Greylands

Write All the Words!

It’s November again. I realise it has been for a while, but I got so caught up in Greylands promo that I kind of failed to notice. Then it got really cold (and then warm, and then snow, and then freezing, and tomorrow warm).  Aside from book promotion, November is also known for this little tradition called National Novel Writing Month, dubbed affectionately (or with extreme horror by writers) as NaNoWriMo.  50k in 30 days.

I was possessed to try for it again this year, and so far, despite a pretty busy schedule, I have reached 21k as of last night. The project itself is coming along slowly – haven’t had this much trouble getting an idea out since my university paper on The Linguistic Importance of Word Trees – but it’s been great to get back into the routine of writing. For me that’s the point of NaNo: not the winning, but the good discipline habits I develop.

As a side project, I’m editing the sequel to Evensong, called Eventide. I’m in love with it. I managed to write that one in a NaNo-esque sprint in August. 102k in one month, and I have no idea how I managed it. Obviously it now needs to be torn apart and put back together, but overall I’m happy with it.

All this isn’t to say I’ve already put Greylands on the shelf and forgotten about it! A buddy of mine did a promo podcast on Tuesday, which you can listen to here (be prepared for some language), and I’m throwing my first ever Release Party tomorrow night! Sure it’ll probably turn out to be more pub night than big event, but I’m so grateful to everyone who’s coming and getting involved with it. I’m surrounded by a pretty amazing group of people.

Before I head off, I’ll leave you with a few of the words that I’ve written this NaNo:

The deeper I drove into this labyrinth of multiplexes and corner stores, the more I wished I’d repaired the lock on my driver door before leaving home. Dark figures lingered in alleyways and, in spite of the weather, women stood on street corners in suggestive outfits that didn’t do much to fend off the cold.

Pushing the car past them as quickly as I could with the poor roads, I swung another left, hoping this time I’d chosen the right direction.

That’s when I first laid eyes on the office building and what would become my home. It was a squat concrete multiplex of three floors, with a rundown veranda on the side. Looking more like a hostel than any upscale business, it gave off a vibe that made me want to drive back home. I probably should have listened to that voice. God knows my life would be very different now if I had.

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Greylands Interview: K.L. Schwengel

Last but far, far, far from least, we have the creator of Fletch, by far the most dangerous character in the Greylands world (with the possible exception of Jack because, honestly, that man has issues that weren’t explored nearly enough in Round 1 of this project): K.L. Schwengel. She has posted a couple of excerpts from Fletch’s chapters on her Wednesday WIPpet series, so be sure to check them out for a preview!

KW: Other than a fabulous contributor to Greylands, who are you?

kls: Who is anyone? Really? Okay, bad answer. Let’s see . . . I’m a hopeless introvert and terribly private person which makes tooting my own horn something of a challenge for me, and questions like this akin to having bamboo shoved under my fingernails. I could easily live as a hermit as long as I had indoor plumbing, copious supplies of Guinness, dark chocolate, coffee, red wine, Irish Mist, wifi, and my laptop. I am the self-proclaimed keeper of *the* flying monkeys (they needed someplace to go after the whole Oz debacle), a wife, an author, an artist, a sometime photographer. I raise, train and trial working Australian Shepherds and, by extension, raise Katahdin sheep as well. I am the youngest of nine children. My mother was a librarian, my father a dreamer and jack of many trades. I have a day job that both supports and interferes with my passions in life. I exist merely to serve Her Royal Highness Princess Fiona the Cat (or so she believes).

KW: Small blog serial or not, it took a lot of guts to contribute to the project. What drew you to it?

kls: You started out with such an intriguing premise it was hard not to be drawn in. Plus, if I recall, I needed something to take my mind off the all-consuming projects I was working on at the time. It was fun to come play in someone else’s world.

KW: Absolutely all-consuming. Seeing all the projects you’re working on, I’m amazed you have time to finish any of them! Why did you choose the characters that you did? Did you know when you started with them that they would turn out the way they did?

kls: Quite honestly, Fletch chose me. I had no say in the matter. He appeared out of nowhere after reading the first installment and, as you know, Krista, it’s best not to get on Fletch’s bad side. I knew he was damaged. I knew he was going to be a problem. But I really had no clue where his path was going to lead. Whether he would survive or not. Each installment he showed me a bit more of himself. Some bits I really didn’t want to see.

KW: What you did to me, I’ll do to you: Other than your own character, who was your favorite?

kls: Hands down, Maverick. C’mon, give a guy a Scottish accent and I’m a puddle of mush. Added to that, even though he acted tough, and his choice of routes to introduce Alexis to Jack was . . . well . . . not the best, he’s got a soft side. And he’s very loyal. I admire that. He’s also protective. Yes, he lacks tact and decorum, but everyone has their issues. Pops would run a close second (third after Fletch, of course). He’s the unsung hero.

KW: What other projects do you have going on? Can we expect to see other titles from you?

kls: I’ve always got a ton of projects going on. Too many at times. But I like to keep busy and I don’t have a lot of problem moving from one to the other. That means I can always be writing on something. At the moment, I’m in the editing stage of book two in my Lightness & Dark fantasy series. I’m intending to release that before the end of the year. There’s a fantasy serial I’m working on that needs some massive re-writing/editing. I’m also working on an urban fantasy/paranormal romance, and have another fantasy piece I’m hoping to have completed by the middle of December. Sometime next year I have a short story coming out in a fantasy anthology. That had originally been slated to come out this year, but the publisher had to push it further out.

KW: Where can people find you on the interwebs?

kls: I think there are more than this, but these are the ones I’m likely to be most active on.

My blog: http://myrandommuse.wordpress.com  Where you can find out about my books as well.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KLSchwengel

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KLSchwengelWrites

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6871795.K_L_Schwengel

***

Thank you so much to all of you who joined us for this week of Greylands promo – I hope you enjoyed learning about the voices behind the voices and are interested to pick up a copy of your own! Greylands is now available:

Amazon (Kindle/Paperback)

Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Apple

Kobo

Greylands Interview: Chris Henry

Still two more interviews to go! Chris Henry is the author of Dieb’s stories, set in The Corpse – bandit territory outside the borders of Greylands.

