Sunday, July 25, 2010

Second Draft of Untitled (Not Really Horror Anymore)

The first thing I noticed as we approached the scene were the bags. There appeared to be a dozen or so, arranged in a wide, loose circle around the cluster of men and equipment I assumed was the crime scene. The bags were of the same style you could find in any grocery store, the logo on the side indistinct at this distance, and the bottom of each one was stained with some dark substance.

"What's in the bags?" I asked the young officer leading me. He looked nervously back at me, then up at the bags.

"Dunno yet."

"No has just reached up and taken one down?"

"Sheriff Reynolds doesn't want to disturb the crime scene. And he, uh, has a theory."

"Well, what's his theory?"

"I think you should just come and see, ma'am."

"Fine. Just going to be taking pictures of it later anyway." I whistled tunelessly to myself and looked around the woods. But other than the bags and a few officers searching the surroundings for more clues, there was nothing to look at. The real interest was the square of tarps and huddle of men still ahead of them.

Sheriff Reynolds came out of the tarp, mopping the sweat off his face. He noticed me and the officer and raised his hand to wave us over. When we reached him, he nodded, patted the still-shaken officer on the shoulder and waved him off before turning to me.

"So you'd be the new scene photographer, yup?" He asked. Reynolds was a large man and in the Texas heat, was sweating heavily. There was already a smell coming off of him and I suddenly wanted to be anywhere else. Instead, I held out my hand.

"Uh, yes. Mackenzie Byrd." I said. Reynolds grabbed my hand with his fleshy one and squeezed tightly in what could barely be considered a shake, then released. I fought the urge to wipe my palm on my pants.

"Sheriff Emery Reynolds, pleased to meetcha." Reynolds said, using the cloth he had used to wipe off his forehead to do the same to his hand. "Haven't seen you around before Miss Byrd."

"Yes, well, I just moved here from New York a couple of weeks ago."

"New York? Why'dja move all the down here to little old Stirling?"

"Just looking for a job. Speaking of which, sheriff..." I gestured at the tarp and whatever lay beyond it.

Reynolds' face grew serious and he rested his hands on hips. "I'll warn you, Miss Byrd. This ain't pretty. Never seen anything like this here in Stirling."

I stepped around Reynolds. "I've been doing this for a while, Sheriff. I think I can handle this too." I pushed through the tarp curtain, caught sight of what was inside, and immediately turned around. I doubled over, nearly crumpling to the ground and my camera fell out of my hand on to the soft bed of pine needles below.

Reynolds rested his hand on my shoulder and for a moment, I didn't really care about his sweat or smell. "Well, I did warn you. Good thing you didn't eat before, I guess."

I had been fortunate in that regard, having only had some coffee and a pastry a few hours before hand. Over several moments, I regained my composure and slowly stood back up, reaching back down again to grab my camera. I nodded and gave the sheriff a brief smile before turning around and stepping back through the curtain, my camera held up as a shield between me and the atrocity laid out on the forest floor.

There were two bodies. Both were wearing light t-shirts and shorts, appropriate for a hot day walking along the park trails. The older of the two was a woman in her late 30's, maybe early 40's, a short blond ponytail uncurling over her shoulder. The cause of death was obvious; heavy bruising on her neck indicated strangulation. Beyond that, the only distressing thing about her was that her eyes and mouth were still open, a fairly common aspect of corpses that you eventually just needed to get used to.

The second body was of a much younger girl, though her age was difficult to determine. She had been wearing a blue hat that was now tipped over just above her fan of blond hair. Her arms and legs had been spread out as if she was making a snow angel and her wrists and ankles were cut and abraded, indicated that she had been tied down. The cause of death was presumbly a massive incision from her neck to her waist, allowing the perpetrator to break her sternum and ribs and remove most of her organs. What was left of her clothing was covered in dried blood, as were her arms, legs, and face, but the ground was clean.

I circled the two bodies several times, mechanically taking picture after picture, careful to make sure that I never moved the camera away from my face. When I needed them to, both Reynolds and another officer held tape measures along various parts of the bodies while I took pictures. But beyond that, no one else entered the curtained-off square.

There wasn't much to record. It was clear that this wasn't the site of the murder and there's only so many times you can take pictures of a strangled mother and her vivisected daughter. Soon enough, I stepped out of the curtains and took a deep breath. Reynolds was standing there, looking off into the woods at his officers and absently chewing on something.

"Medical examiner been out yet?" I asked, wanting to hear the sound of someone else's voice.

