are decent that I won’t see them again, at least not for a very long time. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t cry when they left. But I would also be lying if I told you that I wasn’t at least a little glad that they’re gone. Between their school schedule, and trying to spend time my wife and our baby, things were stretched a little thin for us. I’m looking forward to having a little more free time to write.

Speaking of writing, I’m working on a new story which I think is going to be titled, The Death and Life of the Human Electrode, which is about a homeless superhero. And I’ve got one out for beta reads right now called In the Shadow of Doubt which is about faith and giant spiders and a tribe of squirrels that lives in a world-tree.

In other news, the parenting adventure continues. Baby AJ is now mobile. Which means you’ve got to keep an eye on him, because if you don’t the next think you know you’re hearing the thump of the trash can in the kitchen and when you get there he’ll be eating used coffee grounds right out of the filter. Really.

Also, he likes dog food for some reason. I’ve tried to convince my wife that this is a possible way to save money over all that expensive formula and baby food she keeps buying, but so far she’s not going for it.

Here is a video of him wearing pants on his head:


Actually, Go Ahead, Pirate My Books

So yesterday Chuck Wendig wrote this thing about digital piracy of books. The upshot of this thing was that he’d really rather you didn’t do it, because hey, he worked hard on those books and they are not unreasonably priced and he deserves to be paid for his work BUT he’s not going to get all angry at people who do pirate because- Actually, it was kind of a long post. Maybe you should just go and read it.

As a corollary to this Wendig has declared today to be “International ‘Please Don’t Pirate My Book’ Day”. Now I’ve got nothing whatsoever against Mr. Wendig, and for the most part I agreed with his post, but much like the those who choose to celebrate “Singles Awareness Day” instead of Valentine’s I’ve decided to make up my own opposing holiday. I’m calling it “Go Ahead and Pirate my Book if You Feel Like It” Day.

Why would I decide to encourage people to read my work without paying for it? I’m so glad you asked.

1. You Want to Pirate my Book? That Means You’ve Actually Heard of Me!

They tell you not to write for exposure. Don’t put so much of your work up for free that you can’t sustain your writing. But you’ve got to think that if practically nobody has heard of you a little more exposure couldn’t be such a terrible thing right?

If you’re looking to “steal” my book that means you’ve taken at least a passing interest in me as an author. How could I complain about that?

2. Money is Tight These Days

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pinching every penny I can. I’m not living in squalor or anything, but there’s not a lot of extra. I reckon there’s a good number of you out there in the same situation.

It bears mentioning that my books are pretty reasonably priced. Nothing I’ve got out there on the digital marketplace costs more than three bucks. So if you’d like to pay for my work it bears mentioning that this isn’t “Don’t You Dare Pay for my Book and Support me as an Author” day.

3. I’ve Totally Been There

I’ve pirated digital content. I’ve pirated books. Books I liked. Books I wished I had the money to pay for. I buy new when I can, but I’m constantly looking for the deal, the remaindered bins, the yard sale, the book shelves at the Thrift Store. And sometimes I pirate. It’s not something I’m necessarily proud of, but it’s there.

4. Piracy isn’t Stealing

This is something that Chuck Wendig said in his original post, but it bears repeating here. When it comes to digital content there isn’t a finite number of possible copies. If you pirate my work, that doesn’t mean you’ve taken that work away from anyone else.

That’s not to say that there’s no moral grey area, but calling piracy stealing is like playing QWOP on your back porch and telling people you’ve been out running.

5. You Can Pay Me Back Later

Piracy today does not necessarily lead to piracy tomorrow. If you like what I’ve written maybe you’ll pay for my next book. Maybe you’ll tell a friend. Maybe you’ll leave a nice review on Amazon. Maybe you’ll just tell me that you like it. There is value in all these things


So go ahead, matees. Shiver my timbers and pirate my books. Can’t find a torrent site that’s heard of me? I’ve included some links below to get you started.

The Mulch Pile

A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw

Shards of Darkness

The Arachnopocalypse Redux

Hey ya’ll, remember that flash fiction challenge I issued a while back that required the entrants to imagine an apocalypse caused by spiders? Well, it’s back again, only different, but also the same.

The same because, it’s still about the arachnopocalypse. Different because there’s an actual cash money prize to be won this time around. (Well okay, maybe not actual cash, because this is the future and we have fancy digital currency transfer mechanisms, and speaking of which where is my flying car anyway?)

Here’s the deal. Me and Tony Southcotte host The Human Echoes Podcast, and we’re looking to expand our horizons from rambling about movies, life, and bull testicles, into producing the occasional bit of audio fiction. We started out close to home with me reading my story “Of Teeth and Claus“, but now we need your help.