1) Other than a fabulous contributor to Greylands, who are you?

I’m a pop culture addict and Internet cosmonaut with passing interests in history, old horror stories but not movies because oh god no. I’m also really terrible at answering this kind of question. I am a human being filled with useful organs, and most of them are mine.

2) Most of them? I think that’s something to be proud of! Small blog serial or not, it took a lot of guts to contribute to the project. What drew you to it? 

I actually wrote a book with you many years ago and it was not totally awful. I’d been trying to get back into writing again, and you proposed this idea of a collaborated story with a dystopian future setting. It was interesting, and I’m a sucker for a failed future.

3) Why did you choose the characters that you did? Did you know when you started with them that they would turn out the way they did?

The choice I made was out of uncertainty. It was really, really early in the project when I started thinking about what I wanted to do, and the setting wasn’t completely fleshed out yet. I wrote Dieb because he gave me a chance to develop the character without having to worry too much about him meshing with others. It also gave me the opportunity to do a little world building in a world that wasn’t mine. That’s why Dieb started outside the city, and away from everyone else.

4) Other than your own character, who was your favourite?

I’m not sucking up when I say this, but Alexis. She showed a lot of strength when everything hit the fan. She adapts, and overcomes. I love a survivor story.

5) What other projects do you have going on? Can we expect to see other titles from you?

I don’t have any irons in the fire right now, mostly just terrifying ideas rolling around in my skull like loose marbles.

6) Where can people find you on the interwebs? 

I can be found on twitter where I mostly just retweet people funnier and more interesting than myself: https://twitter.com/mrCHENRY

Intrigued? Greylands is available here! And now also here (Barnes & Noble), here (Apple), and here (Kobo)!

Greylands Interview: C.J. Duarte

Day Two of the Greylands interviews! Duarte offered a couple of stories under various pen names, as well as some really inspired contributions that couldn’t find their way in the completed collection, namely a poster and a video. But named or not, I couldn’t allow his efforts to be overlooked into the final compilation and he was gracious enough to answer my questions today.

Before I lead into his interview, for those of your who are interested, you can purchase your very own copy (and figure out which stories might belong to Duarte) here.

And now: C.J. Duarte!

1) Other than a fabulous contributor to Greylands, who are you?

I’m C.J. Duarte–or, depending on which part of Greylands you’re looking at, one or more other names. Other than being a semi-anonymous contributor to this project, I’m a novelist whose big, experimental debut The Dash is currently in mid-release (Volume 1 of 2). My first volume has also been fortunate enough to win the 2013 Readers’ Favourite Silver Medal in the General Fiction category this past month, and was simultaneously made available as an e-book for the first time. 

2) Small blog serial or not, it took a lot of guts to contribute to the project. What drew you to it?

The mysterious premise drew me to it right away, followed by the first chapter, and then the tantalizing offer for anyone to continue the story on any tangent they wanted–within reason, of course–for an unspecified amount of further chapters. That’s probably the other thing that still draws me to it today. The fact that the main author was able to take all these sometimes-disparate elements and wrap them together in a saga that’s both complete and open-ended.

3) Why did you choose the characters that you did? Did you know when you started with them that they would turn out the way they did?

Without revealing too much about certain plots or contributions, I chose the character(s) I did because they seemed more sympathetic to me. So I tried to expand on that as much as possible, to create a contrast with whatever elements I maybe wasn’t as drawn to, even though I respected them all the same. I had no idea if a particular contribution I made would be continued or forgotten about, but that’s the chancey nature of these types of projects, and also what makes them exciting and fresh.

4) Other than your own character, who was your favourite?

If I had to pick just one favourite character, it would probably be Pops. He may’ve been more in the background but to me he was a big part of what held the world together. He, along with certain other characters, was proof that there could be potential for hope and progress, even in a very grim atmosphere.

5) What other projects do you have going on? Can we expect to see other titles from you?

Not a whole lot that I’m comfortable specifying right now, other than my currently released novel. I’ve said in prior conversations that I’m working on similar story ideas that could very well equal or even surpass The Dash on a creative level. Until that ever happens, though, I hope people who read that book are satisfied enough for a while, because I know I would be.

6) Where can people find you on the interwebs?

I try to keep it simple: for now, people can really only “find” me on my official blog-turned-general-website, thedashnovel.blogspot.com, which I update on a fairly steady basis, and where there are lots of interesting sections and materials to explore. And if they’re even more interested, they can acquire Volume 1 of my book at the following clickable links:
Amazon.com (in e-format)
Kobo.com* (in e-format)
* This just became available this past weekend, so the timing couldn’t be better to try it out!
Chapters.ca (in paperback)

Announcement & Greylands Interview: Colin F. Barnes

With every ounce of pride I hold in my body, I hereby announce that Greylands is now available to purchase for Kindle. You can find it riiiiiight here.  It will be available in a variety of other locations, including print, shortly and I’ll be sure to post the links as they come! I’m sitting pretty on cloud nine, but I would never have found my way up here if not for the other authors who helped me out.
As promised, this week I ask the Greylands contributors a few questions to help you get to know them. They’re a wonderful bunch of people and I’m so glad to give them the opportunity to show it!

First off, we have Colin F. Barnes!

1) Other than a fabulous contributor to Greylands, who are you? 

The first honour is definitely writing for Greylands, but other than that, Colin F. Barnes is a publisher and full-time writer of adventure and techno thrillers and a member of both the British Fantasy Society and the British Science Fiction Association. He honed his craft with the London School of Journalism and the Open University (BA, English).

Colin has run a number of tech-based businesses, worked in rat-infested workshops, and scoured the back streets of London looking for characters and stories–which he found in abundance. He has a number of publishing credits with stories alongside authors such as: Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell, and Graham Masterton. He’s currently writing and publishing a post-apocalypse, cyberpunk adventure series ‘The Techxorcist.’

2) Small blog serial or not, it took a lot of guts to contribute to the project. What drew you to it? 