"Nope." He answered. "Got the various officials trickling in. We're awful far out in the park."

"Yeah." I shifted awkwardly, fiddling with my camera strap. "So the, uh, bags."

"Organs. Gonna need photos of their positions and stuff too."

"Yeah." I walked off, caught between wanting to get the hell away from what was behind the curtains and wanting to avoid the surrounding bags. Ultimately, the bags weren't quite as horrifying so I began to take photos of each one, trying to get its position in relation to the curtained area. As I worked, I noticed that the logo was of the Werner Brothers supermarket, a franchise that had a particularly crappy iteration nearby in Stirling. I made sure to get that particular detail on enough of the pictures to make it clear that they all had it.

Eventually, my work was finished. By then, the medical examiner and a few proper homicide investigators had arrived and Sheriff Reynolds was busy helping them. My presence was no longer needed, so I said my goodbyes and began to work my way back to my car, guiding myself this time and focusing entirely on my footsteps.

When I reached the dirt road that had been turned into the police's impromptu parking lot, Charlie Munner was waiting for me.

"Hey!" He called out, emerging from behind a van. I jumped, suddenly yanked out of my private reverie, and he chuckled as he walked up to me. "Wow, must be a pretty bad scene back there if you're that jumpy." He stuck out his hand and I eyed it noncommittally. He got the hint pretty quickly and retracting the offer while moving ahead with the introduction. "Charles Munner, Stirling Times."

"Mackenzie Byrd."

"Yeah, you'd be the county's new crime scene photographer, right?"

"Forensic photographer. Can I help you, Mr. Munner?"

I was fairly certain what he wanted and that he was pulling a pencil out his shirt pocket and a notepad from his pocket confirmed it. "This is about as close as the police will let me get to the scene and I'd really like to get more detail than that. If you can just,"

"Mr. Munner" I said


"Charlie." I put on a fake smile and started to edge around him. My car was just a few feet away and once I could get inside, I'd be safe from all of this. "I'm just the photographer, I'm really not qualified to talk about-"

He scooted back around, cutting me off. "Yeah, but you have to noticed some stuff. And that camera must be loaded with good pictures, worth a thousand words, right?" He grinned, showing lots of teeth.

"These pictures are the property of the Allister City Police Department right now, I can't really show them to you." I decided to ditch subtlety and blatantly walk towards my car.

"I'd just use you as an anonymous source, don't actually need the photos just need to look." He tried to cut me off, but I was faster, grabbing my door handle and flinging it open. He was forced to back off and I used the moment to swing into my seat and quickly slam the door shut. As I was digging for my keys, he tapped on the car window and began to speak, not caring that the glass was still closed.

"Look, Byrd, I used to live in New York too, used to work for the Times. I'll get the story. I'd just like your help." He grinned again, still showing too many teeth. "But even without it, gotta have something to print."

I found my keys and turned the car on. But I didn't have the energy for arguing with Charlie Munner, not after what I'd seen back in the woods. I put my car into reverse and backed out, leaving him standing there with his pencil and notepad, watching me as I pulled off and started back to the department.

I've never really been one for getting the last word, but I was starting to suspect why Charlie Munner no longer lived in New York or worked for the Times.

Ian's Notes: A significantly redone draft of the yet-Untitled piece that fits into the theme I was aiming for a bit better.

Between this Untitled piece and Misperceptions, I think I'd prefer to continue one of those two stories and polish it up to publishing-worthy rather than keep writing snippets. Please comment on which of the two you'd prefer to see worked on over the next few weeks.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Commenting open.

If you were having issues commenting before, it's because Blogger's default status is to only allow comments from people who have Google accounts. I've removed that now, so you should be able to comment anonymously now.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Misperception (Sci-Fi)

Quintus stepped into the sensory club and felt nothing.

There were dozens of sensory clubs on Terra Nuevo, but InmersiĆ²n had gained its fame from the intensity of its neurostimulation field. The images, smells, and sounds it allowed its patrons to create were the most realistic in the Systems, so much so that the club's bouncers frequently had to drag out customers that had lost grip of reality. But the experience required one's neurostimulant chips to have their safeties eased, the result of which was slow, but inevitable brain degeneration. The dazed looks and gaping mouths that of many of the patrons waiting to enter indicated that an empty mind was preferable to life without the worlds InmersiĆ²n let them create.

