Monday, August 31, 2015

Get over yourself.

Okay, so this is one of those ramblings where I make an ass of myself in some eyes and preach the gospel in others. I know there will be hurt feelers out there, but, think about it, if YOU are getting bent out of shape by this...maybe YOU are part of the problem.

The indie scene is sorta like that groovy little corner coffee shop that you think is this huge secret shared by only you and the few faces that you see every single day as you sit in the corner using that free wi-fi and listening to music that has bongos or heavy electronica sounds...or both. You give each other that knowing nod as you take your regular seat every day until one morning, you walk in to find somebody sitting in YOUR seat! The problem is, that is not YOUR seat, it is part of the establishment that is trying to eke out an existence. So, in a huff, you sit someplace else and scowl at the other person the entire time.

Where am I going with this? Well, there are people in the indie scene that think there is not enough room at the top for others (outside of their little clique, of course...wink-wink). Now, I can only speak for myself, but, even pushing it, a book every three months is a lot of work. I see it hit the market, and then enjoy the feedback from people who devoured it in ONE DAY! So, what are they gonna do for 89 more days until my next book comes out? READ SOMEBODY ELSE! And guess what? I love sharing titles that I stumble upon and enjoy. I am stoked if somebody takes that suggestion and finds a new writer to love. The thought never occurs to me that the reader will never return to my work again. 

The way some of the folks in the indie scene have been acting as of late is sort of disgraceful. They almost seem to want to horde their readers. And unless you are part of the small clique they have won't get the time of day, much less a recommendation. Now, I have a few writers that I absolutely love to hype. (Claire Riley, Eli Constant, Rhonda Hopkins, Heath Stallcup) But I really dig stumbling on to somebody I have never heard of and never really had any serious dealings with and then reading their stuff and sharing it with the world (provided it is good), or at least the small circle of people who read my blog or follow me via social media. 

Next week, I will be digging around the indie-verse and finding a few things to read (might not ALL be zombie stuff...never can tell) and then I am going to give you some names to hit up and add to your list. Maybe you have some suggestions. If so, now is a good time to leave them in the comments.

If you are an author...and if you want me to read YOUR book, let me know. That is my other gripe with some of these self-serving types that are entrenching themselves in the indie scene. I have read and reviewed HUNDREDS of my peers. Some when asked, some just because I want to show support. One of my favorite LAME excuses to hear in response to a request for some of them to reciprocate is that they don't want to have my work possibly influence what they are writing and then get accused of stealing an idea. REALLY? It couldn't have anything to do with you being selfish, and now that you got your review and a sale (or two if anybody pays attention to my reviews and decides to give it a shot), that you don't see the need to return the favor. 

Or...oh, wait...maybe it is the social stigma of showing me some support. Yes, that is a real thing I get from writers due to a few no-nothing types who threaten to boycott anybody that has anything to do with me. NEWSFLASH: How much do you really know about the personal life of the writers you read? I put my stuff on front street because I know me, I know the facts, and I know what is bull. I've never hidden anything simply because I do not feel the need. These little busy-body types are nothing more than locusts or lemmings that swarm and try to cause destruction to my personal income (since the whole being a writer thing is how I make my living and support my family). They get weak-minded people to carry their banner and use intimidation and threats to get others to fall in with their line. Classy. Like the headline says: Get over yourself.

Now, get me some names and some titles to BUY this week and show my support for my fellow indies.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I was not overwhelmed by this book, it offered a decent premise and an interesting story. K L is the focus with the ability to move between the various Londons that exist in this magical realm. As I said, there was nothing groundbreaking, and often I found myself sort of waiting for something to happen, but in the end, it proved to be a satisfying read/listen that entertained me.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tired of Newfie puppy pics yet?

Me either!

Wrapping up the week with another visit from one of my amazing Beta readers. For those of you thinking about throwing your hat in the Beta reader ring, this might hopefully take away some of the mystery. So, let's see what Caron had to say after this mini-request. Bottom line is that I need a good 20 more reviews for UnCivil War: A Modern Day Race War in the United States. I will gift you a copy or send you the epub or Mobi version. All you need to do is commit to posting the review. Yes, it is still okay if you don't like it. This is not trolling for positive reviews...just reviews PERIOD. Any takers? Email me at

1.      What do you like about being a Beta Reader (maybe not just for me, but for others as well).
I have like being a Beta Reader so much, especially as the story is set in my neck of the woods.

Being able to see a story slowly in the making, makes me feel privileged. And offering my help, may help the author if only a little. Also helping with the authenticity of the story, where it is set, I don't like the books I choose to read to be in imaginary places.

2.      For somebody seeing an announcement for being a Beta Reader, help demystify the situation for them and tell them what it is all about.
I had never heard the term Beta Reader untill I read the post on Todd’s wall asking for Beta Readers, I googled it, right up my street. I love zombie books which is a huge plus, and I knew how the author wrote. And being just down the road from me I thought I may have something to offer. As we all speak the same language here in Yorkshire it's often used very differently. If you enjoy the books you have seen an announcement for Jump in feet first you won't regret it. It's a little like editing really. But you do need to set time aside to do it.

3.      I did things different with this title. I sent a single chapter at a time every day or every other day. Then, I packaged up each third AFTER making the fixes or addressing issues raised by some of the Beta Readers. What were the positives and negatives of this method versus sending an entire project at once?
I prefer to read a chapter every other day, I like to read how it's developing first ,then read again for any missing punctuation, authenticity of area and characters. As I have never done this before I can only imagine what it would be like to be given the whole book to Beta read in one go. Way too much for me, as am sure there would be a deadline , and I would have wanted to read more than once before I had to send in anything. Keep it this way!

4.      Do you prefer this “new” method of Beta reading, or would you rather receive the entire project at once?
See above!
5.      What can an author do to entice more people to become Beta Readers?
An author maybe needs to advertise everywhere, at the back of a book, even saying you will be looking for future Beta readers for future books and to send an email to say you’re interested, even a little explanation of the help they could offer. Front of the book. Even when you can read a chapter of the new follow on book, put that you are looking for a wider audience.

