Back tracking

zombie miniA while ago I started working on a short story called Zombie Swarm. I even came up with a cover that I really liked.

So why isn’t it out? Because as much as I liked the concept and several of the scenes of that story, it just wasn’t good enough.

The biggest problem was easy to fix. I added a few more characters. The whole situation wasn’t very convincing or suspenseful enough so it ended up falling a little flat. Most of the story takes place inside of once little lab, but with only two people working in a lab you don’t have a lot to work with. I added three more people and suddenly things started coming together. There were more issues between characters, more problems, and more strife. Then the creature they are dealing with, I didn’t have to change it much, but I did have to add a few more scenes to the original plot, and a lot more detail.

So it meant going back, completely reworking the original plot line, and rewriting it. I threw away the 6000 words I’d already written to start all over again. But I know I’m going to have a better story because I did that, even if it really REALLY sucked throwing away 6k words that I wrote. I’m also expecting the finished story to be twice as long, at least, so that’s a plus.

Don’t be afraid to throw it out and start all over again.

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Moonlit Sonata (A Short Story)

moonlitMoonlit Sonata

Sonata’s hands danced across the keys, her soul reaching out through her fingertips. Ebony and ivory, a harmony that responded to her touch, and hers alone.

Whenever she sat down to play the piano she couldn’t help remembering the first time. Caressing the keys. Tentatively pressing a few notes. And each note came out pure and strong even though she, just a girl of eight, had no idea how to actually play the giant instrument.

Her grandfather pulled her up in his lap and she would watch as his hands moved along the keyboard playing chopsticks, Mary had a little lamb and the wheels on the bus. When she showed so much interest in the music he started moving into more intricate pieces. Fur Elise. Barber of Seville. Blue Danube.

Each song played a story in her mind. The notes moved upward in sharp angles, and she saw dragons fighting across a red sky. Soft keys flowing out in a slow rhythm were like swans lazily swimming across an icy pool of water. Each key. Each score. An image and a story that laid itself out just for her.

The memories made her melancholy, longing for her grandfather, long since passed, and all the quiet moments they spent together making music.

The melancholy worked its way into the music. Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. The quiet rhythms of the thousand year old piece slowly playing out across the dark night.

Her thoughts moved to the room, the darkness closing in around her. The piano still sat in the same room overlooking the river far below. On still nights you could see the moonlight glittering off the subtle waves. A fitting companion to her music. She matched her tempo to the rippling light, softer then faster, and softer again. Experimentation.

The home, built by her great grand father shortly before the civil war, was her second love. It had housed the sick and injured during the war, been home to a speakeasy during Prohibition, held wild and sometimes disastrous parties, all before she’d ever been born. The history was written into every piece of wood. Names carved into balusters. Graffiti stenciled on bathroom walls. Holes cut into certain walls, then repaired over and over again.

Her mother once told her the house was haunted. A laughable thing, surely. Sonata didn’t believe in heaven, or hell, demons or angels. Why, then, would she believe in something as insubstantial as a ghost?

She giggled at her own pun as she set into Presto Agitato, her fingers fairly flying across the keys. Over and over she pounded out the notes, faster and harder with each slide up the scale.

Like a frolicking gazelle, she played the notes, feeling the joy and wonder of her home around her, swaddled in the moonlit night. Happy and content. Locked together just as the notes of the song were locked together.

She glanced up to the left of the piano. Her grandfather use to stand there watching over her as she played, and even now she felt she could feel his presence there. Watching. Waiting.

If her grandfather watched over her then she would give him the best concert of his entire life, or death, she thought as she tripped across the ivory keys.

Piece after piece she played. Chopin. Lebrun. Bach. Tchaikovsky. Each one with their own virtues and difficulties. She had practiced for years, learning piece after piece to add to her repertoire. Learning the inscrutable differences between the frenetic work of Mozart, or the melancholy scores of Schubert . And she played them all with the utmost precision.

Precision wasn’t enough to be a great pianist. Being female had it’s own drawbacks. Men did not think highly of women who pursued places in the arts. Painters, sculptures, musicians. All of the truly greats in all areas were men. Sonata always maintained that she, as a woman, had just as much right to play professionally as any man, but it didn’t matter. You couldn’t sell tickets to a womans concert.

