Fiction, Fiction (Short)

Candle in the Window

When we discovered Redfall Gap, hope and excitement ran high, and while most paid lip service to caution and cold wisdom, it was hard to lend too much focus to the dangers and unknowns. And when the probes sent back their first readings, confirming that this glittering, undulating anomaly was just as much a passage to another galaxy as we had imagined, wariness seemed like an unnecessary precaution.

We knew better, of course. Every one of us had seen enough things go wrong when they should have gone right that thoroughness and triple checking were worked into our bones. And we also knew that no matter how much care you put into anything, there’s no such thing as a guarantee. Not really.

So when my best friend volunteered to pilot the ship for the first manned expedition, I met the announcement with mingled envy and dread as well as giddy exultation. If I couldn’t go myself, this was at least the next best thing.

And she deserved it. She, who’d been a pilot longer than I’d been a scientist. She, who’d dreamed of taking the best ships to the strangest places since we were both kids. She, who knew the risks and laughed at them while I followed a more careful path.

If anyone had the skills and experience to be prepared for this, it was her. And her handpicked crew of three.

Preparations took a month. More tests. More readings. More specialized equipment for the Distant Horizon, the vessel that would take them through. More training. More time for this mad venture to become normal. More time to deafen us to the nervous mutterings in the backs of all our minds.

Launch Day came. The Horizon detached from its dock on Platform One, our tiny station home. She brought up power and glided towards the Gap and all the unknown beyond it. Away from us.

And then they entered and were gone.

We received one message, reporting safe passage and transmitting their initial scans from the other side. We received a second six hours later, and a third six hours after that.

Then, nothing.

The next scheduled check-in passed in silence. And the one after that. And every one following.

Our optimism faded like a dream, replaced by sickened knots in the pits of our stomachs. I told myself that she knew what she was doing, that there were a thousand ultimately harmless reasons they might have missed their check-ins. We checked our arrays and our systems. We tested our sensors and our communications rigs.

We geared up another probe and sent it through the Gap, just in case. It went through safe and sound, its connection never faltered. But it found no trace of the Horizon.

Some talked about outfitting a second ship, though we knew it would never happen. You don’t throw good money after bad. You don’t send a second ship when you don’t know what silenced the first. So all we could do was to find some way to make it safe enough to try again.

But that was easier said than done. We’d done everything we could think of before we sent the Horizon through—now we had to find new things, new holes, new possibilities when we had already exhausted every obvious avenue. And we had to do it with grief hanging over us instead of thrilled excitement.

We tried. Hard. But the exploration corps that funded our project lost interest once the Horizon vanished. After three weeks, they informed us apologetically that they were not in a position to continue paying for a dormant expedition. We were welcome to keep the platform and the equipment; it was ours. They just couldn’t justify the cost of additional supplies and living stipends.

After that, everything shut down. The support staff left. The techs left. Physicists, astronomers, engineers—everyone went in a steady stream that turned into a flood, until finally only four of us remained. We crept around the emptied platform like ghosts, stretching our rations, funding ourselves out of our own savings, scraping all we could from what we had and dragging it out until there was nothing left.

Then we gave up too, with nothing gained for all our begged and borrowed time.

We’d boosted all our sensors, all our comms, cobbling them together from bits and pieces we stole from things we counted less important. We accomplished technological feats. Our station’s eyes and ears reached farther then they ever had before with fewer needs. Maybe it wasn’t an elegant system or the most resilient, but the vast distances its signals crossed was something we could be proud of.

For all the good it did. We found nothing. No stray transmissions. No sensor ghosts. No drifting hulls. Nothing that gave us the slightest indication that the Horizon was there at all, or ever had been. If we hadn’t had the logs from those three precious check-ins, we might have convinced ourselves that they’d never happened at all. And I might have found some other way to explain the loss of my best friend.