Quintus had never been fitted with neurostimulant chip and would have left it off if he had. He had business in this club, business that would require him to remain focused and keep his mind sharp. He ignored the line and walked directly to the door, drawing some irritated shouts and insults, enough that the bouncer jerked her head in his direction and tensed. Quintus saw flickers of color blend into her skin, indicated she had received nano-augmentations, likely from the very company Quintus worked for. She would be a fearsome opponent if one of the half-mindless people in the line attempted to force their way into the club.

"I'm here to see Mr. Rasa." Quintus said. The bouncer's eyes narrowed and then became distant, presumably while she contacted the club's wireless network. She was clearly heavily modified, and had no doubt been expensive if the augmentations were on Inmersion's dime. A high-quality guard for a high-quality club.

"Name?" The bouncer asked. Quintus reached into his suit pocket and drew out his ID card while he answered.

"Quintus Servilius." The card confirmed the same, as well as that he was an employee for Carrick Biodynamics. The bouncer's eyes went distant again while this information was communicated inside and then she nodded.

"You're free to go in, Mr. Servilius." She said. "Mr. Rasa is on the second floor, last room." She then immediately turned her attention back to the line. Quintus nodded his thanks and stepped past her into the club.

Sensory clubs weren't meant to be seen without one's personal modifications, and were thus fairly drab. In reality, Inmersion was just a large, square room, its walls and furniture varying shades of black and gray. There were lights scattered about to aid those who weren't visualizing their surroundings but no other such concessions. Throughout the club, people paced or sat or sprawled, lost in their own little creations. The club was noisy as they spoke and shouted at their visions, but most people used their chips to tune out external noises.

Quintus made his way across the floor, weaving around or gently pushing people out of the way as necessary, until he reached a well-light spiral staircase at the back, an unusual bit of real aesthetics for a sensory club. He quickly climbed it and reached a balcony along which were the doors leading into various private rooms, typically used by people who's fantasy worlds tended towards the explicit. There were narrow hallways along each room that allowed the club's employees to monitor the people inside to make sure they didn't damage themselves too severely and Quintus was briefly concerned. This meeting was to be private and he didn't like even the possibility of being watched.

He would discuss it with Rasa when they spoke. For now, he made his way along the balcony to the last room and touched the security pad next to the door. It slid open at his fingerprint and Quintus stepped into to face the famous Tabula Rasa.

The private room had two low couches flat against opposite walls and at the far end of the left couch sat a bald man with the tanned skin and rounded face of Terra Nuevo native. He lazily looked in Quintus' direction and for a moment, Quintus feared that he was indulging in the club as well. Then he noticed that the man was smoking a real cigar, something that someone making their own world wouldn't need to do.

"Mr. Rasa, I presume?" Quintus asked. The man nodded and gestured to the other couch. Quintus stepped past the room's door and heard a soft cough that did not come from Rasa. He immediately looked to his left and saw that there was a third man, much older with a heavily lined face and thick, gray mustache.

Quintus raised an eyebrow. "I was told our meeting would be private." Rasa smiled and made a small wave towards the ceiling, apparently telling the employee monitoring the room to shut off the camera.

"It is, Mr. Servilius." Rasa answered. He had a soft, but definite accent confirming him as a long-time resident of Terra Nuevo and Quintus eased slightly. "This man is the father of a friend, a former musician who has become increasingly deaf in the last few years. This club is now the only way he can hear the music he once loved. He will not compromise our secrets." Rasa gestured at the seat again. "Please, sit."

Quintus eyed the old man, but he didn't appear to show any indication that he was aware of the other two. So Quintus sat down and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and began his business. "Now Mr. Rasa, you must understand that due to your profession and reputation my employers would prefer to confirm that you are who you claim to be. Most of the identity indicators we have requested you have fulfilled, with the exception of one."

Rasa took a drag from the cigar. "Yes, yes, the name of the man who spoke to me initially. He called himself Cassius, as I recall."

Quintus nodded. "Indeed. Now that that's out of the way, I assume you are still open to our offer."

Rasa blew out the smoke and let it wreath around his face and obscure his features. "Yes, assuming you provide more details."

"Naturally. The job is relatively simple. We want you to become someone."

Rasa looked at Quintus and gestured with his cigar. Quintus took it as a signal to continue and reached into the other side of his jacket, drawing out a data slate and handing it to Rasa, who reached out, took it, and turned it on.

"The man pictured is Councilman Arkady Molovi from Daniilgrad on Threshold." Quintus said. "My company has an interest in expanding both the bioaugmentation market on the planet, as well as our hold on it. Molovi has been a key member of the opposition. We are preparing to have our lobbyists introduce a bill to the Council that would relax Threshold's restrictions on augmentation, but we need Molovi to be removed if it is to have any hope of situation."