Instead she spent the long days whiling away her time in front of the piano. With her inheritance she lived comfortably, never wanting for anything, and throwing the occasional party where she would play for her guests who watched in rapt adoration as she played.

From the shadows she heard a scrape on the wood, like shoes walking toward her. She glanced up to find ghostly images walking down the corridor toward her. Faint white glimmers on the landscape that shimmered into view then blinked out of existence.

There were no such things as ghosts, she told herself again, her fingers never stopping on the keys. It was the night playing tricks on her. Old memories surfacing from the past. But the night was coming to a close. The sun would rise, and she would still be safe in her mansion. All alone.

For hours she played, song after song echoing up through the old wooden house. Memories circled through her thoughts. Her father on his death bed wishing her happiness. Her music teacher praising her for her marvelous playing. A cousin stopping in to see why she never answered her telegrams.

And always the music soothed away the troubled memories.

Then the sky grew lighter, sunlight spilling over the horizon. The warm glow splashed across the side of the piano and Sonata smiled, enjoying the warmth washing over the room as she started playing another complicated piece.

The sun rose higher, as though each note she picked along the keyboard was a signal for the world to spin, the sun rising in the west at her bidding. She watched it creeping up the side of the piano, playing faster and faster, as though trying to capture every possible note she could before the sunlight touched her skin.

Something about the suns progress across the hard wood floor sent a shiver through her. The sun was supposed to bring cheer and good will, but all she felt was panic.

Sun. Son. Was that why? Was it the reminder of the child she would never have?

At one time there had been many suiters calling for her hand. They would come to the great mansion at the top of the hill and gaze over the land with hungry eyes. And some part of her hardened. If she could not be the concert pianist that she dreamed of then she would not give into their demands. Would not give them the key to their desires.

Selfish? Perhaps. Her mother once begged her for the gift of grandchildren. But it was already too late. As the consumption ate away at her mother’s body she had no comfort of tiny feet racing across the floors, only the sound of the piano. The endless music reminding her that she failed her daughter.

Once her mother started to scream, begging that the music end. Only her fathers threats of destroyed the piano stilled the keys. Sonata would stare longly from the doorway, her fingers moving to the staccato beat across the counter, waiting, yearning for the day she could play again.

And the day came when her mother passed away, and they laid her in the ground in the small cemetery out back. She lay beside her own mother and father, and many family members from before Sonata’s birth. Men and women who lived, and loved, and died in the walls of the mansion.

And music once again filled the walls.

Light touched the keys and Sonata cringed away from it. Why? It was only light she told herself.

The keys glowed white as the sunlight spread.

Sonata played on, dancing across the keys, her eyes closed as they flew up the scale…

And screamed!

The sunlight burned. Like putting her hand into a vat of acid, the light spilled around her finger tips, burning away her flesh, the pain searing up her arm and into every nerve of her body.

She backed away from the piano, and the light flooding over it, cradling her hand to her chest. How was it even possible? How could the sun keep her from the piano. Music was her life. She had to have it or she would fade away.

The light slipped across the floor as the sun rose in the sky, a pool of it edging closer to her feet.

She took a step back, stretching her hand out toward the piano, needing the music. Feeling herself growing dimmer as the notes faded from the room.

But something was wrong with her hand. She held it up before her. There were no burn marks from the sunlight, but her hand began to twist in on itself. She tried stretching out her fingers, as though playing the scales, but they barely moved, the tendons tightening and pulling even harder.

“No!” she cried, looking down at her hands as they curled up into claws right in front of her eyes. “No! You can’t do this to me! No!”

The music long since silent, her cries echoed through the room, vibrating off the empty walls, and flooding up the stairs.

And then the full force of the sun spilled across her feet, and up her body.

With one final agonizing scream Sonata blinked out of existence.

****

“Did you hear that?” Janet asked, sitting up on the couch.

“What? The piano?”

“Yes, it sounded like a piano. Is there a radio on or something?”

“No, it just plays sometimes. Ever since Sonata Everson died you can hear it on moonlit night. I think it’s Beethoven.”

“Beethoven? You have a ghost that plays Beethoven?”

“I didn’t say I had a ghost,” he said, before taking a sip of coffee. “I have a home with an interesting past. Sometimes happy, a lot of times quite sad. Ms. Everson was no exception. And now you hear the piano on moonlit nights. That doesn’t mean its haunted.”

