Signposts Amid the Shadows

I’m touching on writing a little here, but I’m getting into some other stuff as well–like mental illness.  That’s a heavy thing, so if you don’t want to read what I have to say, look at the picture and move along.

This looks like it's near Annie's house--which makes sense, since I'm going to talk about her.

This looks like it’s near Annie’s house–which makes sense, since I’m going to talk about her.

Onward, then.

 

Though it may seem like a strange thing to consider when writing a novel about tweens and teens who are training up to be magical people, one of the things I had to consider when putting Salem together was the issue of counselling and mental health issues.  That’s a very important thing to consider when you one realizes that pulling some kid in off the street and showing them they can alter reality to suit their whims may just put a weird-ass bend on their personality in time.  The Foundation isn’t going to be happy if, after your second year at school, you turn your parents into ferrets and keep then in cages the whole summer.

And that’s a minor thing.  Imagine what happens when you get really good?  Say . . . like my main characters.

There will come a time at Salem when the pressures of what’s happening in their lives becomes a little too much for Annie and Kerry, and they start to lose it a little.  I mean, Annie admitted first day of Sorcery class she knew how to kill someone with black magic, and Kerry was already seen suffering from depression.  Sure, becoming better witches is going to make their feel a lot better–until they snap.

Then all hell breaks loose.

In these stories there will come a time where Kerry nearly dies.  There will come a time where Annie loses her shit and almost kills someone in school.  There will come a time where both Annie and Kerry will be put through a most stressful day that pushes them physically, magically, and mentally right to the edge and beyond.  There will come a time where both of them are faced with a situation that may seem like it’s the final night for them both, and they not only talk about their impending demise–they promise each other that if one should die, the other will follow, because continuing to live without their soul mate simply isn’t an option.

That’s an issue that’s really simple for them as well.  Annie points out that they both know enough transformation magic and sorcery that if they wanted to die, it would be over in less time than it would take to work up the spell.  Stop your heart, freeze your blood, shut down all chemical reactions in your brain:  stuff they could do to others they could easily do to themselves.  It would be quick, it would be painless, and they’d know someone would be waiting for them on the other side once they were gone.  It’s not something either would do because of depression:  they’re not like that.  But to join the other in death?  Yeah, not a second thought is needed.

It’s the  part about being able to do this to others that keeps The Foundation on their toes.  At various times in the stories they both get counselling.  They both suffer depression; they both go through periods of intense anxiety; they both exhibit signs of PTSD at various times.  All before they ever get out of school, so imagine what their adult lives are gonna be like.

But they get great counselling.  The Foundation has some of the best counselors in the world, and when you have a couple of people like Annie and Kerry representing your future, you want them to get the best psychiatric case possible.  And they do.

They live in a world where they can get all the best medical care possible.  They live in a world where, after a particularly hard day of fighting the magical fight in the shadows, they can spend the next month chilling and talking to someone about the experience.  They go to a school that has enchantments in place to prevent people from jumping out of high towers, or crashing brooms into walls at a few hundred kilometers an hour, or setting themselves on fire, or any number of ways one may try to harm themselves.  They live in a world where certain people–whose names start with an A and a K–could, if they decided to just go completely batshit insane, could do up River Tam considerably and take out a couple of dozen people with their minds.

It’s not a perfect location for that, but the school does its best, because training kids up to be the future shadow runners of the world is sometimes gonna leave an invisible mark.

We, on the other hand, aren’t that lucky.  I’ve never hidden my own mental illness, never admitted that it isn’t there.  Between depression, being bi-polar, and having GID, I’ve been a mess most of my life.

Mental health treatment in the country of my birth is a joke.  Most of it isn’t covered by insurance.  Nearly all my therapy has been covered out of pocket since 2009 on, and believer me, it’s not cheap.  I don’t take meds because I (1) have no health insurance, and (2) didn’t like how I felt when I was on meds, which was either zombie-like or not much better than I was before getting on them.

These days I do what I can to get by, and I’m usually successful.  Usually.  I have my “Break down and cry” moments, and they’re usually bad, but I get over them and move on.  I was crying Sunday when I went out to pay a bill, because I do that–cry, not pay bills.  Saturday night . . . well, that was a disaster.

I have a hotline number on my phone, and my therapist’s number as well.  When I’m feeling bad I don’t go out on my balcony, because I live twelve stories up and I have enough knowledge of physics and laws of gravity and acceleration to know once you’re over the side it just about two seconds and done, finished, out of the blue and into the black.  Quick, easy, and pretty much painless.

When I’m feeling really bad I visualize.  I have two people that mean everything to me.  One is my daughter.  The world can suck enough and she doesn’t need anymore suckage in her life.  The other is a person I spoke of last week, the one person who means the world to me.  When I get really bad I imagine her alone in a room in the dark, crying because she’s heard that I’ve move on beyond The Veil and I’m not coming back.  I hold that image in my mind for a few moments, then shuffle all the bad shit away and move on.

I’d die for her, but not that way.  It isn’t fair to her.

