A Matter of Seasons

Twigs crunched under Nikos’s feet as he made his way to the border. All around him were the signs of summer: chirping birds, bright sun coming through the trees, and of course, the late summer heat. Nikos’s own appearance, however, did not reflect the season of his surroundings. Nikos was dressed from head to toe in the regalis of autumn. His cloak was made of autumn leaves, and his armor was the deep red gold of maple leaves in that most transitional of seasons. His hair, too, was of the same color, as were his eyes. Nikos had always gravitated towards the season of autumn, even as a child. It was a season of generosity and friendliness, when the beginnings of cold were seeping in. It matched his own personality, as he had always tried to be friends with as many people as possible. Though he had to admit, that tendency of his had caused him more harm than good as of late.

Nikos looked to the sky and saw the colors of autumn reflected in the setting sun. It would be twilight soon; the crossing would be open and he would soon be out of the Feywild forever. Nikos shook the thought from his head. It had been all he could do not to fall into the patterns of winter and despair all through the trial. Even when he was sentenced he tried to maintain a friendly and polite demeanor. But when he had seen the scorn in the eyes of his father, he felt icicles begin to form in his hair as a chill spread through his body. He had been stuck in the season of winter for the entire week leading up to his banishment. He had only been able to break the spell on the day the was told to begin walking towards the border.

Finally, Nikos reached the clearing that marked the end of the forest and the beginning of the border. Though the border itself was invisible, Nikos felt the hair on his neck stand on end. Clearly, there was magic about.

Suddenly, he heard a twig snap behind him. Turning around he saw a creature that was rare, even for a place like the Feywild: a unicorn. She was tall and regal looking, her fur the color of a snowfall. Yet it seemed as though she could disappear into the forest as easy as any creature with better camouflage. She looked at Nikos, and her blue eyes seemed to be staring into his very soul.

“Child,” she said, “why are you so far from the domain of your parents? Why have you come to this liminal place between worlds?”

“I am no longer welcome in my home,” said Nikos.

“Why not?” asked the unicorn.

And though Nikos was quite sure that he had never seen this creature in his entire life, he told her everything. He told her of his father’s rival, of the dare his older brother gave him, of the chase through the manor and up to the ramparts. He told her how he had dropped the bust he had tried to steal and how it had shattered beyond repair on the ground below. He told her of the trial, of his father, Nikos the Elder, and his scornful stare, full on in the implacable season of summer. And he told her of his shame and his banishment, though it made the chill of winter creep back up his spine.

The unicorn was silent during Nikos’s story, and only spoke once he had finished. “The selfishness of some eladrin never fails to amaze me,” she said. “That you committed a crime is evident. That you are guilty, there can be no doubt. But to banish you for such an affront? It seems too extreme.”

“I thank you for your sympathy,” said Nikos, “but unfortunately, my fate is sealed. I have brought dishonor on my family, and my father will not have me. I must try to find a home elsewhere.” With that, he turned to leave. He could already see the crossing shimmering into existence. Soon it would materialize fully, and he would leave his home forever.

“Wait.” Nikos turned around to face the unicorn. “Your fate may not be sealed just yet,” said the celestial. “I may be able to help you regain your father’s favor. If you were to slay a great monster, one that threatens both the material plane and the Feywild, your banishment may be lifted.”

“And how would I do that?” asked Nikos. He was no warrior, nor was he a mage.

“With my blessing,” said the unicorn. “There is a monster that hunts my kind. It travels throughout the material plane, killing unicorns. Whether it hunts us for sport or sustenance, i have no idea. I do not even have a description of the beast, save only for the dying words of one of its victims: ‘the Red Bull.’”

The unicorn stepped towards Nikos. “I will give you a portion of my power. It will grow in you like a seed, and you will become strong enough to face any foe. In return, you will find whatever this ‘Red Bull’ is, and you will kill it. If you do this, I will tell the Fey Court of the service you have rendered my kind, and your banishment may be lifted.”

Nikos looked at the creature before him. It was true that unicorns had great magical power, and could bless mortals with it. But if this beast had slain unicorns before, how could one mortal stand up to it? And yet, for the first time since his trial, he felt a glimmer of hope. Suddenly, there had come to him a way out of the darkness. This was his only chance to get back what he had lost.

“I accept,” said Nikos. The unicorn stepped closer to him. She bent over and touched her horn to Nikos’s forehead. As soon as the horn touched him, Nikos felt a brightness enter into his very being. He felt power within himself: power that was just beginning to take shape. He wasn’t sure if he could stand up to such a beast as this Red Bull just yet, but he knew that if he got stronger, he may be able to face it.

“Go,” said the unicorn, “and end this beast.” And with that, the unicorn stepped back into the forest’s edge and disappeared.          