After that, we abandoned the station too, out of hope and out of ideas, sixteen weeks, four days, and three hours from the time the Horizon went missing. We left a comm buoy behind on the far side of the Gap, programmed to broadcast its message on repeat: Platform One to research vessel Distant Horizon, all attempts to contact you have failed. We have run out of supplies and are forced to abandon station. We haven’t forgotten about you. We’ll be back in one year to come looking for you again. Message recorded 2619.04.13.14.30. End of recording.

And that was that. The best we could do, useless as it was. And no matter how I tried to avoid it, I knew our project had collapsed with a sigh and a whimper. I knew my best friend was gone forever.

We loaded the few supplies we still had on the one remaining jumpship. We checked the sensors one last time, more out of habit than hope. Then, finding nothing, we left.

Afterwards, we didn’t stay in contact. Or I didn’t. The others might have, but I, in my sorrow, kept to myself. I found some job on some station and used it to feed myself and put a bed beneath my bones. I made acquaintances, never friends. I let my pain grow dull. Numb. I forced myself to heal, or maybe just to scar. Either way the bleeding stopped.

And all the while I kept track of the days, the weeks, the months.

The year passed. I shook myself from my fog of unmanaged grief long enough to hire a jumpship and to contact the others. One I couldn’t find. Another couldn’t take the time to make the trip. The third promised to meet me at the same station we had all set out from together so long ago, and we could go the final leg together.

In the end, we reached the silent, abandoned station two days before the time we’d promised. But that was alright. We could wait. And while we waited, we took comfort in each other’s presence. We barely spoke; there was nothing to say. Instead, we spent the time restarting all the platform’s systems. To our mild surprise, only the link to the probe had gone down, battered by some stray asteroid and unnoticed by the cannibalized systems. It took less than a day to complete the handful of repairs.

I was the one to bring them back online. My hand hesitated above the command-board, wavering as buried emotions came hurtling back, ripping through the cloud I’d wrapped myself in. For a moment, my fears spun all around me. I knew better than to hope. This was more for closure than for rescue. More for us than them.

Something like shame washed over me. We’d spent all this time and all these resources on something that couldn’t be. It was idiotic.

But we’d promised.

And so my hand keyed the commands and started all the systems. They came up, one by one, humming, chirping, reaching out to see the universe. And there it was, the probe we’d left behind with our message for the Horizon. Now the message was for us.

Distant Horizon to Platform One: we ran into a little trouble, but we’re alright. Took some damage and had to find a place to land. Found a way to get your message from the ground. Coordinates are 152.777.459 from point of entry. Watch that gravity well a few hours in. That’s what got us. Looking forward to coming home. Message recorded 2619.07.21.19.37. End of recording.

I sat for a second, stunned. My cheeks went numb. My hands tingled. My heart beat faster than it should have, and I couldn’t breathe. But only for a moment. Then I ran for my companion. We had work to do.

Originally published as part of the 2021 Tenth Anniversary Writing Contest on shortfictionbreak.com.

Musings

[Blog] The Winds

The Santa Anas have returned to Southern California. At the moment, they’re not particularly warm. Or they aren’t where I am. I’m grateful for that; it’s still eerily windy, but it isn’t miserably hot at the same time. Maybe that means that fire danger is a hair lower, too. Maybe.

Despite the potential trouble they bring with them, I’ve always loved these windy days. They make me restless, as if I need to join them. As if I need to leap and climb and run. Sometimes, the feeling would come even before I consciously realized it was windy, and everything would make a sort of sudden sense as soon as I saw the flailing tree branches through the window. In college, I spent a lot of those nights running all over campus.

It makes sense, then, that winds in literature are harbingers of change. Mary Poppins arrives when “the wind’s in the east”. In Greek myth, the Anemoi were the four gods of the four winds: north, south, east, and west, and they brought the change of seasons. And then there’s that whole phrase: the winds of change.

Maybe that’s why I like those windy days so much. Ironic, given how uncomfortable I am with change in general. But when the winds are high and the breezes playful, it makes one imagine that something is about to happen. A story is about to begin. Someone is about to go on an adventure. Maybe it’s you or me.

