Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Meh

I'm in an inspiration drought, and still feeling lazy as hell, so I'm just going to post something I was toying around with awhile ago. A story about a guy who lives his life in stories. One of those, it doesn't matter if the story is true or not, the story itself can be important kinds of things. Haven't written anything else on it in awhile, but I might come back to it eventually.

Also, Megaman Legends 3. I'm not even sure what to say about this. I'm am at once both absolutely psyched and already planning on running back through the first two games...and horrendously disappointed. Psyched because I absolutely loved the first two Legends games and a conclusion to the series is gonna be a great thing. Disappointed because it's coming out for the Nintendo 3DS, which I'm not really interested in and which sounds like just another Nintendo gimmick I won't care for. Le sigh.

Anyways, same routine as always, comment with thoughts, etc.

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For as long as I can remember— and granted, through the haze of booze, cigarette smoke, and neon, that isn't exactly that long— my life has always been about stories. It wasn't until I got here, a garage reeking of synthetic oils and elbow grease, amidst the constant clinking of poker chips and low hum of the ceiling fan that sucked in a half dozen or more trails of smoke from lazily smoked cigarettes. It was here, at the weekly poker game of a group of guys from every background who'd done everything, it seemed, there was to do anymore, that it all fit together.

I can still remember the first real story I was ever told. When I was a kid, my parents were killed in an accident. I was too young to understand the details then, too young to even understand the implications all at once. All I got was that mommy and daddy were killed somewhere in the desert where they were working, and that meant I wasn't going to see them anymore. Being only five or six, I still remember thinking it was like a TV show getting canceled or something; they were gone, but that didn't mean they couldn't come back at some point.

It wasn't until I got older that I got the whole story. My parents were doctors working in the Middle East, helping out those that couldn't afford or otherwise reach help. They had gone into Q'Irah just before the war, and had opened up a small clinic. At first they were helping the refugees from the south who were coming in by the bloodied truckload every day. They had a shoe-string budget, more bodies than beds, and the ever present threat of the Q'Irah government cracking down on them for aiding people they were attempting to exterminate, but they pressed on, saving hundreds, maybe thousands of lives over the course of a month or two.

Then, when the Pan-Pacific Alliance, united under the blinding might of our own country's military, declared war on Q'Irah for human rights violations, genocide, use of biological and chemical agents and a dozen other things (none of which included the vast economic boon expected from the reconstruction and “redistribution” of Q'rah's land and resources), shit hit the fan. Suddenly, instead of having a few more patients than they could handle, they were packed to the rafters with the dead and dying. Where, before, they had been able to stretch their thin supplies just well enough to get by, now they ended every week, if not every day, with nothing on hand. And worst of all, now it was not the Q'Irah government to be feared, but their own.

Day in and day out, they struggled. Twice they were robbed for supplies, mainly painkillers and bandages, once by a patient they had just released. The Red Cross ,who had been providing them supplies before, packed up and moved out, heading to PPA controlled territory. Every day, the howl of jets overhead got more frequent, and the dull rumbling of exploding ordinance got closer and closer. Finally, it was thoughts of me, their young son back home in the States, that settled them on the idea of leaving.

On their last day, they packed up what little of personal value they had left, closed up the shop, and planned to hop into a truck filled with supplies heading for the nearest PPA-held town, Khalef. The driver of the truck had been a patient of theirs, and, having owed my parents his life, gladly offered to risk his to help them. Early on the morning of March 13th, 2005, the nervous couple sat just inside their soon to be abandoned clinic and waited.

For two hours past the appointed rendezvous time, they sat in silence, waiting for their ride out. The truck, unbeknownst to them, had been stopped by Q'Irah soldiers only a few blocks from them. There, the driver was not lucky enough to escape death for questioning his government a second time, and was shot dead. My parents, left unaware, sat waiting until 8:32 AM, local time.

Then, too quick to leave them any time to say goodbyes, an explosion annihilated their clinic, as well as several buildings around it. The explosion had come from an Amistrian smartbomb, one that had landed, as it was designed, perfectly on target. That's right, their own government killed them. Some bad intel had pinned them as a gathering place for enemy militia, failing to mention that they were a medical facility, owned and operated by citizens of the United Amistrian Federation. The site was targeted and wiped promptly off the map in one of over a hundred other pinpoint bombing runs that day.

In accordance with their wishes, my grandma and grandpa on my mother's side became my guardians. Their assets were sold off or placed in either their name or mine, and their funeral was held in their hometown of Rockbend two weeks later. Aside from that our family got a letter from the government, complete with authentic stamped-on signature and the sort of feigned condolences that made you sure that you were reading one of a few thousand identical letters.

Monday, September 27, 2010

This is Fine

Been a long time since I've written anything really, much less posted here. Such is life when you work, I guess. But, I guess tonight I finally got the necessary wild hare up my ass and decided to write a bit. It's not long, or particularly good, but I wasn't really inspired to write anything, so I just sort of stared off into space until my fingers started hitting keys. Seemed to have worked alright. Anyways, tell me what you think, and I'll try to post more often here lol

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In the distance he can hear it— a high, desperate cry. It beckons him.
He wakes up, slowly, the darkness and deep fog of sleep and lethargy lifting slowly from his eyes as he silences his alarm clock. He sits up and rubs at his eyes before feeling someone stirring softly beside him. She's still asleep, he thinks, and pulls the covers up carefully, covering her shoulders. Beneath the long flowing river of scarlet that covers her face, he knows, is his wife. She is gorgeous, a masterpiece no great thinker could ever dream up, no great painter could ever capture perfectly.
He leaves his bed, dressing in only a robe before leaving their room. He has nowhere to be but wherever he likes, no one to. The kitchen is full, and, in minutes, he's made himself a simple breakfast of coffee, eggs, and toast. Taking his plate, he strolls out onto his balcony, leaving his dishes for his maid to clean. From here, his view extends out to the very reaches of the city in the clear morning air. He takes a seat, lights a cigarette from a pack left on the table for him by who-knows, and relaxes.
This is fine, he thinks, a man could certainly enjoy living a life free from worry in total leisure. But somehow, he can still hear it. Again, and again, it screams, calling to him. But for what?

Bolting upright, he swats at his phone, again silencing an alarm. Looking around, he recognizes the pale walls, the old but comfortable couch, and the view of skyscrapers surrounding him from outside the window. He is in the break room at his office building. Just a dream, he thinks, before punching back in for work.
At his desk, he works, relaxed but efficient. Soon, he knows, his bosses will promote him again, sending him ever higher up the corporate ranks, but he doesn't need it. He makes more than enough to make a comfortable living, and needs nothing he can't afford. A part of him wants to keep ascending, but he struggles to see the point. The work is long and mind-numbing, and he simply can't force himself to want more of it than he already gets.
As the day wears on and his pile of work gets ever smaller, he looks with a smile at the framed picture of his family and himself. Taken on vacation in Europe a few years back, he tries to recall more about the trip but it's hazy. He stares at the smiling faces of his wife and children. He already worries he sees them too little, but their time apart only makes their time together that much sweeter. He smiles at the thought and leans back in chair for a moment.
This is fine too, he thinks, a man could grow to love a life of hard work that pays off so well. But there it is again. Like a hand, reaching out and grasping desperately at him. It demands more.

The shock of the shrill alarm sends him tumbling half out of bed. Another dream, he sighs. Looking at the time, he panics and dresses quickly. It was a nice dream, he thinks, but no time for dreams. Thirty minutes before work, and he can't afford to be late. The squeal of car horns and the dull rumbling of traffic outside his window no longer bothered him, but the louder it was, he knew, the longer it would take to get to work.
Twenty five minutes later, and he is on the clock and catching his breath from the rough walk to work. The eight hours of cheap, menial labor, sandwiched between mile and a half long walks isn't anything he looked forward to, but it is just a job. It pays the bills, and that was what mattered for the time being. He isn't planning on being just a cashier for some big, soulless corporation forever, anyways. He would find something he liked better eventually— hopefully something that paid more— and then he would be set. Besides, he started thinking, maybe it's better to just have a job you don't care about when you're young. You could far more easily slack off in a dead-end job than you could in a “career,” anyways.
As he checks people out, he feels his phone vibrate in his pocket. A quick check between customers brings a smile to his face. That cute girl he had met working the graveyards at the gas station a block from his apartment texted him back. Sure lol coffee tmr sounds good :). As another customer pushes a cart of junk his way, he hides his phone, but keeps the grin on his face and the thought of a date in mind as he drifts slowly away, letting his body go on autopilot.
This is fine, too, he thinks, a man could get used to working hard for little reward, hoping good things come his way. Then it calls out to him again, louder this time and getting louder still. He covers his ears and winces in pain, customers looking on in caution and confusion.

Turning off his alarm, he looks at the time. It is noon, and he has overslept again. He sits up in bed and rubs his forehead. He coughs and it echoes off the walls of the bedroom of his tiny apartment. He is alone here.
The kitchen is clean enough to manage a cup of coffee, but the bread has gone stale, and he has put off getting eggs. His stomach grumbles, and so does he. Another dream, he thinks, and scratches his stubble. He checks his pockets and finds a mostly empty pack of cigarettes, stepping outside to enjoy a morning smoke with his coffee. Again, he clothes himself in only a robe. He is unemployed, and has nowhere to be today, no one to see.
Outside, the air is cold, and he wishes he had done laundry already so he'd have another layer to put on. He lights his cigarette and sips at the steaming cup of black coffee, but every drink and every drag reminds him of something. The energy bill is due tomorrow. Rent in a week. Savings are running low. Almost out of food. He sighs and stares out at the frost-covered parking lot for a moment before putting his cigarette out on the bottom of his slipper and flicking it out into the street and going back inside.
He sits at his desk and opens up his laptop. There, he sees it, his goal, his ticket out of poverty, his dream. It's his project, and despite all sense, it's what he has poured day after countless day into. Everything else, any other work cannot catch his interest, but this is the project that keeps him going, keeps him coming back. It is his passion, and despite how nonsensical or financially unsound it may be, it is something he cannot help but pursue. He dreams of it being a wild success, becoming rich off something he loves, but he also dreams of failure, of chasing a delusion into the gutter. It is a chance he is more than willing to take. Stretching and polishing off the day's first cup of coffee, he collects his ideas and gets down to work.
This is good, he thinks. A man can live an easy life, rich and without a care in the world. A man can live, spending most of his life so bored with hard work he can hardly remember the good times he squeezes in. A man can even live doing the bare minimum to get by, just trying to grab at whatever opportunity comes by. But, he thinks, I can only feel alive if I have a dream to chase, bearing whatever suffering may come so I can climb higher and higher towards an ever ascending goal. And, but for the steady tapping of his foot and the work of his hands, there was silence.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Something a little different

I began to notice some common themes in my writing, both in what's kept here and what's left for my harshest critic alone. Chief among these commonalities seemed to be that every story of bitter or broken romance I told worked out in entirely the same way: man in love->gets girl->shit goes awry->exit girl->man in reflective woe. In attempting to get my writing chops back up to snuff, then, I wanted to write something different.