First and foremost it was the excellent first story put up by you (Krista). I loved the world instantly and the characters jumped out of the page. It really grabbed my attention. As I was at the time playing Skyrim and enjoying the quest line with the thieves’ and assassins’ guilds, it really set off my imagination and I just had to take the opportunity and join the project.

3) Why did you choose the characters that you did? Did you know when you started with them that they would turn out the way they did?

 I can refer back to my time playing the Assassin guild quest line with regards to the character. I just find them fascinating, and spurred on by the other stories in the Greylands series, a female assassin appealed to me because of the female protagonist. I originally thought about some kind of ninja or samurai, but didn’t want to follow the tired trope of a male assassin, so Geisha presented herself to me and demanded I write her story.
After I wrote the first episode, I didn’t really know where it was going. Although my stories kind of stand apart a little from the rest of the series, I was definitely informed by what the other contributors were doing, so it was quite exciting to read each story as they went up and work out how I could fit my character into the wider narrative. In some ways that made it easier, as it presented me with a number of elements to work with, but also it made it a bit harder, in that I had to write it in such a way that it still fit the existing world.
I’m happy how it came out, and I think the story of Geisha was stronger for the surrounding Greylands milieu.

4) I’m going to steal this question from Kathi’s interview, because it was mean and I want to share the evil. Other than your own character, who was your favourite?

 It might be an obvious answer, but it was really the main protagonist from the start. Alexis is a girl with a major problem and a world of pain ahead of her if she isn’t quick to act and strong in her convictions. Over the course of the story I love her arc how she goes from the outsider to a fundamental and crucial part of the Shadows.
The author (Krista) did a wonderful job of bringing this young girl into a harsh world. She didn’t just crumble and let herself be taken advantage of. She learned quickly and became a master of her own destiny. I really liked that, and she was one of the many reasons why I wanted to write for the series, and write my character, Geisha.

5) What other projects do you have going on? Can we expect to see other titles from you?

I’m quite busy these days and have a hectic schedule lined up for 2014. Currently, I have two books of my Techxorcist series out: Artificial Evil (Book 1)Assembly Code (Book 2). Annihilation Point (Book 3) is due out in late November/early December. Beyond that, I have a dark adventure novella coming out with DarkFuse in February 2014 called Dead Five’s Pass, and I’m also currently working on a trilogy of techno thriller novels that will remain a secret for a little while longer yet.

6) Where can people find you on the interwebs? 

Where can I be found? I lurk in a number of dark corners of the interwebs, most notably:
– Twitter
– Amazon
– Tumblr
Come and say hello, I don’t bite 🙂
Big thanks to Krista for being so awesome and opening this project up to us. It’s been magic.

A Serial Reanimated

We are now in the wonderful month of October, the month of Halloween, which is the perfect time to bring corpses back from the dead. Like The Corpse. Which, of course is barren bandit territory of what used to be the city Kroeper. This city lies just outside the walls of what some of you may remember as the city of Greylands.

Yes, that is right: Greylands is back. But not in the serial blog post form some of you may have followed, but in a much more compact collection. A published collection.

I’m actually jumping up and down and clapping my hands and making some strange high-pitched squeals of excitement, but fortunately you’re all missing that. Unless you’re my neighbours, in which case: I’m sorry.

I recently had the pleasure to read the serial as a whole, and I think I’m even more impressed by the collection now than I was when it first came out. In spite of being a non-profit, small- (but much appreciated) audienced opportunity, these authors committed themselves to preparing quality stories and I’m so proud of the end result.

Greylands is currently undergoing edits, and is scheduled for an early November release. I hope you’re as excited about that as I am. We should have a cover reveal for you shortly as well, so please come back to check that out and spread the word!

ALSO (and here you thought I was done) I have a few new shiny things to share:

1) I am now a proud … well, an owner of my very own FB page if you feel like sauntering over and giving it a “like”: https://www.facebook.com/kristawalshauthor

2) If FB is the devil and not your cup of tea, I’m also preparing a newsletter you can sign up for! I’ll be sure to post once the link is up and running!

Greylands, part 5: Firefly

By Chelsea Miller

The air was filled with the smell of sulphur and smoke. The familiar rain replaced with ash, falling soft as new snow. Firefly looked around, unsure about her next move. The spontaneous decision to run after Mosh had not left much time for reasoning or plotting. She decided she would first try and think about where Mosh could possibly be. Fly thought back to past conversations, and she remembered he had expressed an interest in the military, or taking down the military, more like. She decided to start there. Keeping to whatever darkness the edge of buildings offered from the harsh spotlights overhead, Firefly made her way toward the army base she knew of nearby. Quiet as a mouse she scurried across patches of light, always stopping to ensure she wasn’t followed. She approached a thin huddle of trees and squatted next to the biggest one. Looking around, she saw tents and guards posted at different spots, along with some patrolling the area. When one approached, she shimmied behind her tree and hid her face in her arm, hoping the guard would walk by without noticing her or hearing her breathe. A few minutes passed and she poked her head around and found she was alone once more. Another look around showed that Mosh was not at this base. Swallowing her disappointment, Fly backed away as quietly as she had come.

Still keeping to the shadows she wandered the city. Realizing that the majority of the conversations she had with Mosh were more or less revolved around her and her anger, she had no clue where to go next to find him. Shoulders slumped, she kicked a rock along the sidewalk, letting her feet guide her to nowhere in particular.

Since Fly had gone topside she’d noticed an increase in security around every entrance to the Shadows, as well as around the Golden Tracks, and this was only after a few hours. Nearly giving up her search for Mosh had given her the insight about the security and now she was stuck up here for God knew how long. She didn’t even know what all the commotion was about.

When she finally lifted her chin, she was nearing the lake that separated the Golden Tracks from the rest of Greylands. She stopped at the edge of the water and closed her eyes for a moment to reminisce about the stories she’s heard growing up. Once, the water had been clear. Not the murky grey that it was today. Her parents remembered playing Marco Polo with rich and poor kids alike. Back then life was simple, a world where a kid could be a kid and the parents were the ones who worried about where the next meal came from or who bought new clothes when the old ones got too small. Now everything was chaos, even more so than a week ago. Now she had to be something she never dreamed she’d be to keep herself fed and clothed.

