September

Sometimes
The late afternoon sun
Lays upon the leaves just right,
Evoking green from long ago,
Light from faraway.

The cooling days of autumn,
The end of endless summer,
Staring at the sun-painted green world
From a different classroom window.

After school,
We’d make the most of the deep blue evenings
Watching the sun set behind Cave Hill.
We’re suddenly in shadow
(the warm into cold of the air),
The new and old scent of peat fires relit
For the first time in ages.

We trade sunlight for streetlight.
Growing up in the dull orange glow
Of sodium vapor.
Sullenly railing against the end of the day,
Before my mum calls me home.

Soon there will be more night, less light.
Frosty dark mornings.
Up far too early,
Walking to the bus stop on the Antrim Road.
The streets are icy, but the passing gritter
Assaults both road and boy.
Just an insult added to injury.

September was the start of our year, back then.

Putting off Procrastination

Now that Gen Con is over, with Desolation: Journeys written and published and on sale, I find that I have very little excuse to put off other things.

With the intense bout of writing throughout May and June (and July) to get Journeys ready and to get a playtestable system for The Nearside Project, I’m left a bit blank and bewildered now. Nothing to do? 

Not even close. I’ve a few freelance projects that I’ve delayed until mid-August (which is, basically, now) and I have a clear run through the end of the year to only work on The Nearside Project.

Yes, I’m going to have to update my resume and start looking into a day job for when the KraftMaid stint ends in November, but I had been putting that off, as well.

Enough excuses. Time to write.

 

Mirrors

Over at Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, he’s discussing the most recent (and final, in many ways) book from White Wolf. World of Darkness: Mirrors is a collection of ideas. System hacks, setting concepts and random thoughts and musings from various White Wolf writers. And me.

It’s funny to think that it’s a fifteen year gap between my first material being published by White Wolf and this book. I’m kind of glad I got in under the wire, too. Although WW will publish more material in the future, it won’t be like anything they’ve done in the last twenty years.

Still, ever onward, right?

Some of my material for Mirrors got cut, mostly due to word count. It was also because I maybe took on too big a subject. Science Fiction is a vast, galaxy-spanning Empire of a subject. I ran through it pretty quickly, writing about cyberpunk, near-future space travel and the high science fiction stuff, too (where technology is indistinguishable from magic). I think I did a decent job (and so does Chuck) but I agree with him that it was probably impossible to do Science Fiction justice in such a limited space.

There is a certain thirst for that material, however, so it may be that it gets published in some form or other, either as PDF that White Wolf releases, or even a free thing that I’ll get permission to post here.

But I would love to see it expanded out further. I would enjoy working with some of the other writers I know and admire to really fill out a Science Ficiton vision of the World of Darkness.

The Summer Heats Up

Though this is quite a literal phenomenon (temperatures were in the 90s all last week), this entry is more to do with the sheer amount of stuff coming down the pipe this summer.

Where to begin?

SJH Creative is born
For a long time, I wanted to form a company to cover my freelance work. Not that there’s a lot of it, but there could be, if I really pushed myself out there and marketed my skills. Given the situation with my day job, and how it’ll be dramatically changing towards the end of year, it’s a good time to get a legitimate structure in place for tax purposes. Not just paying tax (I need to figure out all that) but to get tax breaks on equipment purchases and to be able to write off home office expenses, too.

But there’s little real push I can make for freelance work right now, because of…

Greymalkin Designs and Gen Con 2010
This will be the third year in a row that Greymalkin Designs has released a new product at Gen Con. I’m pretty proud of that, especially given the frantic last minute work we’ve been putting into the latest book.  All being well, we should have a hundred or so copies to take with us to the Convention. It’ll look good along side the core book and the first supplement, Survivors. Having a main book and two supplements is pretty respectful for a very small press company.

Of course, Gen Con requires work. Not only going there and selling, but preparing games to actually run there. This year, I have to scenarios to produce. One is for Desolation and the other is a playtest game for the re-release of The Nearside Project next year. Matt has come up with some neat ideas for system, but I need to actually sit down and figure out what to do with it, as well as expand it out to deal with deeper system needs. So that’s two scenarios and a playtestable system that needs written before Gen Con. No worries. 