Musings

[Blog] Imitation and Flattery

Sometimes, you find a story that lodges itself somewhere deep in your soul. Maybe you know why, or maybe you just can’t figure it out. Either way, whether it’s something you watch or something you read, something about it resonates with you and grips you and won’t let go. And then, if you’re like me, you want to figure out what it is so that you can make your own stories do the same thing. Which then leads to the fear that you’re going to accidentally just rewrite the thing that inspired you in the first place.

Now, first. I know. There’s nothing new under the sun. So-called “originality” is an impossible dream. But that’s not what I’m talking about here; there’s a huge difference between writing a story that involves elves and halflings and an evil world, and writing one about a halfling called Fauxdo and his loyal friend Hamwise saving the world by throwing an amulet of power into a river lava. And unfortunately, when trying to capture the same sort of excitement that is caused by a specific work of fiction, it can be far too easy to fall back on the specific scenes that were your favorites. Or the specific characters who captured your imagination.

Then again, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So maybe there’s a middle ground.

At the moment, my best answer is this: try to figure out what it is that captured your imagination in the first place, and why it is that this particular story seems to resonate with you the way it does. I know. That’s hard. REALLY hard. Because to do that, you have to get through to the heart of the story, past all the shiny stuff on the outside that you might also really like. But if you can do that, if you can figure what the story is actually about, at its core, then it becomes easier to tell a story about that same theme. For example: Fringe. Fundamentally, it’s a story about family, and how a family has to face truly terrible odds and dangers together. Yes, I’m still talking about Fringe. Because that’s the latest thing that’s lodged itself in my mind.

So if, to continue the example, you enjoy a particular story because it’s about a family and how they have to survive insurmountable odds, if you were to write a story about a different family and their own insurmountable odds, then perhaps it will create the same sort of soul-nourishing yearning that the other story created. And yet, it won’t be the other story. It will be your own, because you are answer the same question in your own words, colored by your own experiences and knowledge. And unless I miss my guess, that’s what writing is all about.

Musings

[Blog] Scavenger

Writers are scavengers. We ought to be, at any rate. We pick out pieces of the world we live in and leave them in the words we put on the page like a magpie stealing shiny trinkets. Maybe it’s a word we like, one that means the same thing as two or three others but has the perfect connotation– such as exasperated; it’s like annoyed, and even more like vexed, but if your character is exasperated there’s a lighter note to it that’s missing from the others.

Or maybe it’s the emotions that well up inside us when we are reunited with a dear friend we haven’t seen in years. I imagine they’re the same feelings that surge in our characters’ bellies when they finally, finally return to their loved ones after the chaos of their story.

Or it’s the cold gust of autumn wind that chills a warm day, reminding us that summer is over and winter is coming, and it’s the smell of wood smoke and fallen leaves beckoning us homeward before the early darkness shrouds our way.

Or it’s the aching exhaustion that clings to your bones after a long day of hard work.

Or the way you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can trust your closest friends.

Or maybe it’s just the last story you read, or watched, or listened to. The one that wrapped the vines of its tale around your heart, sharing with you some truth about being human in a broken world that resonated like a rung bell.

In some ways, even the best writers are anything but original, and the best pieces of their stories are made up of truth, and not whole cloth. Because that’s why we can connect with them the way we do. And that’s what makes them so important.

Fiction

Emergency Medical Werewolves

Hey guys! So, my schedule at work has me working 24 hour shifts on the ambulance. It’s “just” interfacility transports, but I still find it pretty awesome. That being said, the hours do get funky. So maybe we can blame the following on a late night, sleep deprived brainstorm. Because I think that’s actually pretty accurate. I hope you find it as amusing as I do!

Look. Just hear me out. Because if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Werewolves would make fantastic EMTs.

Wait! Stop! Quit backing away slowly and just listen! Ah, shoot– and put down that little silver figurine you keep on your desk! You don’t need it! What are you…? Yip! Quit throwing things! That’s completely uncalled for.

Alright, look. I’ll stay here on this side of the room, you stay there on that side of the room, and we can talk about this like civilized people. At least one of us is? Now that’s just mean. You’ll give me two minutes? Great! That’s all I need.