Frustrated and starting to feel the beginnings of defeat, Firefly walked to a nearby tree and slumped down to sit at the base.

“Ouch!” a deep voice exclaimed. Firefly nearly jumped out of her skin and put a hand over her heart in an attempt to calm it. The figure below stirred and fear caught in her throat as a very tall man stood before her, leaves and dirt sliding from his back. “Who the fuck stepped on my— Fly?” Firefly had cowered next to the tree, but her head snapped up at the sound of her name and she was faced with a very dirt-covered Mosh. Relief and excitement flooded her chest and she jumped up to wrap her arms around his neck. Mosh chuckled and returned her hug.

“You scared the shit outta me!” Firefly said with a playful smack on his arm. Mosh started to chuckle again, but was suddenly serious when his eyes shifted around. “You shouldn’t be here.” he whispered to her, he placed a hand on her lower back and tried to usher her away from the lake and back toward the Shadows. Fly planted her feet and refused to move.

“I need to tell you something, it’s important.” She chewed her lip and watched him. He looked around and led her toward a hidden door and motioned for her to go inside. Stepping down Fly noticed they were in a tunnel.

“What is this place?” She asked Mosh after he came down behind her. He lit a lighter so they could see each other.

“It’s a man-made tunnel that leads to one of the houses in the Tracks, one of Bookworm’s old neighbours apparently.” He shrugged. “Fletch used it to get inside the Tracks, and asked me to cover it up after he’d disappeared. He told me to go back to the Shadows, but everything is blocked off by the pigs so I came back here and hid in the dirt to make sure nothing crazy happened on the other side of the lake. That’s why I was in such a hurry when I saw you in the Shadows, I was on a mission to make sure Fletch didn’t do anything stupid.” Firefly had to stifle a sigh of admiration for her hero, she covered it up with a sneeze. “Bless you,” Mosh said with a smile. She was thankful for the dark tunnel because her blush at his smile was well hidden. He offered her his arm and she took it willingly as he led her through the black.

“So you wanted to tell me something important?” Mosh inquired. Butterflies flapped in her stomach and Fly needed to muster the courage to tell him her secret.

“I’ve been lying to you about something, and I need you to know the truth, but I’m hoping it won’t change how you see me.” She took a deep breath before she went on. “I’m not a thief. I use other ways to get what I need or want, but it’s pretty embarrassing.” Fly mopped the sweat from her brow with her oversized sweatshirt, it was stifling hot in the tunnel.

“Just tell me, I promise I won’t judge you. I beat people up for a living, what could you possibly do that would make me better than you?” Anything would make you better than me, she thought.

“I – I sell…myself, to strangers,” she stammered. “Not for much dough either, most of my customers live in the Tracks. I do steal, but it’s easy, I usually do it when the customers are in the shower or something.” She rushed to get the admission out, and chewed her lip again as she waited for Mosh to answer her. When he didn’t speak right away her anxiety started to flare and she didn’t think he would ever look at her the same way again. “Please say something. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, the only people who knew were Maverick and Jack, of course. I just, I wanted to stay in the Shadows and this was the only way I could, I had no other choice.” She took her hand off of Mosh’s arm, suddenly feeling too disgusting to touch him. Firefly covered her face with her hands and hot tears seeped between her fingers. She felt a hand on her back and she stopped walking, Mosh took her in his arms, she was trembling.

“I wanted you to know because, because I love you. I’ve been in love with you ever since we met a year ago, when you saved me from that ‘rapist’. You can’t see me, but I’m making air quotes around rapist. I was doing this before you found me because I needed to survive somehow.” She took a deep, shuddering breath and Mosh smoothed down her hair. He took her face in his hands and swept away a tear with his thumb. She leaned into him and he brought her mouth to his. She returned the kiss eagerly.

“I love you too Little Fly,” he whispered into her hair. “I always have.” He covered her face and neck with soft kisses. Firefly felt a grin broadening, finally feeling happy for the first time since she can remember.

They continued to make their way down the tunnel hand in hand but stopped before they reached the trap door at the other end. They were able to see a little better here as light flooded down into the tunnel from the house above. The ground beneath their feet felt as if it was vibrating and Fly looked to Mosh with a puzzled expression. Mosh shrugged and climbed the steps to the house but the door was blocked by something.

“I can’t open it; Fletch must have locked the door or something, son of a bitch.” He put all his muscle into his elbow thrusts, but after a few minutes was still unsuccessful.

“Let’s head back the way we came, it’s too damn hot in here.” The minimal light showed him winking and Fly melted into his side. He placed his arm around her and they walked slowly toward the entrance, chattering as they went.

A loud crack behind made them both whip around. They were greeted with a wall of tumbling dirt coming toward them. Mosh grasped her hand and pulled her along. He was shouting for her to run, she must have been staring at the wall like a deer in headlights. When she found her legs she let go of his hand and pumped her arms alongside Mosh. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. When her foot snagged on a root, she crashed to the ground but Mosh was still running ahead of her. She let him go and tried to free herself. Her heart was pounding and she looked back to find the tunnel was caving in. She looked back the way Mosh had gone but he was out of sight.

Firefly smiled to herself as the roof of the tunnel engulfed her. She’d gotten to tell Mosh that she loved him, and she had gotten the satisfaction of having his love in return. They shared a beautiful moment and she was finally happy. Her anger and bitterness toward others had finally been buried and put to rest. For one blissful moment before she ran out of air she was at peace with herself. Fly was ready. He was calling her name but she couldn’t answer him now, she was already gone.

Greylands, Part 4: And a Warm Gun

“Fuck me sideways,” Dingo exhaled. He took the crowbar from Dieb and pried open one of the crates. They weren’t being used as convenient storage; it was packed with plastic-wrapped off-white bricks. “I think it’s C4”. He started to root around the crate and pulled up a metal tin of wires, cylinders, and detonators. “Oh man. Jack is going to love this.”

Dieb tossed him the empty rucksack, and together they loaded as much as they could carry. Between the two bags they got half the crates and all the detonators.