6.      Now, we talk about DEAD: Snapshot—Leeds, England. If there was one reason to grab this book, what would it be?
If you love Zombies you will love this book, great story writer and most characters are your every day, regular person next door. Yes you will get army, SAS trained people , die hard  gun enthusiasts,  peppers but with TW Brown there will be just normal "Joe soap" the people next door. And he always leaves you wanting more.

7.      Without giving away any serious spoilers, what scene stood out for you?
So far what stood out for me was when Shadiyah slaughtering the men that had zombies collected in the swimming pool, and what followed. A great, " oh noooo" moment. I tried to justify it for her.

8.      What makes the DEAD series stand out from other zombie series?
For me the DEAD series has been about communities trying to survive the apocalypse. There is more than one group of survivors in each book, and there are some seriously nasty "people" too. But to me the characters spring alive and jump off the page. You only need to read the first book to be hooked, the DEAD snapshot to me are tasters of the 12 book series.

9.      The DEAD: Snapshot—{insert town here} series is a spinoff with each book being a standalone story set in a specific location. My hope is to capture the feel of the location and make the reader feel like they are “on location”. I bring up Google Earth and go down to the street level view as I write to try and bring the location in as a secondary character.  How likely are you to pop over to Google Earth to check out a strange and unfamiliar locale just to get a feel for where the adventure is taking place? Or does the location not really matter?
I do use Google Earth, all the time. I like to get a feel for a place, I like my fiction set in non fiction town, the story is more authentic, if the place is real the characters become real .
Whitby would be perfect, lol. There are smugglers caves, catacombs under the abbey that you could hide out in. Only accessible with boat at high tide. Secret passage ways. We have the moors, the army base in the middle of nowhere, which is UK early warning system. Deep valleys , where you could herd the dealers and fill in each side. Even the steam trains still run. There are old hidden carries at old station you could make as home.........sorry getting carried away. I have an amazing memory, and I remember stuff I have seen years ago, not just recently.

Location matters or it's just another story. Same old same old. You need a location to be authentic as possible. There are any wonderful places to visit to write about, but often it's not possible, Google Earth gives you that possibility. I know I got the rock wall wrong, whilst out on the steam train I saw them.

10.  Should I make it a point to invite the readers to utilize Google Earth in my introduction?
Yes get them to look, tell them , go see where this one is set. Although I can't find the horses or house my name sake's character lives.

11.  Last question: You are being asked to determine which of my main characters survives. Any pressure?
This is so hard, Shadiyah has reacted in a knee jerk way, act first think later. Most of the time she had good reason to. But I think she will come full circle, with a friend like Caron at her side am sure she will. But others may act first think later towards her too. She needs a strong man to help her heal and become a warrior princess. Because i Would want her on my team.

Then we have Simon, he's the dependable chap everyone needs, a natural leader, but doesn't really want it, but he is the best choice. As a couple they would be formidable. Every community needs them both.

As I wrote my answers on a few pages, I was still pondering who I want to win out. Thinking I would have made up my mind by the time I typed this up. NOPE still haven't................gimme five minutes!!!

It's Shadiyah........she needs to survive, growing up in the apocalypse young girls will need a fearless role model and I believe she could lead an army to save a community.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What do puppies and Beta readers have in common?

The answer to that question is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. However, pictures of cute puppies are much more appealing than...say...a picture of yours truly. Also, most of you have seen the cover of my upcoming release, DEAD: Snapshot--Leeds, England. This is the second stand-alone title that I have released set in my DEAD world and I am actually very happy with this spin-off series.

Speaking of my Snapshot series, I am dipping my toes in a new (to me) promo site:

I will be submitting UnCivil War: A Modern Day Race War in the United States, and if it goes well, then I will give DEAD: Snapshot--Portland, Oregon a spin.

I will probably do three or four of these a year for the foreseeable future. What I won't do is write a 13th book in the DEAD series. Book 12, DEAD: End (coming this October) is the conclusion. I have more respect for the fans of my series than to pad it and water it down after you read what you expect to be the finale. This is NOT a "The Who" farewell tour. 

Yes, I write for a living, and that makes you, the wonderful people who part with some of your hard-earned money to buy my books, my employers. I do work for you. That is why I will probably have a short series of a few books that cover the story of what happened to Kevin and Catie in that 10-year interim. And then there are the DEAD: Snapshot--{insert town here} titles. At present, they are designed to be stand alone books. That is not to say that one or two offerings won't span a two or (at most) three book arc. Also, I will eventually be doing one for each of the branches of the United States Armed Forces.

That said, on to my interview with my Beta Reader, Jeff. I did things different this time, and I wanted the responses from a few of my wonderful Beta readers about the process. So, without further delay.

1. What do you like about being a Beta Reader (maybe not just for me, but for others as well).

I would say it’s the feeling of helping out and being a part of something bigger then one’s normal life.

2. For somebody seeing an announcement for being a Beta Reader, help demystify the situation for them and tell them what it is all about.  

When being a beta reader it basically means 3 things. 1st the author is looking to have you basically proof read it but for more than grammar or spelling mistakes but also to look for actual character errors or reference errors. 2nd is overall feel of the book. Basically you are noting any issues you have with the flow of the book. Is there something you feel is wrong or is it what you expected. The toughest part is criticizing the book but at the same time the author truly wants to hear the good and bad. Sometimes a change is needed and this is how it is found and fixed. And last up is to write a review of the book upon release, this is what helps the author to get the initial push off. Overall it can be fun and at the same time you get to make a difference in the books final outcome. 

3. I did things different with this title. I sent a single chapter at a time every day or every other day. Then, I packaged up each third AFTER making the fixes or addressing issues raised by some of the Beta Readers. What were the positives and negatives of this method versus sending an entire project at once? 

On the positive side is that you only have to focus on 9 or 10 pages. So one fast read and then a second slow read is easily accomplished. On the negative-It sucks when you get into it and your at the end a few pages later and end up saying dammit Todd just 1 more page!!!

4. Do you prefer this “new” method of Beta reading, or would you rather receive the entire project at once? 

I think it will weed out the “free book beta readers” . My only concern would be it took 6 chapters to get any semblance of who is the main characters and where the story is going. The other rough side is you are into a month long project vs a weekend project. HOWEVER I think the fact that a author could basically rewrite sections of the book at any point without the entire book already having been written, Gives the author much more flexibility for change prior to the final cut.