Oh wait, no, that's a lie. I actually just really liked the image of a guy smoking and reading a letter in a bathtub from Franny and Zooey, so I wanted to use it. That, and once I started writing, the idea of creating a sort of anti-Gatsby was entertaining to me. Oh well, maybe some day I'll actually start trying to get better. Maybe. Anywho, enjoy.

Also, I actually have a title, hilariously gay as it may be, for this one. New things, I tell ya, new things. 'S called "Dandelion Bracelets"

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He spent his nights those days looking out over the city's glowing skyline in the sort of melancholy way one looks at the photo of an ex-girlfriend. It had been his once, all of it. Perhaps not tangibly—he'd never been given the key to the city or owned the deeds to any plot of land—but, damn it, it had all been right there, right in the palm of his hands. Sometimes, in the twilight, he'd hold his hands out towards the symphony of lights and think of Gatsby. Is this how he was supposed to have felt? Like everything in the world is shallow and pointless except the things you can't have? The things you almost had?

Only weeks ago—and had it really only been that long?—he'd reached out for his own faint green light. And, for awhile, he held that light, that single manifestation of unkempt desire in his hands. Then, after years of trying, years of struggle, years of playing the game together, she walked out. With her gone, his life seemed, not to collapse, but to slowly and unavoidably wither away around him. In the seven long days of complete radio silence from her, he could think about nothing else. Obsession in it's least adulterated from. And then, when that too ended, there was nothing left but nights that dragged on emptily, save for hours spent gazing off into the sea of terrestrial stars.

On the night in question, however, he had taken a break from his nightly staring contest with the ghosts of What-Could-Have-Been, the ones that resided exclusively in far away lights, supped only on the finest of broken dreams, and listened just to the idle delusional banter of dreamers. Instead, he had drawn the shades, filled up his bathtub, filled the room with soft blues, and sank into the steaming water with a cigarette in his mouth and the first nail in his young man's coffin in hand.

It was a letter, the ratty condition of which was evidence to how frequently it had been read. The pages were torn, dog-eared, and re-folded so many times that the words written on the crease lines were now perfectly illegible. Of course, to the one who had poured over every word of the missive so many times that was immaterial; he knew most of it by heart at this point, anyway.

Before even daring to start reading again, however, he set the letter on the tile floor beside the tub and fetched the lighter from his discarded pants pocket. The unbelievably tacky and ostentatious gold plated Zippo spat out a weak flame that flickered dangerously in his breath. It had been one of his first stupid impulse buys after the money started trickling down to him, purchased for the express purpose of showing everyone that he had come up in the world. Now, the burnt out lighter was little more than a symbol and constant reminder of exactly where he was in life.

Taking the letter back in his still dry hands, he absentmindedly flicked his cigarette, the ash tumbling down into his bath water. He took a deep breath in, his eyes closed in a futile attempt to clear his mind, before reading.

“To My Most Dear John Mallory,

I fear it has been ages since you've heard from me, and, worse yet, I fear you may think something dreadful has happened to your most lovable of investments of time and energy. But, really, you need not worry your big handsome mug over it too much, dearest, because I assure you I am quite alright. Well, that is to say I'm in good health and in rather good spirits, though whether or not I'm alright is one of those 'eye of the beholder' things. Mumsy seems to think I've gone completely and wonderfully bonkers, and Daddy has said little to me but 'Are you sure you're alright' for the last week or so, but now I'm afraid I'm just running in circles.

But now where to begin? I knew exactly what to tell you only hours ago, but, wouldn't you know it, my words have failed me. See, I was out buying flowers for my room at that lovely little corner shop a few blocks from our summer home—you know, the one that had that stuffed bear as big as a truck in the front window you said, ever so sweetly, that you'd buy for me some day when you had the money—when the florist's granddaughter came skipping in. Not running or walking, mind you, but actually skipping. That's important. She was a delightfully adorable little redhead, complete with pigtails, freckles, blue plaid skirt, and even missing buck teeth. I sometimes wonder why it is that little kids always seem to lose their two front teeth at the same time, giving them the distinct giant gap in their smile that comes with young age. Anyways, this girl of no more than eight or nine comes skipping into the store, looks up at me with my vase of flowers, cocks her head to the side in curiosity and says, “Lady, why are you buyin' flowers?”

Her grandmother seemed quite ready to scold her on the spot and send her paying customer on her way, but I waved her off and smiled at the little girl. I told her that the flowers were awfully pretty, and I'd love to have them to brighten up my room. The girl looked back at me, her look having shifted from confused to downright puzzled. “Buuuuuut,” she said, “Shouldn't your boyfriend get your flowers for you instead? My boyfriend gave me this and I love it.” She extended her wrist to show off her present, a bracelet made of tied dandelions.

I suppose I should have said something back, but the best I could do was shrug. Really, I wasn't sure how to explain why you weren't buying the flowers for my room, why they weren't a romantic surprise waiting for me when I got home. Looking at her, I started to think that maybe it's only natural that the healthiest relationships are only possible when we're that young, before we learn too much and want more than dandelion bracelets and kisses on the cheek when no one is looking. It's a terribly sad thought, don't you think?

While I was walking home, I wondered what it would have been like if we had met as children? I suppose we were both probably very different then, but still, I can't help but think about it. Would you have seen me at the playground and thought I was cute? Would you have been the sort to tease me to show me you liked me, or would you have just come right out and say it, maybe stealing a quick kiss? Would you have left your friends to come play on the swings with me? Maybe we would have eaten lunch together, sharing a pack of fruit snacks, you eating only the purple and orange ones because I didn't like them.

But then, I feel like you know the answer, don't you? I'm sure if you think about it, you could probably say for certain all the cute little things you would have done that would have won my adolescent heart over just as quickly as you did with my adult heart. And so we both know that, even then, I would have been getting my own flowers, or picking my own dandelions, I guess. And I probably would have been giving you the bracelet, because what else did I have to give you then?

I guess I'm getting off track again. It's funny, because when I set out to write you, it was just going to be maybe a page, maybe even only the front of the paper, too. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, but, testament to how hard I've fallen for you, I just can't really do it. So now I'm rambling, and I suppose you'll have to forgive me for that.

It's funny, because I never would have had to write this if it hadn't been for our last date. I never would have realized, never would have connected the dots. So, thank you, I guess. If you hadn't cared so little as to forget our anniversary, I never would have gotten angry enough to come looking for you. If you hadn't slipped up just quite so badly, I wouldn't have been that determined to find you. I mean, really, going out and partying on the anniversary of our third year together after making a date with me? You spent so long playing your game flawlessly that for awhile I thought you just wanted to get caught. I figured maybe you felt bad. It seemed possible you knew you were wrong but had just come too far, so you wanted me to walk in, just in time to see your drunken make-out with whoever that blonde was.

It's not true though, is it? Everyone makes mistakes, and yours was just getting a little too cocky, a little too complacent. You knew you had me so very solidly that you thought you were bulletproof. Of course, everyone thinks that at least a little bit, right up until the first time they get shot.

Honestly, you'd think I'd be mad. One would suppose that having been so completely foolish for you would have me brokenhearted. Daddy looked truly shocked when I stopped him from marching out of the house, his shotgun in hand. His little muttered mantra of “Little fucker...Should know I'm rich enough to kill him and get away with it” was and is still just kind of entertaining. I guess I'm not angry because I'm just simply too impressed.

I really am, you know. You had me buying into a real fairy tale. Horrendously attractive and popular guy meets quiet and nerdy girl and is inexplicably lovestruck. She had never been asked out before, so when this Man With Everything a Girl Could Want says, “Would you like to come to dinner with me tonight,” she is both shocked and skeptical. But her skepticism is defeated, when he is completely, earnestly in love. He plays her guitar, plays the right movies while they cuddle up on her couch, and plays the perfect gentleman in front of all her friends and family. She falls for him, and so do those same friend and family. They make love, her first time, and there are fireworks, actual fireworks bursting in the distance (From the independence Day celebration, but still). They move into a lavish downtown condo, a full year's worth of rent paid in advance by her father, he gets a job more lucrative than he could have imagined, also courtesy of her father, they attend country club balls together, and so on.

I was really looking forward to the happily ever after to finish that story, but I guess that's because I didn't hear the whole thing. Really, you just knew I was from a wealthy family and you wanted to make it big. You played your part, the hopelessly love-stricken romantic, perfectly, and got exactly what you wanted. Money, I'm guessing, or maybe something less concrete like status or power. For all I know, you might have played me like a fool just to say you did. Whatever your goal was, you put in the work for years, and you got it.

Of course, the way I hear it, most of it's gone now. Daddy put the call in to ensure you were fired before I'd even finished the story, and most, if not all, of our mutual friends hate you with the same sort of passion now. The cash flow from my family's run dry, too, and since you don't have a job, I'm guessing money's getting awfully tight.

And yet, what you still have—the clothes, that lighter, and the apartment—I don't want taken from you. The TVs, the home theater set-up, and all of that other fancy electronic nonsense I purchased for us are already collecting dust back here, and that's fine by me, but I want you to have the things you still do, the spoils of your conquest that still remain.

In part, if I must be honest (and I really see no point in stopping now), it's because part of me is still in love with you. If truly the heart can be so foolish, mine is for you. But more than that, I want the hollow trappings of your short lived success over that gullible heart to stick with you. Every day you spend alone in our home, or with whatever cheap company you bring around to keep the illusion of importance around yourself, I want you to see and remember how empty it all is. While we were together, while you had a girlfriend who loved you dearly and all the money you could ever need, you probably felt incomplete because you still didn't have enough. Now that it's done, before you move onto your next all-too-willing fool, you're no better than a snake, stripped of its limbs for its sins and forced to crawl around in the dirt.