“Jack’s going to shit himse-” Dingo’s head snapped to the side, tilted like a dog’s. A finger pressed to his lips. Dieb heard it too: voices. Someone was outside the door, speaking in hushed tones. They waited, but the door didn’t rattle, the handle didn’t turn.

Dieb grabbed a brick of C4, jammed a detonate in it, and moved towards the door. Dingo came after him, and tore the brick from his hands, a look of bewilderment on his face. He tore off a fist-sized chunk of the brick, and stuck the detonator in that. Dieb passed him the clacker and drew his pistol. At the door, he mimed opening it, and jabbed his gun at it before he mimed a toss. Dingo nodded and cut the lights.

On the other side of the door, six denizens of the Corpse had gathered. They examined the cut lock and the additional footprints. One of them hissed, “We’ve gotta kick them outta there!” They nodded in agreement. He pushed against the door, but it wouldn’t budge. Others joined in, but couldn’t push the door open. “Get some from Fifth street, we’ll bla-”

He was interrupted by the sound of the door as it creaked open, and turned just in time to see the muzzle flash. The bullet grazed his shoulder and sent him reeling backwards. Another shot rang out and struck the man with the lantern square in the chest. They scrambled away for cover as more shots rang out.

Dingo lobbed the C4 into the room and pushed the door shut, sliding the barricade bar into place. The two of them ran to the far corner of the room, staying well clear of the door. In the flashlight’s glow they stared at the clacker, and then Dingo mashed on the trigger. The room shook, and the sound was deafening. Dust leapt from its place of rest and hung in the air like a fog bank. Dieb shook the blast from his ears and shone a light on the now-open door.

In the other room, four of the six were instantly killed. The other two struggled to their feet and cleared the haze from their head just in time to see a figure move through the dust. A shot rang out and one of them yelped as a bullet tore through an artery in his neck. Rich arterial blood spurted from the wound as the heart pumped itself to death. Two more shots found their mark and buried themselves deep into the gut. As he staggered to find balance against a shelf, Dingo stepped out of the cloud and fired the fourth round.

Dieb pushed detonators into a few bricks of C4 and tossed them into the remaining crates. Dingo joined him and dragged the rucksacks out of the store. Handing Dieb the detonator, he shouldered the bag, and together hiked back out of The Corpse in darkness and silence. If anyone else was in town, the blast and gunfire had likely sent them in the opposite direction.

“What’s the range on that thing?” Dingo asked, nodding at the clacker.

“Dunno,” Dieb shrugged, and held it up, “Time to find out.”

Even at the edge of the city, the blast was loud, and sent a plume of dust and debris and fire into the sky, just visible over the surrounding buildings.

“That was cool,” Dingo sighed.

The hike back to Greylands was dull and typical for Dieb, but Dingo continued to be enamoured with the dead countryside. Dingo showed him how to use C4 to make a tiny, but hot camp fire. Even the cold rain didn’t stamp it out. They slept in the day and on the second night  moved as fast as possible with the heavy rucksacks.

They’d arrived at Greylands at first light, and the city was louder than ever. There was activity on the tops of the walls, something he hadn’t seen in years. The guards were on high alert for something. Had their escape been noticed?

“We’ll never get through that,” Dingo groaned. Dieb was already fishing in the bag for a detonator. They approached the wall through what passed for foliage. Dieb molded some C4 around a fist-sized rock and threw it over the wall. The explosion was small, but loud. They could hear the soldiers scramble off the wall, and hopefully moving away from them. Dingo pushed the stone block out of the wall, drew a pistol and stuck his head through the gap. He waved for Dieb to follow and the two of them slipped back into Greylands in the confusion.

Greylands’ streets were either deserted, or occupied by police. The two of them moved around the perimeter of the Shadows, but found all the entrances blocked up, destroyed, or the cops were there hoping to catch thieves. A rock skipped off the pavement, then another. Dingo looked up and saw a familiar face on a rooftop. She waved them up.

“Pops said to look out for your skinny ass,” Mouse whispered, “I’m ta bring you two in.”

“What the fuck’s going on,” Dingo hissed. “What’s with the cops?”

“All’a the shit hit all’a the fans. The cops are crackin’ down. C’mon.”

She led them across the rooftop to a ventilation duct. They lowered the bags down on ropes, and then climbed into the darkness on a rope ladder. Sweat filled Dieb’s nostrils as they descended further down the shaft until they reached a small circular room. A grating lay in the middle. Mouse yanked it free and dropped another rope ladder.

“I ain’t followin’,” she said while she motioned them to climb down. “I’ll lower yer bags when y’down there. Watch yer asses.”

The ladder terminated in Sinner’s Way. The usual squirming masses seemed more listless than lustful. Being bottled up in here hadn’t helped their disposition. A few of them approached Dieb slowly until he shifted his coat to reveal the revolver. Dingo dropped off the rope and thumped to the ground.

“Toss the bags!” he hollered. He caught the smaller bag, and let the other land on the stone floor with a thud. Dieb took his bag from Dingo who scooped up the other one. The rope ladder was hauled back up to the ceiling.

“Jack?” Dieb called up to Mouse.

“He ain’t here! Go see Pops!” She shouted back and pointed the way. The denizens of Sinner’s Way seemed to be paying more attention to him than he was comfortable with, and he rested his hand on the revolver’s rosewood grip.

“Y’all might want to step back,” Dingo motioned, “My friend’s a little sensitive about grabbing.” Dieb look over and realised Dingo had been talking about his own pistol which was now leveled at the crowd. They absconded quickly from the den.

Narrow passes and shuttered doors were a blur as Dieb followed Dingo in a mad sprint to Pop’s. Dingo burst into his home, his breath exhausted.

“Oh good,” he huffed, “you’re here.” Pops glared at him, his scorn barely hidden.

“I ain’t got fucking legs,” Pops snapped. “Of course I’m here.”

Dieb tossed him a brick from the ruck sack. Pops regarded it for a moment, and then grinned madly.

“Fuck me sideways,” he laughed.

“That’s what I said,” Dingo whispered.