"So?" Rasa asked, setting the slate on the couch. The old man grunted, tapping his fingers on the armrest in a vaguely rhythmic fashion "Kill him. Problem solved and with significantly less expense."

"The company, prior to my employment, attempted that in a similar situation on Terra. While the assassin was successful, he left sufficient clues that the company was implicated and the politician became something of a martyr." Quintus smiled slightly. "We like to learn from our mistakes."

"Indeed." Rasa said and then fell silent. Quintus waited for a response for several long moments and then raised his eyebrows.

"Mr. Rasa?"

Rasa coughed and looked back at Quintus. "I apologize, I was thinking. Perhaps you are used to dealing with less thoughtful people, Mr. Servilius."

"I see." Quintus leaned back and debated whether this was truly the person he had come to see. "Do you have any questions?"

"How can I have questions when you have provided only have the task? What do I do once I have impersonated Mr. Molovi?"

"We would prefer it if you used Molovi's influence to either dismantle or convert the opposition he has built up. If your reputation is accurate, that should be quite possible. If it is not, then faking Mr. Molovi's death might have a similar effect."

"And when I want to stop being Arkady Molovi?"

"Carrick Biodynamics can arrange a very convincing heart attack."

The old man suddenly had a coughing fit, causing Quintus to jump. It was quite easy to forget he was there. Rasa stood and walked over to the older man, pounding him on the back a few times until the coughs ceased and he settled back in his chair. He gave no thanks to Rasa and continued to not take any notice of Quintus, apparently thoroughly lost in his music.

Rasa sat back down and smiled. "I'm sure Carrick could arrange the most convincing death possibly, but I would prefer other alternatives."

Quintus shrugged. "You are free to arrange your own fake death or even remain Arkady Molovi for as long as you wish, given that you do not compromise my company's role in the matter. If you are truly concerned about us killing you, I am authorized to give you the full seventy-five percent of your fee upon acceptance, a substantial sum. Carrick would not benefit from not receiving a return."

Rasa fell silent again, the smoke from the nearly-finished cigar now quite thick around him. Again, Quintus waited, for nearly a full minute before Rasa looked back at him.

"Mr. Rasa accepts your job, Mr. Servilius." He said. Quintus' eyes narrowed and his mind went into alert, but just as he began to reach for the small pistol concealed in his pocket, the old man stood, far more easily than someone in his condition should have been able to, and peeled off his mustache.

"Gracias, Salvadore." The old man said to 'Rasa', reaching out his hand to the other man. "Cuidar de si mismo, mi amigo." They shook, the man Quintus had been speaking to smiling.

"Y tu, Rasa." Salvadore said, then rested back in his seat, the smile having grown into a grin when he saw Quintus' face, while the previously old man stretched, abruptly losing his paunch and all but the superficial signs of age.

"Come, Quintus Servilius." The real Tabula Rasa said, no identifiable accent to his speech. "We have much to speak about."

Ian's Notes: First off, the Spanish was taken from my own memory and an online translator so it is probably abominably wrong. Beyond that, I don't have much to say.

Though, in a just world, I would probably be shot for that title.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Untitled (Horror, Partial)

The first thing I noticed as we approached the scene were the bags. There appeared to be a dozen or so, arranged in a wide, loose circle around the cluster of men and equipment she assumed was the crime scene. The bags were of the same style you could find in any grocery store, though lacking any logos, and the bottom of each one was stained with some dark substance. But, most unusually, each bag was placed high in the trees, well beyond the easy reach of a man.

"What's in the bags?" I asked the young officer leading us. The man glanced nervously back at us, then up at the bags, and coughed.

"Dunno yet." He said.

"Going to find out?"

"Not my job. Think they're getting a cherry-picker or something."

"A cherry-picker." Charlie cut in, a slight smile on his face. "In the middle of the woods."

"Yes suh." The officer swallowed hard and nearly tripped, pausing a moment to kick the offending stone to the side.

"Alright then." Charlie whistled softly and started looking around. But other than the bags and a few officers poking around the forest floor, there was little to look at. The only truly interesting thing was the huddle still forty or so feet ahead.

"Officer Matocha!" The officer jerked and looked up towards the huddle, where a large man in a sheriff's uniform was storming towards us. "Who the fuck are these two?"

Matocha started to stutter out an answer when Charlie smoothly stepped past him and extended his hand. "Charles Munner, reporter for the Smithville Times." The sheriff frowned and slowly shook the offered hand while Charlie gestured to me. "Mackenzie Byrd, my photographer. You must be Sheriff Reynolds."