5. What can an author do to entice more people to become Beta Readers? 

Not sure why you have problems here. Maybe we need to make A Fan Page on FB. I know that a lot of authors have a core group of beta readers that they use and it is hard to get into the group. So I would guess it’s more of a retention issue that may need to be addressed. Once you get a group built you're happy with do what you can to keep them.

6. Now, we talk about DEAD: Snapshot—Leeds, England. If there was one reason to grab this book, what would it be? 

Well the obvious is its related to the DEAD series and its ZOMBIE’S

7. Without giving away any serious spoilers, what scene stood out for you? 

Ask me at the end of the story.

IF I WAS allowed to change any 1 thing in this book. I would remove the rape scene from the book. It is way too early in the story and instantly makes the story Brutal. I feel you could have had the rape happen prior to our jump into the story or leave it out and let her commit suicide from the death of the family. I’m seriously afraid of you turning people off that early in the story.

8. What makes the DEAD series stand out from other zombie series? 

It’s not a 1 book wonder it’s a series. Series means the ability to have characters we get to know. The dead series stays in the realm of “this could happen” not that military attitude or the “its only zombies”. A good Apocalyptic story must involve the degradation of man also as well as the good in man.It must have the ability of survival with a possible decent outcome otherwise what is the point.

9. The DEAD: Snapshot—{insert town here} series is a spinoff with each book being a standalone story set in a specific location. My hope is to capture the feel of the location and make the reader feel like they are “on location”. I bring up Google Earth and go down to the street level view as I write to try and bring the location in as a secondary character.  How likely are you to pop over to Google Earth to check out a strange and unfamiliar locale just to get a feel for where the adventure is taking place? Or does the location not really matter? 

Yes and No. I wouldn’t likely google it but at the same time if I knew the area I would be disappointed if it wasn’t right.

10. Should I make it a point to invite the readers to utilize Google Earth in my introduction? 

Absolutely any interaction with the audience is always good

12. Last question: You are being asked to determine which of my main characters survives. Any pressure? 

Nope. Simon all the way so far

Monday, August 24, 2015

A new approach with BETA readers.

Too cute not to share her picture again.

So much to say about this new method (no, I am not claiming to have invented it, but I do know it is NOT the norm). With DEAD: Snapshot--Leeds, England, I took a new approach when it came to working with my amazing Beta readers. Instead of dumping the entire thing in their lap, and then letting it trickle in (not all who sign up or say they want in actually reply after you send them the ARC), I decided to send them the book one chapter at a time. 

This method allowed me to make fixes and/or changes in small bites. I believe that this also allowed me to connect more with my amazing Beta readers. Instead of just a "wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am/man" method, we were able to address issues as they arose. Also, after the changes and fixes were worked out, I would send them a a section (3 chapters) of the material where they could see their suggestions put in to play. Also, if something was missed on that first run through, it was likely captured in subsequent looks. 

Pre-order it HERE!
This week (and maybe part of next week, I want to feature a few of my Beta readers and their responses to some questions that I had. Any writer will tell you that their Beta readers are amazing and are a large part of making the final book a better read. Not only do they tell you if you get long-winded, confusing, or perhaps forget that you killed that certain character two chapters earlier and need to take that into account in a scene where that same character saves the day...or dies again.

Without delay, let's here what Melena has to say. Bonus...I will scatter pictures of an adorable Newfoundland puppy throughout these answers as incentive to you, the reader.

Nap time!

1. What do you like about being a Beta Reader (maybe not just for me, but for others as

As a fan, I enjoy, of course, the fact I get to read the book before it's actually published. I'm not
the most patient of person, so it's nice not to have to wait until it's in print (or on audio). But I also
enjoy thinking I'm helping in some way to iron out the kinks, so to speak. It's almost like a game
for me, so when I can spot a misspell or something, I feel like I just won a prize. It's a silly idea,
maybe, but it's fun for me.

2. For somebody seeing an announcement for being a Beta Reader, help demystify the
situation for them and tell them what it is all about.

I actually only came across the idea of a beta reader by seeing it on your Facebook and it was
immediately interesting for me. I think it's an awesome idea, to run a novel through a group of
readers, who help find grammatical errors, as well as any hiccups or conflictions in the story.
Maybe offer opinions if you don't feel a particular bit is working. Basically, you relate if you feel the
novel's good or not and why or why not this bit or that is or isn't working.

She would nap here if we let her.

3. I did things different with this title. I sent a single chapter at a time every day or every
other day. Then, I packaged up each third AFTER making the fixes or addressing issues
raised by some of the Beta Readers. What were the positives and negatives of this method
versus sending an entire project at once?

I believe the positives were more for you, the author, as it gave you ample time to fix things early
on, rather than maybe having to rewrite greater sections, according to what feedback you
received. But as a reader, it also meant less time reading each day, which if you have a busy
schedule, is usually important. The negatives were that, as a reader, it was sometimes difficult to
be caught with a cliffhanger and having to wait for the next chapter. I usually found myself having
a couple chapters open, anyway, and reading back. It can sometimes get distracting, the stopping
and starting with each new chapter presented, so I'd have to go back and make sure what I'd read
before. That's not to say I didn't like this way of doing things, I think it was less of an undertaking
with no pressure behind it. An ideal situation if you have little free time.

4. Do you prefer this “new” method of Beta reading, or would you rather receive the entire
project at once?

For me, either way is fine. I like being able to read it all at once, but I also like the idea of taking
my time and hopefully catching more issues. In the end, it's what helps the author more, so I'm
certainly okay with either method.

Cute? Umm...yes.

5. What can an author do to entice more people to become Beta Readers?

Honestly, I think if you need to 'bribe' or entice them by offering something, you run the chance of
finding readers less mindful of doing what they're there to do. Does that make sense? I think
doing this is an honor, really. For me, it was a bit of a humbling experience. Maybe it's my
admiration for you as a writer that makes me feel that way, or to think that I might, in any way,
benefit you in doing this. But with that mindset, I feel I really wanted to do a good job and to help. I
guess, on the flipside, though, some might want to do it if they know they're getting something in
return, like a free copy of the book or something. I hate to say offer money, because I think that
kind of defeats the purpose of your doing this to make money. Personally, once again, I just loved
the idea of getting to read it without having to wait. That was incentitive enough!

