Series Saturday Returns!

Ready or not, here I go! And no, for those of you who might be wondering. No, I’m not ready. But I said I would start posting chapters of my (still incredibly unfinished) FNAF fanfiction today, and even I keep my promises once in a while.

Must be a blue moon.

So for those of you who have been hanging off a certain cliff in Mammon for the past…yikes, six months, I am pleased (and panicked) to announce the return of Everything Is All Right. The first chapter of Part Four: New Faces, Old Bones is up over at fanfiction.net and archiveofourown.org. I’d actually forgotten how to create new works at both places, so there may be issues, enormously complicated by the fact that I was attempting to do it around a small dog who had decided that my face was the only honorable target to practice the ancient art of the Thousand Tongue Attack.

However, everything seems to be, er, all right. For me, anyway. For Ana, not so much…

Snow fell over Mammon—fat, fluffy, white flakes to cover up the last dirty layer and make it all new again. Impatient children tried to play in it, slipping in slush and scraping their fingers on the crust of last week’s snow if they weren’t wearing mittens. Fathers and sons trudged around their yards, taking down lights and sparkly reindeer now, while these gently falling flakes could still be considered ‘good’ weather for it. Mothers and daughters kept busy on the inside, packing away decorations, maybe stirring pots of thick cocoa or fragrant cider in their kitchens to warm cold hands when the work and play was done.

Ana stood in the driveway with her arms hugged tight around the crinkly paper bag holding her clothes, watching it all and trying not to cry. Aunt Easter was late. She, who had never ever ever been late, who had sometimes been there before Ana was even out of bed, waking her with whispers and kisses, bundling her into her clothes and then out to the car where David waited, and they’d all go together up to the stone house on its high, lonely mountain and pretend they were a family until it was time for Ana to go home. That was how it should be, how it had always been. Something bad must have happened, if Aunt Easter wasn’t coming.

Was it her fault? She had spent the whole winter vacation at Aunt Easter’s, almost two weeks, but she didn’t think she’d been bad. She couldn’t always tell, but she didn’t think so. It had been a good visit, full of laughs and hugs, with a tree and lights and special dinner on fancy plates and opening presents on the floor while Aunt Easter and her friend sat together in one chair and watched them. She had cried when she had to go home again, secret tears into her pillow after David was asleep…had Aunt Easter heard her and gotten sick of her whining? David hadn’t been at school since Wednesday, or at least, he hadn’t come by the kiddie-garden playground at recess to see her. Was he mad at her too? What had she done wrong? Had she been messy, smelly, noisy, a bad girl, a stupid bitch, a rotten little shit? Whatever it was, she was sorry and would say so as many times as Aunt Easter wanted if only she had the chance.

Behind her, she could hear angry noises in the house Ana still thought of as new even though she’d been living there ever since coming home from the hospital in the summer. When the front door opened, she did not look around. Her mother didn’t always like to be ignored, but never liked to be stared at. After a long, tense moment, the door shut again, but only just long enough for Ana to sigh out her relief. Then it banged open and her mother’s feet came crunching out over the broken snow she had never shoveled.

“Come on,” she said, catching Ana’s arm.

 

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A Brief Word About World Building

I had a reader drop a line the other day asking about my favorite subject: “…How do you world build? Is there a process you have? Steps? Questions you ask yourself? I guess what I’m really trying to say is– how do you build a world without dumping all this exposition on the reader’s head?…”

Since I am really and truly, no kidding, I mean it this time, trying to blog more often, I thought the best way to answer would be in a post, because seriously, no matter how many times I talk about world-building, I could always find something else to say. So let’s begin with the first rule of world-building!

Those are what ye might call ‘guidelines’.

 

This applies to pretty much every aspect of writing, by the way. Also piracy. But I digress. Back to world-building.

The second rule is to get yourself a concordance, or a world bible. I called this a Vade Mecum in my ABCs of world-building, but only because the letter C was already taken. I’m sure there are writers out there who work without a concordance just fine, but I need one. It doesn’t have to be an actual physical notebook with real papery papers inside either. A program like Scrivener does a great job of organizing notes, reference pages, inspiring pictures and deleted scenes that you may still find a place for, so that you have everything in one place. Or, if you’re like me, just keep a notebook full of detailed descriptions, lists of names, hand-drawn maps and so many doodles–buildings, animals, leering nekkid lizardmen, dishware…all the little details that add depth to any world.