"Yes, I am. And I don't want any reporters at my scene." Reynolds said, drawing himself up and resting his hands on his hips. "You two even have press passes?"

Charlie quickly fished the pass issued to him by the county police out of his wallet and I did the same, cradling my camera in my free hand. Reynolds spent several moments carefully examining both, looking at the pictures on the cards and then up at us, like we were kids trying to buy alcohol. Eventually, he returned both with a grunt and a frown, but remained standing in place. "Gonna have to deny you access so you don't interfere with the scene."

Charlie scoffed. "Bullshit. You didn't have any problems letting reporters into the double homicide two weeks ago.

"This is still a fresh scene, son. Don't need you two tromping around and disrupting evidence before the coroner arrives." Reynolds rested his thumbs in his belt and it gave him the appearance of trying to hold in his gut.

"Can we ask some questions? Who, what, when, that sort of shit?" Charlie asked, already flipping his notepad open and pulling a pencil out of his shirt pocket. But Reynolds shook his head.


"Well, fuck, Sheriff, glad you're cooperating with the press like you said you would during election year."

Reynolds' face started to darken. I gently kicked Charlie's leg and slightly shook my head, keeping my eyes wandering around the trees surrounding us. He sighed, having apparently gotten the message, and tapped his pencil against the notepad. "Look, Sheriff, we're both just trying to do our job. Rumors have already gotten out of the park about this and there's going to be a lot more people coming here soon. A lot more reporters."

Reynolds grumbled again and rubbed his face, so I put on my best smile and decided to back up Charlie. "We all live in Smithville. Let me take a couple of pictures, tell Charlie what you can, we can help the Times get a bit of a scoop before those fuckers from Austin strut in looking for the Statesman's front page tomorrow."

The sheriff walked in a slow circle, but the battle was over. There's very little a small-town cop hates more than the big city.

Reynolds rounded back around and gave a long sigh. "Alright, fine, take your pictures and I'll have one of my officers give you some info." He said, then called for Matocha to come back. The younger officer returned, still pale and shaky. "Answer these folks, but don't get too detailed. Just general knowledge." Reynolds told him, then turned to me. "You can't take pictures of the bodies, miss. Wouldn't be right for the paper." The sheriff then returned to the circle surrounding what the crime scene and squatted down.

"Alright, officer." Charlie started, his pencil hovering over the paper and the tip of his tongue sticking out between his lips. "Can I ask your first name?"

"Uh, Jim." Matocha said, resting his hands on his hips in a poor imitation of the sheriff. Charlie nodded enthusiastically.

"Okay, Jim, if I can call you that, just a few questions and we'll be gone. So this is a murder, right?"

"Uh, yes, suh, one, one body, badly, uh, badly mutilated."

"Mutilated?" Charlie was scribbling furiously, far more words than was worth what the cop had told him. "Uh, Mackenzie, can you just get pictures of the woods or the officers or something? Reynolds, if he'll let you. So, Jim, just how was the body mutilated?"

I wandered off from their Q&A session, hearing Matocha mention that the sheriff probably didn't want them to say that before I stopped paying attention. There was very little reason to bring a photographer to a murder scene, particularly one that sounded as unpleasant as this one, but Charlie was still used to working for a big city rag, where the right kind of people would love death and gore in their morning paper. I somehow doubted Smithville would go for the same.

I snapped a few shots of the officers roaming through the woods, noticing that more than a few were breaking away from the main huddle and just standing there, looking off into the distance and taking deep breaths. It was a nice shot, particularly with the right caption beneath it, so I made sure to grab several. I idly took a picture or two of some mildly unusual plants but there was precious little of those in a pine forest, so ultimately, I was just wandering in circles and pretending to earn the money I was getting by being out here.

Which is how I found myself beneath one of the bags. I had nearly forgotten they were there and they were hung high enough up that they stayed of one's normal field of view. I only noticed the one above me because I felt something wet drop into my hair. I started slightly and reached up to run my fingers through the short strands. When I pulled my hand away, the fingertips were red.

I've seen enough horror movies to know what happens next, so I opted to step out of the path of the drips, look up to orient myself slightly away from the bag, and then stuck my hand underneath, where I had been standing a moment before. A few seconds later, there was another drip and a sudden bright red dash of blood on my hand.

Well. Okay then.

I tilted the camera, took a few quick shots of the bag I had been underneath and a few more of the other bags and then hurried back to where Charlie was still trying to sweet-talk Jim Matocha.