“She killed herself, didn’t she?” Janet said, settling back against the overstuffed cushions.

Anthony’s arms snaked up around her to enjoy the sunrise through the grand balcony overlooking the river below. His thumb rubbed back and forth across the bare skin of her arm.

“Yes. Her hands started turning in on themselves. Some think she had a severe form of carpal tunnel, but they didn’t have diagnosis for that back then.”

“Carpal tunnel? You mean from repetitive motion, like playing the piano?”

“Ironic, isn’t it? A simple surgery would have fixed it, but they didn’t know about it back then. Once she couldn’t play the piano anymore she didn’t want to live. Quite tragic, really.”

“And you bought the old house anyway?”

“It’s a beautiful house with great bones, and an incredible view of the water. If I have to share it with a ghost that finally gets to play the piano again, I’m alright with that.”

Janet looked out across the sun deck. There was a darker patch on the hard wood floor. Perhaps it wasn’t as faded as the rest, and it was vaguely in the shape of a grand piano. The sunlight streaming in through the window settled on the spot like a cat stretching from a long nap. Something about it made her shiver.

“Well, I hope you’re right,” she said. “If Ms. Everson is still here I hope she’s happily playing the piano still.”

 

A break (and a story!)

I’m so close to completing my novel. The words were coming, in drips and drabs but they were coming. But things are getting frustrating. I knew I needed a break from the constant immersion in my story world.

So I set aside Mermaids Curse for a day and wrote a short story.

Only a day, and while I feel slightly guilty for setting it aside to work on something else, it felt incredible to actually FINISH something. It’s short, (only 1500 words) but it’s done.

So… I’m going to edit it tonight and send it out in the morning. There is a short little snippet to available to read here to wet your whistle. Check back later for the completed version.

And then! back to our regularly scheduled novel.

Footprints

footprintsmini And “Footprints” is OUT! Only 99 cents for the weekend.

A short story about a man who loses his father, and goes away to a cabin in the woods to deal with the memories and emotions that threaten to overwhelm him.

But he isn’t alone. There’s something in the woods. And now it’s stalking him.

This story has an underlying paranormal aspect, but like most of my tales it is about the human aspect. The emotion and the lose. The paranormal aspect is just a backdrop.

Designing the cover for this one was fun. The footprints started as bear prints in the snow. I had to add an extra toe, and reshape them to give them the right aspect. The trees, are also free-form with a little texture from snow covered trees thrown in.

Also, I have to say that it feels good to publish something. I haven’t published anything since October. It’s understandable since I’ve been working so hard on my novel, but after putting out so many short stories and novellas it almost felt like I was neglecting my publications. The fact that “Zombie Swarm” has been so difficult to write doesn’t make it any easier.

“Mermaids Curse” is now 85% finished, and getting closer every day. I’m working on the ending at the moment. It’s become a high fantasy novel, filled with magic and curses, with an underlying love story that runs through it.

Maybe that’s what my stories are. Stories of heart, lose, and love, set in fantastical places. I love the idea of creating new worlds, and creatures. I love using magic or advance science to do things that aren’t quite possible in this world. But the human aspect, the heart, is just as important.  Now I just need to come up with a tagline for that.

Necessary End – A Short Story

A few days ago I listened to a podcast and they were talking about an experiment in which a computer was left to evolve on its own, learning to be as efficient as possible. This computer, supposedly, learned to calculate the routes through each chip depending on atoms, and electrical states of each path. It made itself faster, but in so doing it also made itself un-repairable. The computer would only work with that particular chipset, since it was calibrated for that chipset. Once replaced it had to relearn everything again.

I tried to find any reference to the article, but I couldn’t manage to find it.

This story was inspired by that little conversation. A simple, short story. So short that I’m giving it away for free.

If you like it, and would like to read more of my short stories, you can get the full collection of them here.

 

~~Necessary End~~

“We can’t save her.”

The words were so final. They fell on my ears like lead shot piercing my heart. I wanted to fight against it, rebel, scream!

“What do you mean you can’t save her?” I yelled. “She’s wires and components. A machine! Of course you can save her, just take out the broken bits and replace them with new ones!”

Was I hysterical? Did it matter anymore? They had to save her! Didn’t they?