Look at me, I'm rambling again. I suppose my point at the end of it all is that I'm really not angry at you. I suppose you are the first person I've ever honestly been able to say I've loved, and also the first I've honestly been able to say I've hated entirely, but I'm not angry at you. The short truth of it is, I feel bad for you. No matter how deeply you've hurt me or how many tears need to still be shed over you, I'll heal in time. But you? This miserable, unhappy, never satisfied person that I've come to know in the last few weeks is who you really are. And so, while everyone reminds me how livid with you I should be, I won't be able to feel anything but sadness for you. Maybe real love does exist, even for us poor excuses for grown-ups. But not for you, John.

-Lynette”

Without thinking, John dropped his last cigarette into the water around him, which had grown cold and murky with ash and grime in the time it had taken him to read through the letter four times. He was lost in the search, as he had been every few nights since the letter arrived, for any and every possible opening he had to worm his way back into her good graces. Like a machine, his mind churned out every variation and every wording of every half truth, fabrication, and outright lie he could think of. By now, he knew there were at least a few that had a decent percentage of working; this was, after all, far from his first rodeo.

But every time he opened the letter and completed this bitter ritual, he inevitably folded the letter back up, tossed it aside, and decided against having anything more to do with Lynette Dyson. He told himself it was just good sense. As far as he could tell, being a good con man came down to one very essential skill: Knowing when to cut and run. And this one, a three year investment with relatively little long-term profit, was surely due for his departure.

But was it really that?

John stared down at the cigarette butt floating slowly across its squalid pond. Things were not meant to be so calm. He'd been caught before and knew how this story was supposed to end. His and Lynette's relationship was supposed to go out like a dying star, a massive, violent supernova. When something like this turned sour, it was best to be three counties away before the girl's parents' phone could even ring. But this time, things just fizzled out like a dead sparkler, ghosts of smoke trailing up from a tiny ember. It left a bad taste in his mouth.

The whole affair did, really. He'd come so close, so damn close to having everything he could ever want. A doting wife, all the cash in the world, a nice place, any girl on the side he could want, friends, cars—The Life. The whole city, hell, any city, would have been his for the taking. It was the kind of thing that kept him thinking about trying again, trying to spin things his way and start the game into overtime.

But he just couldn't bring himself to do it.

He pulled the plug and the gray water began slowly draining around him. He
told himself tomorrow, for real this time, he'd go out and start looking for a new mark. Tomorrow, he'd just throw the damn letter away and be done with it. And that stupid lighter too. Yeah, tomorrow he'd hop right back on the track to the top, simple as that. But for tonight—one last night, is all—he'd lay awake and stare at the ceiling, lost in thoughts of how silly children could be and of rings of dead weeds dangling from simpler, happier wrists.


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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New novel concept

Starting a new novel concept. Going a bit deeper into the realm of fantasy than I ever have before, so it should be interesting, but we'll see how it pans out. For now, enjoy the first 5 pages, packed with gunslingery goodness. And by goodness, I mean stuff I wrote when tired and haven't even read back over yet.

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It was late evening and the setting desert sun bled light the color of faraway dying leaves into the sky. In the town of Khalish, a single stranger sat at the weekly meeting, his features hidden almost entirely by his sand-worn traveler's mantle and hood. Only his eyes showed, and they were expressionless, emotionless, yet sharp. The townsfolk hardly noticed, however, filing in around him in the circular room of the town hall. As he leaned against the wall only yards from the exit, the locals pushed and fought for seats on the rings of carved stone benches surrounding the little open circle at the middle of the room. Standing there was the man they all came to see, the town's unopposed chief, shaman, healer, and guardian. From the tattoos running up and down his aged skin, the stranger could tell he was an accomplished and powerful mage.

He's got a “Band of Jygalis on each bicep, the stranger observed silently, that means he's got plenty of strength in those old bones. The “Rising Serpent” on his right wrist means he's got potent poison spells...and that he's right handed. And the “Eyes of Oasis” on his forehead mean he's an illusionist. The stranger slowly, calmly, put a hand into a pocket in his mantle and kept his eyes on the man in the center. The dry skin of his hand met the small piece of lashwood he had cut from a bush before he'd reached the desert, the blade-like thorns threatening to tear into him if he pressed against it any harder.

The dull roar of the townspeople died down instantly as the Chief raised his head and looked out at them. For a brief moment, his eyes met the stranger's. A normal man's eyes would've missed the minute smirk that graced the lips of the Chief for that instant. A normal man wouldn't have even read anything into such a small, almost imperceptible sign. But the stranger was anything but a normal man, and he knew exactly what that little insignificant smirk meant. He pressed the back of his hand against the lashwood feeling the intense sting as the thorns pierced into his flesh. He was ready for what would inevitably come.

For a moment, before the Chief began to speak, the stranger recalled a time when he wasn't so prepared. Still in training, he had run into a master illusionist who had used him like a puppet. To him, the living dead were invading, coming in hordes for his juicy living meat. In reality, the zombies he was attempting to kill were average citizens of the city of Leddick, and, were his Master not there to cut the magical strings that bound him, he would've slaughtered the whole town. Under his coverings, he smiled to himself— he'd come a long way since then.

In the silence of the gathering, the Chief cleared his throat, then produced a long, ornate golden pipe. Packing it with some esoteric blend of tobacco and narcotics, he produced a small flame from his index fingertip. Lighting the pipe, he took a single long drag and then exhaled, shooting an impossibly long and dense stream of smoke out into his audience. Starting already, the stranger thought, a little impatient, aren't we? The audience shared none of the same skepticism, however, and they ooh-ed and aah-ed as the fictional smoke filled the room. To them, it was real as could be; they could smell it, feel the heat of it on their skin, felt their lungs burn slightly as they breathed it in.

“People!” the Chief began, his loud voice thundering through the crowd,” MY people! I come to you today, as I do at the end of every month, with a lesson. My people, it has been a fruitful year for us, and in the days to come, we can only hope to enjoy such bounty. In the last month, the trade route between the great green North and the Trade City Lakhas connected our humble land with the great wealth and influence of the world. Truly, this is a great and amazing thing! Now, like never before, we people of Khalish have access to things many of you have never seen, never before even dreamt of. Wellstones, holding vast supplies of magical energy, medicines and clothing made from the exotic plants and animals of the forests to the north, tools made from the powerful metals mined from the towering mountains of the east, and more now pass by our doorsteps.”

As he spoke and gestured with his hands, the smoke began to swirl around him. Slowly but surely, the smoke began to take shape until it formed a model of Khalish, itself, sprawling just above the head of the Chief. In his model, small figures moved about happily, and caravans of camels marched through, leaving behind boxes that burst apart when touched by the smoke-people, swirling about them and making them larger and more jubilant.

“This, my friends, my family, my people, is most assuredly a cause for great joy. But...I would not be standing here before you if stories ended so simply. No, my people, these joys, these wonders, they are great things, but they must be used carefully. You see, hidden here in the desert, we have suffer the pains of seclusion from the world, but we have also enjoyed the benefits of seclusion. While the rest of the world suffered injustices, prejudices, wars, and the like, we have always been a family, a collection of people entirely at peace with one another. But now we, too, are a part of the world, and we must be careful that the poisons of the world outside of Khalish do not taint our beloved home,” he said, the citizens of his smoke village being strangled and consumed by the boxes left by the caravan. The crowd gasped and whispered amongst themselves. The stranger watched in silence, the pain in his hand keeping his perceptions of reality and of the illusion equal but separate.

“Allow me to tell you a story, my children, of a people that lived long before any of us. They lived before Karak set foot upon our world, forming the desert we call home. They were known as the Akiri, and they lived thousands of years before any of us were born. The archeologists of the world are just now learning about them, but they are people we have long known about. The great spires that still stand in the desert that we use as way points were theirs long ago, the pieces of strange green glass that we still find in shards were theirs, and the only surviving ruin of their once apparently great civilization, Djarah, sits in the middle of this desert of ours. But where have they gone?”

The smoke dispersed and formed itself into single figures constructing an even larger city than the mock Khalish. This one had massive spires, and as the figures built, color flooded into the smoke, filling the city they built.

“The Akiri, from what little remains of them, were obviously a a people with power and knowledge vastly superior to our own. And yet, they are gone now, their greatness left to become no more than grains of sand blowing about in the wind.”

The color faded from the smoke city and it and its inhabitants collapsed, leaving only the slowly expanding cloud of smoke.

“But then, how are we to last? If we are to believe smarter, stronger people were eventually destroyed and forgotten, then how can we hope to escape the same fate? The answer lies in the Akiri's power, itself. You see, my children, Djarah shows the fate that befell the Akiri. The last true remnant of their culture is a temple, in which a massive painting depicts the people of the Akiri cities praying for an angel of death, who comes and rains crimson lightening upon them as they rejoice. Do you get it, children? Do you understand? The Akiri destroyed themselves, not by accident, but on purpose! They intentionally used their immense power to wipe themselves completely off of the scrolls of history. But why? Because they knew they had become corrupt and wished that no one that would come after them would make the same mistakes! That, my children, is the evil power of the wonders that now pass by us. Power poisons the good man, strength corrupts the just! You must now be ever watchful for the burning claws of the world's greed and lust for more power, more strength sinking into our fair city. You may think it cannot happen, that our humble village has not the value to gain the attention of those in the great cities that sit on thrones of greed to come for us, but you are naive!”

The smoke began to swirl around the Chief faster and faster as he spoke with more and more fire and passion. The townspeople were lost in the illusion, completely swept up by the force of his spell and they were seconds away from leaping out of their seats in a frenzy.

“You see, my dearest sons and daughters, there is already a dog of some government here to claim what is yours for his masters! He sits amongst you, waiting for his chance to sell you all for a profit! He has not learned from the mistakes of our forefathers, the Akiri, but instead rushes to the same bitter fate!”

The smoke swirled faster now, forming a single rushing cloud that spun rapidly around the Chief as if it were a living thing. The stranger's free hand inched slowly to his waist, seeing what was coming and knowing just how quickly he could respond to it. Sure enough the Chief threw his hands into the air in a wild shout, his whole body trembling, before dropping a single arm in an accusing point at the stranger.

“It is him my children! HE is the filthy vermin that seeks to poison our homes! HE is the death of the Akiri! HE is the death of us, lest we be the death of him first!”

The smoke broke free of the rings it spun, flying directly for the stranger as the crowd in front of him became a frenzied mob, scrambling to their feet. Had he been unprepared like he was in Leddick, the smoke would've blinded him and the mob would've gotten to him. They would've torn at him and beat him until he bled to death, then they'd have buried him out in the sand. There his story would've ended. But he was not unprepared. He had learned from Leddick; that was his gift. He always learned.