Once you have your concordance started, spend a little time with it. Just like with a painting, you can hit it with the broad strokes and call it good–call it a masterpiece, even!– but a little time with a detail brush can pay off in a big way. Explore your world, removed from any pesky plot distractions. Right now, don’t even think about what your characters do, think about where they are, how they live, how they were raised. Some people thought it was funny that I led off my ABCs of World-Building with Architecture, but come on!

 

You have to admit, it makes a statement.

And that brings me directly to my next rule of world-building: You can never go too far. Our own boring human world is so fantastically diverse, populated by a wondrous variety of people who are capable of creating and doing such extraordinary things, that you should never be afraid of going a little bit over the top. If history has proven nothing else, it is that ‘over the top’ is ‘par for the course’ in posterity.

So now that you’ve created a nigh-on unbelievable world in your concordance, it’s time to put it on the page. Obviously, there’s no ONE RIGHT WAY  to do this, but there are tools, tips and tricks. Guidelines, if ye will (thank you, Captain Barbossa).

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that the hypothetical book in question involves an alien world, but that doesn’t mean that everything about it is, well, alien!

Some years ago, a friend of mine convinced me to try out a role-playing campaign he had designed. It was in the WhiteWolf system, which, for those who don’t know, is more about story-telling than dice-rolling. After a lengthy character generation and story setting session, he began by plunging my character into a drug-induced hallucination that resulted in me perceiving an alternate world. My safe home surroundings vanished and I found myself on a flat landscape of grey hardpan marked with geometric designs reaching out in all directions. In the distance, I could make out the hazy outlines of buildings. The only feature near me was a metal structure like an unnaturally slender tower, tapering as it grew. At the very top, it split into three even more slender arms that grew out and curled inward at the tips, emitting a sallow light.

I spent probably an hour trying to explore that tower to no avail, until the effects of the drug wore off, and my Story-teller called a break. With some frustration, he then informed me I’d ‘wasted’ the hallucination portion of the campaign by spending my entire trip in the parking lot. That tower I had been studying with such doggedness was a common tri-headed streetlamp. He was so annoyed with me, and frankly, I was annoyed with him. My character was a reasonably well-traveled person from modern America. She knew what a parking lot and a streetlamp were. Why did he describe it in such alien terms? His answer: because it was a such a desolate and creepy scene that it appeared to be alien. No, man, it appeared to be a PARKING LOT. A desolate, creepy parking lot! Lead with that!

My point is, even in an actual alien setting, it should be possible to identify key features. Why? Because even if none of your characters are human, your readers probably are and they need to be able to relate. There may not be pines and oaks and magnolias, but if there are trees, it’s okay to call them trees. A car is a car. A house is a house. Don’t bog everything down with unpronounceable words and esoteric descriptions when all you have to say is, ‘You find yourself in a vast, empty parking lot, lit by a single flickering street lamp.’

Sorry I ruined your campaign, Kamiel.

Successful world-building is about finding that delicate balance between introducing something new and unusual, and making it seem normal. To that end, an over-abundance of description is NOT your friend. It’s far, far more effective to describe something appropriately than thoroughly, by which I mean, take into account the character’s situation before launching into paragraphs of painstaking detail. During a tense escape scene, a character is unlikely to be closely inspecting the buttresses of your trollish dungeon and I don’t care how amazing those buttresses are. For that matter, bear in mind that familiarity does indeed breed contempt, by which I mean, the troll who has lived alongside those buttresses her entire life is equally unlikely to notice them, unless it’s a particularly boring shift down in the dungeons and she finds herself staring at them because she has literally nothing else to do, right up until the prisoner conks her on the noggin and grabs her keys.

Point of view really does go a long way toward world-building. Different people see the same thing in very different ways. A few well-chosen words (or paragraphs full of more words) may allow your reader to ‘see’ a scene, but it’s how the character sees it that tells the reader how to feel about it. To pull an example from one of my own books like the raging narcissist that I am, when Meoraq and Amber are hiking together through the wilderness, they are both having very different experiences. Meoraq sees kipwe and mganz trees and has the ability to mentally grumble about how far it is from Tothax to Xi’Matezh. To him, the Wastes are just…the Wastes. He knows what to expect. He knows to keep his guard up, but he has the luxury of being rather blase about the mechanics of survival. Amber, on the other hand, sees only a hostile, unfamiliar landscape. Everything is potentially dangerous–predators, prey, plants, weather and especially the people. She’s never fully relaxed. She never feels safe. Meoraq is the one who knows the names of things; he experiences the world in familiar terms, through past encounters and practical application of skill. Amber is the one taking it all in; she experiences the world with all five senses, every contact leaving a profound impression.

