Purrlock Murrs: an idea for a children’s book I’ve had.

So, I’ve had this idea for a kid’s book about a cat detective called Purrlock Murrs. He is assisted by his friend and companion, Doctor John Kitten, who is a curious and friendly younger feline.

Purrlock’s greatest foe, obviously, is Murriarty.

Now all I need is an artist willing to draw cute cats, and I’ll be on my way.

(Purrlock Murrs, Doctor John Kitten, and Murriarty, all used together anyway, are all (c) Stephen J Herron 2014).

It’s done, and it’s out

It’s been nearly a month since Gen Con 2012 (feels longer) and the Broken Rooms RPG is now available in PDF format from DriveThruRpg. The print product will be available soon, though Studio2 currently have a few copies.

After Gen Con there’s always a couple of weeks (or more) of decompression and recovery, not least from the travel and effort of running 8 hours of games a day. There’s also that whole “well, what now?” thing.

I’m not going to worry about that too much this time. Broken Rooms is a big book (464 pages) and it took a lot out of all of us to get it finished. It’s been 16 years since the first edition came out, all 100 copies of it, and I had wondered how I’d feel once this version — arguably the final version — was completed.

I feel pretty good. And I don’t feel in a hurry to start any new projects just yet. Of course, there’s always an itch in the back of my mind, new ideas trying to get out, but for now I’ll concentrate on my photography and trying to make it pay for itself, as well as the actual day job. We might even play some RPGs, which would make a huge change.

Halfway out of the dark

The opposite of summer,
That forever twilight of my youth,
The sky just a darker blue
Long past midnight.

Solstice balances Solstice,
A line connecting each pole.
The year strung out, summed up in sunsets
And reckoned in rises.

Every sunset is a defeat,
Every sunrise a victory.
The ticktock of days
Rushing by ever faster.

The worst days,
Like broken glass
Crunching and cutting
Under your feet.

The best days,
Brief moments of bright
Gone too soon,
Never forgotten.

It’s not the days in your life,
But the life in your days,
Lick your fingers clean,
Reach in and take another.

The Gun (Part Six)

Part One  |  Part Two  | Part Three  | Part Four  |  Part Five

The gunshot was vastly loud in the tight confines of the apartment. Even behind the bathroom door, it sounded like an explosion. Which is, of course, exactly what it was.

The sound the door made as the bullet punched through it was subtle by comparison. A splintered hole had suddenly appeared by Danny’s head, throwing cheap wood fragments everywhere. Danny winced as one scrapped his cheek. He had thrown himself off to one side, though it was far too late to dodge anything.

Cal was still standing there. He was very pale, even more so than the night the biker had broken his nose. He was starting down at the space between his feet, where another rough hole had appeared. It smoked, slightly. He looked back up at Danny, then at the door. Then he turned and disappeared back into the living room.

Danny’s head was ringing. The noise had been loud, the thud against the door had been heavy and hard and the splinters had really drawn blood. He put his hand to his cheek and it came away with thick red droplets.

The thud against the door. It had been heavy.

He scrambled to his feet and banged his fist against the door.

“Rachel!” he shouted. There was no sound.

His mind raced. He’d forgotten to put it back in the safe. So stupid. How had she found it? How did she know where to look?

Then he knew. It was so obvious. She had just looked in the spot where they’d kept their small supply of pot, back in the couple of months when they’d been smoking. Danny had found a small bag of it a few weeks ago, before he’d picked the gun out of the trash can. He had flushed the pot away, but the hiding place had been on his mind when he decided to hide the gun.

After she’d overheard his conversation with Cal, she’d figured out exactly where he’d have hidden something as serious as the gun.

“Rachel, for god’s sake, are you okay?” he shouted, and he felt wetness trickle down his cheek. His other cheek. He was crying.

In the middle of it all, the thought that Rachel had done something to hurt herself, perhaps worse than that, was all he could think of. He wished he’d never picked up the gun. He wished he’d never said those things to Rachel, that he’d never been such an asshole to her. He thought of the good days they’d had, the days that he knew she’d thought were good, those few times that they could both look back on and smile.

It couldn’t end like this.

Danny kicked at the door, punching at it. The flimsy cheap panel bent and crunched and finally one of the hinges snapped. He pulled the door back, scraping his knuckles and painfully wrenching his shoulder. He barely noticed.