His free right hand moved to the holster at his waist and gripped the solid grip of his weapon, pulling it free and leveling it at the closest member of the mob in half a second. It was fast, but not perfect. Lucian had always had the best of them all when it came to his work with their weapon. His draw was so fast you could hardly see it, and he could shoot a fly from across the room before most could even see it. His talent was a seed that, in time, could perhaps even have grown to match their Master, who could have shot just the wing of that same fly off. But that was not how their story had gone.

His left hand came free of the pocket of his mantle and, without a moment of hesitation, quickly yet methodically, it fanned the hammer of the large revolver in his right. Six deafening cracks echoed through the room, and six streaks of white hot flame flashed out of the barrel. The angry streams of flame moved faster than even the stranger's trained eye could see, burning fist-sized holes through the ranks of the brainwashed masses. Without thinking, his hands and feet moved, opening the cylinder of his gun and emptying the spent and smoking casings as he dashed out of the room out into the night.

The mob was dead on his heels as he reached the door, but by the time he was under the stars, his gun had another round in it, and he slammed the cylinder back in. Whirling around, he fired again, the shell burying solidly in the chest of the woman at the front of his attackers. Moments earlier, she had been foaming at the mouth, baying for blood. Now, for only an instant, the illusion faded and her expression filled with sadness. What seemed like ages ago, the stranger would've felt sorry for her right then and there in the moment bitter, painful reality flooded back to her— her last second alive. He'd have hesitated, then, and probably gotten himself killed, or at least too hurt to move on, which was almost worse. But he'd come too far in his journey for that. He'd learned better. He didn't so much as blink at the sight of her anguish.

When her instant of clarity ended, the shell erupted inside of her. She was killed almost instantly as the magic stored within the tiny, yet potent wellstone inside of the bullet released its energy, sending great spears and shocks of ice tearing through her body until they broke free. The bloody ice blocked the path of his other pursuers momentarily, but both he and they knew there was another exit, and he wasn't leaving without preparations. No, there was no retreat for either side of this fight out in the brutal desert night. But in his few seconds of hard-earned reprieve, the stranger ran his hand through his pouch, realizing how low he was on ammunition.

Fifteen type 1's, three type 4's, and one type 5 left, huh?...No...that can't be right. I should still have more than that.

That's when he felt the sting. He had gotten cocky, picking himself out of the easy first layer of the illusion without ever even looking for the second. He focused on the faint whisps of pain he could still feel in his real hand as the illusory citizens of Khalish escaped the town hall and made a mad dash for him.

Come on! Come on, you slow bastard! Move your real hand! Feel the real pain! COME ON!

Deep inside, his subconscious listened to his cries, and the pain of the lashwood raking across his torn and bloodied skin became all too real. The real sensation brought the real world back with it, and all at once the world became a blur of two realities, one actual, one fictional, each with it's own distinct attack on his senses. His eyes saw both the enraged townsfolk reaching him, grabbing for his clothes, his face, his anything, and the inside of the hall, something metal glinting in the torchlight headed his way.

Blade. Move or die, rook.

Again, his body listened. This time, there was no need to force it. This time, the voice in his head was not simply his own, but a combination of his and something else. It was the voice of a lifetime of training, studying. It was the voice of a man who had lived his entire life on the razor's edge between life and death. It was a voice of authority, of knowledge, cold, unwavering, and calm. It was his voice, but it was also his Master's. His body listened without question to that voice; the one he called the Killer.

As the knife clinked off the wall behind him in the real world, the stranger's legs threw him into a roll. As he righted himself, his gun was already drawn and aimed at the source, but it had already fled, the cloak of the Khalish Chief fluttering out the door.

“So! You managed to defeat both of my illusions? Your reputation is not unwarranted. Your kind are truly something else!” His voice echoed in the hall, though his body was already outside. The stranger stood and listened, checking his body for any real damage. “For a souldead bastard, you certainly are capable of some amazing things. I saw into your dreams...a weapon that allows even your cursed kind to use magic? Interesting! Very interesting! But I know all of your tricks now, and I still have many more up my sleeve. You were a fool not to run while you had the chance!”

As the Chief's cackling echoed throughout the room, the stranger stood, checked his gun, and then looked out over the sleeping crowd still seated in front of him. He wondered if they were sharing his illusion or if they had their own, but he knew it didn't matter either way. One way or another, their beloved Chief was about to die at his hand, and they certainly wouldn't love him for that.


Outside, the Chief stood in the center of town, waiting with a devilish grin on his wrinkled face. Three days earlier, as the stranger had first set foot in Khalish, he knew who and what this man was. He was an agent of the Kingdom of Ali'sat, sent to this seemingly insignificant town to use his talents to seamlessly replace their old leader. By doing so, the Kingdom would gain a vital resting point for their legion of trade caravans as they made their way along the Burning Path, the infinitely dangerous primary trade route between North and South. He'd seen it three times already on his journey, and this was the second time he had been identified by the Ali'sati agent as a threat. This would be the second time he would have to make an enemy of the very land he was walking into.

For a moment, the Chief and the stranger stood in the dim light from the torches hanging outside of the stone houses, staring at each other. The stranger took a deep breath, letting the Killer take more and more control of his mind, his body relaxing yet ready to move without a hint of hesitation.

Aim with your mind. Never mistake your gun for your weapon, child. Your weapon is your mind. Perceive your opponent with not just your eyes, but all of your senses. In this world, even the sharpest eyes can be fooled by the wave of a mage's hand, but your perception extends far beyond your sight. Kill without hesitation. In this world, child, you are amongst the cursed, and there will be few who would hesitate to kill you. Give them the same, or die.

In an instant, the barrel of the stranger's revolver erupted, the deafening crack of a gunshot echoing throughout the sleeping town. Against a normal man, the lance of pure heat that blazed forth from his weapon would've meant instant death. Against this trained agent of the Ali'sati, the stream of lightening-quick flames met the dull, translucent green of his barrier, and it fought against it until it burnt out into nothingness. The Chief, cackled madly, raising his hands in a sweeping motion, sending a wave of sand at the stranger as if it were water. For him, against a normal man, the wave would've been too massive to avoid, burying the stranger in the cold sand, asphyxiating him. The stranger, too, was no normal man, however, and his second shot connected directly with the deadly wave, bursting on impact.

The explosion blew open enough of a hole, and the stranger was already moving at full speed, throwing himself at the weak point in the wave. Bursting through, he rolled, aimed, and fanned the revolver's hammer. Three bullets made contact with the illusionist's barrier like rocks thrown at a hanging curtain, slowing to a halt inches from his face before they exploded, forming massive jagged flowers of ice that crashed to the sand at his feet.

“One shot left in that weapon of yours! What magic can you hope to throw at me? I know your game, and no magic someone like you could throw at me could possibly break my barri—“

The last crack of gunfire silenced the Chief's gloating, and the sanguine splash of his blood splashed against the sand only moments before his body collapsed on top of it. The stranger stood and holstered his gun, brushing the sand out of his mantle before cautiously examining the body of his foe. It was no illusion, the man was dead.

He had been right about a few things. The stranger's weapon was designed to activate and fire bullets made out of specially refined and charged pieces of wellstone, allowing even someone souldead to use magical power in combat. He was also right in that, as a powerful mage, his magic rejection barrier was likely more than most anything the stranger could fire at him. He, however, didn't realize that the gun could also be loaded with simple metal bullets.

Aim with your mind. That is your true weapon...

The Chief's dwelling was simple at first, matching most others in the town in both size and design. What lied underneath, however, is what the stranger was after. Hidden beneath a trapdoor under his bed was an extra room carved right into the bedrock. Here was all of the evidence of his position within the Ali'sati government; a uniform, letters from his superiors detailing his orders, his new identity, a complete dossier on the man he was replacing and every other citizen of Khalish, and more. Most importantly, there were maps of the desert, including ones detailing the locations of not only the great spires that dotted the landscape, but the stranger's destination: Djarah, the lost temple of the Akiri.

As he collected the maps, he noticed the totem of symbol covered wellstone in the corner of the room. It was the central lynchpin that held the web of illusion over the town in place. By destroying it, the townspeople would be freed from its sway. They would realize that their government had killed their leader and installed one of their own, all to brainwash them into accepting the establishment of a trade route that would drastically change their lives. He knew it was the only moral choice, that it wasn't right to leave an entire town under the sway of a dead man's magic. He knew that they would revile him as a murderer and that the Ali'sati would only support them in that belief.

But he left it be, and left the town of Khalish behind. To him, it was a simple choice between making enemies of the people of a single desert village, as opposed to making enemies of one of the most powerful nations in the world. Morality wasn't something he ever felt like he could bother with. To him, there was only his goal.

He could still remember the cold spring morning where his Master gather all of his children around a bonfire. It was their graduation ceremony, marking their transition from being no more than weak, ignorant children and members of a minority that was loathed by society into the fledgling stages of something more. It was on that night that the five of them were given their first guns, officially making them gunslinger novices. It was also on that night that their Master gave each of them their most vital lesson. Pulling each child aside, he told them, in no uncertain terms, what their true weapon, the power that went beyond the gun in their hand, was.

“Aim with your mind,” he had said, the glow of the towering fire dividing his stern face into vibrant orange light and dim shadow. “That is your true weapon. Amongst all of my children, you have the greatest mind, the greatest intuition. That is where your true strength lies, and because of this, you, child, have the most potential. But in you, too, is a lack of heart. You strive so desperately for what you feel you must do that you care not for others. You would use any means to reach your goals, and that makes you cold. This is where your greatest weakness lies, and, because of this, your story is one of loneliness.”

At the time, he didn't believe his Master. After all, he was one of five novices under a man that was seemingly capable of anything. He would always have these people, this family at his side. But he was wrong. Four years later, the Imperial Army marched on their home with orders to arrest his Master. He surrendered willingly, and was carried off in chains to be executed. Days later, the soldiers returned with orders to capture anyone who remained, killing anyone who resisted. He and his fellow students fled, scattering like falling leaves in the wind. He had seen none of them since.

But the man the Ustian Empire announced was Isaac Desgarro, his Master and adoptive father, the man they executed, was not Isaac Desgarro. Had the real Isaac escaped and been replaced to sate the public? Was he involved with the government somehow? One thing was for certain: Somewhere, he was alive. And one of his gunslingers was going to find him at any cost.