"Hey, Charlie." I said, grabbing his arm. He turned his head and glared at me, but I didn't really care about his interrogation. "You wrapping up here? Mark's going to want the article soon."

"Just, just wait a second, okay." Charlie said, brushing my hand off his arm. He turned back to Jim, but the moment was lost. Matocha had stepped away and nodded.

"Yes, suh, think that's about all the sheriff would want me to tell ya'll." The officer said. Charlie's shoulders slumped, but he folded his notepad up and put his pencil back in his pocket.

"No, thank you, Jim, we'll be okay. Let the sheriff know I'll be waiting for he wants to give a full report." Charlie smiled, waved, and turned back towards me, his face abruptly less friendly as we started to walk back.

"I could have gotten more out of him if you had given me, like, thirty seconds." Charlie grumbled. "Jesus, are you scared or something? This isn't your first murder, you know."

"It's my first murder in Podunk, Nowhere." I answered. We passed beneath one of the bags and I eyed it warily. No red drops though. "Something creepy about this place. Just don't like it." Charlie said nothing to me, preferring to mutter to himself, so I tilted my eyes down to the camera's display and started flicking through the images. But immediately, from the first image I had taken of an officer squatting down to examine on the ground, nearly half of the picture was a distorted blur. The next five, all of officers in the woods, were the same. After that, as the subject matter changed to plants and bags, they returned to normal.

"Weird." I said out loud, interrupting Charlie's moping. He looked down at the camera and I flipped back to the ruined pictures in response.

"Camera fucking up or something?" He asked. I shook my head slightly.

"Shouldn't be. Still a pretty new camera."

"Whatever. Guess we can look at it when we get back to the paper."

Ian's Notes: This is terrible. There are six dozen things I would change about it, all related to me trying to rush it out to stay on schedule. Maybe some other time.

For now, this would be the first part of an untitled short horror story, revolving around a monster and, if I could pull it off, the spread of myths in this interconnected age. I will admit now that I take no credit for the actual monster itself, though I won't tell you what to Google so it stays a surprise should I continue.

For you Smithvillians, yes, that would be the Smithville and Austin we know and love. The forest this scene takes place in would be either Bastrop or Buescher State Park, essentially in my own backyard. It's traditional when writing speculative fiction about real places to change the names around and I'll do that when I can think up names that don't sound stupid.

Finally, Mackenzie is a consistent element of mine. Those are characters, places, or concepts that crop up through various stuff I've written, typically as placeholders, and share the same ideas from piece to piece that they show up in. Mackenzie is usually a quiet photographer and always ends up the protagonist of any horror bits I write, so I'm rather running roughshod over the poor girl.

The Three Gears (Sci-Fi)

The immense grinding noise of the First Gear could be heard for miles from its position in the center of Perduto and ranged from a dull roar to a deafening industrial clangor within the city itself. The cause of this titanic, infernal noise was readily apparent once one saw the First Gear itself. The Gear was colossal, its circumference scraping well below the subways and under-houses of the city and back up to compete with the broken skyscrapers for height. Its teeth linked together with a number of smaller gears in a long chain that cut through the center of Perduto and continued into the wasted countryside until it met another city and another city beyond that. A vast, endless network of gears that powered the machines that kept the world from dying completely. The First Gear was the engine for all of it, the axis upon which the world lived and breathed, the God that controlled the fate of humanity.

It was hard for anyone to say which had come first: Perduto or the First Gear. People knew that one had been built around the other, but it had been lost which had been which. Most people believed that the Gear had come first, some saying that the Gear had always been there. It certainly made sense. The entire existence of Perduto was to keep the Gear turning smoothly. In some fashion, all of the citizens bent their will towards keeping the world alive. People were born, lived, and died knowing nothing but the service of the Gear.

Anna wasn't quite the same. Anna held no job. She did not serve the Gear as others did. Anna's purpose was to worship the Gear. Everyday she walked along the catwalks where the noise of the Gear was loudest, where it was a symphony of madness. Most avoided the center of Perduto where the Gear made its home, their service to it ending with earphones and distance. Anna alone walked the metal plates that paralleled the Gear, reveling in its roar and crash as the teeth of the Gear and its smaller neighbors came together.

Anna was deaf. If she had born that way or was made that way by her worship of the Gear was unknown even to her. Those who wished to give her the tasteless food of the city or the money with which to buy that same food wanted to do so, they had to touch her or gesture frantically to get her attention. She would give them a smile and take the proffered good with a nod and caress of the hand or arm. Then she would eat if it was food and head to a store if it was money, returning to watching the Gear as quickly as possible.