My novel kids will not always have an easy time.  Before they turn eighteen they’re going to see a world of shit, and it will be difficult for them to walk away unscathed.  It’s stuff that they’ll take into adulthood, things that will remain with them for a long time.

But I’ll take care of them in the end and see they get help.

If only I could do that for everyone.

The Short of the Short of It

Well, I finally did it . . .

If you thought I'd won Powerball, I'm here to disapoint you.

If you thought I’d won Powerball, I’m here to disappoint you.

Chapter Nineteen is finished.  I’d have to go back and look, but I’m guessing that this is the shortest chapter in my novel.  I have many single scenes that run more than thirty-six hundred words, and the last scene in the chapter is one of the shortest stand alone scenes I’ve ever done.

It’s simple and too the point.  Let’s start with Kerry, sitting in his room, wondering about a few things–

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

Usually he’d think about something to do, somewhere to visit—but today he seemed frozen, unable to even get up from the bed and turn off the music streaming from his computer. At the moment the Wind & Wuthering album was playing, and the song Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers had just ended and In That Quiet Earth was starting. Kerry liked the album, liked the songs, particularly these last two and the one that followed, Afterglow. Tonight he planed on bringing the computer to Astronomy class, along with his ear buds, and he’d play it for Annie, let her hear it for the first time since he knew she’d never listened to it before.

He felt it was necessary, because . . .

He’d felt strange since the dance. Not strange in a bad way, but strange in a way he’d never imagined. Actually, the feeling had started from before the dance; it had started the morning after getting released from the hospital. As with everything he analyzed everything, and as he got off the bed and slowly walked towards the window, he realized that the dance had colored a lot of her perception, that the night had been too magical, and—

He looked out the window and nearly gasped. The entire sky was a dull crimson.

He looked for clouds and saw them, more or less the same color of the sky, but with a different contrast because clouds were white and the sky was usually blue. The sun was behind a group of clouds, but the brightness appeared different from both the clouds and sky—

 

Well . . . that’s unusual to say the least.  Not everyday you wake up and the sky’s turned red.  Then again, there’s very little around this Salem joint that should be surprising by now.

The kids meet and run outside–

 

They hurried out of the tower and down the covered walkway as quickly as possible, running almost as fast as possible. They held on to the posts of the canopy while looking up at the red sky. Kerry was gasping as he spoke. “Look at that.”

Annie examined the sky from the south of The Pentagram to the north. “It’s incredible.”

“Do you know what it is?”

“No.” Though I have my suspicions . . . “I’ve never heard my parents mention this.” She leaned against Kerry. “I’m suppose you have a few ideas.”

Kerry blew out his last breath, then waited a few seconds before speaking. “It’s something that’s over the school, probably starting in the walls, because it doesn’t change the look of anything in here.” He finally stood away from the walkway posts. “I think it’s some kind of defensive magic probably tied to something in the walls.”

We’re thinking the same thing— “Why do you believe that?”

“I don’t know for sure, but . . .” He wrapped an arm around Annie. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. It doesn’t seem like something the school would do just to do.”

Annie nodded slowly. “I agree.”

 

We already know there are “screens” around the school, and Isis told the Headmistress that when she powered the defense screens up all the way, it was going to be necessary to explain things to the students.  Now we know why.  People on the inside can see it in place.

And that leads to the last bit of ominous . . .

 

His chuckle was without mirth. “Red skies at morning; sailors take warning.”

“What’s that?”

“Old rhyme that sailors here used to say. ‘Red skies at night; sailor’s delight’—that meant the ocean would stay calm and they didn’t have to worry about a storm blowing up at night. ‘Red skies at morning; sailors take warning’—just the opposite. They could expect inclement weather during the day.”

Annie wasn’t surprised in the least that Kerry knew this. “But we’re not on the ocean.”

“We’re right outside Gloucester, and that’s one of the most famous fishing ports in America. So we’re . . . a little connected. What I’m wondering . . .” Kerry released Annie and faced her. “If it’s defensive magic, what are they defending against?”

It wasn’t fair to keep more secrets from her soul mate—and Annie knew she could tell him anything by now and it was unlikely he’d find it shocking. “Kerry . . . you need to hear about the Deconstructors.”

 

Hey, great way to start the day, kids!  Sky’s all red, and now your girlfriend is gonna tell you about something with a scary name.  Good Morning!

No one ever said your Samhain was gonna be boring.

Starting the Day of the Dead

This is not an ad for a George Romero picture, I swear.  No, it’s something mentioned in the last complete scene I wrote yesterday morning.  And now I’m thinking about it . . .

It’s a busy day today.  I had coffee this morning, but the internet is still out as Panera, so I hurried back here to get on-line.  That’s probably a good thing, because I’m also seeing my HRT doctor in about five hours, and a little over two of that involves a drive into Jersey, so once more I’ll be on the road today–a lot.  It’s my last meeting with her for at least a month, so I won’t have to do this again for a while.