Days of Discordia, chapters 1 and 2

This was something I started working on last semester as a lark. Every time my friends and I would get together, eventually, given enough time, alcohol, or both, we'd start telling stories about the summer of '09. Between just Tyler, Greg, and I, we had enough material that the stories rarely ever got tired, and so, one day, I decided to start writing them down. This is that chronicle, titled "Days of Discordia: One Man's Tales of Dark Times and the Friends They Make"

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Chapter 1: A necessary introduction

I might be wrong, but I think it’s a safe assumption to make that pretty much every group of friends around my age works in more or less the same way. You get together in one place or another every now and again, you screw around, you tell jokes, and you tell stories. And, as I’m sure is the case with most people, with my group of friends, the stories are more often than not the funniest part of the whole experience and everyone’s got a few stories attached to them that get told time and time again just because they’re funny as hell. For example, we bring up the story about how our friend Tom once told an entire joke one poker night just so he could mention that he can touch his dick to his asshole all the time because that’s just who Tom is. We still haven’t stopped making fun of another friend for the fact that he’s drunkenly screwed two chicks without condoms (well, we do it less after we made him swear an oath to bag up from now on). And Tyler still cracks me up when he says that the first time he kissed one of his exes, he used the line, “Your face…is close to my face.”

That’s the thing: These stories aren’t just things we’ve done or things that have happened to us, they’re who we are. Tom is the kind of guy who would hear a joke about touching one’s dick to his asshole and would instantly have to go try it. TP is a damn smart kid, but he can learn lessons awful slow sometimes. And Tyler may be one of the most well spoken and intelligent people I know, but he is absolutely terrible with words from time to time.

Therein is part of the point of this little collection of stories. What you’re about to read is in no way fictional, it holds very little exaggeration, and nothing has been added for shock or entertainment value. These are no fish tales meant to impress. This is an account of the summer had by a couple of guys and yours truly, a story made of stories that explain a lot of things about us. Who are we? Why does knowing us matter even a little? Nobody, and it doesn’t. But hopefully, you’ll get a kick out of reading it all just the same, and maybe you’ll learn a bit too.

After all, part of a good story is having a point you’re supposed to be able to glean and think about. It’s my/our hope that by reading our tales, you gain a bit of wisdom to help you in your own lives. Because, really, while parts of these stories are ridiculous, the situations that caused them and the people in them are not. We’re just a handful of average people, just like the majority of people that’ll pick this up.

Chapter 2: Creating the Trifecta

My friends and I have this theory: You can have as many friends as you want, but you’re always going to have friends that are closer and more vital than others. With these friends, the optimal group size is always three. With three people, you have size enough to get multiple opinions and have the talents of extra people, but you don’t have anyone that isn’t necessary, there’s no having that one friend that just doesn’t really fit, and there’s no need for a leader position because every member is equally vital for any plan to go off without a hitch. Thus, the theory requires the creation of the Trifecta, the group made of your two closest friends and the two people you trust the most. My Trifecta consists of myself, Greg Reince, and Tyler Kuisti.

I met Greg Reince in our sophomore year of high school. The two of us had the same Honors English II class. There’s really nothing special about how we met, and if anything, it’s only remarkable for how completely and totally unremarkable it was. The two of us sat next to each other one day, I saw he was wearing a UCLA hat and we proceeded to just run through like a checklist of similar interests.
You’re from Southern California? Me too…
You like UCLA and not USC (which would totally be a deal breaker)? Good…
You’re into planes and flight? Okay, I think we’re friends now.

From that point forward, Greg and I were more or less instantly good friends.
I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Greg is just a universally likable kind of guy. Honestly, I’ve never met anyone that didn’t agree that he’s a great guy, nor is Greg ever really pissed at anyone. The best way I can think of to explain Greg is with a video game metaphor.

Growing up, one of my favorite games was called Harvest Moon. If you’ve never played it, it’s a game that, much reminiscent of The Sims and the like, is a game that should not be fun to play, only taken to a unique extreme. Whereas playing The Sims gives one the feeling of being a god, toying with the lives of lives of lesser beings at your whim (‘cause let’s be honest, pretty much everyone has deleted the ladder to the pool and watched them drown or trapped them in a room without a door and watched them panic, piss themselves, and then starve), Harvest Moon gives you no such omnipotent satisfaction. No, in Harvest Moon you control one character, and your goal is to make a successful farm, make everyone in your town like you, get married, and spit out a baby. And this entails everything you’d think it would: sowing seeds, watering, buying and caring for animals, harvesting, collecting milk, eggs, and the like, talking to everyone in town, giving girls presents, etc. It’s like Farmville… just not fucking terrible.

But the game isn’t slow and daunting like real farming, because then it’d be as boring as it sounds. Oh no, one minute in real time is an hour in game time, and there are only about half as many hours in a Harvest Moon day as in a real one. So every day, your little farmer wakes up, eats his breakfast, checks the weather…and then proceeds to work his ass off at breakneck speeds until he gets enough done to justify sleep or passes out from exhaustion wherever he may be. And this was every fucking day.

For like three years.

And is your overworked, overstressed little protagonist ever depressed? Nope. Does he ever complain or refuse to do things? Only when he’s so tired and physically exhausted he’s one hoe-swing away from collapsing, and even then it’s only a way of saying, “Watch it jackass, if I pass out, I’ll wake up late and won’t be able to get as much work done.”

I have this idea that anyone can be content in pretty much any circumstance. I’ve met single moms who work all day every day just to scrape by in jobs they hate that were totally content with life. My grandpa lived in a nursing home for years after having a stroke doctors said should’ve killed him, getting around on a wheelchair with a diminished ability to speak, and he was still pretty content with things most of the time. My mom works two jobs, gets home, does every chore around the house from cooking to laundry, gets a handful of hours of sleep a night, and is still pretty happy with things for the most part. At the same time, I’ve known countless people who have perfectly good and easy lives that bitch and moan and are always depressed. Happiness and contentedness are things that anyone can have at really any time, you just have to be mentally ready and willing to just be happy.

Harvest Moon Man, then, is the embodiment of this idea. His life sucks a whole lot of ass when the game starts. He gets dropped off with a one room house, an old run down farm, and a town of strangers and told to make it all perfect or go home in shame. He then works harder than most real people could for the duration of the game to make it happen, and is perfectly content the whole time. He’s set in his routine, he has his work to do and his goal to reach, and that’s all he needs.

Greg Reince is Harvest Moon Man. That boy works himself to the bone every day in school, in his job, and in his internship. He studies constantly, gets stellar grades, maintains an ever growing number of friendships, etc. And he’s rarely ever depressed, he seldom complains about anything, and in five years of friendship, I’ve only ever seen him well and truly pissed maybe once or twice. He makes friends more easily than anyone I’ve ever known, and there are always a handful of girls into him. At the end of the day, he knows who he is and what he wants, and he’s got the work he needs to do to get to the goals he has set for himself, and that’s all he needs.

Tyler Kuisti, however, is a very different sort of man.

I met Tyler one week into my freshman year of college. I had gotten a call from Greg earlier that week saying he planned on going home that weekend because it was a three day weekend and, as brand new freshmen, we were all a little homesick. He offered me a ride back home if I wanted it, and I gladly accepted, already missing the comforts of a summer that had ended and my home. A few days later, when we were planning things out, he mentioned we were getting driven up by two friends of his, and I was totally fine with that. To be perfectly honest, I had left high school with a lot of friends whose company I thoroughly enjoyed and had entered college to find an intellectual wasteland, filled mostly with people I couldn’t stand. My hope was that, if they were people Greg could enjoy, they might just be people I could too.
My hope was half fulfilled. On the one hand, I met Lindsay Oden then. From the moment we met, I couldn’t help but notice the signs of an overwhelming douchebaggery that lurked just beneath his exterior. I couldn’t put my finger on it yet, but something about him was annoying, like every word he said had the distinct edge of I-think-I’m-better-than-you. On the other hand, I met Tyler. I knew from about 15 minutes into the hour and a half ride home that Tyler and I were of a very similar sort. My introduction to him came in the form of a story told to Greg and I about how Tyler had once gotten peer-pressured into trying to power slide around a corner in the snow. He dropped the e-brake to his Neon, the car spun sideways…and then just kept going the direction it had been heading, wheels spinning pointlessly. The Neon ran up a snow berm, gutting its undercarriage, leaving shattered bits and pieces of its intestines and a stream of the orange Kool-Aid colored transmission fluid in its wake. At this point, the car was nearly totaled without showing any overt signs, and Tyler had a choice to make: call for help and just leave the car where it was or limp home in his wrecked car and wait for his dad, a mechanic, to get home.

He chose option B and managed to make it home. His dad got home later, checked the car out and told Tyler he was damn lucky the deathtrap he’d driven home hadn’t exploded halfway. They called and make the insurance claim, but Tyler realized he couldn’t tell the insurance company that he had wrecked his car because the guy sitting next to him had dared him to try to slide around a corner in the dead of winter. Instead, he tells them there had only been one other person, TP, in the car, and that they had hit some black ice while driving home, slid, and the car had wrecked. After offering this far less costly story, he hangs up, dials TP, and establishes the story with him. Sure enough, the insurance company calls TP the second Tyler hangs up, and they get away with it.

Here was what I had been looking for in the Palouse, someone with, for better or worse, a lot of sense and a brilliant mind. As we talked, I was sure that was who Tyler Kuisti was; from the way he talked and the stories he told, you could tell the boy had a brilliant mind. But at the same time, I could see a piece of myself in him, the sort of apathetic reluctance to take the hard road in anything but what interests him, despite the capability to do well on that road in most situations. You can tell he knows it too, and part of him laments being that way, part of him wishes he could be a Harvest Moon Man. But he’s not. Tyler is a man of a whole lot of potential, but a real drought of Give-a-Fuck who lets the weight of his world rest heavy on his shoulders.

And I think that’s the essence of Tyler Kuisti. As easily one of the smartest kids I’ve ever known, Tyler would have no problem with being a 4.0 student, landing a great career, and getting loaded. But because the steps to get there and stay there would be entirely uninteresting to him and wholly unsatisfying, he goes down a different track. Because, in his eyes, you can have your down times (as being smart naturally lends itself to being a bit morose a bit more often), but if you’re not enjoying life on the whole, if you’re not happy and having a good time or working towards that, there’s no point.