6. Now, we talk about DEAD: Snapshot—Leeds, England. If there was one reason to grab
this book, what would it be?

The obvious answer would be ZOMBIES! If you're a fan of them, any of TW Brown's books are
must haves. I do like that with Dead:Snapshot--­Leeds, England, that you get to experience a bit of
a different culture (if you're not from that area of the world) and gain a different perspective on
how other countries deal with the threat of zombies. Also. Bacon sandwhich. You'll have to get the
book to know what that means!

7. Without giving away any serious spoilers, what scene stood out for you?

There's one scene that will, undoubtedly, stick with me forever, because it was one of those
scenes you get no answer as to why, or how. It just is. I know that's really vague, but I don't want
to spoil it. Just trust me, when you read it, you're going to be like, "Nooooo! But whyyyyyy? What's
going on?!" Also, the child zombies in any of TW Brown's books always stand out for me. I love
his take on them and they're seriously creepy and sad, all the same time.

Lisa wanted to remind the world that SHE is cute as well as she imitates a bat.

8. What makes the DEAD series stand out from other zombie series?

First and foremost, they're very well written. The amount of characters and twists and plots keep
you interested and invested. I love that we, the readers, get so many different views and takes on
the same global tragedy. Humans don't handle the same situation in the same ways as everyone
else, and I like getting a taste of those differences in the DEAD series. It's impossible to get bored
when reading these books, and as you go along, you find yourself immersed in this storyline or
that one, so you always look forward to getting back to that particular group of survivors. Of
course, there are times when you REALLY like a particular character, only to have them die. It's
all part of the realism that TW Brown brings into his books (zombie plot aside). So be careful who
you get attached to. Even so, every time I had to stop reading and mourn, swearing I'd not read
anymore, I kept finding myself coming back for more. This series is highly addicting.

9. The DEAD: Snapshot—{insert town here} series is a spinoff with each book being a
standalone story set in a specific location. My hope is to capture the feel of the location
and make the reader feel like they are “on location”. I bring up Google Earth and go down
to the street level view as I write to try and bring the location in as a secondary character.
How likely are you to pop over to Google Earth to check out a strange and unfamiliar locale
just to get a feel for where the adventure is taking place? Or does the location not really

Actually, I've already done this. I'm still learning about Google Earth though, and it makes me a bit
dizzy to maneuver, but at least I got a sense of the area and probably would have never gave it a
glance, without reading this book.

Freyja playing "Where's Waldo?"

10. Should I make it a point to invite the readers to utilize Google Earth in my introduction?

Sure! Disorienting or not, Google Earth is still a neat tool to check out!

11. Last question: You are being asked to determine which of my main characters
survives. Any pressure?

No pressure, no; just worry that the vote won't sway on my side, so the character I actually like will
be killed. However, I'm used to TW Brown killing my favorite characters, by this point, so nothing
new, right? *laugh*

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Journey Begins...Newfoundland Life.

Getting acquainted.
Today, our home welcomes a new member. Her official name is Royal Flush's Lady Freyja Limerose. We just call her Freyja. (Yes, the 'J' is silent.) So, here is the story of her name. First, she comes from a wonderful line of Newfies. The Royal Flush Newfoundlands. So, that is the first part of her official name. Next, her mama is (shortened version) Lady Tutu, hence the "Lady" in her name. Then we have her "regular" name...the one we call her by: Freyja. (As we move forward with our Newfies and explore the possibility of breeding, our Newfs will sport Nordic and Viking Names. Lime was her identifying collar color. (When a litter is born, it is common to put a colored string around each one so you can identify them as they slowly mature.) Rose is our home in DEAD ROSE MANOR (Thank you, Vix and Ivor!)

Yes, she knows she is pretty. But tell her anyway.
Over the next few years, Freyja will be learning various fun things that allow her to gain an array of titles. There are obedience titles, companion titles, draft cart titles, water rescue titles...get the picture? There is a lot that goes in to trying to create a champion. And the truth/reality is that we may not be perfect. We may not win a wall full of ribbons, and for a competitive person like me, that will be a lesson. What this MUST be is a special time for Freyja where she gets to enjoy doing what a Newfie is born to do.

She loves to lay like a seal...especially in the shade.
I will be training her and doing all I can to reach the mark that each title requires. If she loses due to my handling her wrong, then I will have to learn from my mistakes. But the funny thing about that will be how little she will actually care. For Freyja, it will just be play time. She will be told how wonderful she is each and every day. And through it all, I will be journaling the experience as I compile a book about owning, training, and ENJOYING the Newfie.

"Really? More pictures? Can't a gal doze in the shade in peace?"
And there will be pictures. Yes, there will be pictures. I recently completed a photography course and will be putting that to good use. If you love puppy ready for LOTS of them. And once she starts her journey in all the certifications that will go on her pedigree, my photo journal will grow to epic proportions.

We have been waiting two years for this moment. That patience paid off as we have had the pleasure of working with an amazing breeder who will be friends for life with Denise and I. They will actually be coming over for dinner in a few weeks to see how she is doing (and fill up on my barbecued delights). They will be joining us at the many events and helping us become more knowledgeable in the world of the Newfie. 

Cuddle time!
This is not just bringing in a new dog to the house, this is the growth and expansion of our family. After all, when it comes down to it...Freyja will be a new member of the family.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Review: Master and Commander

Master and Commander Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This falls under the "They don;t make them like this anymore" when it comes to books. Throw away anything you thought you knew from the movie (which sort of chops and splices in parts from four books in this incredible series).

This is nautical adventure at its finest and you will be given an education as well as being treated to an amazing story. You watch the relationship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin as it develops into something amazing. The feel of being in the midst of such a foreign world (that of the wooden ship era seaman) is captured here and makes you wish that the tale would never end.

This is a series best to be savored for as long as you can make it last.

View all my reviews

Politically incorrect vampires?

Welcome to a short week. 

No, it is not a holiday. And that phrase actually gets a double meaning with today's post. And stay tuned, because very soon I will be telling you how you can own this week's shorts along with many other fantastic entries in an upcoming anthology. (Hmm...maybe even an audio book of shorts?)

