The Reward

My life was an ordinary one.

Barring the details, it could have been lived by any other man, in any other country, in any other time.

I was born, went to school, grew up, got a job, then got married. Had kids. Had grand kids. Then the doctor gave me that long-faced announcement that I had The Big C. Mine had grown quietly in my pancreas before expanding outward to attack my other organs. He didn’t use the word hopeless to describe my chances, but his expression, his tone, they all told me it was.

The final few days were confused. Sometimes the kids were there. Other times, they were with Grace, even though she’d been dead for a decade. Those were the worst days. Every time Grace was there, her face had that disappointed look on it, like when she learned I wouldn’t get my pension because the company had used it and all the other pension contributions to buy stock back. On the final day, no one was there. I guess I couldn’t blame them. I died on a Wednesday morning, and like me, all my kids had jobs to be at.

I spent my final few moments gasping because my lungs didn’t seem to have enough air coming in. Then it was over.

Some folks insist you see a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Me, there was none of that. One moment I was staring at the cheap ceiling tiles, then I was here. In a line with lots of other rather ordinary people. On either side, all there is to see is a barren wasteland, a place covered in loose black rocks that looked like they’d come from the sloping sides of a volcano. The line stretches before me, and behind me, too far for me to see any ending to it. And we are always in motion. Not a rapid motion, more a shuffling amble, but always we move forward.

I don’t need to ask where I am. I know where I am: Hell.

There are no demons armed with pitchforks. No rising towers of flame. There are no seas of lava filled with screaming sinners. But I know this is Hell as surely as if a huge neon sign hung in the sky announcing it was.

And I knew why I was here.

My live was one compromise after another.

Every day, I’d seen things I knew were wrong, even evil, and just turned away.

I gave myself the usual excuses for not acting.

It would be too hard to change the way things were done.

Things had always been done that way.

It didn’t effect me, so why should I care?

Every time I didn’t do the right thing, every instant when I’d remained silent, had brought me to this place. Looking at the faces of those around me, I knew they were here for the same reasons. Some of them were angry, shouting that they’d done nothing to deserve this. Others wept, lamenting the chances they’d not taken to be better than they were.

But most were like me. They knew where they were and accepted it with the same stolid attitude they’d dealt with the rest of the disappointing events in their lives.

And so here we were, the vast tide of humanity trudging to our final reward for a live spent just getting by.

A question about offering a critique.

Have you ever tried offering advice to a fellow writer, only to have them treat your suggestion like it was as welcomed as a severe case of STD’s?

I am involved with some online writing groups, and if I think I can offer some advice or useful observations, I try to offer offer said advice as frankly but politely as I can. So, one day, a writer comes on asking for help staging a scene between his two main protagonist characters. I probably should have known the writer wasn’t interested in advice that didn’t praise them when I read the thumbnail character descriptions: two people with ‘hero’ practically written on their foreheads. Then they describe the scene: Earth has been invaded by an all-conquering alien species, and the heroes are going into orbit to visit an ancient spacecraft.

I could get past the part where the heroes are a bit too perfect, but expecting a species that has crossed interstellar space to overlook an orbiting spacecraft that the much-less-technically-advanced humans know about….that’s not asking me to suspend my disbelief, that’s asking me to lobotomize myself.

So I offered the observation that such an occurrence was unlikely, pointing out politely that it was a fairly obvious plot device that the author might want to address.

The author’s response? Well, I won’t do a direct word-for-word quote, but it was effectively ‘I’m well into the novel, and I’m not interested in changing what I’ve written.’

I’ve thrown whole scenes out of stories, then gone through the rest of the manuscript covering the holes created by that event no longer having occurred, so I can’t understand this sort of thinking. But what about you?

If you saw something so obviously wrong with a story that you couldn’t ignore it, would you say something?

Believers

Dan felt alive.

The noise of the cheering crowd as he strutted to the podium was intoxicating. Better than screwing some hooker. Better than screwing over a business partner. Almost better than remembering these people were cheering him because he’d pulling off the biggest scam of his life. He stopped beside the plain wooden podium and wondered why his advanced team hadn’t done as he’d told them. It should be his trademark gold-covered podium, not this drab piece of shit. Who cares if other presidents and dignitaries had stood behind it and addressed crowds, they weren’t him. Dan knew he was special, and it was time to fire a few of the people who hadn’t done as they were told to remind the rest of that.

Time to get on with the show.

Ignoring the ugliness of his surroundings was something Dan knew how to do, even if he didn’t like doing it. After all, the White House was ugly, inside and out. Those stupid formal gardens with their smelly roses. The stiff, drab exterior of the building. Hell, every fucking room in the place was ugly except for the small space he slept in. Nothing but stupid antiques and old furniture everyone told him was ‘historic’.