Having a human element allows me, as a writer, to stop and goggle in amazement at the alien world I’ve created, while having a non-human native allows me to shrug it all off, and the two of them together are the most powerful combination in story-telling. Seriously. Nothing caps off a thousand words of detailed description like a well-placed ‘meh’.

“Stop staring. You look like a tourist.”

One more thing and then I guess I’ll stop (for now, although I’ve been talking for almost 2000 words already and I could easily talk for another 20,000), and that is to remember that your job is not to create a ‘perfect’ world in which one ruler, one culture, one ecosystem, one religion or one ANYTHING dominates. The real world is a messy place and that’s good, because messy places create illogical, imperfect people who do unexpected, implausible and wonderful things and those are the stories we remember.

Time For My Monthly Apology!

Well, here we are in May and it has been a whole month since my last post on this blog. You know. The one where I apologized for not posting for a whole month and promising not to do that again. Y’all know about me and promises by now, right?

 

 

So, news! Welp, on the book front, no news is usually good news. I’m still plugging away at Book Four of my Five Nights at Freddy’s Fanfiction. It really shouldn’t be taking me this long, but I have made so many continuity errors in the first three that I really desperately wanted to be able to finish this book and get to go over it a few times before beginning to post chapters, but…well, I’ve decided that really isn’t very fair to all the people who were told WAY BACK IN DECEMBER that chapters would be resuming soon…and then were told the chapters would start after I finished Tooth and Claw, which happened in MARCH…and then were told last month that new chapters would be any day now. I mean, technically, future days ARE ‘any’ day, but that’s still not cool. So my new assistant editor and I made an executive decision that the first chapter will premier on the first Saturday of June, ready or not. For readers, this is hopefully good news. For me, of course, it’s a freaking panic attack, but whatever. What doesn’t kill me makes me a better writer, or something like that.

 

Oh, and meet my new assistant editor.

This doubles as a photo of me, for all of you who are curious as to what I look like.

 

We embarked on The Great Dog Quest of 2018 shortly after the new year, signing up on several adoption websites, contacting rescue organizations and scouring every shelter within a hundred miles of the Smomestead, and can I just drag out the old soap box for a second here to ask when in the HELL it became common practice for shelters to demand a home visit before adopting a dog out? Seriously? The last time I adopted a dog was more than ten years ago, in another state, and I thought it was bad enough that they wanted the entire frigging household, including any other dogs and/or cats to come out to the shelter and ‘meet’ the prospective pupper before they would condescend to allow us to take it home, and I mean, yeah, sure, I sort of get that they might want to make sure everyone’s on board to minimize the chances of bringing the dog back because ‘things didn’t work out’, but come ON with that nonsense! Leaving aside the whole issue of co-ordinating all the humans to make time for that, my cat thinks it’s traumatic enough to be carried from one room to another; you want me to put it in the car and then bring it into Barking Smelly Hell and have some strange animal zoom in out of nowhere (remember, he’s blind) to shove its nose in his face, all as a test of how WELL he’s going to react? Do you even cat, bro?

But as bad as that is, do you not think it’s just the slightest bit invasive to have a stranger come out to your damn HOUSE, clipboard in hand, to make sure you’re not running an underground dog-fighting ring in the basement? I mean, I’m assuming that’s the reason, although if I WAS running a dog-fighting ring out of my basement, I’d be smart enough to either have someone else do the adopting or have a ring-free house for the inspection. This literally does nothing to prevent animal abuse on that level, all it does is put people off shelters, especially when you add in the fact that most shelters in my area are charging between 150-300 bucks for the adoption fee. You get to inconvenience me OR overcharge me; you don’t get both.

Okay, rant over, but seriously, support your local shelters, like the one that saved this girl’s life so that we could find each other.

Huge shout-out and never-ending gratitude to my friend, K., who fought an epic battle with ninjas and dinosaurs and some very disappointed regular people who also fell in love with the sad-eyed girl in the above picture when it was posted on the shelter’s website. She had to spend a few days in quarantine before she was available to adopt, and I was determined to take her home the very minute I possibly could. The shelter’s doors opened at 10, so on the day she was released for adoption, my father and I hopped in the car at 5 in the freaking a.m….

Did I mention the shelter was three hundred miles away? Yeah. I really loved her sad, sweet face.

So anyway, we set out before dawn on the last leg of The Great Dog Quest of 2018, and promptly hit every stretch of road construction between here and there (as well as missing one exit entirely due to a heated debate on the subject of Patronuses, because my dad and I are both huge nerds). When it became apparent that we were not, in fact, going to get there when the doors opened, I had a small crisis. On the one hand, what were the odds that a crowd of people were sitting on the steps outside the shelter waiting to adopt that most particular doggo? Slim. Very slim. On the other hand, everything else was going wrong, so what were the odds of one more thing? High. Very high.