Another dagger stare from Pops shut him up. “This’ll make Jack happy,” he mused, “But I got something else for you now. Jack’s headed to City Hall. He’s lookin’ for something. He asked me to ask you to help. He said he’d owe you a favour. A big one, I’d wager.”

“Cops are everywhere,” Dieb protested half-heartedly.

“You got out. And you got back in under a lock down.” Pops laughed, “Besides, you got this.” He pulled a sack off a shelf and handed it to him. Inside Dieb found a police uniform, some blood stains evident on the collar. “Couple of cops thought maybe they could be heroes.” He laughed again. “It didn’t end well.” Pops motioned to the back room.

Dieb found the uniform made for a much shorter, but stockier man. The pants ended above his ankles, but would fall off if not cinched with a belt. The revolver didn’t fit in the holster, so he tucked it into his waist band and donned the battered hat.

“Well you look like an asshole,” Dingo remarked.

“I feel like one,” Dieb sighed. “Shortest cop alive.”

“Wouldn’t say ‘alive’,” Pops chuckled. “Dingo will show you out one of the special exits.”

More narrow halls and empty rooms. Tattered fabric and bits of glass littered the ground. Before long they were topside. Dingo handed him the rucksack. “Good luck,” he said as he closed the door and disappeared into the Shadows.

The raincoat hid the small jacket, and Dieb bloused the pants into the boots to make them look a bit longer. He passed through the police lines without notice, but he still kept his head down and avoided eye contact. Most of the patrols were too occupied with the harassment of citizens, or standing under awnings and in doorways to stay out of the rain. The promise of a big favour from Jack was all the spurred him forward through increasingly thicker patrols. They became more numerous the closer he got to the gates of the Tracks.

At the gates itself he found a larger blockade. As he approached, a tall thin cop moved towards him, his eyes locked on him. “You!” he called out. “Hold up.” Dieb pretended he hadn’t heard and did not stop. “With the bag!” the cop shouted, this time his hand was on his gun. Dieb stopped but his heart sped up.

“Where you heading?” Dieb recognized the man; he was the cop one of Jack’s boys had beaten to unconsciousness. He looked over the man’s shoulders and was unsurprised his fatter partner.

“City hall,” he replied.

“No one’s supposed to go there. Who told you to go?”

“My sergeant,” without a missed beat.

Your sergeant told you,” the cop laughed. He grabbed Dieb by the collar and stared at him. “Your rank says you are a fucking sergeant.” He shoved Dieb back and drew his gun, “And who the fuck blouses their pants. Get his bag.”

The fatter cop yanked the bag off Dieb’s shoulder, and patted him down.

“What’s that?” he asked. “Open your coat slowly or my friend’ll shoot you in the head.”

Dieb slowly pulled the zipper open, his heart going faster and faster, his mind reeling for an escape route.

“That’s my gun!” the Fat Cop shouted, and the whole world exploded.

Greylands, Part 4: Through the Shadows

Maverick stared at shop’s door, mind buzzing with what-ifs.

“What in seven hells is Jack thinking?” he demanded, not for the first time. He felt Pops’s gaze, gauging his reactions, and turned his back ever so slightly towards him.

“I’m sure he has his reasons, boy,” Pops replied in his gruff, dry voice. “Since when do you question anything Jack does?” A different question hung silent between them.

“Since he started making daft decisions like that,” Maverick answered.

Pops snorted. “Maverick, son, I love you like my own, but you’ve never understood why Jackie’s done anything. And you’ve never cared. You go along because you know he’s the leader type. He makes the rules, you break ‘em. S’how it’s always been.”

“The Detour?” Maverick argued.

“Sinner’s Way?” Pops countered, eyebrow cocked.

Maverick’s face blended in with his hair and he glared down at the counter top. “That didn’t put her in danger,” he grumbled. “You know damned well she might not make it through.”

Pops raised a shoulder. “She’s a bright kid, and a quick learner. As long as she remembers the basics, she’ll be fine.”

“I don’t see why he needs to take the chance.”

Pops punched Maverick’s shoulder and he nearly fell off his stool. “Then what the hell are you still doing sitting here? You worried? Make yourself useful. What do you expect me to do about it? Wheel with them into the Tracks?”

“Jack said-”

“He didn’t say you weren’t going,” Pops reminded. “And if he does? Do what you do best.”

“And what’s that?”

Pops’s wrinkled face lit up and he clapped his hand on Maverick’s shoulder, staring him down. “Be immovable.”

 

#

 

Reason had climbed up the scaffolding-turned-apartment structure that sat against the wall in her tent city. She’d been hit with inspiration to paint that morning and felt a new perspective was in order. Up seemed a good choice. She sat with her legs dangling over the side, the end of her brush in her mouth as she studied the comings and goings. It was hard to narrow in on what she wanted to capture, there was so much life in this room. Fires blazed from small pits scattered across the platform and down the darkness of the tunnels. Dirty, pinch-faced kids laughed with each other, sharing the spoils of their thievery; a mother cuddled her child, tears on her cheeks because her milk had dried up and the baby was starving, but then there was Pipsqueak coming up and offering the edge of a condensed milk can.

They were united in their suffering. None of them would mourn if someone was lost – they had lost so many in the few days since the lockdown – but no one would leave anyone to starve either. It was what had kept the Shadows going for as long as it had. What made people search them out. It was what she loved about being a part of the darkness. While the full belly was a blessing she was grateful for every day, there was so much more to appreciate from this motley group.

Her sights fell on someone everyone here had to thank. Maverick strode across the platform like a man on a mission, which struck Reason as unusual. Maverick never “strode”. He loped. He was feline in his movements, and used his grace to his advantage, being the best pickpocket on the streets – even better than she was. No one ever suspected him.

Curiosity won over her inspiration and she set aside her tools and unfinished sketches, climbing down the rungs of the scaffolding to chase after him.

“What’s your hurry, Red?” she asked.

“I’ve no idea what you’re about, lass,” he answered without slowing down.

“Any faster you’d be running,” she teased, stretching her own long legs to keep up. “Fire we should know about?”

“Not yet.” He mumbled it, and Reason wasn’t even sure she’d heard correctly. Okay, clearly not in a talking mood. But she knew his buttons. “Where’s Damsel?”