And now, how about A Little Bite.

“…and law enforcement officials remain baffled by this third death in as many days—”
Tomas switched off the television and tossed the remote on the table cluttered with unread magazines and a smattering of cards and envelopes addressed to OCCUPANT. Well, he thought, time to move again. The question was…where? There were some definite plusses to the over-burgeoning population problems of the modern world.
Tomas peeked out his curtains to the courtyard below. The shadows of evening were growing larger and would soon fill the interior of this square apartment complex with darkness. The glow from several televisions could be seen in numerous windows as residents of the Emerald Pines Apartments settled in for the night. Empty food wrappers swirled in the eddies of the night breeze along with the last few leaves that had clung stubbornly to the pair of ratty trees in the courtyard; neither of these trees were ever emerald in color, nor were they pines.
One of the residents emerged from the breezeway and scurried to his darkened apartment. The glare of numerous hundred-watt bulbs blazed from within and then the door shut. 
“These silly people,” Tomas mused as he went to his bedroom and began to dress. “Always so anxious to hurry home from meaningless jobs and camp in front of the glowing idiot box to be told what to fear next. If it isn’t the stranger next door…it’s the newest sniffle or cough. These sheep have no idea what real evil or true sickness are about. Vlad…Genghis…Caligula…those were killers.  And the Black Plague…now that was a sickness that thinned the herd.”
No, Tomas thought as he shoved his feet into his boots, they don’t have any idea how good they have it. He pulled on his gloves, enjoying the smell of the well-oiled leather, stopping at his bathroom on his way out just long enough to grab the bottle of blue-tinted mouthwash and swish around a perfectly measured capful, spitting it into the toilet. Why, the advances in dentistry alone were so epic that many of Tomas’ friends—enemies too for that matter—probably owed their lives to said advances. Things had come a long way from shredded twigs and salt.
Of course, not all of the technological advances were good.  Nowadays, everybody carried one of the numerous so-called “smart” phones. And don’t get him started on the advances in forensics.  Getting away with murder was becoming almost impossible.
Murder. He saw it more akin to cleansing. What he did was practically a public service. People were multiplying so rapidly that poverty and hunger no longer registered on the social consciousness.  The only people who even pretended to care were often vapid Hollywood-types, or musicians that wanted to cater to a bunch of hemp-loving wanna-be environmentalists, who would stagger away from a three day outdoor music festival leaving the park looking like a landfill starter kit. That…or politicians.
One of his favorite hobbies was to go downtown and hide in a shadow where he could watch some poor, grungy sap marinating in his filth while asking for change. Or…worse yet, holding a sign. Today’s beggars were too lazy to even beg properly, but that was an entirely different issue. Anyways, watching folks walk by and pretend not to see the wretch…absolutely priceless.
This sort of thinking always made Tomas nostalgic for the “old” days. But, to a vampire, “old” was a rather subjective term. At almost nine hundred years old, he wasn’t the youngest, nor was he the oldest. However, he had been around long enough to have earned a certain amount of respect from his peers.
That had taken a century or two…that respect. His turning was initially done as a joke. Whoever said that vampires lacked a sense of humor was gravely mistaken. Tomas chuckled at his own mental pun as he stepped outside his apartment. After checking his series of locks exactly five times—these days they called the behavior OCD, back in the old days is was simply being cautious—he went out into the night.
A short while later, he arrived at his destination: one of the many parks that dotted the Seattle landscape. This one in particular had been in the papers and on television lately: “Man exposes himself” and “Child avoids abduction.”
Climbing onto one of the swings, Tomas began to casually pump his legs. His eyes could see perfectly in the evening gloom. At the moment, he was sharing the park with a family of squirrels, two dogs—whose owners had obviously ignored Bob Barker’s pleas—and a wino passed out under a cluster of bushes near the concrete building that housed the men’s and women’s restrooms.
This was certainly an inexact science, but over the years, he had learned that man was nothing if not a creature of habit. And with all the wonderful gains in technology to “free up time,” they actually seemed to have gotten worse, not better. It always amused Tomas when little hiccups in things like electricity, cable/satellite, or—heaven forbid—their precious cell phones occurred. Mankind skewed towards frantic when their routines got a little hitch in them. It threw their patterns off…and they hated that.
Movement from the opposite side of the park snapped Tomas from his musings. The soft glow of a living being drew his focus and shifted him into instant predator mode. The thought of ‘what could be’ if he’d guessed correctly made his fangs extend into their feeding position. 
Why don’tcha have a seat, Tomas heard the voice in his head.  He was willing to bet that if he were to host one of those Catch a Predator television shows, those sick bastards would shape up in a hurry.
He continued to swing, trying to be sure that his face stayed shrouded by his hoody. He glanced down to see which one he was wearing and smiled at the image of the robot that could change into a truck splayed in bright colors.
The person took his time getting closer. He was making sure that there were no witnesses. Excellent, Tomas thought, it’s always nice when the sheep do the work for you. Just as he’d hoped, this sick pervert was preparing to take his sickness to another level. There was probably a windowless van parked nearby.
The sheep was close enough to smell the heady mixture of anticipatory sweat with just a mixture of fear. Even in his excitement, this twisted freak had that little nugget in his brain that was afraid of getting caught. If he only knew—
“You okay, son?”
“M-m-m-my mom went out with her new boyfriend again and didn’t even make my dinner first.” Tomas thanked the fact that his voice had always maintained its high, tinny pitch.
“That’s terrible,” the man’s voice almost seemed to tremble with excitement. “Well, how about I take you to get a burger or something?”
“I’m not s’posed to go with strangers.” Best not to sound too anxious, he didn’t want to spook the sheep.
“That’s pretty smart,” the man’s voice oozed with false praise.  “My name is Bill. What’s yours?”
“Well now, Tomas,” Bill—if that was really his name—said, “now we aren’t strangers. So, how ‘bout that burger?”
“I guess.” Tomas dragged his feet in the sand below to bring his swing to a stop. He could smell the excitement and added adrenaline dump into the man’s system. “Will you take me home after?”
“You bet, sport,” the man-who-might-be-named-Bill assured.  He reached down to Tomas for his hand.
Tomas flipped his hood back and fixed the would-be predator with his gaze. The man’s eyes went wide with shock.
“You’re a little person!” was all the man managed to say before Tomas’ hypnotic gaze froze him.
“Kneel,” Tomas commanded. With a flash, his fangs sank into the man’s jugular.
And that was another thing, Tomas thought as he fed, this whole politically-correct garbage, he’d been a midget for centuries.  What in the hell was this society’s infatuation with labels?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Take it in the shorts.