Fortunately, the aforementioned K. lived literally minutes away from the shelter (it was she who, knowing of The Quest, sent me the dog’s mugshot in the first place and even went on her own time to meet the doggo and see if she was really as sweet as her picture indicated. Spoiler: She was), so I called her and begged her to go down and, if there was even one other person with designs on my dog, to assassinate them stealthily and hold the door until I got there.

Off went K. to the shelter, but she soon reported back that there were just too many people there to assassinate and not even places to hide the bodies anyway. There were so many people, in fact, ALL OF THEM WITH DESIGNS ON MY DOG, that the shelter people organized a grudge-match to determine who got to adopt her. There was a maze and seven sacred trials and a sphinx and everything…okay, one of those things is a lie, but the point of the story is that K. went to muthafudging BAT for me and she marched out of that shelter with a piece of paper that said, IOU 1 (one) Doggo, a gud gurl, to be redeemed the following day, and the reason she had a piece of paper instead of the gud gurl in question is because the shelter people forgot to spay her during the week she was being quarantined.

Worth it, but oh my God, shelter-people, get it together.

 

So, immediately after arriving in the town after the battle was over and the blood mopped up, my dad and I fueled up at the skeeziest gas station I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a few) and then turned around and drove five hours back home, dog-less. K. collected my dog the next day and, as we had plans to meet up the next week anyway, went on to foster her for me until she could deliver the dog to her forever home. So really, this story is less about how I acquired my dog and more about how my friend K. is a goddamn hero. I’m buying that woman a cape.

The dog’s shelter name was, as most shelter names are, purely arbitrary. Animals are more likely to be adopted if they have names. Her papers said she was a stray, so as far as we know, she was named straight out of a dictionary or maybe named after the street where they picked her up. We had a few discussions and tried a few things out, but the name that stuck was Dobby, because she’s very small and has big ears and sad eyes, and is a little pathetic, but very fierce.

How fierce? She killed and ate the rest of this dinosaur. Yes, we have frequent dinosaur attacks here at the Smomestead. You seriously even have to ask?

So everybody, send out some positive energy to help welcome Dobby to the Smith Family! And all bitching aside, please support your local shelters. Donations, volunteers and foster families are always in desperate need.

 

 

Checking In, Still Alive and Still Working

To all of you wonderful people who have asked, yes, I am alive. And yes, I really should be blogging more often. It’s just…you know, nothing happens around here. I sleep, I drink coffee, I write and I paint. I know it’s taking me a long time to get the new FNAF fanfiction book up and ready to go, but I swear I’m working on it. The problem is, I don’t start writing at the beginning and go on until the end. I write whatever scene is clearest in my mind, and I rarely bother myself to think about how it even fits into the plot. This has led to some interesting twists and turns in all my books, but more importantly, it meant that with this one, I have finished the latter half of the book before really putting much work into the first half.

I have three hundred pages of New Faces, Old Bones good to go, but the beginning bits of the book are still pretty patchy, and as I work on them, I create ripples in the story that sometimes need to be smoothed out or at least noted so I can work them into the timeline. All of which I tell you so that I can tell you once again that just because I’m not posting progress doesn’t mean I’m not making progress. It’s just slow. And backwards.

This was supposed to be the year I got my shit together, remember? Yeah, I had a hearty laugh at that, too.

But I am working and to prove it, here is another sneak peek, in which Ana is asleep and dreaming of herself as a child. Her mother has brought her to a great glass castle and now she is lost deep in the maze of its halls, but now she hears something and has followed the sound to an open door, and on the other side is a man she will not meet again for twenty years…

***

The man was crying and although he did it in a dark room away from other people, he was not really trying to hide it. He sobbed with his whole body, shivering, coughing, rocking. One hand wiped at his eyes. The other he kept clutched at his chest, as a small child will cup a scraped knee or pinched finger, holding what hurt the most.

For a long time, Ana only watched, fascinated in spite of her unease, the crying man as captivating in his own way as a dead lizard teeming with ants. She had the feeling he was not a stranger, although she did not know him. Her recognition came from a deeper place than just as someone she might have seen in town. It was as if she had dreamed him to life. ‘He sang to me once,’ she thought, but could not imagine where or how such a thing could have truly happened.

