I had an interesting piece of spam…

This spam comment was left on my personal blog:

Superb blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers? I’m hoping to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely confused .. Any suggestions? Cheers!

It was, of course, immediately followed with “please visit my website at [link broken],” but the questions were good ones.

My advice for aspiring writers is…write.  If you don’t have a version of Word, then download OpenOffice (free), and use their Writer program.  You can save that as a Word document, and its programs open Office files.

If you want to start with a blog, by all means go with either Blogger or WordPress, or another free platform.  Don’t pay for something unless you’re already a successful, published author, and need the website for your books and to communicate with your fans.  And even then, some authors keep the free blog they started when they were just starting out.

If you’re a blog reader, and would like to be a blog writer, but have no clue how to go about it, leave a comment.  I can post instructions on how to get started in both Blogger and WordPress, with screen captures.  My day job is as an English Adjunct at MSSU.  One of my assignments for my classes is that they have to keep a blog for the entire semester.

Again, the best advice I can give any aspiring writer is write.  Write.  Write.  Hone your skills.  Practice your craft.  Learn to read and critique your own work.  And keep writing.

Girls’ Night Out

This story is a lot darker than the others I’ve posted.  The main characters are depraved followers of Dionysus, and I don’t use the word “depraved” lightly.  The three women are Maenads.  Bringers of chaos, savagery, and destruction, and they glory in their acts.  I’d considered putting it in The Godshead, but decided not to.  Not only does it not help the loose plot move forward, but also doesn’t suit the tone in the rest of the stories. 


“…and fires rivaling those following the earthquake in 1906 are still burning tonight in parts of San Francisco, as peaceful protesters…”

A guffaw drowned out the newscaster as three women pelted the television with popcorn, disturbing the quietly pretty patterns of patchouli incense smoke.  The brunet in the tie-dyed peasant blouse and skirt snorted, “Peaceful, my round Greek ass.”

“Indeed, sister,” a blond that might have been pretty had her hair been brushed and her face clean agreed.  “That was one of the least challenging riots to start since that last slave rebellion in Sparta.”

The brunette smirked.  “I think there was more forcible sodomy in this ‘peaceful protest’ than there was in Sparta’s entire history even before we got involved.”

The blond interrupted, “Yeah, smelled worse than the Aegean stables, too.”

“…the ferret that the group put forward as their titular leader when approached by the city’s mayor is still missing…”

The brunette smiled.  “True, that.  Getting the ‘peaceful protest’ to spill out of its containment was almost too easy.”

A freckled redhead giggled.  “Satisfying though,” she mused.  “Almost as much fun as that time I rode Francis through Mecca.”

The brunet leaned around the blond to raise an eyebrow at the redhead.  “Francis?”

The redhead giggled again.  “Yeah.  You know.  Francis Bacon.”

The blond snorted.  “Oh, gods, that’s awful!

The brunet sighed, rubbing her temple with her left hand.  “How many times have you changed his name, now?”

“I’ve lost count,” the redhead confessed.  “He seems to find it amusing, and he always knows I’m talking to or about him.”  A soft, grumbly grunt from the miniature pig in the redhead’s lap seemed to agree.  He rolled over onto his side, and started to snore.

An image of fire creeping up a steep hill, building by building caught their attention.  “Authorities are too busy trying to put out the fires to calculate the human toll of this event.  Rumor has it that a good many of the peaceful protesters are dead, though there is no confirmation of numbers, nor of identities.”

“And rapes!  We can’t forget the rapes!” the blond squealed, bouncing on the couch.  The miniature pig on her lap was sent rolling down her outstretched legs and onto the floor.  He heaved a sigh and stretched, before moving over to the television to eat the popcorn on the floor.  He slowly swelled to his full size, crowding the living room.  “Oi!  Down in front, piggy!”  The giant, six and a half foot tall, two ton boar lifted his head, grunted once, and shrank back to lap size.  She pouted at the television when the image flashed back to the professionally grave newscaster.  “Phooey.  I know there were rapes.  Even on camera.  I made sure of that.”

“Sister, they’re too busy trying to put out the fires to figure out the individual crimes, yet,” the brunette sighed, rolling her pig onto his back to scratch his chest.  He groaned in contentment, stretching all four legs into the air before going limp again.  “They’ll get there.  But these jokers won’t ever admit that it was their ‘peaceful protesters’ squatting in the parks that started the riot, the fires, or have been murdering, raping, and pillaging. ”

“…representatives have stated that the rates of forcible rape are far less than other refugee camps around the world…”

All three women stared at the screen in slack-jawed amazement that that statement was actually uttered with a straight face, then sputtered into incredulous laughter.  “They have got to be kidding!” the brunette snorted.  “There are so many rapes in this riot that they’re going after the corpses because there’s not enough fresh meat.”

The redhead snorted.  “And of course, they got it in the wrong order.  It’s pillage, loot, rape, kill, then burn.  This bunch is dumber than the perverts and prudes in Mecca.  At least they raped the live ones.”

“Ooh, look,” the blond squealed, pointing at the television screen and bouncing some more.  “They’re actually showing some of the violence!”

“…panicked protesters fleeing the fires overran the tents set up to treat the tuberculosis victims…”

The brunette grabbed the television remote and muted the volume, while all three stared intently at the images on the screen.  All three sighed when the picture cut back to the newscaster without the sign they were waiting for.  Finally, the redhead broke the silence.  “Do you think the rumors were true?”

“No,” the brunette replied swiftly.  “They can’t be.”

“But what if they are?”  The blond sniffled.  “What if our lord is…”

“Don’t say it.  At worst, he’s bored with us.  He isn’t gone,” the brunette hissed.  “If it were true, we would no longer be able to affect the emotional states of those around us.  We wouldn’t be able to create such transitory majesty and glory like that,” she finished, waving her hand at the screen.  She took a deep breath, unwilling to voice the last truth that kept their hopes alive.