So! Werewolves as EMTs. First, the obvious. Ambulances run all night long. Werewolves are great at night! We– ah– they do their best work when the moon is up and the sun is not, so no need to worry about them not being awake.

Second, werewolves are strong. Great for lifting gurneys and moving patients. Also great for general emergency situations. Need something moved out of the way so you can get to someone who might be injured? They got you! Can’t find a jack to help change that flat tire? Just have your friendly neighborhood werewolf lift the car for you! Need an imposing presence so that no one gets in your way while you’re patching someone together long enough to get them to the hospital? No one wants to fight a werewolf.

Okay, so that last one may have more to do with teeth and claws than strength, but the point stands.

Third, rumor has it that the weirdest stuff happens when the full moon is out. So why not harness the weirdness (look, even I’ll admit werewolves are a little weird) and have it work in your favor? If your partner’s a werewolf, you’ll get that fuzzy advantage any night, but especially when the moon is full– when you just might happen to need it the most.

Fourth, ‘wolves are naturally familiar with using something like a siren to communicate with their surroundings. Because basically, a siren is just a howl that tells everyone where you are and to get out of the way.

Fifth, werewolves are great team players. Comes with being the sort of creature that thrives in a pack. Plus, all those scary stories you hear about werewolves being “bloodthirsty monsters” are from the ones that aren’t socialized and don’t have a pack. I can already guarantee that any ‘wolf that wants to be an EMT is going to be the type that is well socialized, and they’ll form a pack with their partner anyway. Problem solved!

And– what’s that? My two minutes are up? Okay, cool. That’s all I needed to say. Will you at least think about it? Great!

Wait, who are you calling? The local paranormal detectives? Ah, heck, those guys are mean. Fine! I’m leaving! I’m going! Just think about it?

Yip!

Musings

[Blog] Last Stretch Camp ’21

Three days left! And after a quick writing session this morning, my current wordcount for this Camp NaNo event is sitting just above 42k. My sister and I have exchanged fourteen different prompts, so I have fourteen different stories in various stages of being written, and while most of them are terrifyingly rough, I really, really like the ideas, and I can’t wait to start polishing.

At the risk of jinxing myself, I think I might actually be making this goal, and I’m very excited. I am also looking forward to the time next month to start working on Tanner and Miranda in earnest again, this time with the rust knocked off and a writing habit formed again!

How about you guys? Anyone reading who’s also doing Camp NaNo? How are you feeling about your projects?

Musings

[Blog] If at first you don’t succeed…

Well. It’s here again. Camp NaNo. My nemesis. My white whale. The one that got away. The one that consistently defeats me. The one I can’t seem to best. And I, being too stubborn for my own good, am picking up my harpoon and going after it one more time. And my long-suffering sister has agreed to do it with me once again.

Mwahaha?

That being said, we are trying something different this time. For me, I’m hoping that shaking things up a little might actually help me motivate the way I want to, and I might actually end up hitting my goals (yay!) and I dragged my sister along in it because I don’t like doing things alone. Specifically, we’re going to be giving each other writing prompts every other day and writing a series of short stories– or whatever comes to mind. And the prompts can be anything! Traditional writing prompts… songs… pictures… anything we find.

I’m so excited! And here we are, June 30… the first prompts have been exchanged… let Camp NaNo commence!

Musings

[Blog] Two Hundred

Somehow, this will be the two hundredth post on this blog. Cue the gasps– I know I’m surprised! It’s been just over three years since I started this venture, and though I’ve hit a few bumps in the past nine months or so, it’s been an incredible experience so far and I’m already looking forward to the next two hundred posts.

So, first of all, thanks to everyone reading these things. I’m so grateful for every single one of you, especially those of you who keep coming back.

Second of all… I don’t have anything to post up yet, but the writing front for Tanner and Miranda has been going better lately than it has in a long time, which is so exciting! I think I complained a while back about the fact that I was having a hard time re-remembering how to write Miranda’s voice, but I seem to have passed that hump, and the snarky banter is coming along quite well, in my opinion. So, keep an eye out! If all goes as planned, I’ll be posting up some excerpts again sometime soon. Because I’m a writer, and it’s SO nice to be able to prove that again. Ha!