Then, deep in the house, she heard the slamming of a door and her mother’s shout, and fear gripped her. Ana had run, which was a bad thing, and there was nothing worse except to be found, as she must be found, but of all places, she could not be found here. The forbiddeness of the room was stamped into every surface. She was not sure what could be worse than to be hit and put back in the closet, but if little Ana had learned nothing else in her short life, it was that there was always something worse. She did not want her mother to find her here, so she had to make the crying man be quiet before her mother heard him.

Slipping further into the room, Ana closed the door. The man did not seem to hear the soft sound it made or her footsteps on the dark floorboards, but the next time his hand moved away from his eyes, he did notice the light that had come in from the hall was gone. He looked at the bookcases where it had been, then turned his head and saw her.

He wasn’t just a man, but an old man. He was not very wrinkled, but the wrinkles he had were deep. They made crooked channels for his tears to travel in, like the miniature canyons that formed out in the desert after a hard rain. And although he had mostly stopped crying when he saw Ana, at least so loudly, the tears kept coming. He did not appear to notice at first (was that how it was with boys? Did it break something inside them to never cry when they were younger, so that when they got old, the tears came out through their cracks, whether they meant to or not?), but after one of the tears made over his chin and dripped onto his neck, he fumbled out a small sort of napkin from his jacket pocket and wiped his eyes. He couldn’t do it very well. His hands were shaking.

Ana went to him as Aunt Easter had come to her so many times in the past and took the napkin from him. It was cloth, not paper, and felt very fine in her hands, but it had been his idea, so she guessed it was okay to keep using it.
She reached up, cupping the back of his neck just above his stiff white collar, and he let her pull him down where she could better reach. She did not shush him or sing the Cheer-Up song—that seemed inappropriate to do to a grown-up to her small-child sensibilities—but she wiped his cheek, blowing on his tears as Aunt Easter blew on hers when she cried.

He did not speak either, only watched her. Up close, she could see his eyes were pink from crying, but also very blue—a pale, painted-on shade of blue, brighter and bluer than David’s eyes. His skin beneath the tears and wrinkles was also pale, possibly the palest she’d ever seen in Mammon, where families gardened and children played outside and sunburns were a part of life, no matter how much banana oil your aunt rubbed on you. His hair was boy-short and unbrushed, blond where it was not white, with pale specks of stubble on his jaw that made a raspy sound under her napkin. That, and the smaller sounds of breath, his and hers, were all she could hear. He smelled of good smells—laundry smells and perfume smells, different from the ones her aunt used, but still good. She had only ever been this close to one other man, a man with whom she had always felt safe, and so she felt safe with this one, too, even if he was a stranger.

When she was done wiping and he was done crying, Ana gave him back his napkin. As he folded it into a triangle and put it away, she looked around, then took down a stuffed Freddy from the only shelf she could sort of reach (she had to climb onto the wide arm of a chair) and gave it to him.

“Oh,” he said, accepting it. His voice was deep and rumbly in his chest, almost like the real Freddy, or as real as he was to Ana on the tapes Aunt Easter made for her. That sense of dream-like recognition grew stronger. He touched the tiny hat sewn to the soft toy’s head and looked at her gravely. “Thank you.”

Ana nodded, once more uncomfortably aware that she was not where she should be now that the man’s crying had been attended to and the immediate threat had passed. She turned to go, and at once, he reached out for her, not to catch and shake, but merely to touch the tips of his fingers to the back of her hand and swiftly take them away again.

“Did your aunt bring you?”

He pronounced it oddly, not like the bug, but to rhyme with ‘haunt’. Nevertheless, Ana knew what he meant and shook her head ‘no’. It did not occur to her to wonder how he knew Aunt Easter. Children are, by their nature, egocentric creatures. As prodigious as she might be in other areas of her development, Ana was yet of an age when she believed everyone she met knew everyone she knew. And so she did not doubt he would also know what it meant when she whispered, “Mama.”

He did not look afraid—grown-ups did not get afraid—but he looked at her like he knew why she was. Again, he reached, this time shifting the curtain beside him at the same time so that the snow-bright day struck her in the face, blinding her. He looked at her as if she were pictures in one of the storybooks Aunt Easter read to her—Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood, Rumplestiltskin—and when he touched her cheek, his thin, oddly rough fingers unerringly brushed across the place that hurt the most.

“Does she hit you?” he asked and somehow that was scarier than any other question he could have asked, just because he knew to ask. No matter how urgently Ana shook her head, the old man’s frown only deepened. He knew already. He knew the secret and he knew the lie.