Rachel was sitting on the floor in the shower. She was looking at him as he pulled the door away. She held the gun in her hand, resting it in her lap. She looked frightened and exhausted.

“I missed you,” she said simply.

“I missed you, too,” he said. Then he closed his eyes, feeling stupid.

That wasn’t what she’d meant at all.

“For a second. Just for a second, I wanted you to die,” she told him, sounding surprised at herself. She lifted the gun slightly, as if it was too heavy to raise higher.

“Just for a second?” asked Danny with a nervous smile. “Not for the last six months?”

She tilted her head, curious.

“No. I’ve never felt like that. But holding this…” she looked down at the gun and suddenly it was as if she was holding a snake. She made a frightened squeak and threw it away. It made a solid, dangerous sound as it bounced and then slid. Danny held his breath, certain that it would go off.

It didn’t.

“Is that what happened with Kelly? Did the gun make you do it?” she asked. There was an almost hopeful note in her voice. And Danny knew why. He’d asked himself the same question after he’d shot Kelly. If it was something the gun – any gun- did to you, just by holding it, then it meant both he and Rachel were not to blame. They were off the hook, not entirely responsible for their actions.

“No. It’s just a thing. We pull the trigger.” He said it softly, sadly. She nodded, looked down at her hands, turning them over. Examining them.

“Kelly had a gun, a replica,” he told her. “I must have noticed it, somehow, subconsciously.”

Rachel shrugged, a tiny gesture of agreement. “Maybe. He shouldn’t have followed you. He shouldn’t have threatened you.”

Danny was silent. Then, “I shouldn’t have taken that gun out of the trash. I should have left it where I found it.”

Rachel looked back up at him.

“Where did you find it?”

———-

Cal refused to come out with them, so Danny and Rachel left the apartment alone. She had cleaned up his wound in silence, her fingers familiar and tender. Danny hadn’t spoken either. Cal wouldn’t be there when they got back, Danny was sure of it. It might be weeks before he saw his friend again. If at all.

Danny and Rachel walked through the streets, in the dark and the cold. Neither spoke, but after a while, she threaded her arm through his and they were, for a little while, united in their silence. They had both shared something terrible tonight. The gun had shown them something that they could never take back, never undo. Rachel was calmer than she’d been. Perhaps, Danny thought, she’d burned out her anger at him with the gunshot, that instant of murderous anger that had been buried deep inside. Now it was out, it was gone.

For him, it was different. He didn’t remember pulling the trigger on Kelly, but he had. It hadn’t been an accident. It had been jealously, anger, hate. He wasn’t brave enough to throw a punch, but the gun had made it so easy to express his darkness.

In the right hands, he considered, a gun was a good thing. Or could be. A deterrent to further violence, like the other night with the bikers. It could stop a madman or a killer. A few ounces of lead could change history. It had, over and over again, for centuries.

Danny looked at Rachel. She was deep in thought, too. There was no way they were going to get back together. At least she’d probably give Kelly a wide berth now. That was something. Perhaps the gun had done that, too. Protected her. Saved her from Kelly.

And from me, he thought. One last act of salvation.

“This is where I found it,” he said finally, as they turned a corner. There was the trash can. He’d only found the gun because he was dropping his empty cigarette box into it. Smoking really was bad for your health.

She reached into his coat pocket and took out the gun. Danny looked around nervously. Rachel was just about to throw it back into the can, when he stopped her. He opened the cylinder and shook out the last remaining bullet. There was no way he was going to let someone go through what he’d just experienced. Whoever had dumped the gun there had left it with six rounds, literally a loaded weapon.

He would spare the next finder from that.

Danny dropped the gun into the trash. It disappeared into the fast-food cartons and paper coffee cups, sinking into a sea of filth. They stared at the can for a moment, then she started walking away, pulling Danny by the hand.

He was looking at the bullet, held between his thumb and index finger.

“Just one left,” he said to her. She stopped, looked at it. She plucked it from between his fingers and dropped it down into a nearby storm drain. There wasn’t even a splash.

“None left,” said Rachel.

The Gun (Part Five)

Part One  |  Part Two  | Part Three  | Part Four  |  Part Six

Silence, broken only by an echo of the gunshot.