(Not to mention that after Gen Con, I need to dedicate 100% of my writing time to The Nearside Project. Which actually means that I’ll suddenly have an urge to run/play/write something else game-related. It’s always the way…)

Huge Work Project
I don’t talk about work here much, since I like to keep work and play separate, but there is a gigantic project going on right now and through to the end of August. That’s taking up a lot of mental hard-disk space. After it’s over, there’s a whole lot of uncertainty about what’s next, other than a big red line in the sand around Halloween. Without going into too much detail, I’ll be spending much of September and October job hunting, though I still hope to take November off (completely off) to work on The Nearside Project. 

That’s quite a lot to be thinking about. When looking back at my list of things I wanted to do this year, I’m conscious that the poetry collection isn’t in there. I have still been writing (and I’m pleased that I finished “The Gun” at last) but things move around, as always. 

Still, there’s a chance that I could put the poetry out as a small SJH Creative project before the end of the year. 

What’s the rest of your year looking like?

 

The Gun (Part Four)

Part One  |  Part Two  | Part Three  | Part Five  |  Part Six

Cal and Danny sat in the apartment until the sun came up, listening. A police car went past a couple of times, slowly. They could imagine the occupants of the car scanning the streets, looking for something that was six floors up and cowering in fear.

Eventually, they fell asleep.

Danny woke up first, with a start. He looked out the window, saw the world going by as it always had. He looked around, wondering where the shot had gone. Where the bullet had ended up. He dreaded to think what could have happened. Clumsy, drunk idiots with a gun.

Danny looked over at his friend.

Cal slept on the sofa, snoring softly. His nose looked red and swollen, but the cut on his face looked much better. They’d tried to clean it up last night, when their shakes had disappeared. Danny would walk with him to the ER later, to get his nose set. He winced, just thinking about how much that would hurt.

The gun was locked in the safe, under the chair. Secure. Not dangerous.

No, he thought. It would always be dangerous. A gun sitting doing nothing is just waiting to be dangerous. Paused, like a cd. Waiting, patiently for someone to press play. Danger waiting to happen. There’s never anything safe about a gun. Never.

Cal rasped so loudly that he woke himself up. Danny jumped at the noise, thinking for a moment it was Cal’s death rattle.

Consciousness returned slowly to Cal’s face, then he remembered last night, felt his nose and whimpered softly.

“Morning, handsome,” said Danny.

Cal shrugged. “Just makes me look more interesting.”

Danny was still standing by the window. He looked back out.

“No one seems to have noticed. Last night,” he added, as if Cal wouldn’t know what he was talking about.

“Good. Doesn’t unbreak my nose, though.”

Danny grinned. “No, I get to watch the doctors do that to you in an hour or so. Want to eat first?”

Cal thought for a moment. “Better not. I’ll probably puke once they, you know, do it.”

He tapped his nose gingerly. “What about the gun?” he asked then.

Danny shrugged. “I don’t know. But I have to get rid of it.”

Cal stood, stretched painfully.
“How?”

———-

The trip to the hospital was short and sour.

Cal screamed loudly once when the nurse set his nose. He was pale when he came out of the treatment room.

Danny treated his friend to a big breakfast, which raised Cal’s spirits considerably.

Life was back to normal, more or less.

But, as it always had since he found it, Danny found his thoughts always creeping back to the gun.

Cal watched his friend carefully as he sipped his coffee.

“So. Decided what to do with it yet?” he asked.

If Danny looked surprised at his friend’s telepathy, he didn’t let it show. “No. Not really. I doubt if those bikers last night will report us, but still. You know. Maybe we should move to a different town. Country. You know.”

Cal delicately wiped his mouse with a napkin. Cross-eyed, he tried to stare at his repaired nose. “Does this look big?” he asked. Then added, with raised eyes, “bigger than normal?”

Danny ignored him.  “I can’t give it to the police now. Not after last night, anyway.”

Cal nodded.  “That’s true. Just put it back where you found it.”

Danny thought about this.  

“That might work. I’ll do it tonight,” he said.

Cal sighed. “Good. Then we can just put all this behind us.”