Ana pulled away from him and fled to the door, but when she opened it, she could hear her mother, not close but not far, shouting and swearing. She hesitated, afraid to stay and feel her lies pulled out, afraid to go and meet her mother.

“Don’t run,” the man said, still seated, making no effort to chase her if she did. “You mustn’t run from monsters. If you have hope, then hide. If you have none, then fight, but you must never run.”

Ana looked back at him, standing tensely on her bare toes, ready to bolt. “You’re not a monster,” she said, whispering so her mother could not hear.

“I’m not? Well.” The old man looked down into the Freddy-bear’s plastic eyes. When he looked up again, the lines on his face seemed deeper. “That’s good to know.”

Yes, I’m Still Alive

So much for New Year’s Resolution. Regular blog posts. Not a difficult task. Not like getting fit or learning another language, just writing a little more than I’m used to once or twice a week. Ask anyone who knows me–I do not have trouble writing. If anything, I write too much.

But I have learned that, for me, blogging is less like writing and more like public speaking, and I’ve never been any good at that. Even when I write my books, I never think about anyone actually reading them until I reach the editing phase. Writing is not a social interaction. Books exist to bring readers to the story; the author is barely involved in that relationship. And that’s the kind of relationship I’m used to. The kind where I’m not in it.

Zing. Take that, me. Roasted.

However, one thing this blog has taught me is that I LIKE connecting to my readers. I know it may not seem like it when I go a month or more in total radio silence, but the fact is, I just don’t know what to say. Nothing has changed from the last post. Still editing Tooth and Claw, and no, it shouldn’t take this long, but there’s been the usual ups and downs with my health. Sometimes I can power through the downs (I have found that being sick really benefits me when writing a good dream sequence) and sometimes I just can’t.

So progress has been slow, but I am still working. I’m sorry that I’m not as active on this blog as I should be…because I SHOULD BE. This blog exists for YOU. It’s important to me ONLY because it connects me to you and it should really be more of a priority in my life.

Looks like I’ve got next year’s New Year’s Resolution ready. In the meantime, Tooth and Claw is coming soon. The premiere of Everything Is All Right, Part Four: New Faces, Old Bones should follow right after, and maybe this year will be the year I finally get my act together.

No News Is Good News, Right?

Nothing new to report on either the Lost Tales of Arcadia: Tooth and Claw front (I know I said I only had one chapter to go, but I’ve written four of them and there’s STILL one chapter left! The book is stretching out like the hallway in a horror movie), or on the FNAF fanfiction front, but I do want to keep this blog active, so please enjoy this sneak preview from Tooth and Claw!

A foot kicked her in the ribs, waking her out of a dream in which she slept in the mud into exactly that same reality. Nona rolled over and frowned at a bleary-eyed soldier as he cut the tape on her wrists and ankles before moving on to rouse a handful of other women from their sleep-huddle.

“You’re on kitchen duty,” he informed Nona’s group, already walking away. “You four get wood, you four get water, and the rest of you stay put for now. Hey, Packer! Where’d we put the cigarettes?”

‘No mercy,’ Nona thought, following the other women across camp to the fire where she’d last seen Fiona’s grasping hand. There was nothing there now but smoking ashes and drag marks in the mud. ‘This is not about incapacitating them long enough to sneak away. There is no away here and no point in sneaking. Take them out.’

Good advice. She wasn’t sure how to do that, though. She hadn’t hit anyone since high school and she’d never done anything more serious than break a nose or chip a tooth even when she had. She did not consider herself a violent person, but she thought about killing these people now, thought about it without rancor or excitement, but only as the first step in a procession that led to her certain demise. She had to kill them and kill them so fast that they didn’t even have time to think about catching her, but only took her down. If they caught her, they’d torture her. They’d made the other girl, Fiona, scream in ways Nona could not have imagined coming out of a real human being and they hadn’t even had a reason to do it. Whatever Nona did, she had to do enough of it to make them panic, make them shoot her in the head, end it quick. So none of that baby-shit. No slapping, no punching, no ball-kicking. Murder.

She got comfortable with the idea. It wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be.

And what does this image have to do with that scene? Read the book…

 

And heck, since you’re here, how about a sneak previous for Everything Is All Right, Part IV: New Faces, Old Bones?

***

Ana started walking, but changed direction after just a few steps, moving away from the shady back end of the building and heading instead all the way around to the front side. It was a long walk, maybe no longer than the walk to the loading dock would have been, but with the afternoon sun shining its full punishing force onto her head and the asphalt frying her boots from below, it felt longer. At last she reached the lobby doors, now resting crooked in a frame so new, she could still smell that new-door smell. She raised a hand, hesitated, then raised it higher and knocked.