This week, I want to share some of the short stories lurking around in my computer. Who knows, you might find something you like. Stay tuned to news about a groovy little anthology where you might be able to have each of these in your own library. And could they see an audible treatment? Hmm...

First up...

The Tragic Tale of Chris and Ernie

Chris took a sip from the paper cup he’d been holding for the past twenty minutes. Blech! Cold. He hated cold coffee. Still, he choked down the rest of it, crumpled the cup, and tossed it on the floor. Not that anyone would notice.
The newsroom was a disaster. There was paper strewn or scattered everywhere. People were darting around while the two men on camera sat across from one another arguing about the probability that all the violence in the streets was due to the dead rising and attacking the living.
Chris glanced at the door. Everywhere he looked, people were arguing like it was the end of the world. He tried to block out the yelling and formulate a plan. He knew that all the arguing being done couldn’t change what he had seen on his way into work at around 3 o’clock this afternoon…
He’d driven past the junior high school four blocks from his house. Because of the declared emergency, Chris expected to see the place empty. And for the most part…it was. But on the blacktop playground where the kids were usually either engrossed in a kickball game or shooting hoops, he’d seen two of them. The rest of his drive into the station, he’d tried to convince himself that one of them hadn’t been missing an arm from the elbow down. And not the neat and clean amputee-look. No, sir. This arm had stuff dripping from it, and a good chunk of what was probably bone jutting out from the ‘meaty’ part. Say what you would…there was something very wrong and bad happening. Sitting in this television studio arguing about it wasn’t making anything better.
He took one more look across the chaotic studio and considered if he should tell anyone or invite any of the others to join him. “Nah,” Chris said under his breath.
Once in the parking lot, he looked for his car, a 1967 Rambler Rebel. It wasn’t the flashiest car, but the entire front seat folded down, which was way cool when he took a girl to the drive-in. Hell, it was almost as cool as a van.
A strange sound carried on the cold and cloudy night air. It took him a moment to realize what he was hearing. Gunshots!
Not in any big hurry, Chris wandered over to the edge of the parking garage. He was on the top floor, six-stories above the eerily traffic-free streets of downtown Pittsburg. His eyes drifted towards the Monongahela and where Interstate 376 ran alongside it. The interstate looked like a parking lot as far as the eyes could see in both directions.
On the streets below, a police car sped around the corner. The driver locked the brakes, and the vehicle turned a slick one-eighty. It stopped, and both doors blew open. He watched as the two cops drew their guns and fired back into the vehicle.
Shadowy forms emerged from every direction, homing in on the officers who were yelling back and forth at each other while reloading, Chris couldn’t make out what they were saying, his eyes were drawn to the dozen or so figures closing in—albeit rather slowly—on the cops. After a moment’s consideration, and deciding those two were so focused on whatever was inside the back of their car that they weren’t paying attention, he decided to yell.
“Hey!” he hollered.
The cops spun and fired his direction! Chris dove to the ground, but he felt a stinging sensation on his cheek where one of the bullets had hit the concrete and sent shards of it up and into his face.
He lay still for a moment, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. Pain started to build, and it took him a moment to realize that he was holding his breath. He gasped and sucked his lungs full of the cool night air while he tried to get his composure. Then…he heard a sound unlike any before in his life.
A scream.
It actually took him some time to realize that he was hearing a human—or humans—screaming. It was coming from down on the streets. The cops!
Chris jumped up and looked. The part of his mind that was still trying not to accept everything that was happening was concerned that maybe the police were hurting even further whomever they’d shot up in the back of the car. What he saw took the last shred of rationality that remained and cast it out.
By the time his eyes had adjusted to the pale blue of the street lights, the two cops were practically impossible to see. Instead, he could make out members of the mob surrounding the lone police car stumbling away with…parts. One was clearly carrying most of an arm. Another had a sloppy strand of something that Chris had no desire to know what it was.
A sound tore his attention away from the carnage below. A woman limped down the center of the aisle. He watched as she hobbled into the illuminated circles of yellow that one of the evenly spaced, pole-mounted lights provided. What he saw in the sickly glow made his stomach turn. The woman was vaguely recognizable as the co-anchor of the morning news. Only…
Chris vomited in a loud retching splash. He wiped his mouth and looked up to see Bernadette Simons—rather, what was left of her—had turned in his direction. Her floral-print silk blouse fluttered in the breeze, giving an even clearer view of the damage. It didn’t seem that any of the buttons remained. Chris only had a flash of appreciation that his oft-imagined fantasy of what her breasts looked like was fairly accurate. Unfortunately, his eyes could not pull away from the gaping hole just below her rib cage to just above her belted, corduroy pants. There were things hanging out of her that he could not begin to identify. But, dangling to her knees was a strand of what could only be her intestines.
“Miss Simons?” Chris said through the bile thickened saliva that coated his mouth.
She came at him with arms outstretched, mouth opened and issuing a low, guttural moan. Her eyes were milky and showed no sign of recognition. Her skin color, normally a perfect ivory-white that seemed even more brilliant in contrast to her raven hair, was a vile bluish-gray.
Fumbling with his keys, Chris backed away from the horror that had once been Bernadette Simons. He edged around the car that he had been standing by and, once he was certain that his pursuer was in between a pair of cars, he turned and ran. As he slid into the driver’s seat, two more of those things came shambling into view. One of them was clutching a strip of what looked like Bernadette’s blouse.
The engine turned over, and Chris backed out of his space. A dull thud sounded as he smacked into yet another of those…
What the hell are they? he wondered. The news had initially claimed that there were some crazed lunatics on the loose. Then, they’d called them ‘ghouls’. The most recent label that he had heard was ‘zombies’. Weren’t zombies some sort of weird voodoo thing?
Chris shifted into gear and headed towards the ramp leading down to the exit. He winced as his bumper clipped Bernadette. At each floor, things got just a bit worse. What began as one or two scattered about became packs of four or five by the time he reached the bottom level. He came to a stop about fifty feet from the exit.