But the reason it’s a good thing I’m not into the coffee is that I’ll probably get an examination today, and the first time I showed up in her office and she took my blood pressure, I was like 150 over 110, and she was ready to check me into a hospital.  I had to explain that I thought the two espressos I had before driving out had a lot to do with the reading . . .

Back to the Day of the Dead thing.  Yesterday I showed you a little of what was happening inside the Security Center, but I didn’t show you how it ended.  Isis told the headmistress that it was unlikely anyone would hit Salem to try and hack networks because . . . well, they’re too big.  One would need to throw a lot of resources at the school to be able to bust it open, so it’s easier to hit the smaller schools.

That leads to this:

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

“Mark the log to show that the Headmistress has given permission to allow us to initiate Security Level Two protocols when it is required.” Isis looked about the room, then turned to Mathilde. “You need to get ready; you’re gonna have a field a lot of questions from students come breakfast.”

That last was very true; given that Isis now had the outer defense screens at full capacity, students were going the see the results of that operation. “Yes, I need to get back to Rhiannon and get ready.” She started to turn towards the door. “This certainly isn’t a good way to spend Samhain.”

“Deconstructors never gave give a shit about our holidays.” Isis cycled the door for the headmistress. “Could be worse: this is the middle of the Day of the Dead celebration in some cultures.”

Mathilde stopped and affixed her Director of Security. “I certain hope today doesn’t come to that.”

Isis cycled open the door. “I couldn’t agree more.”

 

It’s 1 November, and that’s really the traditional Samhain, running from sundown on 31 October to sundown on 1 November.  But as Isis points out, it’s also Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, the period of remembrance for friends and family who’ve died.  1 November is actually known as Día de los Inocentes, the Day of the Innocents:  the time to remember the passing of children and infants.

Keep in mind when I decided a couple of weeks ago to move this event up a week earlier, I had only a vague recollection of the Day of the Dead.  But now that it’s here–hey, I’m liking what I’ve brought forward, no pun intended.  But all the following scenes could have additional meaning now.

Now to get Kerry off his bed so he can look out the window . . .

My characters getting into the celebration a different way--"Annie and Kerry and . . . baby?"  Put that out of your mind, kids.

My characters getting into the celebration a different way–“Annie and Kerry and . . . baby?” Put that out of your mind, kids.

The Visions of the Road Ahead

You know it’s going to be a long day when I’m drinking coffee in the afternoon.

Working on a program and being up about four-thirty AM that morning put a thump on my head, and by one in the afternoon I was getting a cuppa, because I knew I was going to crash and burn if I didn’t.  I made it through the afternoon, and I did so with a plan . . .

When I got home I waited for traffic to die down a little–I usually finish my walk from work by four-thirty PM, so it’s still rush hour out there–then I went out for a little shopping.  I picked up a few things I needed, then headed over back across the river to the West Bank–as I’ve heard people at work call it–and hit my favorite Panera.  I picked up a flatbread, some soup, and a smoothie.  Oh, and I fired up my computer and pulled up something writing related, because if you aren’t writing you’re thinking about something writing related, yeah?

I got out my Idea File.

I said yesterday that I needed to start getting serious not just on writing, but on publishing.  If you’re not publishing, you’re writing for yourself, and while that’s cool, I don’t have a problem with others doing that, it’s not what I’m doing.  As a friend of mine posted on her wall the other day, “Some people dream of success, others make it happen.”  Shit, dudes, that’s more true than you can imagine.  If I wanna get those stories out there, they ain’t gonna publish themselves, are they?  Just like my characters aren’t writing the story when I’m sleeping, otherwise my current novel would be finished . . .

But going through the Idea File was more than just deciding what to publish–I had to do something else . . .

The File in all its messy glory.

The File in all its messy glory.

I added a few statuses to the file.  First, I have “Won’t Do”, and that’s pretty self-explanatory.  There are some stories that, while the ideas are, or I should say were, great, I’m probably never going to write that particular tale.  As I read somewhere the other day, being a writer sometimes means having to let go of the past, because you’re beyond that.  On the Out was an idea I actually worked up through the 1990’s as a trilogy, and I really liked it–I even wrote about fifteen thousand words for it.  But it’s dead.  I’m never going there.  I take that back:  I won’t say never, but I don’t think the story would be that good if I wrote the sucker.

And the other two–simply couldn’t do them.  Lorelei’s Lessons actually goes back to the summer of 2011, and I also wrote a few thousand words of that.  But I didn’t feel what I was producing touched me, and I’ve never went back to it.  Which is probably for the best.

So, what did I plan?  Here it is:

Don't look so shocked there's actually something there!

Don’t look so shocked there’s actually something there!

Sometime after I get Act Two almost finished I’m going to start editing Kolor Ijo, which was my 2012 NaNoWriMo novel, and the followup to my story Kuntilanak.  Yes–a sequel!  It’s a good novel, a good story with good characters, taking place in Indonesia, a place few people really know.  My plan is to get it done with editing and a cover and have it ready by the end of the year.  Maybe like by the first of December, so all those people looking to blow money on gifts will send a few bucks my way.