Send in your story of the the spider-infested end of the world in one thousand words or less, and you’ll have the opportunity to a.) Win ten whole American dollars b.) Have your work released in audio form on the podcast. (Don’t worry it won’t be me reading it this time. We’ll get someone who sounds halfway decent.)

The deadline for entry is noon o’clock Central Time on February 8; that gives you a little over a week. The winner will be announced on the podcast two weeks after. Send your entries in to If by chance you had written a story for the previous Arachnopocalypse challenge you’re welcome to resubmit that.

Good luck and happy writing!

My Christmas Horror Story, Of Teeth and Claus, Now Available in Audio Form, Just in Time for…um, Valentines Day I Guess?

So the title pretty much says it all. A couple weeks back Tony Southcotte, my co-host on The Human Echoes Podcast (you are listening aren’t you?) helped me put together an audio edition of my short story Of Teeth and Claus which is available for download here. You can also listen to it in the embedded player below. Or if you can’t stand the sound of my voice (I wouldn’t blame you) you go all old-school and can read it with your eyes here.

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 26: The Tellekill Two-Step

To say the Director doesn’t trust the intel the Karl-thing gave him would be an understatement, but he’s not fool enough to ignore it either. He sends his suggestions to OS-5 and gets back confirmation within half an hour: triple the compliment of men guarding the circle. Keep a close eye on Church movements. Be ready for everything.

In practice however, this proves to be more difficult to do than say. The Director pours through lists of deployment stations, scouring them for over-staffing, cutting back the ones that might not quite hold the same priority as others. And THEN he has to get the extra men to the Circle and get them briefed on the situation and absorbed into the Mole Rats’ command structure.

The end of reality itself might be on the way, but he is at least determined it’s going to be well-managed.


They’ve been driving for hours now. The sun is up and glaring at them through the windshield.

Vinny can feel the symptoms of sleep deprivation coming on hard now. He hasn’t shut his eyes in over 24 hours, and its getting to him. But he can’t bring himself to do it. Not while the woman sitting next to him is being held hostage by the thing living in his mind. He fights his way through a wash of emotions, guilt, fear, confusion, helplessness and tries to find something he can grab on to, anything to keep his head above water.

“Are you going to kill me?”

Vinny almost jumps in surprise. It’s the first thing the woman has said since he got into the cab. But then his surprise turns to suspicion. “Is this a trick?”


“I mean, is it really you moving your mouth and speaking. Because we’ve already established that the thing inside me can make you say the words it wants.”

“Is it a demon? Like in the Bible?”

“I- don’t know. I’m not much of a Bible guy to tell you the truth. Probably. Anyway, you’re evading the question.”

“No, I’m not. I’m sorry, I mean, I’m just so scared.”

She looks it too. Her makeup has run into streaks and Vincent sees that she’s crying again. Maybe she’d been crying all through the night. That realization hits him in the chest like a punch. He’s been so wrapped up in what all of this means for him, that he’d almost forgotten what his driver had been going through.

“I don’t think he can make me talk like this,” she says. “I mean, he can make me say whatever I want, but he can’t make me look like I mean it.”

“I…I’m sorry,” Vinny says, feeling the weight of guilt pressing down even harder now. “It’s not me. I don’t want this any more than you do. Believe me.”

“You still haven’t answered me. Are you going to kill me?”


But something inside him, maybe the Traveler or maybe the voice of his own self-doubt asks, How can you be sure?

But before he can think on this further the woman continues speaking, her voice halting and choked with something between grief and terror.“I always…always wanted to go to Florida. So I guess…I guess that’s a good thing right?”

Vinny smiles a sad, tired smile. “It’s not like what you see on TV,” he says. “Not where I live anyway. Whenever you see Florida on T.V. it’s either Miami or the Everglades. But most of it’s just boring suburbia and pine forests.”

“You’ve still got the beaches, right?”

“With sand as white as snow.”

“Really? I always thought that was, you know, Photoshopped or something.”

Vinny shakes his head. “They’re the real deal. Though a guy like me doesn’t get down there too often.”

“Imagine what it would be like to live in France.”


“Sorry, you were just talking about how TV shows things, and I was thinking that it must be terrible to be from France and every single time your country shows up on television there’s the Eiffel Tower in the background. I bet the majority of French people haven’t even seen the Eiffel Tower in person. What do you think?”

“I…I don’t know.” Vinny tries to process the fact that he’s having a semi-normal conversation with a woman that the ancient entity living in his head is coercing into driving him across the country and fails rather miserably.

“I’ll do what you ask, you know,” the woman says, breaking his reverie.


“I mean, that thing, whatever it is inside you, he doesn’t have to puppet me anymore. I promise I’ll be…compliant. Whatever you want me to do, I mean anything, you just say the word and I’m there.”

“I’m…not the one in control here. At least not of him,” Vinny says. “I’m…sorry about what he’s done to you.”