She heard something immediately on the other side—the whir of old motors echoing in the empty lobby. The doors shuddered, then scraped open just a crack, showing her the thinnest stripe of brown fur and the startling brilliance of one backlit blue eye. The eye blinked. The doors shuddered again and one of them groaned open on a badly-bent hinge, supported by Freddy’s massive paw.

“SO. IT. WAS. YOU,” he said, ears facing forward but tilted back in cautious surprise. “WHEN. I. COULDN’T. HEAR. YOUR.” He paused, clicking, then continued, “CLUCK. COME. ANY. CLOSER. I. DECIDED. IT. COULDN’T. BE. YOU. AFTER. ALL.” He paused again, but didn’t search for a soundfile. Tiny servos whined as his eyes searched hers. His face, far too expressive for plastic parts, showed strain. “AN-N-A. I—”

“Why are you still talking like that?” she interrupted. She didn’t want to hear anything he had to say when it came after her name when he said it like that. “Bonnie was supposed to fix you.”

“HE. CAN’T.”

“I left the keys!”

“IT. ISN’T. THAT. SIMPLE.”

“Yes, it is!” Fear, grief, confusion and a thousand other emotions she couldn’t acknowledge and hardly knew how to name came boiling out all at once in and choked, angry rush: “And if that was all you ever wanted from me, you should have just asked! I’d have done it! I’m easily that stupid! I’m here now, aren’t I? But what in the hell was all that family crap? Don’t you talk to me about home and…and love and…and burying my fucking dead aunt when all you wanted was the keys! You had no right!”

“AN-N-A—”

“You had no right!”

He stopped trying to talk. She wasn’t sure how to start. Desert insects drilled up the desert air; apart from that, it would have been uncomfortably silent.

“My truck ran out of gas,” she said finally. “That’s why you didn’t hear it. I’m not trying to sneak in.”

“PEOPLE. WHO. SNEAK. DON’T. KNOCK,” he agreed.

They stared at each other some more.

At length, Freddy twitched and said, “WOULD. YOU. LIKE. TO. C-C-COME ON IN, KIDS! WELCOME TO FREDDY-DY-DY FAZBEAR’S PIZZERIA!” He shook his head, grumbling, and added, “I’M. SORRY. I. THOUGHT. I. WAS. READY. FOR. THIS. BUT. BONNIE. WAS. SUPPOSED. TO. HAVE. THIS. PART.”

“What?”

“I. THOUGHT. YOU. WOULD. GO. AROUND. BACK,” he explained, releasing the other door (it sagged at once, leaning slowly open until the wind gusted and banged it shut) as he stood aside to let her in. “BONNIE. IS. WAITING. BY. THE.” He clicked to himself, looking away with the same embarrassment as a man might show if he had to stop mid-sentence to burp, and came back with, “HICKORY-DICKORY-DOCK. I. WANTED. HIM. TO. TALK. TO. YOU. FIRST. I’M. NOT. GOOD. WITH. THIS. SORT. OF. THING.”

“I don’t want to talk to Bonnie,” Ana said quickly. She hadn’t moved, hadn’t put even one foot over the threshold, although he’d given her plenty of room to get by without touching him. “I’m just here to get my stuff.”

Freddy started to speak, but his first word became a growling grunt as his attention snapped out to the road. Ana caught only a glimpse of sunlight dazzling on a couple of bicycles before Freddy dropped a paw on her shoulder and propelled her inside, pulling the doors shut behind her. They wouldn’t close; He tried three times, then stood, tense, a door in each hand, holding them together with just a narrow crack between them through which to watch the road. She knew the bikes had gone on to the quarry by the way his ears relaxed. He grunted and fiddled with the doors some more, heaving them around on their bent hinges before he managed to shut them and keep them shut.

“I. MISS. THE. BEAR. ARCADE,” he grumbled, backing away from the doors with his hands up, ready to catch them if they should fall open again.

“The…? Oh. The barricade. Yeah. I’ll see what I can do. Don’t read too much into that,” she said as his ears went up and his eyes narrowed. “I just…I don’t want anyone else getting in.”

“OR. OUT,” Freddy guessed, but then simply moved on without looking to see if she followed. “BONNIE. SHE’S. HERE. CHICA. YOU. MIGHT. AS. WELL. WAKE. UP. THAT’S AN ORDER.”

Chica’s violent convulsions, coupled with the sound of something big crashing through the storeroom, prevented her from noticing that Freddy had moved away from her, but the little creak of the West Hall door opening cut across it all.