Fantasies in Harmonie will come out in March the following year, and it’ll be under a different name ’cause it’s dirty.  As in like there’s a lot of crazy sexy stuff going on.  I gotta come up with a good, sexy, mistressy sort of author name for this stuff, because I do have a few strange erotica tales floating about.  Just ask the people who’ve read them . . .

And last, Suggestive Amusements.  I wrote that damn thing the summer of 2012, before writing Kolor Ijo, when I was doing time in Indianapolis and I truly thought I was going to lose my mind.  I like the story, I like the characters, and I want it out.  It’s as good a story as anything I’ve written, and a change of pace from the other two on the list.

There’s one other status I put up in my file:  “Next”.  As in, “What should I write after this monster I have now is done?”  I’m going for Northern Lights.  This means I can start thinking about the characters and locations and other important stuff like, you know, plot.  That’s my plan, because I would love to write a horror story about three women roaming around Alaska.  I mean, what could go wrong?

One thing I didn’t put here:  I could always publish the various acts of The Foundation Chronicles–A for Advanced, as I’m going along.  That could always come out when you least expect it . . .

There’s my plan, and I’m doing my damnedest to stick to it.  Time to tell the world–

Cassie’s got some stories to sell.

Saying Goodbye to the Death Test

The great thing about blogging is that it becomes, more or less, a historical document for the blogger.  If you keep at your craft, if you’re writing every day, talking about things that may feel important to you, then you can head back whenever the mood strikes and see how you were feeling, say, two years ago on a certain date.  Rereading your entry may trigger a memory of that time, be it good or bad, or you may just scratch your head and think, “What the hell was a yammering about?”

Or, as in the case of the past week, I can see the progress of something I’m writing, know when I began and when I finished.  Usually I’ll talk about a novel I’m working on or publishing–that last hasn’t happened in a while, I need to get cracking on that–but this week, starting last Monday, I’ve discussed a scene I’m working on for Act Two of my current novel–

I should say, “Was working on,” for last night I finished the sucker.  Another thousand words in the bucket, and i finally brought to an end the longest single scene I’ve written for my story.  I’ve had a few scenes creep over five thousand words, and the scene I wrote for my Flight School ran just over ten thousand words, but that one was broken into three individual segments, and the largest single scene in that group was fifty-eight hundred words.

No, I wanted to get this one down as a single, individual scene, and by the time I placed the last word on the last sentence, I was inching close to seven thousand, four hundred words, which meant I was scooting out of short story territory and getting ready to cross the border into Novelette Land.

'Tis but a little thing to write self-contained novelettes inside your novel.  Everyone should do it.

‘Tis but a little thing to write self-contained novelettes inside your novel. Everyone should do it.

Sunday through Friday, I cranked out the scene.  I know this because I’ve blogged about “The Death Test”–or as I labeled the scene, The Walking Tests–because . . . well, not sure.  I think I loved the progressing of what was happening with the scene, and it’s also sort of indicative of the kind of insanity that can pop up at my school in terms of a “lesson” or “test”.  Go ahead and levitate all the feathers you want–after a month in my joint you’ll be given a big stick and told to bash some zombies in the head.

"You think it's fun letting you smack me around with that bokken?  I mean, 'Snarl, arrg'."

“You think I enjoy you smacking me around with that bokken? I mean, ‘Snarl’.  Am I getting paid for this?”

What happened after the kids lost their lunch?  Why . . .

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

Annie didn’t want to see the students behind her. After all they’d done, after the battle Kerry and she had just fought, losing her breakfast in front of everyone took away her pride in their accomplishment. We successfully completed our test, and this is what everyone will remember . . .

“Hey.”

She felt a forehead gently rest upon hers, and an arm lightly wrapped around her shoulder. Annie looked up without raising her head and found Kerry’s gore-smeared face there, his lovely green eyes looking back at her through blood-flecked glasses. “We make a pretty good couple, don’t you think, Sweetie?”

Annie raised her head while keeping it pressed to Kerry’s. “We do, my love—we do.” She turned them so she could place her arm around his back, and in doing so they ended up, arm-around-body, head-to-head, facing their fellow level mates.

She scanned the faces turned towards them. Annie saw so many emotions: disgust and revulsion she understood given the tableau they set upon the mat. Some looks of awe, some of hate—she understood those as well: a few of their level mates would find what they did incredible, and a few would detest them for passing.

There were a few students, however, staring back them with unabashed fear, and Annie completely understood that emotion. These are Normal kids who are still getting the hang of magic—and Kerry and I used our magic in a way they’ve only seen in movies.

And it’s left them unsettled.

Kerry must have seen the same looks and felt the same unease. “I think we scared some of them.”

Annie turned her head just enough to make eye contact. “Good.”

 

As Helena will tell Annie much later, getting a reputation as someone not to trifle with usually keeps you out of trouble.  Blasting zombie homunculi with magic is usually one of those things that’ll keep the other kids from teasing you, because homunculi, human, who gives a shit, you both go down easy like lemonade on a hot summer day.