She’d expected his face to flush, so surprise hit her with force when instead he paled. “Jack took her to the Detour.”

Reason stopped. “You’re kidding.” Maverick kept going. “Why?”

He wanted – needed – to vent, and she wasn’t chasing him. He came to a halt and threw his fist against the cement wall. “Just to see if she could? Gods be bloody, Reason, I don’t know what he’s trying to prove. Got it in his head that Pete Wallace’s daughter is some kind of wonder child? He’s daft.”

Reason’s eyes softened and she approached Maverick to rest her hand on his chest. “You love her.”

Maverick scoffed, rolled his eyes and pulled away. “You sound as mad as Jack. I’ve known her a week.”

“Even still,” Reason insisted. “You’re drawn to her, maybe for reasons you don’t understand yet.”

Even as she pushed, Maverick pulled, a shake of his head and a look in his eyes that reached deeper than he probably wanted to show. “There’s no love in the darkness, lass. The shadows just snuff it out.”

Reason reached up to wrap her arms around his neck and pressed a kiss onto his stubbled cheek. “I love you, Maverick. The Shadows haven’t snuffed that out yet. Be happy.”

He gave her a squeeze back and a glimmer of his usual grin flashed and then disappeared as quickly as he did, leaving Reason alone in the tunnel. She chuckled. Men.

Another inspiration hit her and she turned to go back to her sketchbook. Maverick might like a sketch of Damsel to keep close to his heart, and then maybe he wouldn’t feel so lost.

 

#

 

Jack had to hand it to the girl. She had a good head on her shoulders even if she didn’t think so. They had stepped out of the Shadows into the fresh air of night. The Detour exited outside of the city, atop a hill that looked down on Greylands and the Tracks. From this perspective, at this time of night, they could see the city in startling contrast. Greylands was bleak and dark. Small fires smoked from alleys as the homeless did their best to fight off the February chill. From the odd shuttered or curtained window, hints of stolen electricity filtered onto the street.  The Golden Tracks, separated from a wall and gate that served as well as the shutters in the window, was a landscape of colour and warmth. Light poured from every window, music drifted up from stereos or televisions. It was a whole other world, a cocoon of safety and affluence. Their blindness and ignorance meant the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

That would stop tonight.

“You have some kind of master plan?” Damsel asked. The tremor in her voice was barely noticeable. She was trying hard to appear unshaken by what had just happened. He frowned at the flippancy of her words. He preferred a certain deference to his position. He held his control the same way the police did – using fear that he could eject people out of Shadows. Damsel didn’t seem to have that fear.

“I have a plan,” he said. “Whether it’s master…we’ll find out if we make it back, I guess.”

“Great,” Damsel mumbled, and tucked some stray hair behind her ear, fiddling with an elastic band to pull it out of her face. “Lead on, then. If we’re going to get ourselves shot, I don’t see the point in hanging around.”

Her sarcasm was answered by a laugh behind them. “That doesn’t sound like much of a plan, getting shot. Maybe I can come up with something a wee bit better, hm?”

Jack ground his teeth, an absurd niggle of irritation creeping up his throat.

“What are you doing here, Maverick?” he demanded without turning to face his friend. Brother, he reminded himself. They were more than friends. No one could go through what they had gone through and not be family. So why was he so upset to see him?

“Saving your arses by the sounds of it. What were you thinking, Jack? Just stroll up to the Gates and knock?”

“Something like that,” Jack growled. They both knew damned well he knew how to get into the Tracks. It wouldn’t be his first time.

“If that’s what you’re going to do, then you’ll need me. At the very least I can be an extra head to aim for. I’m going with you.”

“No.”

Jack’s head swivelled to Damsel, his expression mirrored on Maverick’s face.

“No?” Maverick asked.

Damsel pressed her lips together, as if regretting she had spoken. Then she appeared to win some inner battle and repeated. “No. This is already a dangerous plan. If the two of us are going to get killed, someone needs to stay here to make sure the Shadows keeps going.”

Maverick spat. “The Shadows will be fine. Someone will step up. There’s always someone willing to step up.”

“Like Firefly? You really want someone like her running things? You would lead them with a fair hand. There’s no point you coming with us.” Her face turned pink and she focused her final words on the ground, reaching up to rub at the back of her neck. What a crazy girl. She was afraid they were going die and wanted to protect Maverick. A better person than he was, then.

“She’s right,” Jack agreed. “Either this won’t go well and you should be here to clean up the mess, or it will go well and we don’t need you. Either way, you’re not coming.”

Maverick stared, a smile playing on his lips. “Jack, you and I go back a ways. You ever know me to stand down once I had an idea in my head.”

Jack hesitated. He could order Maverick back, but he knew the man wouldn’t listen. “Let’s get going then,” he said, and turned to start down the hill

“But-” Damsel protested.

“Ach, relaxed, Damsel,” Maverick said – Jack could hear the smile in his voice. “Might be you’re glad I came along for the fun.”

Greylands part 4: Fletch

By Kathi L Schwengel

She leaned over to brush her lips against his, and the tart, smoky taste of red wine assaulted his senses.  Her hair, streaked with green from the neon sign outside their bedroom window, fell across her face as he drew her down to him.

They pulled apart when the bedroom door flew open, and Ronan bounded through.  He bounced onto the bed between them, his carefree happiness filled the drab room, and she glowed in his presence — a mother’s love untouched by the realities of their life.  Fletch captured Ronan, and tickled him until they were all breathless with laughter.  They fell asleep then, huddled in the middle of the bed, arms wrapped around one another.

They took Ronan to the park for his birthday.  He darted ahead of them chasing fantasies.  Why hadn’t Fletch noticed the activity around them?  Why had he been so oblivious to the group dressed in too fine a class of rags, as they marched and yelled their slogans?  The line of police emerged out of nowhere, bristling with weapons and riot gear, and rushed forward to put down the insurgents. 

“Daddy!”  Ronan’s terrified screams pierced the morning as chaos erupted around them, and the police never slowed their onslaught against the now united front.