And so deaf, poor Anna sat. Her home was its catwalks. Her music was its noise. Her art was its form. All she knew was the Gear.

Matthew was not like Anna. He did not worship the Gear by thought but by action. Every day Matthew awoke in the tiny apartment that was all he and Perduto could afford. He showered, dressed, ate, and then headed out along the trains that rushed about the city.

About halfway to his destination, just as the noise of the Gear became unbearable, Matthew and the other passengers of the train would don their earphones to muffle the din. The noise of the Gear would be silenced and the train's occupants would continue in peace.

The machine houses were an ancillary noise below that of the Gear, the winds to its brass. Rotors embedded in the ceiling spun about while pistons lurched in and out of their cradles, producing a great slamming noise every time they came home and a dozen other machines toiled and clanged. Workers dashed about, beneath, and around this cacophony, in a desperate race to keep the machines and the Gear running. Above it all, the supervisors stood, not working but making sure everyone else did.

Matthew was one of those workers who scurried about, but in his spare time he did not maintain the machines but tinkered with them. He did this with the cautious approval of the supervisors, allowed to work only on the machines that were harmless, that would produce only a minor inconvenience if broken. And he made those machines extraordinary. He allayed his supervisors' fears by convincing them that he would make the machines faster and more efficient and he delivered. Less fuel and work was needed to keep the machines running when Matthew was finished with them and so the supervisors let him move on to bigger and more important machines. He made those work better too. Soon, the city governor took note of Matthew and promoted him, first to junior supervisor, then to supervisor, then to head supervisor until Matthew became master of all of the machine houses in Perduto. But he was content to give his duties to others as long as he could continue to tinker with the machines. And, because everything Matthew worked on became better, he was allowed to.

At first, Matthew was motivated to his tinkering by a desire to improve the machines and the city. Then, as time went on, Matthew discovered the many fascinating aspects of the machines. He marveled at the mind of whoever made the devices, at their perfect simplicity yet astounding complexity. He began to tinker not just to improve the city but to find out more about the machines, to consume all the knowledge about them that he could. Matthew began to fancy himself a acolyte of the Inventor, and then a peer, and finally, as he aged and his gait grew slow but his hands and mind remained quick, Matthew believed he surpassed the Inventor. He began to experiment with the more critical machines, the ones that controlled the recirculators that purified the poisoned air and the ones that kept the train tracks separate and the trains from colliding. Matthew no longer wanted to improve them but to learn more about them, to see how they worked and how they could fail, so that he could gloat to himself that he knew more than the Inventor.

And the machines did fail. Matthew's tinkering caused the recirculators to break, flooding poison into many of the city districts and killing hundreds. The train tracks crossed each other and trains crashed together, killing dozens more, and further stagnating the entire city. The machines were quickly repaired and the rest of Perduto saved but Matthew was banished from the machines and imprisoned in his apartment. And for a time, Matthew wept, separated at last from the machines that had been the sole purpose in his life for so many years. He repented his sins and swore to whomever would listen that he would never do it again, if he could just be allowed some little machines. But no one listened and in time, Matthew grew bitter and vengeful. He began to think that this was poor payment for the years of service he had given to the city, that they should have rewarded him for his improvements and disregarded his few mistakes. He would prove them wrong. He would show them that he was still useful. He would make the First Gear better. He would make it run faster and better.

And so one night Matthew crept past the guards that kept him prisoner. He quietly stole down the streets of Perduto, towards the noise of the Gear. He found the machine houses that held the true engine of life, the one that powered the Gear itself. And he began to tinker. To prove himself right.

The Inventor was named John and in honor of his invention of the First Gear, Perduto had sealed him in a tower to make more machines forever.

At first, this did not bother John. John liked to make machines that helped others. And for many years, that is just what he did. He sat in his tower workshop and experimented and created, happy that he had a purpose in life.

Then John grew weary and old, and asked the governors of Perduto if he could stop inventing and rest until his death. The governors grew distressed and ordered him to return to his tower. A day later, they began to give John medicine. They said the medicine could keep John alive forever. John grew angry and refused the medicine but the governors insisted and began to force John to take it. In time, simply to avoid the daily struggle and violence, John took the medicine willingly and continued to invent. But his inventions were filled with John's own bitterness and painted with John's own tears and no longer worked as well.