And nothing say love like hugging your sweetie in front of thirty other kids while you’re both covered in gore.  Did you ever do that, Glenn, huh?  No.  Move on . . .

But how did things get to this point?  What sort of sick, crazy instructor does this sort of stuff?  Well . . .

 

Professor Chai stepped forward. “I agree. Let me clean your glasses, Kerry.” He handed them over without question, and she began working a spell upon them will speaking to the children. “You both did wonderfully. And I was pleased to see you take my advice about playing to your strengths—”

Annie wanted to know more. “What were they, Professor?”

“For one, you—” She nodded towards Annie. “As a Legacy you have an intimate knowledge of magic, and what it can do. You may not know all the spells, or how they work, but you’re aware of the many concepts that bind them together—and you used that to help you both when it was needed.

“And Kerry: you’re learning how to build upon Annie’s knowledge, and you used that to both you’re advantages as well. Plus—” She handed the glasses back to Kerry. “Knowing your opponents and their weaknesses certainly helped your efforts to disable them.”

Now Kerry’s curiosity was peaking. “Professor . . . did you know I knew about those things? Did someone tell you something?”

Professor Chai seemed bemused by the question. “If you’re asking, ‘Did I deliberately modify today’s test to help you due to the advice of a certain seer?’, the answer is no. If, however, the question is, ‘Did I deliberately modify the test based upon something I overheard during last Friday’s Midnight Madness, and thought it could make up for a your lack of coven mates?’, the answer is perhaps.” She laced her fingers together and set her hands before her. “How’s that?”

Kerry was trying hard to remember what she may have overheard, and nearly pushed the thought aside when . . . “Oh. You heard that?”

Annie turned in her chair towards Kerry. “What did she hear?”

Kerry slowly turn in his chair towards Annie. “Last Friday, Emma stopped by and was asking if I had any ideas for costumes for Halloween. I told her I had a couple, and one of the ones I mentioned was from the comic—”

“I don’t remember her stopping by.”

Kerry tilted his head to one side. “She came over when you were in the bathroom—”

Annie’s eyes narrowed just enough to make Kerry a bit nervous. “Oh. I see.”

 

A girl came over to see you, Kerry, while your soul mate was in the bathroom, and you suddenly remember that happening a week later.  You’re lucky you mentioned this after she saved your butt from being eaten by the fake undead.  Don’t worry:  Annie usually doesn’t continue thinking about things like that for long–

Usually.

With everything over, it remains for Geek Boy to put the coda on results of their test:

 

“Thank you, Professor.” Annie pushed her messy hair back from her face as Thebe took hold of her right wrist.

Kerry stood and sheepishly grinned. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

Annie’s radiant smile shone through the drying gore. “Yes, you will.” She vanished with a pop as the nurse teleported them both to the hospital.

Professor Chai tapped Kerry on the shoulder. “You can go shower. You clothes should be here by the time you’re finished.”

“Okay, Professor.” He watched the diminutive instructor saunter on to the mat and begin clearing it of the mess Annie and he made. He glanced over at the remaining students in the room, some of whom were still looking in his direction. He turned back to the spot where Annie had stood less than a minute before—

If only I could tell someone outside school that my girlfriend and I survived a mini zombie apocalypse. He shook his head and grinned. And it was kind of fun . . .

 

It’s a hell of a lot better than a video game, that’s for sure.

The next scene awaits, and I’m certain that Thirty Days Hath September is gonna be shorter than The Walking Tests.  Though, who knows?  The Martian Chronicles was actually a collection of short stories with a similar theme that were bound together and turned into a short novel.

If it worked for Bradbury, maybe it’ll work for this act as well.

Into the Death Test

The night before I complained about how I didn’t seem to have enough time to write and get things done, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  That was the night before, ’cause last night was what I’d call an Enterprise night, because the final word count was 1,701 words, and that’s a registry number that I’ve known all my life.  (True fact:  the Enterprise‘s registration number came from the exact time the planetary cruiser C57-D dropped out of warp and into the Altair system in the movie Forbidden Planet:  seventeen-oh-one hundred hours.)

I was cranking away because I was having fun.  I also had to take a break about 9 PM because my fingers were getting tired.  But still–good time, people.

Now, what were you saying, Annie?  About . . .

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

Air.

It was the first day of Spells class, and Annie remembered the object inside the case—a simply action requiring they move it from one end to the other. She did it first, Kerry second. It was easy. And they’d done more of the same since then: moving objects around, side-to-side, and she levitated her spindle because Kerry asked.

The basics of moving small objects was easy for some of the students now—her for certain. Annie figured she could move just about any object—

Like air.

Air was a substance that had pressure, that occupied space. It could be heated and cooled. It could be compressed and—

Moved.

She now watched the homunculus advance on her slowly, not with fear but with growing curiosity. Air is an object, and you can use it in a spell, just like Air Hammer. You can used it against another thing or person. She stared at Kerry, weakening against the homunculus trying to bite him. If I can gather enough air . . .