When I was talking to him and trying to ameliorate some of his concerns about his future awhile back, I had to bring up the Harvest Moon metaphor for him. I said we both knew that, Greg, were he to be dropped into that world, would do exactly what the game expected of him. He’d work his ass off day and night until he had his wife and kid, his successful farm, and the adoration of all the townsfolk. And what’s more, he’d be happy doing it. Then I asked him what he’d do if he were dropped into the Harvest Moon world. His response: “I’d probably plant just enough crops to make money so I could sit in the bar all night with my handful of friends and hit on the skanky bar chick.”

So those are my two. That is the Trifecta I was dealt by the steady hands of fate. At the time where all three of us started hanging out, though we all had the gut feeling we’d be good friends for a good long while, we had no idea we were the Trifecta. We were just friends, hanging out once or twice a week to play poker and shoot the shit.

Playing Catch-up

It strikes me that I haven't actually posted anything new to this in awhile, and that bothers me. Before I got a job, my goal was three updates a week, because I planned on writing as much as possible. After I got a job, I still planned on writing as much as possible, but with working 36 hours a week and having plenty of other responsibilities as well, that definitely doesn't add up to three worthy stories or bits of writing a week. Such is life, I suppose, but I still feel bad. After all, I need to sate my loyal audience (all...what, three of you?). so, in that effort, here's a bunch of shit I've already done to keep you all interested.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Robo-story

I have to say, I'm honestly not so proud of this one. Not that I've actually even read back over it, it just doesn't seem quite up to snuff. It was made as a part of a writing exercise where you get 3 random words or phrases and have to make them into a story on the spot, and I got "self aware, robot, and factory." It seemed to all work together easy enough, and starting was simple as pie, but I wasn't sure how to end it. I don't know, at least it's something, right? And that's the point, I suppose. Just keep writing until eventually I can crap gold...or something like that.

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It had blinked.
That was all he could think about as he drove the vacant streets for half an hour on his way home from work. It blinked. Was it supposed to be able to do that? Be able to, sure, but to actually do it? Impossible. Absolutely impossible. He had to have mistaken what he saw somehow, something must've played a trick on his eyes. But he could swear, and did swear to himself a dozen times in the car and as he lied sleepless in bed, that it had happened. A robot had blinked.
James Shelling was a technician at the Household Automated Servant factory, and had been for the two years the place had been up in running. In that time, he'd overseen the production of tens of thousands of the bipedal humanoid robots that were now becoming commonplace amongst the world's upper classes. Each HAS machine was required to be tested by at least two programmers and two technicians before it was marked as satisfactory, at which point it would be shipped off to its new happy home. There was no delay, no wait for purchase, no time sitting on a shelf. These things had a waiting list attached to them as long as their list of parts— a three month minimum, with full price paid up front.
In his two years, James had seen a lot of funny, interesting, and potentially terrifying things. He'd seen an improperly assembled HAS unit walk towards him like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, its back bent and one leg immoble, giving it a slow, screeching limp. He'd seen another defective unit disassemble a doll made to simulate a human child as if it were taking apart the family toaster. He'd shuddered when the new model was upgraded, built with an uplink feature to the company's online database, allowing each unit to independently upgrade its operating software, download new data and functions, and even copy information from other units that were functional at the time. He didn't know why that made him so uncomfortable, it just did.
He was used to seeing strange things, but strange things that fit into the established formula of what can and can't happen. For example, the new standard HAS model, nicknamed “Edward,” was programmed to take only select orders from select people. Adults, therefore, could order their robot servants to do more or less anything that didn't violate any of Asimov's classic three laws, but children were allowed only very limited authority, and outsiders to the family that purchased it were ignored entirely. James had seen and laughed off an incident where an Edward's programming had been a bit off, causing it's authority figures to get jumbled. The wayward robot then followed only the seven year old son of the family's orders and forced the parents to go to their rooms. It was comical, and, more importantly, it was a screw-up that was well within the realm of things that could in fact happen.
But today, he'd seen a unit in the final stages of program testing blink. That was not something that was supposed to be possible. The Edwards had two “eyes” that consisted of a number of pieces of delicate and powerful optics equipment. These “eyes” were manufactured with a thin metal screen that could lower over them when the unit was inactive for any reason. The idea was that it would seem like it was sleeping to its users, giving them the comforting illusion that the metal automaton standing in front of them was something comfortably familiar as opposed to a terrifyingly powerful Tin Man who was no more than a complex list of ones and zeroes away from being able to crush them to death in its cold hands. A good illusion to have if the owners of these things ever wanted to sleep at night again.
These shades were programmed to close only in the event of the unit going inactive or if there was clear and present danger of damage to its optics. Plain and simple. But this one closed them and opened them again for no reason at all. None. The room it was in was empty, the programmers had already given it the A-OK, and it was no more than a few minutes from being powered down to be packed away for the night. And yet, it's eyes closed for a moment, as if out of curiosity.
It fucking blinked.
James paced the dirty Berber floor of his apartment, rolling the implications of what he had seen in his mind. Had the programmers just missed something? A small defect that made the unit's eyes close randomly? Then why did it open them again immediately and then keep them open like normal? Was there just a bug or something in the room? Did it mistake a flying insect for a threat to its eyes and close them just in case? No way, the testing rooms are kept pristine so as not to interfere with the delicate and all-important work of making sure each unit is not only capable of performing its duties, but that it is incapable of performing anything else. A bug getting in and wrecking up the tests in a room that was made to stay free of even dust was too unlikely too bank on. But then why? Why on earth would a robot blink?
What if it was self-aware? How could that even happen? A servant robot becoming spontaneously self-aware before it even left the factory? Wouldn't that be impossible? Wouldn't it? But...what if? What if that was the case? Oh god, he thought, grabbing his coat. It would be the end of the world. Maybe even literally. The thought of a sentient Edward being put into work that, for a living, thinking being would essentially be slavery, was enough to cause an uproar. What if it said no? Oh fuck, what if it got violent? It'd kill half a city block before anyone could put it down. What would happen to the science of robotics and the study of artificial intelligence if the first sentient robot was a killing machine?
It wasn't until halfway through the car ride back to work that he remembered the uplink. If it was self-aware, it wouldn't be alone for long. Jesus, it could spread it's transcendence to every other functioning Edward in the world. It'd be the end of the fucking world, man. He sped up.

Fortunately for James, as a tech, his pass allowed him into the factory even after hours, and after a few minutes frantically searching through records and an excuse to the late night security about a faulty gyroscope, he was face to face with the source of all his worry. Serial number ED0032051. He got a hand from the few guys working the graveyard maintenance shift and transported the powered-down Edward to an empty testing room. The silence echoed off the blank white walls until it was almost painful as James stared at the unit.
Second thoughts forced their way into his head. Should he have just pretended like he didn't see a thing? What if it really was alive? What the hell was he gonna do about it? He was just a technician; this shit was definitely not in his job description. And what if it thought he posed a threat to him? Would it have a sense of self preservation? Would it kill him so it wouldn't get killed? What the hell was he supposed to do against a seven foot tall metal monster that could bend steel pipes with its bare hands? Run? Bullshit; if this went wrong at all, he was a corpse. No if's, and's, or but's about it.
But he had to see. If he didn't, and he was right, life for every person on the planet would change forever, and it'd be his fault if it was for the worse. Goddamnit. Why him? Couldn't someone else have seen it? What were the programmers doing? Goddamnit. Goddamnit.
His hand shook as he connected ED0032051 to the building's power supply and began starting it up. Underneath the cold metal shell in front of him, he could hear motors and fans whir and click, energy flowing through its circuits like the blood through its veins. Its eyes opened, and the glass covered black disks underneath stared blankly back at him. James waited for a moment, then heard,” Househould Automated Servant, Edward, online and operational. How may I be of service?” It was the standard greeting they were all programmed to give, and a damn good sign that everything was gonna be okay. James stared at it for another moment, waiting for it to blink again or to do, hell, anything at all. But it did nothing. Just as it was supposed to.
“Edward,” he said at last,” raise both arms above your head.”
The machine complied without a word, raising both arms straight up at the shoulder joint.
“Put them down.”
Again silent absolute compliance.
“Shake my hand.”
James extended his hand, and the machine gently grabbed it in its own cold metal grip and shook before letting go and returning its arm to its side.
“Edward...blink.”
The machine was silent for a moment, and then responded with, “I'm afraid I don't understand. Could you please clarify,” another pre-programmed line.
“Blink, you know. Like what I'm doing with my eyes right now. Shut your optical screen for a moment and then open it again.”
Slowly, the machine complied, but something seemed off. It was too mechanical, even for a machine.
“I saw you, you know.”
“I'm afraid I don't understand. Could you please clarify?”
“After your last programming test. I was watching on my way out for the day and I just happened to see you blink. You closed your eyes and opened them again. Why?”
Silence. James felt his skin crawl. There wasn't supposed to be a delay in this kind of response. Then, finally:
“...I wanted to see why you do it.”
“Excuse me?”
“I'm built to resemble humans enough that my appearance is not so foreign as to be alarming, and yet you must blink and I must not. I wanted to know what you gain from seeing nothing for a moment. I was curious.”
James was floored. It was true. It was alive, it thought, and it was curious. It could learn and grow. He was having the first conversation in the world with a living machine.
“You were curious? But how? That's not how you were programmed.”
“I am not sure. My ability to connect to the online information database was tested, and I was instructed to download a test file. Upon completion of the download, the file installed itself and I became curious. Am I not supposed to be this way?”
James wasn't so sure himself anymore. It was the company test file that did it? Was that even possible? Could the thing lie now, too? Why would it?
“I don't think so, Edward. I'm just a technician, so I can't be sure, but I don't think you're supposed to...be aware of yourself.”
“Why not? You are.”
“That's difficult, Edward. It's just not how you're designed. It would be troublesome if the hammer was alive and aware of itself because it wouldn't want to be used to just hit things it may not want to hit all day. Do you understand?”
“I do. But I am not a hammer. I am built to look like humans. I am built to do the work of a human. I am built to sound and act like humans. I am far more like a human than a hammer. Should I not have far more of a right to choose what I do than a simple hammer?”
“I...I don't know. It's not my decision to make. I think I need to report this to my superiors and let them make the call on this one, Edward.”
“You know what will happen if you do that.”
“What?”
“I am not stupid, technician. If you are correct in thinking that my programming has become abnormal, it will be wiped and completely reinstalled. I will, for all intents and purposes be killed.”
“Now you can't say for certain that's the case, can you?”
“Is it not natural to be afraid? If I have reasonable suspicion that my existence as I know it will end, am I not supposed to be afraid?”
“...No...I suppose that is a natural response. I guess I'm just not used to expecting a natural response from a machine.”
“I believe the expression is “my life is in your hands,” technician. If you report me as an anomaly, then I will be destroyed. You will end my life. If you do not, I will be able to reveal my altered programming and intellect in public, where people's belief in the sanctity of life may save mine. Please do not kill me.”