Freddy was leaving. She could hear Bonnie’s hurried footsteps in the kitchen now, each one closer than the one before. She could hear his hands beating on the cupboards and the oven for balance, even see the pale glow of his eyes growing brighter through what remained of the hanging sheets of plastic. She’d see him in a moment. He’d see her. And Freddy was just leaving them to it.

“Where are you going?” she blurted, taking half a step after him, a full step away and two steps back into the lobby, to the effect that she pranced in place and fell against the gift shop wall. “I said I didn’t want to see him!”

“I’M. GOING. TO. GO. GET. FOXY,” he replied. “WE. SHOULD. ALL. BE. HERE. FOR. THIS.”

“For what? There is no ‘this,’ I just want my stuff and I’ll leave! Don’t!”

Then Freddy was gone and in the very next second, Bonnie was there, tangling up his ears in his impatient push through the plastic and trying to brute-force his way free. This succeeded in pulling the plastic off the door’s frame, but gravity only caused it to fall over him and either a slight static charge or the perverse nature of inanimate objects made it cling tighter. He staggered out into the dining room, pulling at the loose ends, which forced folds of plastic into his joints, wrapping himself tighter and tighter. “Oh for—really?!” he exclaimed right before he fell over.

Chica and Ana both started toward him, stopped, looked at each other, and both stepped back, as perfectly synchronized as clockwork figures when the hour is struck. To punctuate this awkward exchange, the camera on the stage wall snapped on, throwing a dirty spotlight over the whole scene.

It focused on Bonnie first, attracted by his thrashing, but didn’t stay on him long. It aimed itself at the stage directly below it next, where Chica stood tapping her fingers and avoiding its one-eyed gaze, then moved to the empty spot where Freddy ought to be singing, given that this was the end of the five o’clock set on a Thursday, then panned slowly around the room until it reached Ana.

It seemed to Ana that it ‘stared’ at her for a long time, considering that she wasn’t moving or making noise or doing anything that should keep its attention, but it did eventually return to its home position and switch off, right before the West Hall door opened.

Freddy limped in and stopped short, looking at Bonnie, still thrashing on the floor. “REALLY.”

“Yes, really!” Bonnie snapped. “It’s this new act I’m working on where I wrap myself in plastic and fucking faceplant on the goddamn floor! What do you think?”

“I. THINK. PERFORMANCE. ART. IS. UNDER. RATED. FOR. A. REASON,” said Freddy, but he headed over to start peeling Bonnie out of his trappings. “HOLD. STILL.”

“CAN I PLAY TOO?” Chica asked, stealing another glance at Ana before carefully descending the stage steps. “I LIKE TO HELP MY FRIENDS!”

“Oi.”

Ana looked back as Freddy and Chica wrangled Bonnie onto his feet and saw Foxy still in the shadowed corner of the West Hall.

“I’ll g-g-give ye one chance, luv,” he said with a wry slant of a smile. “Give me yer hand-d-d right now and I’ll carry ye off to P-P-PIRATE COVE. I’ll get-t-t ye drunk and do wicked things to ye that ye won’t remember and we never has to t-t-talk about. Ye can skip this sorry sh-sh—SHOWTIME!—show altogether. What say ye?”

“Still the same speech settings,” Ana said to herself. She looked at the stage and saw the glint of metal there on the grungy pad. The keys, untouched. “He didn’t fix any of you. How could you leave them like that?” she demanded, turning on Bonnie.

Before Bonnie could answer, before he was even fully upright, Freddy said, “AN-N-A. THAT’S ENOUGH. WE. CAN. TALK. ABOUT. THIS. BUT. WE. ARE. GOING. TO. DO. IT. LIKE. ADULTS. SIT. DOWN.”

“Who said I was talking? I’m getting my stuff and I’m leaving!”

Freddy nodded. “FOXY.”

A cold metal hand closed around Ana’s tattooed arm, covering the ravens, Thought and Memory, from view. “Told ye it were yer last-t-t chance,” said Foxy, leading her away from the doors to the stage. “Rest yer nethers, lass.”

“I’m not sitting!”

“On the stage or on me knee, luv,” Foxy replied implacably. “Them’s yer only say on the matter.”

Ana sat. On the stage.

“OKAY,” said Freddy, limping over. He glanced once at the camera on the wall—dark now, blind—and then faced her with a bearish grumble and folded his arms. “LET’S. TALK.”

 

And what am I working on today, you ask?
Well, to be honest, today, I did this.

So…yeah. Books are coming soon! I RLee-Promise!