Nikos turned around to face the crossing. It had fully materialized now: a door of light in a wall that wasn’t there. Before, it had been a symbol of Nikos’s shame. Now, it was just the first step of a long journey home. Nikos the Younger walked towards the door and vanished into the light.

I’m starting a thing where I stream myself writing on my Twitch channel. This was one of things I wrote today. It’s a backstory for a D&D character, Nikos the Younger, whom I will be playing tomorrow night at 8:30 PM EST on Quips N Crits, a live podcast on twitch. Come check out both streams sometime!

A Massive 5th of July Update

Ab out a year and a day ago, I made a post about not feeling too patriotic on the fourth. This year, however, I’m a bit tired of constantly being negative all the time, so I thought that I’d make a post about the good things that have happened in my life since the last time I posted, which was…three months ago?! I’m not good at this independent blogging thing.

Anyway, the first major good thing that happened is that I got a steady, part-time job at a local Office Max. It came with a slight pay raise over the bookstore and a guarantee of hours every week, so I’m making more money than I was. That’s all good. I’ll be honest, I kind of like the bookstore job, but they couldn’t give me enough hours, and I felt kind of underutilized an under-appreciated. I mostly work cashier at Office Max, which is not my favorite part of retail, but my managers have been praising my work and offering incentives, so it’s not that bad, really.

The second major thing that happened is that I accepted a position as a contributing writer to a RPG blog site called Nerdarchy.  Their focus is on fifth edition Dungeon and Dragons, which is perhaps my favorite edition of the game, so I feel very at home writing for it. In fact, my first article has already been posted. Go check it out!

All excitement aside, I broke an earlier rule of mine and I am basically writing for Nerdarchy for free. BUT. Nerdarchy has recently added a Patreon with a stretch goal that will allow them to pay all their writers for the work they do. So if you’re interested in helping out, go over give them a couple of bucks a month. In the meantime, if you want to support my work directly, you can always Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com.

The final thing I want to mention is really minor in the scheme of things. but it’s totally fun. I’ve recently started posting on an Instagram account. I put a link in the social links widget on the sidebar if you are interested in following. Mostly, I post pictures from my life. sometimes they are selfies, sometimes they are pictures of books I’m reading. And of course there are the obligatory cat pics. But the most interesting thing I’m doing is writing microfics to go along with pictures that I take.

These microfics are a ton of fun to write, and it’s especially fun to take pictures and use them as inspiration for writing. It’s a whole different experience from writing microfics on twitter, where all you have is the text. Here, I let the pictures tell me what I’m writing about. Thew picture and the text side-by-side create a much more powerful effect than either picture or text alone can.

 

I’m no photographer, but Instagram makes it easy to pretend that I am one. I know a few basic rules of composition, and combining that with a uick filter makes for some really cool pictures. For subjects, I use the buildings and signs around my hometown. Then I turn them into stories from another world. I love doing it, because ti feels liek I’m transforming my hometown into an episode of the Twilight Zone.

Anyway, I’m not on Facebook that much anymore, so if you want to stay up to date with what’s been going on in my life, Instagram is the way to go. And, occasionally, you’ll get a couple bits of fiction as well. If you want updates on my D&D writing, follow me on Twitter. I’ll be tweeting links to most of my articles. Anyway, hopefully it won’t take too long to post my next update. Fingers crossed!

Buy Me a Coffee, Get a Microfic!

Friends, followers, randos who stumbled on to my blog looking for something completely different, I come to you now with hat in hand. I’ll be honest, my financial situation hasn’t at all improved since the last time I posted about it. I’ve finally been confirmed as a seasonal employee at the bookstore, just in time for the hours to drop off and for me to no longer be necessary until next semester. I have no hours scheduled for this week, nor any for next week. I’m still looking for other jobs, but so far nothing has panned out.

To try and offset this, I have gone ahead an gotten myself a Ko-Fi page. Ko-Fi is a service that lets you leave tips to the artists and creators you love. It’s a way for you to show your appreciation without having to subscribe to a Patreon. You can make a one-time donation instead of committing to a monthly one, and the money goes directly to my PayPal account.

It’s incredibly easy to do. Just scroll over to that little button beneath my face on the sidebar and click it. That will take you to my Ko-Fi page, which will give you instructions on how to leave a tip. Don’t feel like going to the sidebar? Well, I can also put a button in my posts, like this!
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As a further incentive, every fifty dollars will magically turn into a piece of microfiction that I write and post exclusively to the Ko-Fi page. I thoroughly enjoy writing microfics, and I figure that this is a fun way to give back to the people who are giving to me. I’ve already posted a fic on the page to show you what they’d be like. Or you can check out this old blog post from back when I started posting microfiction to Twitter.

I hope you will consider supporting my writing. I genuinely love what I do, and I do genuinely need the money.