———-

Danny left Cal at the cafe, and walked home alone. It was still early, not yet noon, and Danny had little to do today. Saturday was always a quiet day for him.

He used to spend it in bed with…

He sighed deeply. The panic of last night had, for a while, pushed his thoughts of Rachel away. But they were back now, worse than ever. He could smell her perfume on his coat, mixed with damp city smoke and…

He sniffed deeply at the collar of his jacket.

Cordite. Gunpowder. Whatever made the bullets fly.

God. If he could smell it, who else could?

He walked into the first laundrette he found, and cleared the pockets of his jacket, which got thrown into a washer with about twice as much soap as it needed.

He sat and watched the jacket get exorcised of smells- gun, lover, city.

When it was done, the jacket just smelled of soap. It made him feel better on many levels.

———-

The apartment was still there. The gun was still there. Safe.

The picture of Rachel that used to be on top of the TV was gone. It had been there this morning.

Danny looked around, checked to see what else was missing. Nothing else.

A note was scotch-taped to the refrigerator door. It had Rachel’s handwriting, and there was her scent again.

Danny sat at the kitchen table, and opened the letter.

Rachel explained in her smooth flowing handwriting how she had seen her picture still up on the TV the other day when she was in collecting her stuff. She’d thought about it, and realized that it wasn’t the healthiest thing for it still to be there. She realized that she’d not left her key that last time (and Danny had noticed, wondering what it had meant- clearly, nothing) and this time she’d leave it in the usual place. She’d take the picture, which she assured him would be doing him a favor.

He looked over at the fridge, and saw her key hanging off the magnetic key-holder thing that they had brought back from their holiday that time, so long ago.

The note said goodbye, good luck and sorry.

Danny held it up to his nose, inhaled deeply.

The note then got rolled into a crispy ball and landed neatly in the wastepaper basket across the kitchen.

———-

About two hours later, Danny was sitting in a café in one of the safer parts of town. There was a small community college nearby and the half-dozen streets closest to the campus had taken on a vaguely trendy feel. Danny wasn’t especially impressed with the restaurants, diners and cafes. It had been a long time since he had been a student and he hadn’t been impressed back then either. But it had advantages, mostly the choice of where to drink coffee and eat sandwiches. He never had to go to the same place twice in a week.

Eventually, he realized, he would have to stop coming to this part of town. It was where he and Rachel met, where they had spent so many of their first months getting to know each other. The streets were teeming with memories, most of them good. At least, they were good. Now they just tasted sour. She had ruined them.

He sipped his coffee.

Danny knew that wasn’t true. He knew that it hadn’t been Rachel’s fault. He’d forced her away. Danny was, at heart, a child and like many children, he wasn’t very good at sharing. He was possessive and jealous and it was really a miracle that Rachel had stayed with him as long as she had.

At least, he was fairly sure that’s what she’d told him in one of their more recriminatory arguments. He’d shouted something back at her, no doubt confirming her theories. Then he’d walked out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him. He’d heard stuff falling off the wall, heard her crying.

It had made him smile at the time. Knowing that he’d been able to make her weep. Now she was gone, and all he had left were memories.  

She kept telling him that she was sorry, now, in her notes and her letters and her voice mail messages. Not sorry enough to come back to him, not this time.

Danny looked up and saw Rachel walk past the café window. He left a handful of money on the table and walked out into the street, trying to catch up with her. She was just turning a corner, and her name caught in his throat. He said nothing, but stood there, watched her go.

———-

Danny took the gun out some time later that evening.

He placed it on the table, and stared at it, deep in thought.

It was inherently a thing of destruction. He’d decided that. But last night, it had probably saved Cal’s life. Maybe Danny’s too. That was at odds with the idea of it being totally without redemption. Maybe guns were also made to save lives.

He wrapped it up, and placed it in his jacket pocket.

But it was over now. He’d take it back to where he’d found it, leave it there and go on with his life.

———-

He waited until it was dark before he left. It was a three mile walk, but he felt like walking. He had a lot to think about. Mostly Rachel. Perhaps he should have called her name, back outside the café. Maybe he should have caught up with her. A dozen different scenarios ran through his head, mostly ones involving her tearful please of forgiveness, her heartfelt pledges of eternal devotion. He shook his head, amazed at his own self-delusion. How pathetic.