She dropped the bokken and sprinted towards Kerry.

 

That’s called thinking on her feet–her slightly covered in blood and brains feet, but still . . .

So you get your air and then what?

 

Annie stopped a couple of meters from his head, where he couldn’t see her. She knew she had one, maybe two chances to pull this off, and if it didn’t work—well, it wouldn’t matter, the test would be over in a matter of seconds. She steadied herself, her eyes half-closed, not thinking of the homunculi a few meters from them, or the one trying to get Kerry—there was only the mass of invisible air coming together in front of her, piling up and growing thicker, compressing into a dense mass centimeters from her body. She imagined it, visualized it, and she positioned her right hand directly behind the ball of air she’d crafted. Annie reached for the energy needed to power this Art, waiting for the tremor in her shoulders whenever it came. There . . . All she needed now was her willpower, and the need to reshape the reality around her—

Annie opened her eyes and pushed the ball away from her, hard. The uniform of the homunculus ripped as if in a strong breeze as it fell away from Kerry.

 

Magic in this world is all about Visualization, Energy, and Willpower–VEW as Wednesday once said.  It’s a matter of having a good imagination and seeing the effects once you power it up.  But that willpower:  you need it to Craft your Art, to reshape reality.  If you can’t believe you can do it, then you won’t.

And then, sometimes, you gotta convince someone else they need to do it, too:

 

She rushed in and grabbed him by the arm. “Come on.” She helped him scramble to his feet, as he was having difficultly getting up. Annie guided him away while he was still in a half crouch, as the two homunculi were only a meter away by this time. After three stepped he was upright and keeping up with her as they ran to within a meter of the red line. Only once there did she step in front of him and hold his head in her hands. “Are you all right?”

Kerry fought for air, wheezing with each breath. “Yeah, I’m . . .” He exhaled hard, nodding. “I’m good, I’m good.”

Annie didn’t have time for Kerry to recuperate completely from his battle: there was too much to say, and not a lot of time. She only hoped he was cognizant enough to understand her idea. “Kerry, I need you to listen to me.”

He nodded again, but his head was bowed and he was looking at the floor. “I hear . . .”

“Kerry, listen to me.” He raised his head and looked directly at her. “Air. It can be used.”

His breath had slowed and there was attentiveness in his eyes. “Is that how you got that thing off me?”

“Yes. I crafted a ball of air and compressed it, then threw it at the homunculi.” Her eyes brightened as she saw how Kerry understood almost immediately. “We can use this to fight.”

 

This test, as I put it together, was all about team work.  First it was all about getting together and bashing zombie skulls, but then you find yourself in a position where you learn something new and you figure out how to use it to your advantage.  And when when you brainstorm in the middle of your test:

 

She nodded once. “There’s a spell: Air Hammer. It uses air as a weapon, forcing your opponent off balance or even hurting them.” She gave him a slight grin. “We can do the same thing. We can use it to fight these things.”

“Keep knocking them around, maybe lean to get a few shots at the head.” He stared of into space for a couple of seconds. “Or . . .”

Annie recognized this look—He has an idea; something to do with magic. He’s gotten this a lot of late. “Yes?”

He continued checking the homunculi as he spoke. “Could you craft this spell to work with a foci?”

She knew how Professor Douglas felt about foci, or at least how she felt about wands. But she’d said once that foci have their place, and they aren’t always a bad thing. And I’m certain Kerry isn’t talking about wands . . . “Yes, you could. Why?”

“Instead of creating balls of air to throw around—” He raised the jō and ran his hand along the pole near one end. “What if you put them here? Then you have . . .” He chopped downward with the jō. “Leverage.”

Annie smiled as she understood Kerry’s line of thought. “That localizes the effect, makes for a better weapon.” She looked over her shoulder at the bokken lying two meters away. “A cutting weapon.”

“It might just be.” Kerry checked on the homunculi, then quickly looked to his right. “Look, we could just step over the red line and be done with this, or . . .” He nodded towards the bokken. “Or we can give you idea a try.” His face broken into an enormous grin. “Personally, I’m all for trying you idea.”

“It’s your idea as well.” Annie scooted over and retrieved the bokken. “I’d like to try it, too.”

Kerry raised his jō. “Go on; I got your back.”

 

You got your ideas, you know how to craft your Art, there are zombies still shambling about on the field–time to get to work–

 

Bokken in hand, Annie slowly advanced on the homunculus, now only three meters away. She knew, as when she saved Kerry, that she’d have but one chance, maybe two, to craft this spell, but she was more confident this time that her Art was correct, that the spell would come off flawlessly.

She visualized air wrapping around the tip of the bokken, forming an invisible blade, one turned thin and sharp on the side facing away from her. She saw it in her mind becoming firm, a dangerous addition to her wooden sword.

A meter and a half away she stopped. Annie allowed the homunculus two step more, then she raised the bokken over her head and slashed into its skull with a strong blow.