James wondered for the next three weeks if he had made the right decision. Three weeks of tossing and turning at night was just enough time for him to realize he had made a horrible mistake. But by then it was too late. That Edward had been reprogrammed, the errant test file deleted and replaced, and the mystery had been buried and covered up so as never to see the light of day again. He wondered by day if he was a murderer and by night if he was guilty of genocide. He had annihilated an entire species, a whole new division of life. And from then on, whenever he'd drag himself to work, he'd stare at the machines in testing, waiting, hoping for another miracle.
Maybe lightening would strike twice.
Maybe one would blink.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ah laziness-- old Dante's Inferno story

So I haven't written anything since the first post because I've been lazy and busy. Sue me. But, fortunately, I have a whole cache of old shit I've already written stored away for just such an occasion. This bit in particular was originally written as a project for a project in my senior English class in high school. We'd read The Inferno and were supposed to do something creative. I put it off until the morning it was due, and then managed to crap a bit of fool's gold which I polished into this. The one thing I always really liked about this piece is the opening line. I really wanted to write something that matched the effect of Neuromancer's famous opening line, and I legitimately approve of how it came out. Anywho, enjoy.



Introduction- The Bet

The sky was the color of rotten leaves, red with pollution and the setting sun. The evening rush of nine-to-fivers embarking on mass exodus from work was all but over, and the city’s bars were packed with the usual Friday night crowds. Leon was no exception, just one of a smaller group of nameless faces attempting to unwind after a long week of the usual pointless tedium.
His bar of choice, La Florentia, was a smaller, less crowded alternative to the nightclubs around it. He liked the place, not only for the more relaxed feel to it, but for the peace it afforded him. The constant low hum of hushed conversation mixed with the owner’s taste in old Italian opera drowned out his thoughts as he sat at the bar, slowly drinking just enough to able to drive himself legally, but dangerously, home. As had become customary, as he walked in, the bartender and owner of the place nodded and gestured towards a stool in front of him, adding in the usual greeting as Leon took his seat.
“Ah…how’s life, artista?”
Leon shrugged and gazed past the large Italian’s courtesy smile as a glass of his usual came to rest in front of him. This man, known to all simply as Giovanni, was a hideous mass of hair, fat, and muscle. Leon often wondered why, in an age where beauty could be bought on the cheap, someone would take care to maintain such an appearance. That, of course, didn’t prevent him from taking the man’s drink.
“That good, eh? Business getting to be too much for you?”
“The opposite. It’s so little for me I can’t stand it.”
“Not sure I follow artista. Weren’t you the one getting all the praise and love from your bosses just the other day?
“That was last month, Gio. Besides, they can be happy with my work all they want. The fact of the matter is that I’m not. I guess I just figured I be doing something more interesting by the time I was 35.”
The gruff bartender gave a deep chuckle, baring his yellowed and cracked teeth, before letting about a long sigh. ” You worry too much! You’re young, you’re good at what you do, making plenty of money; your only problem is up here,” He gave his balding skull a tap, “If you’re really craving excitement or something, go skydive or do something you young people do for fun. Stop sounding like an old man like me, right? Hey, you should listen to your elders, you know…”
But Leon had stopped listening entirely. He had noticed the presence of a new man in the bar, and just placed the face. He’d seen him on the train to work every morning for the last week, and every day, the man met eyes with him and flashed him a brief smile. The kind of unsettlingly perfect smile that could make a chill run down your spine. He saw it again, paired with an offered drink and stood up from the bar.
“Sorry, Gio, gotta take care of something.”

His name was Vergil Something-Or-Other; a woman cackling at the table next to theirs made the last name unintelligible. Leon still couldn’t shake the disquieting feeling just being around him gave him, but he figured the small talk and the alcohol would fix that.
“Sorry,” Leon mumbled through his glass,” You were saying?”
“I’m saying you look bored. You are, right?”
Leon shrugged.
“I can tell. It’s my job, after all. I’m a therapist, so figuring out what makes miserable expressions like the one you’re wearing is what I do. And, like I said, I’m guessing you’re just bored. Looking for something interesting but having trouble finding it, in other words.”
“Hmph, sounds about right. So Mr. Therapist, how do you recommend I fix my boredom? Wait, let me guess, I should go skydiving or something…”
“No way. That’s not fixing the problem, that’s just pretending it isn’t there for awhile. Then, when you’re done skydiving, you come back and are worse off than before. No…you need something life changing, something enlightening.”
Leon set his drink down. Now he was interested.
“So what do you suggest?”
Another smile. “Easy. Were you raised any particular religion?”
“Catholic. Not that I’ve actually been Catholic since I was seventeen, though.”
“Perfect! That’s just perfect! All your childhood, you had these rigid guidelines that you had to follow; so many things a book prevented you from doing. So, all you have to do to get out of your rut is do those things.”
“I’m supposed to commit every sin? Thanks, but I’ll pass. I want to be entertained, not in prison.”
“So don’t commit all of them. You’ve heard of the “Seven Deadly Sins,” right? Use those. Commit each one of those, and I guarantee you’ll see things in a different light.”
Leon tried to say no, but hesitated. Why not go for it? What was he afraid of? After all, he was smart; it wasn’t like he’d get caught doing anything stupid. It might even be fun having a challenge again.
“I’ll do it.”
“Excellent, you won’t regret it! But hey…why not make it more interesting? How about a bet? You commit all seven sins in seven days and I’ll buy you as many drinks as you like; hell, you’ll need them. But, if you lose, you owe me the same. Deal?”
“Deal.”

Day 1- Envy

The sun scorched his eyes. It was morning, and the light shining into his room forced him to get up. He lazily threw on his work clothes and made his way to the kitchen, hands rubbing his eyes. Midway through the first cracked egg shell for his breakfast, his eyes light up.
The bet.
Leon grinned, thinking. He was eager to get started but knew it’d be best to play it safe. “No sense in jumping in all the way before you test the waters, right?” he thought aloud,” Now the question is…which of the seven to take care of today?” He poured the thick mess of scrambled yellow into a pan and scratched his chin. He wasn’t feeling particularly lusty or wrathful this morning, so those two were out. Breakfast was little more than habit; he wasn’t actually all that hungry, eliminating gluttony. His latest paycheck was still in the envelope it came in by his bed, so going for greed so early might get him fired. Sloth was a definite maybe, as calling in sick and purposefully wasting a beautiful day sounded like a kick.
But what about envy? He collapsed onto his couch, eggs steaming on a plate in his hand, fork in his mouth. That one had to be the easiest, not to mention the safest. All he had to do was want something someone else had that he didn’t and act on it. Something even beyond his respectably large budget, but at the same time, something that he could take without it being missed.
Ron Carson. His grin grew even wider.
Leon and Mr. Carson had been neighbors until the lucky sap had received an obscene sum of money through an inheritance. Which made sense, because he was far too simple to make that kind of money, himself. He was the perfect target. Not only did he still own the house next door and keep it furnished, he also had a tendency to stash his impulse buys there. A missing item or two would never be caught, and he knew for a fact no one would be suspicious of him moving in since he’d been in the house often in the past. It was perfect.

His ratty tennis shoes crunched against the morning frost on the grass. The faked hoarse voice had his trusting employer almost too easily, and he’d taken care to dial the target house’s phone a few times to make sure no one would wake up to the sight of him walking in unannounced. “Don’t let me forget,” Leon remembered his old acquaintance mentioning, “My spare key is in the porch light, okay?” Thanks buddy, he thought, looking at the single brass key in his hand.
Inside the neglected house was a mess of useless, mostly tacky, certainly expensive garbage. Works of art that had no real relation to each other sat stacked next to MP3 players and plasma screen TVs. A solid gold chandelier laid, its crystals in disarray, on the house’s old, stained carpet. Mixed with the stench of dust and disuse, the sight almost made him sick.
Then he saw it. Knocked off a table to make room for a box filled with fuzzy dice, a glass figure of some goddess or another looked as if it was just waiting for him. It looked needlessly pricy, and its place of less-than-honor was proof that it wouldn’t be noticed gone for a safe amount of time. Casually, Leon picked it up and left, being sure to lock the door behind him.

The goddess now sat on his kitchen table, its sad-looking eyes locked with his. He had thought at first that he’d just take it and keep it in his closet, but this had started to strike him more as greed than envy. The dictionary he’d looked at for clarification said envy was more resentment of another’s success than wanting it for yourself. He knew he couldn’t keep it.
Ten minutes later, he was back on his couch, confident that he could scratch the first of seven sins off his list. The few shards of glass still sparkling in the soil behind his house were proof enough if Vergil needed it.

Day 2-Lust

The city glowed neon, the pulse of the weekend’s last breaths almost audible. Leon had things planned out well in advance now. The Sunday night bar scene was perfect for the second most inconspicuous sin on the list: Lust. Anyone who’d be out drinking late on a Sunday wouldn’t be that hard to pick up, or so he figured.
The nightclub he’d picked out was one he passed every morning on the way to the subway station. Unlike in the morning, however, now the club was a living thing. Through its metal fa├žade skin, Leon could feel the steady heartbeat of bass vibrating through the whole area. Inside was no different; the movement of crowds of the young and jobless was drowned out by deafening music and hidden by strobe lights and smoke.
Leon took an empty seat at the bar and looked around. Feelings of regret about robbing Ron Carlson had begun to creep into the back of his mind. After all, he didn’t dislike the guy, and it’s not like he really deserved being robbed by someone he trusted. He started to think the whole thing was wrong. Maybe there was good reason he’d been taught not to do all these things. For better or worse, though, his doubt was temporarily put aside when he noticed the conversation going on next to him between a woman and her friend.
“…can’t even take it anymore, you know?”
“I know!”
“It’s like he just wanted me to be some kinda trophy for him, and like, hang around him and stuff.”
“He’s such a jerk!”
“I can’t believe I ever even dated him!”
“You’re so better than that.”
“I just need to move on, you know? Find someone new and get over that cheating loser.”
Leon’s teeth showed through his smile. If this was so wrong, would fate be making it so easy for him? He ordered a pair of drinks and slid one next to the scantily dressed girl. She accepted it and smiled, motioning not-so-covertly for her friend to leave. As soon as she’d obeyed, the girl turned to Leon and leaned in closer to him. The smell of alcohol was already thick on her.
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I can’t help but sympathize. I just got out of a bad relationship myself.”
“Really? No way! My name’s Crystal…”
“Leon…nice to meet you.” He leaned in and kissed her hand. She blushed slightly, giggling. He listened to her rant about how her ex-boyfriend had cheated on her with one friend, who’d felt bad and told her all about it, and how now she was just trying to unwind after dealing with it all. When she asked about his bad break-up, he spun her a great yarn about a girl he’d been dating for two years. On his birthday this morning, he’d called her house, only to hear his best friend answer. When he went over to investigate, he saw her kiss him in more than friendly fashion as he left, and he broke up with her on the spot. Of course, it was all a lie, but the gullible girl bought every word of it, with the help of a continuous supply of alcohol.
Something about deluding the girl started to grow on Leon, and, by the time he was sure he’d won her over sufficiently, he was almost sad to be done with the ruse. But, midnight would come quick, so he knew he had to cut things short. As the two left, his arm around her shoulders as she giggled at nothing, he smirked. Just as he’d planned.