Ahead was the well-lit security shack. Inside was old man Ernie Ziglinski. Outside were at least a dozen of those…zombies. They were all pounding on the glass, smearing it up. Ernie was holding his neck, and Chris could see a lot of blood on his hands.
Chris ran over his options. He could floor it and try to plow through…or…he could try and help the old man. A hand slapped against the glass of the passenger’s side window. Chris jumped, involuntary taking his foot off the clutch. The car lurched forward and then the engine died.
Sonuvabitch!” his voice cracked.
Apparently Ernie had noticed him. He was now pounding on the glass from inside the booth. Chris was no lip-reader, but it was easy to see the words “Please help!”  Also, several of the monsters turned around…and were now coming his way!
Chris started the car again, and took a few deep breaths as he surveyed the situation. This could work. He waited, urging the zombies to come closer. Once he was confident that he had enough open space for his plan, he flipped on the interior dome light and waved his arms to get Ernie’s attention. He pointed to the back door. That would be the easiest way to get him into the car. Ernie nodded and brandished his two-foot long flashlight.
Taking a deep breath, Chris gunned the engine, dropped it into gear, and launched up the aisle. The mechanical arm that barred the exit rose, and Ernie threw open the door to the shack. Bodies bounced and spun off the front bumper or careened off the sides. With a screech of tires, Chris skidded to a halt. Ernie shoved a few of the nearby zombies aside or else clubbed them with his heavy, chrome-plated flashlight. He pulled the back door open and dove in behind Chris. As the door slammed shut, the Rambler’s tires were already spinning. They burst out of the parking garage and onto the mostly empty streets.
“Thanks for pickin’ me up, brother.” Ernie clasped Chris’ shoulder with one hand. Chris tried not to notice the tackiness of the blood that coated it.
“Looks like you got messed up a bit there.” Chris caught the eyes of the old man in his rearview mirror.
“Damndest thing,” Ernie tugged at his long-sleeve shirt, tearing away a strip. “One of them fellas managed to sneak up behind me and started to bite down on the back of m’neck. I pulled away, but it kept a piece.”
Chris hung a left on an access road that ran parallel to the river and congested parking lot that was Interstate 376. He knew a couple of places along the waterfront that they could duck into.
“Got family out near Monroeville,” Ernie mumbled. “Maybe we could hole up with…” his voice trailed off to a low rattle.
Chris glanced at the man in his rearview mirror again. He was leaning against the window, asleep. He’d wrapped a strip of the shirt around his throat. A wad of something was against the wound, but it looked as if it was already soaked through. The old man was hurt worse than he realized…or would admit.
Eyes front, Chris slammed on the brakes. A cluster of those things were in the middle of the road. They’d caught a bum judging by the filthy clothing and wild hair—unkempt and unruly—in obvious need of a washing.
They had him by the arms and around the waist. Chris could only watch in the arc of his headlights and the glow from the streetlights and business signs—mostly bars—that lit up this stretch of road. One of them bit down on the hand it held just above the wrist. Others were tearing away the man’s jacket. There was a scream…long, loud, and terrible…as teeth sunk into arms, legs, and even his face. The group tumbled to the ground, and Chris saw dark fluid jet into the air.
There was another series of shrieks as they ripped him open. Hands sunk into the newly splayed cavity, steam rose from it on the cold night air as strands and chunks were torn free and feasted upon. A few on the fringe that were unable to join in the feeding frenzy turned towards the car.
“Oh shit!” Chris shifted and tore past the outstretched hands.
His gaze darted along the waterfront side of the road. Tall fences and locked gates denied him access if he wanted to keep his car. However, with all he was seeing, it might be worth it to ditch the car for the safety of those tall, chain-linked fences.
“Hey, Ernie!” Chris called, glancing in the mirror. The old man was definitely out.
Up ahead, one of the gates was open. Chris turned in to discover a few cars parked at random angles. Two were police cars. Perfect, he thought, maybe he could get some help. He turned into a spot deciding that, while it was okay for cops to park any way they wanted, he didn’t need any useless hassles.
“I think I found help, Ernie.” Chris hoped it wasn’t too late.
As he turned off the engine, one of Ernie’s hands slapped the top of the bench seat causing Chris to almost wet his pants. He flipped up his door lock, opened the door, and started to climb out. He glanced back as Ernie pulled himself up and Chris found himself staring into dead, flat eyes—eyes just like Bridgette’s.
“Oh, Ernie.” Chris choked back a sob. Cold lifeless hands reached for him, breaking the spell. Chris tumbled out the rest of the way, sprawling on the cold cement. He kicked the door closed, realizing too late that he’d left his keys in the ignition.
A new sound carried on the night air. He spun towards the water as a small boat loaded down with boxes and what looked like three or four uniformed officers chugged out of a nearby boathouse. Chris considered hollering, but decided against it. He’d gotten this far on his own, and perhaps he would fare better if he made decisions for himself…at least for a while.
He glanced at his car and the face pressed against the glass in the back seat. He could always open the door and let Ernie out, lead him away, then run back to the car and take off. First, he would check the area for anything useful.
In one office he heard the crackle of a radio. He ducked in to discover a body slumped over the counter. It looked like the man had taken a bullet to the head. Maybe he’d been one of those things. Chris remembered hearing that the only way to kill one was to shoot it in the head, or otherwise destroy the brain. Or, maybe the man had tried to stop the policemen who’d just putted away in that boat.
After looking around in two more buildings, each attached to its own pier, he found a boat. Still, even if he took the boat, where would he go?  The cops had gone east…obviously deciding to get away from the city…as well as their coworkers who might not think highly of them abandoning their duties. He didn’t particularly like the idea of heading back into the heart of the problem. But, he didn’t want to follow those cops just in case the worker that had been shot in the head was some of their handiwork.
After another twenty minutes, Chris managed to discover and haul seven Civil Defense emergency boxes that appeared to have been left behind to his boat. Each time he passed within sight of his car, Ernie started pounding on the window. The sad thing was, each time it happened made Chris jump. Of course, the first time, he might have screamed…just a bit.