The governors did what they could to keep John happy. They gave him what books remained, but he read the books and learned much from them and did not improve. They installed cameras throughout the city so John could watch everything and he did this but it only made him more depressed and bitter to see what people had become. John's inventions became poor and faulty and so the governors began to ignore John and John ignored the governors, watching his cameras and taking his medicine. In time, decades after the governors John hated so much died, the only person who was even aware that John existed was the one who brought him the medicine that kept him alive forever.

John stopped inventing and experimenting and just watched the cameras, mourning the people he saw there. He could faintly remember a time before he had invented the First Gear that people had been happy and free. The immense construct had only made people sad and dependent. And so John wept once more, crying for Perduto and the terrible damage his invention had done.

John's cameras let him watch Anna, and so he became aware of the beggar that worshiped the Gear and he wept for her foolish devotion. John's cameras let him watch Matthew, and he mocked the tinker's arrogance and then wept for the harm that arrogance inflicted. But still he watched. He watched as Matthew stole down the streets of Perduto, knowing what the tinker was going to do and knowing what the result would be. He watched has Matthew began to explore the Gear's power source and, as his mind and hands were not as quick as they once were, Matthew broke the device. The First Gear stopped turning and its immense bulk tipped. The final crash of the First Gear came down on Perduto, crushing all the buildings and rails that lay beneath it. John watched as the First Gear crushed Anna, who sat staring at the colossus has it came down on her. John watched as the machines that powered Perduto were destroyed and the city dissolved into chaos, the poisonous air flooding into every room and killing all before it. John watched as the trains collided and the last frantic moments of their lives, people ran about, crying and screaming and wanting an answer that would never come. John watched as the line of gears and machines that extended from Perduto every other city in the world failed, robbed of its power and every other city in the world died like Perduto.

And has the poison flooded John's own room and has John smelled the reek that was the poison's signature, John smiled and did not weep.

Ian's Notes: I'm going to go ahead and cheat and post a story that I finished several years ago. Some of you have actually already read this, but this is probably a good opportunity to refresh your memories.

The Three Gears is the only story I have written stream-of-consciousness. It was inspired by a music video that briefly showed an animated image of a massive chain of gears, and from that picture, the rest of the story came. It was written in two days, entirely flowing from mind to page without any real input from me. If that sounds strange, well, that's because it was, but would be rather handy to have around now.

Gears has received no editing since I wrote it, simply because I can't personally think of what to add or remove. It is also where I get my usual Internet handle, 1stGear.

Why is This Here

Some of the people who went to school with me might remember that I dabbled with writing and on some occasions, brought it to class so a small pool of people could critique it.

This went literally nowhere. I have completed no more today, three years later, than I did then. Which is to say, I have completed exactly three short stories and the last one was finished in late 2009. For someone who would one day like to be a published writer and has delusions of Stephen King or J.K. Rowling levels of success, this is unacceptable. So I have finally decided to start this blog.

The purpose of this blog is two-fold: to provide a reason and audience for me to write to, something that will hopefully help me sit down and actually write every day and complete some of the various projects that are sitting on my hard drive. The second is to give a place for people to criticize my work and help improve it.

To that end, I'll be trying to make a story post of at least 1000 words every day. The genres will primarily be speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror, that kind of stuff) though I might throw in some creative fiction from time to time and will also be putting in world-building posts if there is an idea I think deserves that much treatment. Each post will end with some author's notes stuff, explaining the inspiration, rationale, or anything I think could be interesting/helpful about the work. I'll try to keep them all categorized by genre or universe, whichever category is more relevant to each piece.

The second and equally important part of the process falls to the you, the readers. Please feel free to comment on any and all pieces that catch your interest and you read in entirety or to the point at which you can no longer stand it. I absolutely love criticism and will happily listen and consider any you throw my direction (I also enjoy compliments, but would prefer the criticism).

This little experiment can only be more successful the more people participate, so feel free to link friends, family, and random strangers on the Internet to this crappy Blogger page (Also feel free to criticize the page if the format or coloring or something is horrendous). That said, I don't really write about light-hearted stuff. I don't feel my writing warrants an adult content warning, but I would at least give most of it a PG or PG-13 rating, so keep that in mind if linking to a younger sibling or nephew or something.

It can also only succeed if I'm actually writing, so if I fall behind and don't have a legitimate reason, give me a swift kick in some fashion until I get back on the horse.

Finally, the blog's title comes from a really terrible production of a decent play I was a part of in high school. At one point, the play's main character, Edgar Allan Poe, says that there is nothing more terrifying than an empty page.

He was right.