Who cared about history anyway?

The only thing that was important was what was happening now. He was in charge. He and he alone gave the orders, and everyone had to listen to him. Just remembering the way he’d finally been able to tell off that idiot Congressman who’d always been getting in his way made Dan want to smile, so he did. He let the joy he felt in this moment, the pleasure of the crowd’s complete adulation, fill him.

“Isn’t this great? Seeing Americans come out to support the greatest president of all time…it makes me proud to see the patriotism being exhibited here tonight.”

The tiny microphone on his lapel caught his words and sent them booming out, a wave of sound that filled the space. But that was nothing compared to the roar of the crowd’s reply. It rolled over Dan like a physical thing and lifted him even higher. Tonight, oh tonight, I’ll give them a show they won’t forget.

Dan opened his mouth to continue, but a deep, booming voice stunned both the crowd and Dan into inaction.

“So now you think they’re patriots? That’s not what you said earlier.”

Then Dan heard his own voice, except it wasn’t the patter he’d prepared for the crowd, it was him talking to Fred McFee, his campaign manager.

“Fuck, Fred, would you look at the bunch of rubes we’ve got tonight? I mean what do these losers do for a living, fuck sheep or something? I mean look at this bunch of idiots! Especially that fat fuck in the front row holding the sign up praising me….what the fuck does he think he’s doing, trying to look like me? Mind you, I’d screw that little piece of ass next to him. What do you think, is that his daughter? How could some ugly slug like that produce a hot little piece like her? Who knows, out here in the sticks, he’s probably screwing her.

Dan could see the people he’d been talking about. Both the fat father and his slender blond daughter stood, crimson-faced, not sixty feet from him. But Dan’s backstage conversation kept booming out over the crowd.

“Whatever the fuck. It’s about time to go out and feed the monkeys their nightly dose of shit. I can’t believe these morons believe the shit I’m tellin’ them! Hell, seeing how easy it is to clip rubes out here in Nowheresville, I can understand how those traveling preachers can go from town to town fleecing the fools for every cent they have. Oh well, as long as these idiot support me in the next election, I’ll tell them their cow’s shit doesn’t stink. Who knows, they might even be dumb…”

Silence. Dan knew he’d kept talking well past that point, but someone on his security detail must have finally found out where, in this backwater auditorium, the sound booth was. And I’ll find out why it took them so long later, oh yes I will, and then someone’s head is gonna roll! But that silence gave even morons like this a chance to think, and giving them a chance to think was never a good idea.

“Can you believe that? Someone thought you’d be dumb enough to believe such an obvious fake imitation of me talking! I mean nobody here is that stupid, are they?”

And it never hurts to praise a moron, any moron, when it makes them believe you.

The crowd roared out their support for Dan, knowing their president would never say something like that about them.

An object lesson: Don’t be stupid like me!

Well, it’s officially dead.
Yesterday, I had my laptop out, intent on doing some writing after far too long away from it. So, I’ve got the machine up and running, grab myself my favorite for of caffeine (diet Pepsi) and am getting ready to plug my thumb drive in….the thumb drive that’s on the table *next to* the glass full of pop.
Yeah, you can see where this is going, can’t you?
I managed to do an emergency shut-down of the laptop before liquids could come into contact with electrical currents and did what I could to get said liquids to drain out of the machine, then moved to my desktop machine in hopes that after drying out, the machine would work today.
Nope.
Usually when I connect it to it’s ‘wall wart’, there’s a little blue light that comes on to show it’s drawing power from the charger instead of the battery. No blue light when I do it this morning, but hey, like I said, it *usually* shows that sign of life. So,time for the ‘smoke test’, to see if something goes catastrophically wrong when I push the “On” switch.
*Nothing* happens.
Not a light, no sound of the cooling fan on the processor starting, nothing, not one thing that usually happens when the laptop usually starts up happens.
So, folks, I guess the moral of the story is a simple and obvious one: keep your work area free of *ANYTHING* you might spill on your machine. In other words, don’t be an over-confident idiot like me.

A Quick Question

I’ve noted more than once that people will stop by my site, look around, and download some of the .pdf’s I’ve got here.

So, the question is:

If I were to make a work, say the complete novel “A Dream Before Dying”, available for downloading, who might be interested in having it, possibly in return for a nominal donation?

(“Nominal”, in this case, might be a dollar)

So, if you’re interested, let me know by commenting on this post.

Thanks for any feedback in advance.