Fletch found her cradling the lifeless, trampled body of their son.  The image would haunt him forever.  All the light had drained from her leaving her hollow, her face smeared with tears and dirt.  Her anguish so intense it twisted in Fletch’s guts like a knife.  He would have preferred that.  Would have willingly traded his life to have Ronan’s back.

Months after the funeral they stood facing one another in the silent emptiness of their flat.  She couldn’t let go, couldn’t get past the pain, and he couldn’t bring her back from it.  She wrapped her hand around the gun Fletch held, and guided it to her own breast, the muzzle above her heart. 

“I will always love you,” she whispered, and caressed the back of his knuckles as he squeezed the trigger.

#

The lockdown on the Shadows caught Fletch on the outside.  Being topside always drove his dreams down paths he didn’t like — always dredged up memories he worked very hard to suppress.

He knew other ways back into the Shadows, ones the cops didn’t know about, but he opted not to use them.  The city’s growing restlessness over the past week had caused his to escalate in proportion.  Combined with a sense of urgency he found impossible to ignore, Fletch’s patience came to an end.  Venturing into the Tracks would likely get him killed, but nights like this, that didn’t bother him.

He sucked in a deep breath of garbage scented night air and forced calm through his body, directing his attention back to the battered journal in his hands.  He’d memorized the address scrawled across the last page, as well as the roughly drawn map showing the best route.  Pete hadn’t been the best cartographer in the world, but Fletch could make out enough detail to get him there without being seen.  He only wished he knew what he’d be looking for.

He slipped the journal into the pocket of his knapsack and checked the rest of his equipment — all souvenirs of a previous life when honor and duty had meant something.  Back before everything had gone to shit.  Fletch had come damn close to going to shit right along with the rest of it, but Pete, that crazy son-of-a-bitch, had managed to talk him off the ledge and give him something to believe in.  Then the bastard went and got himself shot before they could prove a damn thing, and Fletch had to take cover fast.

No better place to get lost than the Shadows.  Nothing but lost souls down there.

He took another breath, and wished he had a shot of Bosner’s booze instead.  There were plenty of reasons venturing into the Tracks made his skin crawl.  Besides the fact security had only increased since the Master’s incident, the possibility existed that certain people in the Tracks might still recognize him.  Dead was dead, but getting there quick beat the hell out of the slow, painful route any day of the week.

And then there were the ghosts; his own personal hell.

#

These days there weren’t many ways to get into the Tracks unseen.  Fletch knew most of them, but with the curfew in force and cops as prevalent as roaches after dark, he had to settle for one that put him further from his target than he liked.  He’d hoped to lose his tail on the way in — most likely one of Jack’s boys — but the rat clung to him like maggots to garbage.

Fletch considered just letting his shadow tag along, but that had too many risks attached to it, so he melted into the darkness, doubled back and waited.  He began to think he’d actually lost the tail when a movement across the street caught his eye.  The figure darted across to his side of the street, and Fletch fell in behind.  He closed the distance between them, slipped his arm around the boy’s throat, a hand over his mouth, and spun him off the street and into an alley.  Before the kid had a chance to react, Fletch had him pressed up against the wall, a knife across his throat.  Mosh, he should have known.

“Tell me why I don’t kill you,” he said, his voice low.

Mosh’s eyes widened.  “Shit, Fletch, I didn’t do nuthin’.”

“You’ve been shadowing me for days.  Why?”

Mosh clamped his mouth tight, and Fletch increased the pressure on his blade until a thin line of red appeared on its edge.

“Mav wanted to know what you were up to.”  It came out in a rush.

Fletch fought the urge to take his anger for Maverick out on Mosh — bad enough Maverick had his nose where it didn’t belong, he’d knowingly put the kid in danger.  What did Mosh know?  He just followed orders.  Fletch had done that once upon a time.  Which is why he knew if he told the kid to beat feet back to the Shadows, he wouldn’t.

“Do you know what happens if we get caught here?” he asked.

Mosh’s Adam’s apple bobbed against the knife blade.  “Dead, I guess.”

“Eventually,” Fletch said.  “But they’ll have you begging for it long before it comes.  So you’re gonna stick to me like glue, right?  You’re not gonna make a move unless I tell you, and when I do tell you there won’t be a single question.  Hear me?”

Mosh nodded, but Fletch kept the knife against his throat until he saw the agreement reach the kid’s eyes.

“When I move, you move,” he said, and sheathed the knife.  “If trouble happens, and I tell you to go, you light out of here, back the way we came.  Got it?  You don’t try anything.  Just flat out beat it.  These aren’t Greylands cops we’re dealing with.”

Mosh didn’t say a word but Fletch could see the fear behind the street bravado.  Good.  The kid might just make it out alive.

#

Fletch had to give the kid credit; he knew how to move without making a sound.  He mirrored Fletch’s steps, and didn’t once hesitate when signaled to move ahead, or to cross a lit patch of road.  Fear could sometimes be more of a motivator than trust.

Still, it took the better part of an hour, slinking through alleyways and darkened back roads, to get to the address in Pete’s journal.  More than once they had to lay low until a Tracks patrol passed them by.  It seemed odd, even with the tension everywhere, that there should be so many at this time of night.  The closer they got to their target, the more prevalent the patrols became.  That part made sense.  From Pete’s map, the building occupied a spot just off the main square.

And as Fletch hunkered down to survey it from the shelter of a doorway, a cold realization settled over him.  He recognized the place.  It had been some sort of city hall, and Pete had been obsessed with it.  He damn near got them both killed when he tried to force his way in through the front door in broad daylight.

Fletch hung his head and closed his eyes.  Pete, I’m trusting you weren’t as crazy as everyone thought.  You better damn well have been right about this.

A nudge from Mosh brought his head back up.  Fletch narrowed his eyes as he followed the kid’s gesture.  Three figures moved quickly out of the heavy shadows of a tree-lined wall and made their way toward the building’s back entrance.

“Looks like we’re having a party,” Fletch muttered.

The three cut across an open space and through a patch of light, and Fletch swore.  He felt Mosh shrink back behind him, recognizing the group’s leader in the same moment he did.

What the fuck was Jack doing here?