Danny and Kelly stood facing each other. Kelly’s eyes were wide in shock.

Danny’s mouth was a circle of surprise. Kelly was holding a gun, from nowhere. It was pointing at Danny, who hadn’t noticed it until after the shot was fired. His own gun was still in his jacket pocket. It had blown a smoking hole in the pocket. There was the smell of burnt leather , propellant and blood.

Kelly dropped his gun, which broke into cheap plastic pieces on the solid pavement. Danny stared at it, closed his eyes in regret.

Kelly fell.

A pool blossomed around his still form, growing silent and slow, black in the streetlight’s orange glow. Danny couldn’t move. Could only see.

The blood was dark in the streetlights, a glint of red in the reflected glow. It looked deep, moved slowly, blooming like a slow-motion flower as more came out. And more.

Danny snapped out of his paralysis. He ran to the nearest payphone and dialed 911.

He shouted quick, desperate directions into the handset, and cut the call off as quickly as possible. He ran back to where Kelly lay dying, and looked at the figure lying there.

There was a hole in his stomach, but not much blood. That all seemed to be leaking from his back. The bullet, Danny realized, went right through him. He looked down the street in the direction it must have went, and began to run, looking around for what could be left of the bullet. He arrived at a corner, with a junk yard across the road. A lead needle in an impossible haystack.

Danny quickly thought about his options, and then ran as fast as he could towards his apartment building.

He could already hear the sirens.

———-

By the time Danny reached his door, he was gasping hard and painfully. His hands trembled with key and lock but the door finally opened, and he tumbled through the opening, slamming it shut with his foot.

He lay on the carpet, breathing in short rasps, feeling his heart pounding its way out of his chest. Danny had never felt as scared, not since he was a child and something had woken him in the night, something unreal and ethereal that disappeared like all bad dreams eventually do.

This wouldn’t go away. This had really happened.

He had killed Kelly. Shot him dead, in the street. The police were probably all over the place, scouring the area for clues, threads from Danny’s jacket, skin cells, hairs, sweat, his spit, god only knows what else.

He took his jacket off, then his shoes. He stripped down naked, and took all this clothes into the bedroom.

He tried to dress in a fresh set of clothes while putting the old stuff into a sports bag. This didn’t go well, and by the time he had finished both tasks, his heart had calmed down a bit, and he was breathing normally.

Danny fell back on the bed, and felt the weight of the gun beside him on the mattress. He picked it up, looked at it. The smell of cordite was still strong, and Danny wasn’t sure if he was imagining it or not.

It’s not cordite, came a small voice in his mind, they’ve not used cordite for years.

Danny didn’t know how he knew that. A casual fact, read in a book or magazine, long forgotten until now.  He ran to the bathroom, hid the gun and stripped again, taking a hot shower that lasted until all the hot water was gone.

The smell of the gun was gone, now. Out of his hair, off of his skin.

He dried, dressed, and walked into the bedroom. He turned on the television and the radio, and tuned both to local channels. He waited for news reports to come in. Eventually, in the middle of the night, the news came.

The first thing was that Kelly wasn’t dead.

Danny’s first emotion was relief, but the newsreader quickly stated that Kelly was undergoing surgery and was reported as being in ‘critical condition’. A replica gun had been found at the scene, and it was thought that the victim had either been robbed at gunpoint or had scared someone else with a real gun into defending themselves.

Danny took pause. That was, more or less, exactly what happened. He had never intended to hurt anyone with the gun. It was in his pocket, for fuck’s sake. He had his hand on it to stop it falling out.

No. That wasn’t true. He had been holding it, ready to fire. It hadn’t happened by accident. Even if he could remember pulling the trigger, he’d meant to.

———-

He was woken up by a thumping at his door. Memories kicked in one at a time and his mood shifted quickly from annoyed to terrified in the space of a few seconds.

He stood up, suddenly wide-awake, and paused. The thumps continued. Danny walked into his living room, and stared at the door.

Weren’t the police meant to shout something first?

“Danny! Let me in! Please let me in!”

The voice was Rachel’s. He walked over, looked through the security hole, and saw his ex-girlfriend, looking ragged and tired, standing outside wearing a man’s coat over what looked like her pajamas, the ones she had bought in Maine, with all the teddy bears on it. They were flannel and he’d always liked how the material felt against him, in bed.