After five minutes, he wondered if he was being followed. After ten, he knew he was. His heart pounded, and it was all he could do to not run.

But then, maybe running was a good idea.

He turned a corner, then ran as fast as he could across the nearly empty street into a shop doorway, then tried to hide as best he could, trying not to breathe, not to give anything away. He watched the corner he had come around, waiting to see who it was.

A tall figure walked around the corner, took a few steps and paused, looking around. The figure seemed confused for a moment, continued in the direction Danny had been headed. He walked past on the other side of the street, and Danny watched him go.

Recognition came. Rachel’s new boyfriend.

The gun felt heavy. Danny had nearly forgotten he was carrying it since he realized he was being followed.

He reached into his pocket and held onto it tightly.  Then he walked after Rachel’s new boyfriend.

 

———-

The man stopped walking after a minute, he turned to face Danny and smiled. It was a grim sort of smile.

Danny wasn’t smiling. He stopped, and stared at the man. Tall, brown hair. Well built. Danny had considered him ‘beefy’ yesterday, but he was leaner than that.

“Danny?” asked the man. Danny nodded.

“I’m Kelly,” said Kelly.

“Why are you following me?” asked Danny. Kelly smiled again. It didn’t look right.

“You’re following me,” he said. Danny sighed.

“Whatever. What do you want.”

Kelly took a couple of steps towards him. Danny held the gun, held his ground. A sudden red anger filled Danny. Something inside wanted to pull the gun out and empty the last three shots into this guy. He didn’t move. He just stood there and seethed.

“Rachel and I… well, we’re together now,” he said, watching Danny carefully, “and I just want to make sure you’re completely clear about that.”

Danny said nothing.

“I helped her move her stuff from your place the other day, and I noticed you still had her picture up on your television. I told her that she should go back and take it, too. For your sake,” he said, and smiled again.

 It was a smile that didn’t crease the skin around the eyes. It wasn’t a real smile. It was part of Kelly’s mask, part of his routine.

“Thanks,” was all Danny managed to say.

“So,” continued Kelly, “we’re all on the same page, then.”

Danny realized that Kelly was very used to getting his own way. Maybe he was some kind of supervisor or manager in his day job, used to dealing with underlings.. His looks, demeanor, stupid turns of phrase. This entire confrontation. The guy was all about control. Right now, he was trying to control Rachel’s past by stalking it and threatening it on a dark city street late at night. He’d probably end up controlling Rachel. Danny knew for a fact that Rachel did not appreciate control. He very specifically knew that, now.

Danny stared at Kelly for a moment. “We’re not even reading the same book,” he said.

Kelly blinked.

“What?” he asked.

“Rachel left me. I’m not happy about it, but I’m not going to waste my time trying to get her back. I miss her a lot, I thought she and I had something really unique, but hey, she left me, and now you have her. I realize it’s my own fault that she’s gone. So, good for you. She’s all yours. Now, fuck off.”

Moments passed.

“Don’t mess with me, Danny. You’ll regret it. Don’t call her, ever again. If you’re walking down the street, and you see her, don’t even look at her,” said Kelly, still smiling insincerely.

Danny didn’t like that last comment. It was too precise, as if he’d been there in the street outside the café earlier that day. Like he’d been watching Rachel, stalking her.

Or stalking me, Danny realized. The burning red anger turned to a cold harsh realization. This guy was insane. Rachel had picked a real psychopath as a replacement for him. She replaced one loser with another, came another voice, deep and dark and true.

Kelly was watching the expressions play across Danny’s face. He looked intense, focused. “Do what I say, Danny. Otherwise I’ll really hurt you.”

Then Danny laughed. Now it was just funny. The gun in his pocket, in his hand in his pocket was like a private joke that Kelly would never get.

A dangerous silence fell upon the scene. Kelly stepped forward, to within arm’s-reach of Danny. His face changed, his fake smile disappearing like the sun behind storm-clouds.

“I warned you,” he hissed.

Bang.

Two left.