He knew that it wasn’t right—just leaving Ernie like this. So here he stood, next to the car studying the sagging face of the guy who’d had a smile and something pleasant to say to everybody who drove into that parking garage. It didn’t matter what the weather was like, or that you acknowledged him back. A couple of times, he even helped break into the Rambler when Chris had locked his keys inside. Maybe he should do something.
Ernie stopped pounding and was now staring at him. His mouth was open, a bit of drool running down his chin mixing with the nearly dried blood. Chris realized something funny, between the blue-gray discoloration, and the way his face now drooped as if the flesh was too heavy for the facial muscles to hold it up…the creature in his car now only resembled Ernie.
Perhaps if he got his keys, he could open his trunk and…and what? Chris shuddered at the thought that flashed in his mind. How in the hell could he think about getting a tire iron and taking it to the head of that poor man? No, what he needed to do was to free Ernie from the car.
He thought it over for a moment. Sure, he would be letting another one of those things loose…but at this point, what was one more? It didn’t seem like it could make that much of a difference. Besides, maybe he could lure Ernie to the boathouse. At least in there he could wander around. Chris could shut him in and then cast off. He’d just have to hope that the poor old guy didn’t try to follow the boat and fall into the water. Still, it was better than leaving him in the car.
He reached for the driver’s side door, keeping an eye on the slightly gross caricature of old man Ernie. His head turned, following Chris. When he opened the door, two things happened with catastrophic suddenness: first…the stench that rolled out of the car made Chris start heaving uncontrollably, second…Ernie lunged forward, coming almost halfway over the back of the bench seat.
Chris stumbled back and landed on his right side. The way he fell—unable to do anything to brace for the impact—knocked the wind from him. That, coupled with the thick vomit clogging his nostrils and coating his mouth, completely incapacitated him.
Never in his life had Chris smelled anything quite like that. Either he hadn’t been paying attention in the car, and inexplicably tuned the smell out, or…the combination of the dead Ernie and a closed up car for the past half hour or so had allowed that gawdawful funk to build.
Whatever the case, it didn’t matter now. The thing that had once been Ernie was struggling to get over the seat. One hand landed square on the horn and didn’t seem to be coming off it any time soon. The sound carried on the night air for what began to seem like forever as Chris struggled not only to gain his ability to breathe, but to get back up on his feet.
Keeping one eye on the struggle taking place in the front seat of his car, he rolled weakly to his stomach and slowly made his way up to his hands and knees. By the time he had gotten that far in his quest to stand, the Ernie-zombie tumbled the rest of the way into the front of the car…and mercifully off the horn.
The sudden silence seemed just a bit scary. Then he heard a new sound. Not really the sound of walking, but rather, sort of a draaag-STEP…draaag-STEP.
Chris had been able to control his panic to this point. He’d had the wind knocked out of him plenty between football and four older brothers who loved to rough-house. It sucked, but he’d learned that panic only made it worse. Looking around for the source, he’d felt his heart kick into a whole new gear when he spied a man…what was left of him…limping directly towards him. He couldn’t be more than twenty feet away.
There was a lot wrong with this guy. For starters, he was naked. Several bites had been taken out of his torso. One particularly nasty rip started at the collar bone on the right side and ran all the way to the bottom of the ribcage. Chris could actually see each exposed rib in the three- or four-inch wide tear. One outstretched hand was missing all the fingers with the exception of the pinky. Something had bitten this guy’s face just below the left eye and tore out a chunk. The rest of that cheek hung down past the jaw in a thick meaty flap. The eye seemed to be on the verge of popping out at any time.
Chris reached down deep for every ounce of strength that he could muster and struggled to his feet. Just as he did, Ernie managed to grasp him by one ankle. Chris fell more than dove into the open front seat of the Rambler. The upper third of his body was now inside the car. However, Ernie still had his ankle.
Grabbing the steering wheel, Chris pulled weakly while trying desperately to kick Ernie loose. He felt another hand claw at the back of his leg. Slowly, he could feel his ability to breathe returning as he forced himself over and onto his back. Using his elbows, Chris hauled himself further into his car and away from the two monsters that were inching closer.
His attempt was not entirely successful. The Ernie-zombie sunk his teeth into the left leg, scraping away flesh down the shin and tearing a chunk from the calf. The other had gained purchase just above the right knee, biting into the flesh, coming away with a mouthful of meat, tearing a strip from the leg of his pants. Chris yelped in pain as a lungful of air finally made its way in. The pain provided an entirely new motivation for him to kick free and move.
Pulling himself upright, Chris kicked Ernie in the face to knock him away from the open door. Then, stifling the urge to scream, he pulled it shut. His hand went to the steering column…this time he didn’t try to hold it in…Chris screamed. During his struggle, Ernie had snapped off the key in the ignition. Chris knew absolutely nothing about hot wiring a car.
He stared out at the two horrors pounding on his driver’s side window. That was bothersome, but what he saw in the distance was disturbing. He looked around; they had come from every direction.
There were so many. Chris relaxed, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. There wasn’t much more that he could do at the moment. Hopefully, somebody would come along…soon. He winced as the adrenaline began to ebb and the pain in his leg started making its presence better known.
Grabbing at his torn pants leg, he ripped off a couple of strips and tied them off above each wound. Reaching over to his glove box, Chris opened it and pulled out a pint of Seagram’s 7. Twisting off the cap, he tapped the bottle on the window where Ernie was still slapping at the glass, and took a long drink. He never understood folks who wasted good booze by pouring it on a wound. The warmth in his belly spread, but not as much as usual. Chris took a few more pulls on the bottle and closed his eyes. By now there were a few dozen of those things pounding on the car from every side. Still, Chris felt himself drifting off. That’s it, he thought, I’ll just catch a nap and wait for help. It shouldn’t be too long.
He let the bottle slip from his hand. The last thought he had before losing consciousness was that he should have left old man Ernie in the car. Moments later, he was breathing slow and deep.
Then…he stopped.


What used to be Ernie stood outside a 1967 Rambler Rebel. Its cold dead hands rested on the blood and slime smeared glass of the driver’s side window. Inside, another of its kind stared out blankly. The two simply locked gazes with one another…motionless…as the sun rose over the city of Pittsburg.