It wasn’t the hardest Annie could hit, but with the magic used it wasn’t necessary. The homunculus’ skull split cleanly down the middle, with fake blood and brains spraying out along the lines of the cut and catching her in the hand, arm, and chest. She flinched but remained on her feet, while the homunculus crashed to the mat in a bloody heap.

Annie didn’t hear the gasps, groans, and yelps from the students on the sidelines: the only thing important to her was the now-still creature at her feet. She turned to Kerry, grinning broadly. “Do you know what to do?”

He held the jō ready. “Oh, I think so.”

She nodded towards the approaching homunculus on his left. “Your turn.”

 

–To some really bloody-ass work.  And now they’re having fun:  “Hey, I killed this one, let me see you do one!”

He doesn’t disappoint:

 

Kerry closed his eyes for a few seconds, getting the visuals in his head before heading towards his target. He knew the form he sought: with the jō there was little doubt what sort of magic he’d craft around the long pole. He took his time covering the four meters between him and the homuncuWalkers, then drew the jō back like he was carrying a bat.

“Okay, you . . .” He began his swing, but released his right hand and continued the follow through with his left. His swing was low and upward, and he caught the homunculus in the left shoulder. A large chunk of flesh and uniform flew up an away; Kerry drew back for another swing, and this time his attack was high and level, catching the homunculus just below the jaw line and severing the head three-quarters of the way from the neck with blood shooting outward in a flat arc, catching Kerry as it went down. He turned to Annie with a semi-bloody grin. “I’ll get this last one.”

 

Two down, two to go, and now Little Miss Dark Witch wants to get her kicks in another way:

 

Annie nodded and advanced on the fourth homunculus, only a few meters from her. She let the bokken slip from her hand because she wanted to do something different this time. She understood what she could do with a weapon, but she wanted to see what she could do with a different kind of magic . . .

She began crafting her air bubble, but this time she pulled in a little of the dark energy that was often used to fuel more potent sorcery. This was something Annie had worked with before in small quantities, and it didn’t shock her to feel the different surge of power that came with these spells.

She powered it into her bubble of air and held it before her good hand. She stopped just short of two meters from the homunculus, then willed everything into a tight, compressed sphere and pushed it into her target—

The spell powered through the torso, tearing away the shirt and part of the jacket and boring into the body. The head and shoulders pitched forward towards her as the body came apart with a loud squishing sounds and fell in pieces to the mat. Nearly all of Annie’s upper body and head was covered in blood and goo . . .

And directly across from her stood Kerry, looking much the same, having caught the aftermath of her attack as it tore through the homunculus. Seeing him holding the jō straight out as it was, Annie realized he must have raised it for protection, and whatever effect he’d used on his last attack tore off the head of her homunculus.

They’d both ripped it apart.

Kerry looked down at the gore covering his shirt, then tried to wipe it off his glasses. He looked at Annie with a strange, unfocused stare, then dropped his weapon, turned away, and vomited.

Oh, Kerry— Given everything she’d experience—the smell, the blood, the gore of the last minute—and now this, Annie couldn’t prevent her stomach from protesting. She lowered her head and vomited what remained of her breakfast as well.

 

Kids these days:  how you gonna survive the Zombie Apocalypse if you can’t keep your breakfast down?  Don’t you know that’s always the start of a good day?

"This is not fun.  On TV everyone drinks and has sex when they aren't running for their lives."

“This is not fun. On TV everyone drinks and has sex when they aren’t running for their lives from the undead.”

Now, tonight, all I need to do is put the finishing touches on the scene, and she’s in bed.  Which means when I finish this scene it’ll probably be the longest one in the story that’s all one, continuous scene, without little breaks in the action here and there.  It’ll also be pretty much around seven thousand words.

Would you like a short story with your novel?

Would you like a short story with your novel?

But it only makes sense that this is a long scene, because today and tomorrow are, for Annie and Kerry, the most important twenty-four hours of their lives . . .

Enter the Death Test

The problem with being able to write for a few hours every night–and about thirty minutes in the morning–is that you have these long, detailed scenes you want to get out right away, but you can’t because you’re only able to produce about twelve hundred words a day, or there about, in about two, three hours time.  There’s distractions, things to look up, people to chat with . . .

Sort of like the scene I’m working on now:  I want to get it through it so much, but I can’t because–well, it’s a big scene.  How big?  Right now I’m at forty-four hundred and fifty words, and I know I probably need another two thousand or so to cap this spring.  There you go:  you wanna show your kids fighting fake zombies, you toss a short story right at the beginning of your chapter.

And believe me, they’re up to their ankles in trouble.  Well, maybe a little higher than their ankles . . .

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

Kerry sidestepped to his left, hooting at the homunculus. “Yo. Hey, geek.” The homunculus turned towards him, grunting as it shambled in his direction. “That’s it, keep looking at me—you’re doing it right . . .” When it was less than three meters away he glanced to his right, nodded, then darted around and a little behind, then struck the creature behind the right knee with his bokken as hard as possible, trying to force it off-balance.