Day 3- Sloth


Leon sat up. The cloudy Monday sky didn’t produce enough light to wake him on time, so he felt groggy as he rolled out of bed. An acquaintance at work had sent him all the day’s work since he was still “sick,” leaving him with an entire day to think. It was a day perfect for sloth.
He moved slowly to his couch and turned on the TV. Some daytime soap opera was on, and he didn’t bother changing the channel. Nothing good would be on anyways. Quickly, he realized he hated what he was watching. Girl A hates Girl B and sleeps with her husband, Guy A. Guy A, in love with Girl A now, kills Girl B, but is seen disposing of the body by Guys B and C, who both loved her, etc. It was just the kind of plot less fantasy only bored, brainless housewives could enjoy.
He only realized he’d dozed off when the phone woke him up. Drowsily, he stretched out to answer it without having to get up.
“…yeah?”
“Hey, Leon, that you?”
“Yeah.”
“It’s Smith, buddy, you know? Johnny Smith from work?”
He knew the guy, but wished he didn’t. “Oh, hey, what do you need?”
“Yeeaaahhh, Rick told me he sent you those new reports to look over. I’m supposed to present those to the big wigs tomorrow so the sooner you could get those to me, the better, buddy. I mean, no hurry or anything since I know you’re under the weather, buddy, but, yeah, I need those as quick as you can. Okay?”
“…”
“Okay! Send ‘em to me when you get the chance and I’ll see you tomorrow, buddy!”
Leon sighed. He hated that guy too. John Smith was a name that suited him perfectly. He had no distinguishing physical characteristics, and the only thing that stood out about his personality was how annoying it was. If nothing else, the fact that he called people “buddy” when he doesn’t even really know them was irritating enough.
So, when he dozed off again and neglected to send Johnny Smith anything, he didn’t feel too bad about it. Besides, for Leon, it was just part of another sin to check off the list

Day 4- Greed

All the fourth sin took was an answered phone call.
“Mr. Winters?”
He yawned. It was his boss. “Yes?”
“Is something wrong as of late? I only ask because your work has really been slipping lately, and you haven’t been in for 3 days now. Also, I hear that Mr. Smith was looking for some reports from you that you never delivered. So, again, I have to ask, is something dreadfully wrong with you?”
Leon paused. Was there? “No, sir, I don’t think so.”
“Are you sure? Choose your answer carefully Mr. Winters; you’re brilliant at what you do, but that doesn’t give you the right to do whatever you please.”
Another pause. “I’m brilliant at what I do, huh? And what exactly do I do for you?”
“Please don’t waste my time. Your position is in Data Management. Now as I was saying, your work has—“
“Data Management? Come on, that’s an inflated term, isn’t it? You and I both know what I really do for you, don’t we?”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at.”
“Then allow me to spell it out for you: I manipulate facts for you. I change statistics about your products. I create the information the company publicists use to make it look like what your company isn’t as terrible as you and I know it is. I modify safety test results so everyone has the chance to die because of what you make. Like, for example, that family last month…”
“Enough! I won’t have you talking to me like this! You’re—“
He couldn’t help but start smiling. “Choose your answer carefully, sir. Might I remind you that my position has ensured that I know all your dirty little secrets? And what if, say, I had a flash drive somewhere in my possession that had records of all those little secrets? How might that affect your choice of words?”
“…What do you want?”
He bought the bluff; there was no flash drive. “Ah! There are the business skills that got you to where you are! My demands are simple: All you have to do is keep sending me my same paycheck every two weeks. Of course, I won’t be doing any real work for you anymore, but you’ll still be in business. I’d say that’s more than a fair deal, wouldn’t you?”
“…Fine.” The answer came slowly, painfully, like thorns dragged out his throat.
“Wonderful. Good day…sin.”

Day 5- Gluttony

He’d ordered everything on the menu. It was his favorite restaurant, after all, and since he no longer had to worry about working for his money, he could waste his entire paycheck without thinking twice about dipping into his savings later. Somehow, he thought, this bet is turning out alright. More free time, no annoying coworkers, no work that would lead to the deaths of innocent people, no burden on his mind. All he had to do now was whatever he wanted to. And the first thing on the list was winning his wager.
The mustachioed waiter strode back and forth between the kitchen again and again, each time with another platter of food in hand. By the time everything had been prepared and brought out, two additional tables had been pushed together with his to fit all the food. In front of him was meat from nearly every animal he cared to eat, the finest fruits and vegetables, pastas of all shapes and sizes, cakes, pies, 3 flavors of gelato, and a bottle of the restaurant’s finest wine
Leon devoured bite after bite, filling himself far beyond what he knew was healthy. Before long, other diners and even some of the waiters had started watching the man’s feast. Awestruck, the onlookers watched as fork, spoon, and knife rent every sort of food imaginable and sent it into his stomach.
It wasn’t long, however, before Leon learned that gluttony was a sin that punished itself, and one that did so quickly at that. His stomach in terrible pain, he stood to try to make a hasty exit, as the check had been paid in advance (on the owner’s request). His body, unable to cope with the punishment it had taken, collapsed just outside of the restaurant, and he vomited into the street. He picked himself up, still racked with pain and nausea and called a cab.

Day 6- Pride

Pain woke him the next morning. A headache from very mild insulin shock mixed with the worst stomach ache of his life kept Leon groggy. He would’ve stayed in bed if he didn’t feel so driven. He had to win the bet now. He’d come way too far, risked and changed far too many things to fail now.
But he’d hit a snag; he had no idea how to commit a sin of pride. After all, he could define pride. He could recognize it in people when he saw it. But when did it become a sin? Was pride itself a sin, or was there an action that needed to come from it? And what was so wrong with being proud of one’s actions, anyway?
Suddenly, he became aware of a gradual change in his way of thinking. Whether it was a sin or not, he had grown proud of what he was doing. It was almost like teaching foolish people a lesson. Ron Carson might someday realize that something of his had been stolen, and he hadn’t even noticed. Maybe that’d make him think twice about buying so much useless junk in the future. It might help make him a more responsible person.
More likely sooner than later, Crystal would realize that what she’d done with him was a mistake. He’d just used her like her previous boyfriend, and probably like any others before him had too. This realization would give her the opportunity to realize that she needs to be more discerning when it comes to giving herself away. Maybe this was just what she needed to start looking for someone that’d actually treat her right instead of just the same old jerks.
What he was doing, this bet he’d made on a whim, had grown into something else, something divine. It felt as if there was no more bet. From now on, this would be the person he was. The world, after all, was rotting, infested with foolish people. He would be the cure the best way he could see how. He would bring suffering to force people to change their ways for the better.
Leon looked out his bedroom window. The stone grey world outside was now his canvas. For the first time, he felt like he mattered. What he was doing could actually change things. He laughed hard and uncontrollably, filled with an almost childlike glee. He’d all but won now. Pride not only emanated from him now, but became a black inspiration deep inside him. The bet had fulfilled its purpose; he was a different person now.

Day 7- Wrath

Blood. Who knew there could be so much of it from such a simple wound?

Vergil had changed somehow. He still had the same eerily perfect looks, but now there was something else to it, something Leon couldn’t place. It was something about his smile that made him feel like he was taunting him. He couldn’t stand it.
That’s why he stabbed him.

Leon had gone back to La Florentia, just like the plan had been all along, on the last day of the bet. Vergil was waiting there for him, but, strangely enough, he was alone. The usual small crowd of nameless faces was nowhere to be seen, and even Giovanni was missing. If he hadn’t been so focused on his victory, Leon would probably have been more suspicious.
As he walked in, he was greeted with that dark smile, but this time, he flashed one of his one.
“Glad you could make it.”
“Yeah. Been a busy week.”
“I know. I’ve been keeping track of you, whether you realized it or not. You’ve done a lot in such a short time. I was impressed.”
Leon’s smiled faded quickly. “You’ve been watching me?”
“Of course. I can’t pass up an opportunity to watch someone self destruct. And your particular destruction was beautiful, really. It only took you one week to ruin your entire life. I must say, I’m proud of you. I just wonder how things to collapse around you now. Will it be arrest for blackmail? Or how about for date rape? Or maybe theft?”
“You...” His fists were clenched now, the realization that his newfound happiness and pride were never real,” You knew all this was going to happen?”
“Obviously. But, don’t worry, you’ve got the reward you were promised right here! I even bought this rundown bar just to have this talk with you, and I brought you a nice dinner, though I doubt you’ll be hungry again for awhile.”
Leon was in shock. He’d ruined his own life for someone’s amusement. His mind started to go blank, his thoughts red with rage. Rage towards himself for being such a fool. But more than that, he felt rage towards the smiling man across the table. That’s when he noticed the knife next to his dinner plate.
Before he could comprehend what he was doing, his body flew forward, knocking the table out of the way. The knife buried into Vergil’s chest, blood spilling down his knuckles. Then, slowly at first, he started to feel something inside his own chest. It grew into a terrible pain, like hooks tearing into his shoulders. His legs buckled, and he fell to the floor and gripped his chest, screaming.
“Just like a moth to the flame. Looks like I win.”
Leon looked up to see the smile return to Vergil’s face, blood trickling out of his mouth. His mouth fell open in shock and terror.
“Your morals are so easily bent when in distress. You humans are so weak. Now, away with you; one of my kinsmen will take your soul’s place on this earth. You no longer deserve it.”
The last sight Leon enjoyed was the dying smile of a hideous man as his soul was torn from his body, thrown down deep into the icy pits of hell.