The World is Basically Neuromancer Now

I’m probably the last blogger in the world to write about this. The United Federation of Charles already posted a list of signs that we’re living in a cyberpunk future. During the election, people were noting the similarity between the political turmoil in the US of 2016 and the political turmoil of the US in Transmetropolitan. Penny Arcade has even been making jokes about how our video games have caught up to what Gibson envisioned.  But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Several of the biggest news stories right now are all about how we’ve created a digital dystopia for ourselves.

I don’t think I need to brief anybody on the whole Cambridge Analytica situation. That story is as ubiquitous as it is terrifying. The prospect of all your social media posts being used to profile you and even influence you in a certain way is ridiculously scary. That is an incredible amount of power for a corporation to have. But almost as horrifying is the ransomware attack in Atlanta, in which a small group of hackers is keeping an entire local government’s data hostage, forcing city officials to do all their work without the benefit on online records. This, of course, mirrors the ransomware attack in the UK last year which rendered many hospitals unable to treat their patients.

ransomware

All of this is having a conflicting effect on my writing: it’s making me want to write a cyberpunk style story while at the same time making me wary about doing so. I know that’s an incredibly self-centered take on the whole thing, but I can’t help but think about it. I am often inspired by what’s going on in the world around me when I write, and the world around me is currently dominated by the misuse of technology for personal gain. At the same time, I wonder if writing a cyberpunk style story about the future of a world that is basically cyberpunk already makes any sense. Conceivably, I could do a story about a hacker exposing corporate greed and corruption in the present without stretching willing suspension of disbelief at all. But the specific story I have in mind requires some technology that doesn’t exist yet.

But maybe this isn’t such a dilemma after all? Hell, William Gibson himself always said that his writing was more about the present than the future. And A Scanner Darkly was most definitely a reflection of the drug culture and police attitudes of the time when it was written. In any case, I’m sure there is still room for near-future science fiction in such a technologically saturated world. Perhaps what I really need to do is just have more faith that my ideas are good and worth reading. Feels like I’ve touched on that on this blog before, though…ah well, it’s not easy to be confident when you have a mood disorder.

P.S. – Stack Skills emailed me about a deal on a White Hat Hacking bundle. I am in no way affiliated with them, but I thought I’d pass the link along in case anybody felt like doing something more constructive about our cyberpunk nightmare world.

Dinosaurs

I started liking Dinosaurs when I was a kid.
I read books, watched The Land Before Time,
and played with little plastic dinos.
I wanted to grow up to be a paleontologist.
Instead, I became a writer.

Some people don’t like the revelation that dinosaurs had feathers.
They want the dinosaurs from their youth:
towering, reptilian predators,
monsters
that roamed the Earth without equal.
Godzilla,
basically.

But isn’t learning about the prehistoric past
part of the fund of dinosaurs?
It was for me, anyway.
Other kids pretended to be T-Rex,
stomping, roaring,
chasing other kids around the playground,
while I sat in the sandbox
burying all my plastic dinos
and then digging them up again,
brushing them off with an old paintbrush,
the way a paleontologist would.

Nostalgia and science:
they aren’t enemies.
Or, at least, they shouldn’t be.

And besides, I can’t be the only one,
who saw a picture of a feathered velociraptor
and immediately wanted to pet it.

A quick little poem for World Poetry Day, about dinosaurs, which are awesome. Especially with feathers.

In the Shadow of the Facility

The building taunted Arthur every time he walked past it. It stood there, all steel and glass, a modern architectural style designed to evoke medical cleanliness and peerless efficiency. No matter how hard he kept his eyes on the ground, the image of that facility remained burned into his consciousness, a reminder of the grisly deadline that lurked ever closer in Arthur’s future.

He would have just as soon have avoided walking past it except that it happened to be so close to the coffee shop. His daily cup of coffee was the only luxury Arthur had been able to fit into his current budget. His walk down to the shop had become a sort of ritual. It got him exercise, and got him out of the apartment and away from the constant pressure of bills. He felt that without this ritual, he really might be in danger of losing it.

Entering the shop, Arthur walked over to the counter, ordered his usual (a medium cup of coffee with cream), and took a seat by the window. He made sure he was facing away from the facility, and yet it still lurked in his mind. Arthur thought back to when the first facility of its kind opened in Washington, D.C. He remembered the president’s speech, promising an end to the nanny state, to the do-nothing parasite who suckled themselves on the government teat. Arthur remembered that he used to think the facility was a great idea. He had felt ecstatic when one had opened right here in Cleveland. Finally, he wouldn’t have to see so many transients on the way to work.

Arthur had continued to think this up until the day his manager called him in to talk about his performance. “So you see, Arthur,” the manager had said, peering at Arthur through his spectacles, “you just aren’t processing software change requests at an efficient pace.”

“But my work has been improving,” Arthur had protested. “Everyone has been saying so!”