He struck it a second time as Annie ran in and planted her jō square in its chest and pushed it further off-balance with her momentum and strength. It staggered once then fell onto its back with a thud and a snarl, it’s arms lashing out at it tried to roll over and regain its feet.

Annie nodded at Kerry and raised her jō; Kerry did the same with his bokken as he counted down. “Three, two, one—now.” They stuck the skull almost simultaneously, but the worst they did was tear away a large amount of the flesh from the side of the head and face. They both moaned and raised their weapons for another strike. This time there was a loud crack as the skull was broken, but the homunculus continued to move.

Annie’s face was covered in a cold sweat. She looked at Kerry and nodded. “Again.” He nodded before they tried one more time to take out their opponent. This time their weapons broke through: the skull shattered with a sickening crunch and whatever was inside to take the place of brains, blood, and other fluids jetted in every direction.

 

And that’s gonna leave a mark–and probably a bit of oohing and aahing from the kids watching on the sidelines.  Plus, you gotta give your instructor extra credit for making your quality kills as realistic as possible.  I mean, either that, or she’s just twisted as shit and figures you were going to need something to help you sleep tonight–oh, wait:  it’s Friday.  That means it’s the Midnight Madness tonight, the school wide pajama party.  Have fun talking about your zombie kills until midnight, kids!

"And then, I totally smashed that Walker's face right in, and my feet got splattered with gore!  It was like the best time ever!"

“And then, I totally smashed that Walker’s face right in, and my feet got splattered with gore! It was like the best time ever!”

However, the next run doesn’t go off as well:

 

She was, but she didn’t know if he was. He’s winded; he’s still not used to this sort of exertion. “Are you?”

He nodded as he straightened. “Let’s jack these losers and show them who’s boss of this mat.” Kerry grinned at Annie’s eye roll. “Too much?”

“I’d rather we reduce the odds more in our favor.” She readied her jō, a slight grin on her face. “Same as before?”

“Yep.”

“Go, then.”

Kerry broke left while Annie readied herself for the sprint and plant. He quickly reached the homunculus and waved his bokken around to get its attention. Once it was advancing on him, he did as before: when for the knees as Annie sprinted in and knock it over. Kerry whacked it in the back of the knee as Annie shoved her jō in its chest—

Thing didn’t go as planned this time, however.

As Annie’s attack hit home, the homunculus twisted towards Kerry, reaching for him and striking her jō with its left arm. The pole was knocked away, hard, and the force of the strike shoved her to her left. She felt herself going down, and threw out her left arm to help break her fall—

An enormous pain shot up her arm the moment she touched the mat.

 

And that’s never a good thing, either.

Fortunately she has a partner who’s there to help–

 

She felt arms around her shoulders lifting her to her feet. The moment she was up Kerry and she sprinted towards the yellow line, though she was careful to hold her left wrist close to her. She turned and saw the homuncului milling about near the center of the mat—and her jō lying between two of them.

Kerry faced her, looking into her eyes. “Are you okay?”

Annie shook her head. “I think I sprained my wrist.” She slowly moved her fingers once more. “It doesn’t feel broken, but I can’t use it.”

“But you can still use your right hand?”

“Yes.” She gave Kerry a sorrowful look. “But my jō—I can’t use it with just one hand, and besides . . .” She quickly looked to her right. “It’s out there.”

Kerry glanced to his left, then back to Annie. “Okay, then—Plan B.” He placed his bokken in her right hand. “You can use this one handed—”

She immediately knew what he was planning. “No.”

“Back in a ‘sec.” Kerry darted towards the jō, cutting around the homunculus they’d attacked, then directly in front of another, grabbing the weapon on the run. He prepared to cut to his left—

His right leg slipped out from under him.

Kerry was down on one knee for only a few seconds, but that was enough for a third homunculus to close on him. He was almost to his feet when the creature was on him, pressing itself against his out-thrust jō. Kerry tried pushing it away, but didn’t have the leverage or strength necessary to make this work.

He went backwards with the homunculus falling atop him.

 

Unfortunately he’s about to reduce the team’s fighting ability by fifty percent.  Annie figures she’ll help out, but at this point they’re in the death spiral, and she knows it . . .

 

“Hey.” She jogged up a few meters towards the homunculus they’d failed to attack and began waiving her arms as Kerry had earlier. “Over here.” Annie drew it away from Kerry, but now came the problem: what to do? They worked together as a team, but there was no way she believed for even a moment she would be able to club this thing in the head hard enough to break open its skull and stop it. Which meant there wasn’t much time left before them: she end up bitten and “killed”, and the same would happen to Kerry, who was right now gasping for—

Air.

 

Air?  Air?  What the hell does she mean by that?

Well, I know what it means, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what happens next.  Assuming I haven’t gone crazy because I’m finally understanding just how big this chapter has become.

Write a novel, they said.  It'll be fun, they said.  Won't drive you psychotic in the least, they said.

Write a novel, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Won’t drive you psychotic in the least, they said.