“I know, I know, I just thought, you know maybe that he would hear me.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Because…what’s your name?”

“Vinny. Vinny Price.”

“As in Vincent Price? The actor from way back when?”

“Yeah. I mean I’m not the same guy, I’ve just got the same name. But…you could probably have figured that out on your own. What’s your name?”

“Rachael. Rachael Anderson.”

“Rachael’s a nice name.”

“It’s just…I want you to understand where I’m coming from. I want your promise that that thing inside you won’t try to…to push me, or whatever you want to call it, again.”

“I told you before, I’m not really in control here, but-”

“I will die before I go through that again. Do you understand? If I sense that he’s even close to trying to get into my head again, I swear I will take this car off the road at full speed with all of us in it.”

“Rachael, I-”

“I’ve been raped before. I’ve never told anyone about it. Not even my husband. But I’m telling you now, so you’ll understand that I’m dead serious when I say that I would rather go through a hundred of those experiences than to have that thing you’ve got in your skull try to pry it’s way into my mind again.”

Vinny opens his mouth and then shuts it again, completely at a loss for what to say. Until the voice in his head says, [Tell her that if she cooperates, everything will be fine.]

“He…it, whatever it is, says you’ll be fine if you cooperate. For what it’s worth I don’t think he really likes doing things that way. It seems like it’s difficult or something.”

“It may be difficult,” Rachael replied, “but don’t think for a moment that he doesn’t enjoy it.”


On the same road, not more than half a mile behind them, a box truck is being driven by men wearing foil hats.

The one driving points at the dash mounted clock and the other nods and picks up what looks like an overly complicated walky-talky. “Base, this is the Mobile 5, do you copy?”

“I copy Mobile 5,” the handset crackles back. “Any deviation in expected course?”

“Nope. They’re headed your way, straight as an arrow. Assuming they don’t stop to rest, I’d estimate arrival time at sometime tomorrow morning. Ya’ll going to be ready by then?”

“Don’t worry about us, Mobile 5. We’ve got it under control here.”

“Roger that Base. Next call-in at Oh-Nine-hundred. Over and Out”

The man in the driver’s seat turns to his compatriot and says, “What do you think we look like? Couple of guys driving around wearing foil hats.”

“Hey, say what you want to, but if that thing is jiggering around with people’s minds I want no part of it. I’m more worried about the side effects.”

“What’s this stuff called again?”

“Telekill. Feeds off telepathic energy. Blocks psychic readings which is useful and all that, but they say that over time it feeds off your brainwaves. The longer you’re exposed to it the dumber you get. Stuff literally EATS your thoughts.”

“Yeesh. Where do the eggheads dig all this stuff up anyway? I mean, I’m prepared to believe in bigfoot or UFO’s or whatever, but the amount of weirdness I’ve seen since I started work with the Foundation is freaking ridiculous.”

“Dude, who knows? Why is anything the way it is? Sooner or later you got to learn to just take it as it comes, one day at a time.”

“Said the man wearing the thought-eating tinfoil hat.”


As it happens at that moment they aren’t the only ones with Telekill on their minds. Back at Site 14 the Director is waving a sheet of paper in the face of an irate engineer, and saying, “I EXPECT you to do your job, Wilkins.”

Wilkins does not react well to this. “Get one of your D-Class goons to do it,” he yells. “They’re expendable. I’m not. If you want me to build this for you, I’m going to need to see written confirmation with the signatures of every single member of OS-5. Until such time I’m not touching that stuff with a ten foot pole.”

The Director grabs the man by his lapels and pulls him close, his eyes burning into the engineer’s like a laser. Something passes between them, something unspoken, and then the Director says softly this time, “Are you SURE you don’t want to build my little project for me?”

The engineer swallows hard, his eyes suddenly filled with something between terror and confusion. “I’m…I’m sure we can work something out.”

“Good. How long have you been standing there gawping, Dr. Hyde?” the Director asks without turning.

“Er…sorry sir. Not long sir. Only, you’d better be sure about this, sir. OS-5 isn’t going to be happy you went over their heads on the Telekill thing sir.”

“The board moves too slowly in situations like this Hyde,” the Director says, leaning hard on his cane with each step he takes, yet still somehow managing to move in such a way that the younger man finds it hard to keep up. “They’ll forgive me for going over their heads if it saves their necks. Now what do you WANT?”

“Oh, sorry sir, I should have said. “It’s commander Maverick. He says everything’s in place.”

The Director stops suddenly, and Hyde nearly plows into him from behind before coming up short. “Do you ever worry, doctor, that you’re beginning to enjoy your job just a little too much?”

A confused look passes over Hyde face, before he replies, “No sir. Not the first time.”

And with that the Director breaks into laughter that seems to go on for a very long time.