“Yes, the individual requests you complete are quite thorough. But you see, it’s not just about the quality of thew work. We also have to consider the rate at which the work is done. Efficiency is key. Do you see what I’m saying?”

Arthur had, in fact, understood. The modern world worked at a blinding pace, and those who couldn’t keep up were left behind. Arthur had seen then that his protests would be in vain. The manager, for his part, had been nothing but cordial. He had even walked Arthur to his car to make sure he was OK to drive. This politeness didn’t stop Arthur from cursing the manager out as he pulled away, however.

In the months that followed, Arthur fervently applied to every business that would take him. And every week, he had received another email apologizing to him for the inconvenience and wishing him luck on his job search. Around the three month mark, he had begun having nightmares about men in clean, crisp uniforms coming to his apartment and dragging him screaming into the metal and glass doors of the facility, never to be seen again. These nightmares had continued unabated throughout the rest of his job search.

Shaking his head, Arthur brought himself back to the present. Though the nightmares were terrifying, the future they predicted was not yet a forgone conclusion. There was still a few days before the six month deadline. and just last week he had attended a promising interview with a local tech support call center. Sure, it wasn’t the most glamorous work, but it was better than the alternative. And besides, in all likelihood it was the last chance he’d get.

Suddenly, Arthur felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. Taking it out, he saw that he had gotten an email from the tech support company. Arthur felt his heart begin to pound. Opening the email, Arthur read the words “We are sorry,” and then the room began to spin. Arthur felt himself take shallow breath after shallow breath. He felt beads of sweat form on his brow. His sight became unfocused, and he couldn’t read the rest of the email. He didn’t need to, anyway. He knew what it said.

Then Arthur heard the tiny ringing sound of the bell on the coffee shop’s door. He didn’t need to see who had come in. The men from the facility were here for him. Arthur knew this in his very bones. “Run,” said a voice in his head. “Run, run now!” And Arthur did run. He ran out of the door and straight into the street.  There was the honk of a car horn, a screech of the brakes, the crunch of bone under rubber, and then finally, nothing.

This is a story I wrote a couple of months ago, basically just as a way to deal with the stress of being unemployed. It’s completely self-indulgent and over-the-top, but MAN was it cathartic to write. Writing is good therapy, even if the result is kind of grim.

Would You Like to Work for Free?

It’s been a while since I posted anything on this blog, so I’ll start with an update on my economic situation.

I have a job. It’s a minimum wage job, and it was supposed to be temporary, but they’ve kept me on longer than any other temporary employees. However, they still can’t give me an answer on whether or not they’re gonna keep me on on a more permanent basis. To top it off, they’ve steadily been decreasing my hours at work. When I started, I averaged around twenty-five hours a week or so – a steady, part-time gig. There was even a week where I got up to forty hours. Last week, I only worked eight hours. This week, I’ve got one four-hour shift.

So, naturally, I’ve been applying to other jobs. So far, not many have been calling me back. One did a few weeks ago, though, and eventually I was able to schedule an interview. It was for a tutoring position at a local community college. They pay rate was good, just under fifteen dollars an hour, and it would be part-time. I felt that I was pretty qualified for the position, as well. I went to the interview and talked with the professor for a good long while. I felt a represented myself well.

Today I received an email saying that the college is looking for someone with more experience tutoring. Normally, such an email would end there. However, the professor took the time to tell me that she knows how hard it is to get experience in the current job market, and so she also extended and offer to me to do some volunteer tutoring. Essentially, I would be doing the job that I applied for, but for free, with the possibility of eventually being hired being dangled in front of me like a carrot the entire time.

I know someone in a similar situation. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Parks and Recreation management, and has been volunteering with the Cleveland Metroparks for years, trying to get his foot in the door there so that he can get an actual, salaried position. It’s never happened. I’m also reminded of all the people I see who ask my artist friends to draw something for them for free or for exposure. Again, the chance of that exposure translating into more paid work is being used like a carrot in front of a donkey to try and get them to work for free.

This seems to be a perfectly acceptable tactic in today’s society, and it boggles my mind how that can even be. Proponents of capitalism say that workers should be paid exactly what their labor is worth. But so often that doesn’t happen, and the capitalists shrug and say “if you’re willing to work for it, it must be enough” and “if you don’t like it, work somewhere else.” But I’ve looked everywhere for paying work and it’s either paying shit or you can’t get your foot in the door. So eventually you are forced to compromise and give someone your work for less than what it’s worth just on the off-chance that doing so can build your resume enough that you get a better job. And I just don’t think that’s fair.

P.S. – To clarify, I’m not ragging on the concept of volunteer work. If you have some extra time in your schedule and you want to help out a charity or community fixture such as a library, that’s perfectly acceptable. I’m upset about the idea of free labor being a lead-in for paying work. I feel it’s a disingenuous, slimy cop out.