“I wish it were that simple,” he said, lowering his gaze. “She’s a machine, yes, and we can replace many of her parts, but others aren’t as easy to replace, or even repair. It would be like replacing part of your brain with someone else’s. She would function, but she wouldn’t be herself anymore.”

“Then… she’s dying?”

I could tell he wasn’t use to dealing with flesh and blood people. His oil stained smock, and soft hands stained with black and blue marks set him apart. He, like me, cared more about his machines then the people who employed him to keep them running.

So why couldn’t he fix her?

He laid a hand on my shoulder, and I had to work not to shake him off. “I’m sorry. You’ll have some time to say good bye, but her memory is going into a cascading failure. The system won’t last until morning.”

“Can you save any of her?”

“Memories, images, pictures. But not the core structure. Not her. It would be an incomplete copy, incompatible with anything else.”

I slumped in on myself. Some part of me screamed no, but I knew I had to except it. I’d heard of the cascading failures before. The droids were so complex, so individualized, that no two were alike. You could change a joint, an arm, a processer… but the core, the brain, wasn’t replaceable. It just wouldn’t communicate with any other system. The memories could be transferred, data, images, sound, and text, but it wouldn’t be her.

“Go,” he said, patting me awkwardly. “Spend her last moments with her. I think she’d like that.”

I walked into the next room and saw a table with a tin sheet covering a lump. Kathryn.

She looked so vulnerable under that flimsy covering. Wires and metal bits were sticking out from under the cloth, some of them plugged into gadgets on the wall. I didn’t understand any of the read outs, but I understood the meaning.

Kathryn turned as I approached, and gave me a smile. Her large green eyes blinked, the pink hair I’d given her was laying on the table beside the bed. I gently picked it up, and helped her put it back on. She picked it out, she should have it now.

The covering was flat against Kathryn’s chest, and I lifted it up just enough to see underneath… Her chest cover had been removed. Her insides bare for the world to see. Wires, servos, micro computers, all of it flashing and whirring along as it should be.

I lowered the cloth again, patting it down in place, before sitting down beside her, careful of all the cords.

“I’m so sorry, Kathryn. I should have been paying attention. You shouldn’t have jumped out in front of that car just to save me.”

“You’re safe, miss. That is all that matters. You were always my highest priority.”

She lifted my hand to her cheek, a tear sliding down the pseudo flesh surface.

“They can’t save you,” I said, finally admitting it to myself, too. “They said your memory banks were too damaged.”

“I know. I knew before we arrived, but I held out hope… for you.”

“For me? But why?”

“I didn’t want to cause you any more pain, miss.”

“Oh, Kathryn, I love you. I don’t know what I’ll do without you.”

Kathryn patted my head, her fingers stiff and unwieldy. She was already losing some of her mobility as her processor shut down functionality.

“You’ll go on, miss, as you always have. You’ll meet new people, and experience new things. You’ll love, and live, and laugh. And sometimes you’ll remember me and cry a few tears. But mostly I hope memories of me make you happy.”

“He said he’d save your memories for me.”

“Yes, I’m glad. There are many pictures and videos I am sure you’ll enjoy remembering.”

“I’d give them all up, every one of them, to keep you alive.”

Kathryn’s face twitched in a smile, then flattened. The monitor beside her began a long, loud beep that never ended.

I laid my head on her stiff shoulder and cried. My oldest, and dearest companion, and she was gone. They always told us computers were replaceable. They weren’t like humans who eventually wore away and died. Computers, and the androids built with them, could live forever if you just kept replacing parts, right?

But some parts can’t be replaced.

 

The Pretty Leaf (A free story)

On the last Self-Publishing Round Table, John Ward, one of my co-hosts, made a comment about flash fiction, and specifically stories that often have a character contemplating the pretty leaves. So, I responded by writing a story entitled “The Pretty Leaf”.

I wanted to have “The Camera” out by now, but it’s going slower than I thought. I know what needs to happen, how it happens, and where everything goes. The words just don’t want to come out.

So, instead of putting out “The Camera” this week, I have “The Pretty Leaf” for you, thanks to John Ward.

The story is below, in its entirety.

I encourage you to let me know what you think of it. How it strikes you. I know that it struck me, personally. I hope it does for others as well.

 Follow the “more” tag to read the story.

 

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