The Death of a Dream

[I am thinking of using this as the prologue to a dystopian novel set in the near future. Any comments?]

Ask anyone who was alive then, and most of them will tell you that America ended on a brisk Monday in January, 2025. The problem is, what happened on January 20, 2025 was just the end of a series of events that had been ongoing for decades. America didn’t end when 78 pounds of highly enriched uranium came slamming together in the back of a small cargo plane a thousand feet over the Capital Building. It didn’t end when the tens of thousands of people who’d assembled to see the president be sworn in for his second term were vaporized, along with the president and much of Congress.

No, it ended long, long before that.

The disgruntled employee who smuggled the uranium that fueled the ‘nuclear device’ out of a federal lab didn’t kill it. Nor did the handful of angry people who helped him cast the small chunks of uranium into usable parts for a ‘gun’ bomb. It wasn’t killed by the people who drove the parts across country to a small municipal airfield in Maryland. Neither the people who assembled the ‘device’, nor the deranged man who flew the bulky turboprop to the bomb’s point of detonation killed America.

All of them were just the end result of a process that had started before some of them had even been born.

America had been killed by attitudes.

America had been destroyed by factionalism.

America died the day it’s people broke into tribes called political parties.

It died when those tribes had hardened into camps that saw their opposite numbers as ‘other’.

It died when people saw no other point of view but their own group’s as valid.

America died because all of this was organized by a few, who saw the idea of a nation split into warring camps as a way for them to gain and maintain power.

The blinding flash, the energy that raised the temperature of the air to something near that of the surface of the Sun, and the over-pressure wave that swept aside buildings for miles, all of that was nothing but the final act of a play stretching over years. The chaos, death and destruction that followed were little more than the final convulsions of a corpse long dead.

When nostalgia is misplaced.

Fair warning: I am about to not step on some toes, but stomp on some writing fantasies. So if you’re bothered by such things, you might want to stop reading now.

Now that the warnings are out of the way, let’s get down to business.

Recently, in an online writer’s group I’m involved in, someone asked where they could find a typewriter. Their reasoning for asking was that they were having problems writing because their laptop was randomly failing as they used it. My response was simple: forget about looking for a typewriter and find someone to fix the laptop so they could get on with writing.

For my efforts, I received some pointed negative comments, but I stand by my position: Modern computers, even those in need of serious TLC, are infinitely better writing implements than typewriters.

I do not take this position because I used to work on computers for a living, but because of past experience writing on both computers and typewriters.

For roughly the first year of my time as a writer, i.e. someone who writes material for others to read, I used a typewriter. It wasn’t anything elegant, just an (even then, nearly thirty years ago) ancient Underwood manual. I had been looking for some way to get stuff in printed form, and had picked it up for what I thought was a song at an auction sale. Of course, once I started using it, I found out why it had been so cheap: it needed a new ribbon (yes, it used an honest-to-gods ribbon, one on a pair of spools that had to feed into place by hand), half the keys had their letters crudely painted on, the hammers themselves often stuck, and it was rare event when all the text lined up perfectly.

For all that, it got me started, and until I found a cheap computer and printer (an elderly Kaypro that should have been in a museum even before I laid hands on it and a very early HP Laserjet printer that weighed about as much as a modern Smart car), I was glad to make do with what I had. It wasn’t until I first sat down and worked with a word processing package (WordPerfect, if memory serves) that I realized that writing wasn’t something to suffer while doing. No more lines of text that jogged all over the place. No more pages where the text angled subtly from one side to the other because I hadn’t quite gotten the paper in correctly. No stopping to ‘white out’ an error, or to plaster it on a portion of a page so I could change a sentence completely. No more worrying about pages accidentally getting out of order because I knocked what I’d already typed over.

Since then, I’ve gone through several different computers, many printers, and more than a few word processing packages, but never once have I felt a desire to go back to the ‘good old days’ of using a typewriter. Don’t get me wrong, if a typewriter is all you can afford, then go with one. If you need to sit down in front of a typewriter to get your ‘creative juices’ flowing, more power to you. But please, when you’re talking about them, don’t look at the experience through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. There’s one universal truth we should all acknowledge: typewriters are a pain to work with. Compared to computers, even the balkiest ones, they’re seriously inferior in usability. So the next time you read/hear some writer expressing an interest in getting a typewriter, especially some young writer who does not know what they’re really like to use, please give them an honest opinion of the beast they are about to tangle with.

BTW, here’s my old Underwood. I keep it around partly because it weighs so much I’m not sure the garbage men would take it if I threw it out, but mostly to remind me of how much better I have it these days.

underwoodx1