He pushed the memory away and opened the door. Rachel stood there for a moment, silently staring. Then she fell into the room, into his arms, holding him tightly and sobbing.

Danny was nearly overwhelmed with the scent of her, the weight of her light frame in his arms, her tears, her very presence. He felt dizzy, floaty.

Danny felt like his heart would burst. He really did love her. He closed the door and walked her to the sofa. She sat down and lent into him more, still crying.

“Kelly… he’s been, he’s been… shot….” she sobbed.

Danny’s feelings shifted between love, and compassion, serving sharply towards guilt and then resentment. Her new lover had been shot and she was here, in Danny’s arms, crying about it? What the fuck?

“Is he… okay?” asked Danny, his own voice trembling with repressed anger.

“He’s unconscious. The doctors say he’s got a fifty percent chance….”

Another memory, all the other times she’d cried. During movies, sad TV shows, at her father’s funeral, when her friend’s dog died, when Danny had said all those hurtful things, when she had left him.

The sobs died down slowly. She was still leaning against him, as she had for years before.

“Why are you here?” asked Danny quietly. He kept the emotion out of his voice.

She didn’t move, just continued to lean against him. Her breathing was starting to calm down. “You were the first person I thought of, Danny,” she said, smiling sadly, “The only person I wanted to be with right now.”

Danny didn’t know what to say. Hope gave way to the leaden dread that had been there before Rachel turned up.

“Funny, isn’t it?” she said, then sighed heavily. She fell asleep.

Danny sat there while she softly found solace elsewhere, and his mind was racing. What if he wakes up and tells them it was me? What if he doesn’t wake up at all?  

The doorbell rang. Danny slipped Rachel onto the couch, and she continued to sleep. He put a blanket over her.

He opened the door. Cal stood in the square arch of doorway, face white, eyes wide. He said nothing. Danny ushered him in, and they went to the kitchen, silently.

“What happened?” asked Cal in a soft voice. His knuckles gripped the coffee cup tightly. He was a mixture of furious and frightened. Just like me, thought Danny.

“He had a gun, too,” said Danny. “It wasn’t real, but I didn’t know that.”

Cal looked into the cup, and said nothing. “Self defense, then.” he said finally. His voice was dead.

Danny nodded. “I guess.”

Cal and Danny were silent for a while, just thinking.

“What are you going to do?” asked Cal. Danny shook his head.

“I don’t know. It was an accident. I didn’t mean to shoot him,” said Danny quietly.

Cal looked up and his face went white. He was looking behind Danny, back into the living room where Rachel was sleeping.

Or wasn’t.

“What did you say?” she asked quietly. He voice was tiny, unbelieving.

Danny turned. Her expression was unreadable, her eyes still red from crying. She was pale. Even her lips were almost white, a tight line where her smile used to be. She’d probably heard Cal and Danny talking, thought she’d come in, have a cup of coffee and wait with them for news. She’d certainly got some news, alright.

“Rachel… oh, Rachel, no. It was an accident,” he said softly, but she just ran to the bathroom, hand over her mouth. The door slammed before Danny or Cal could do anything and the muffled sound of Rachel being violently sick stopped them in their tracks.

“Jesus, Danny,” said Cal, “God help us.”

“She’ll understand. I mean, Kelly had a gun, too. He’s a psycho. He was following me,” said Danny. Cal raised his hands.

“You don’t have to convince me,” he said. He pointed at the bathroom door. “She’s the one you need to tell.”

Danny walked over to the bathroom door. He could hear the sound of running water now, the swirl and spit of Rachel rinsing. He tried to open the door, but it was locked. He swore softly.

“Rachel, are you alright?” he called. The water stopped, replaced by silence.

“I’m really sorry about what happened,” he called through the door. “I was just out walking. Kelly was following me. He threatened me.”

Silence. Perhaps the sound of movement within. Rustling, followed by a more solid sound. Danny ignored it.

“I didn’t mean to hurt him. He’s not stable, Rachel. He’d been watching me all day!”

The silence was starting to worry Danny. Perhaps she was listening to him, though. Perhaps he was getting through to her.

“Danny,” whispered Cal, standing in the hallway between the kitchen and the bathroom. Danny looked back at him in annoyance.

“What?”

“Where’s the gun?”

Bang.

One left.