Anyway! Thanks again for sticking around thus far, and I hope you’re as excited as I am to see the next two hundred posts.

Musings

[Blog] Lost and Found

One of my favorite tropes has got to be the one where something or someone that was lost and/or destroyed comes back. Sometimes it happens just in time. Sometimes it’s what lets the heroes know that they might have a fighting chance after all. Sometimes it’s one of the heroes themselves that returns. Whatever it is, it’s the sort of thing that gives me chills.

Given the nature of this, there’s going to be some spoilers in the following for Mass Effect 2, Pacific Rim, and the Lord of the Rings. Nothing too major, but if you haven’t read/played/watched, consider yourselves warned!

In Mass Effect, it’s that moment near the beginning of the second game when Commander Shepard gets the Normandy SR2– along with Joker. After the shock of the game’s prologue, which involved the destruction of the Normandy SR1 (which you grow deeply attached to in the first game), along with the death of Shepard him/herself and the scattering of the surviving crew, getting your first indication that the resurrected Shepard might actually have a few familiar things to hold onto in their continuing quest to save the galaxy is a powerful moment.

It’s a very similar scene in Pacific Rim when the rebuilt Gipsy Danger is revealed both to Raleigh in the audience. The last time Raleigh saw Gipsy Danger was in the battle where his brother and copilot was killed and the Jaeger itself was badly damaged. Because the movie has been following Raleigh so closely up to this point, it’s impossible not to catch some of the emotions that Raleigh himself feels at seeing the giant mech again.

Last, but certainly not least, in the Lord of the Rings we have the turning point in the battle at Helm’s Deep, when Gandalf returns with Eomer in tow. I should point out here that the version of this that I personally found most moving is actually the movie version. In the books, it’s a different commander who arrives with Gandalf, as Eomer is already in Helm’s Deep with the others. In the movies, though, it’s the very fact that Eomer was exiled that made it so powerful. Well. That and the gorgeous cinematography as our heroes’ reinforcements arrive from the east on the dawn of the third day.

At first blush, it might not seem like the third example fits with the others all that well, but let me try to explain. In all of these, we have something strong, working for good, that was broken. The Normandy was destroyed. Gipsy Danger was damaged badly enough to put it out of commission. Eomer, despite his loyalty to his king, was forced into exile because of Wormtongue’s machinations. And then, despite all odds, they come back. A new, better Normandy is built and returned to Shepard’s command. Gipsy Danger is repaired and piloted again to save the world. Gandalf brings Eomer back to save the lives of his king (and uncle!) and his people. And it all happened when the audience wasn’t quite expecting it. Or maybe, when the audience wasn’t quite daring to hope for it, because it seemed too impossible. And that, I think, is part of what makes this such a strong storytelling technique.

As a Christian, I find it impossible not to connect this to Christ’s death and resurrection as well. We have the loss in the crucifixion, followed by the period of hopelessness and sorrow and uncertainty about how things were going to go forward. And then he came back. And it wasn’t the end after all.

Musings

[Blog] A short musing on character voice

As you might have noticed if you’ve read any of the excerpts and stories from Tanner and Miranda’s adventures, Miranda is unapologetic and tends not to waffle. As you may have noticed from reading pretty much any of my blog posts… I am not. Certainly not to the same degree, at least. We can read more into that later. For now, I’ll just add that this makes writing from Miranda’s perspective (which I’m doing– I swear!) occasionally tricky, particularly when I’m out of practice (which I definitely am). My prose keeps ending up with extra words that I would say, and Miranda never would, and I end up glaring at my screen and deleting the offending phrases, only to realize that I still haven’t said what I need to say. I know I should just accept the rough draftiness of it and just push through, content to ruthlessly chop out said phrases later, but the part of me that wants to go slow and get it “right” the first time is still winning out.

For now.