The newscast flipped from images of the riot to a newscaster standing in front of a megachurch.  The caption across the bottom described a drunken orgy at a singles bible study.  The brunette Maenad sighed and turned the television off—with no more coverage of their riot, they’d never see if their lord sent them a sign of approval or not.

We would no longer exist.

The writing life…

I’ve finished one short story fragment that I started writing (then got stuck on) my junior or senior year at MSSU (sometime between August ’99 and May ’02).  I’ve set it aside for a while, so that I can edit and revise it with fresh eyes in a couple of weeks.

A second fragment I started at about the same time is getting outlined.  I have a basic plot (character A meets character B.  They hit it off.  Adventures ensue), but need to work on figuring out specifics, like rising action, climax, falling action and conclusion.  I like the characters, though.  They’ve got an interesting dynamic.

The piece inspired by “Low Man’s Lyric” has…sort of stalled.  I guess I need to outline it, too.

Last, but not least: I need to scan in my cover art for The Godshead.  I really want to get that published before the beginning of December.

I should have between five and seven weeks coming up to finish outlines, and to work on editing finished stuff (including my other finished first draft of a novel).

Stay tuned: there will be another story posted probably this coming Wednesday.

No free ice cream for a while…

I went sorting through my fiction files, last night, hoping to find something suitable to post for tomorrow, and found…nothing.  I had a few fragments (one of which I finished writing last night, but needs to be set aside for a few days before I edit it), but nothing finished.

Well, nothing suitable for a pleasant, holiday weekend’s reading, at least. 

I’ll put up the other Modern Gods story I’ve got sitting around sometime next week.  It’s a lot darker than the two I’ve already put up.  A lot darker.  

The characters are Maenads.  And they believe that their god has either died, or forgotten them.  And they’re talking about all of the wonderful things they’ve done for his glory in the past, and what they’ve done recently to attempt to regain his attention. 

It’s not a pretty story.  It’s getting posted a week from tomorrow. 

The writing life…

I woke up to check on my kids yesterday morning, about 5:00 in the morning.  Woke up out of a dream with snatches of “Low Man’s Lyric” by Metallica, and a random visual scene, of a veteran hovering over a trash fire in an alley in a hard rain.

I’m currently working on writing a story spawned by the song and the visual.  I wrote about 2,500 words yesterday, and I’m nowhere near finished with the story.  I’m not entirely sure if it’s going to be short story, novella, or novel.  If it’s under 10,000 words, I’ll publish it on the blog; if it’s under 40,000, I’ll publish it on Kindle (with a link) for $.99; and if it’s over 40,000, I’ll set it aside when the first draft is done and treat it like I’m treating my other novels: beta read once or twice, then published via CreateSpace, and Kindle.

Unfortunately, I have no idea as of yet what this piece is going to do.  I have a vague outline in my head, and a very strong first person character telling me the story.  It’s a little slow paced for a good short, so it may well be more.  I’ll know when it’s done.

The Godshead is, for the most part, done.  It’s no longer a simple collection of short stories, but more a novel told in short story form with several recurring points of view.  I’m waiting to hear back from a second beta reader, and then I need to decide if I like the cover art my friend came up with.  If I don’t come up with any better ideas, I’ll scan it in and use it.  I’m planning on publishing it in December.  I’ll post a link when I get it done.

The sequel is not being cooperative.  I’m going to have to have time away from students and grading papers to write that one, I think.  I’m going to have to play with it a bit.  I’ve got the plot in my head–it’s just getting it down on paper that’s giving me issues.

Another project that’s done on the first draft, The Last Pendragon, is sitting on my hard drive, sitting beside me in hard copy, and my read-through for major plot holes is…half finished.  I’m hoping to finish that next week, over Thanksgiving Break, and have it in the hands of my beta readers in January.

I have the sequel (and there will be only one) already outlined.  I don’t think it’ll take very long to write, once I get other unfinished projects done, and have the time to work on it.

Sibling Rivalry

This story was also cut from my upcoming anthology, not because I didn’t like it, but because it didn’t really work with the plot that had jumped out at me.  Actually, this story was one of the ones that was harder for me to cut because I liked it so well.  So, without further ado…

Apollo wearily climbed out of his Jaguar convertible, and climbed the front steps of the brownstone townhouse.  It had been a very long day at the university—the literature and music classes in the morning were a lot of fun, but the afternoon in the teaching hospital had turned a little tragic.  Half of the patients his small classes of young student doctors had seen were children.  They’d had a new young patient brought in that day—a toddler boy who’d been roughly shaken by a babysitter.  The child would make a full recovery, but the delay in treatment caused by the investigation into who shook the baby made his job harder.

He leaned his forehead against the steel-cored wood front door, fumbling through his pockets for his keys.  He jammed the correct key into the lock and unlocked the door.  He gratefully turned the key in the lock, then twisted it just a bit farther to open the door.  Just as he stepped inside, the sun broke below the cloud cover in a spectacular red, orange, coral, and gold sunset that painted the entire sky.  He paused for a moment, just to drink in the beauty, and gently pushed the door closed, refreshed.

He loosened his tie, unbuttoning the collar under it with the same hand, and reaching into the coat closet for a hanger with the other.  His favorite gray-blue tweed jacket with the gray suede elbow patches (the one he privately thought of as his literature professor jacket) lived in the closet down by the door, because he rarely thought to get a jacket from the closet in the bedroom when he dressed of a morning, and rarely had time to run back upstairs for one, when he finally did think of it.  And Kat, the girlfriend that had recently moved in with him, didn’t seem to mind.

He’d met Kat on campus, when she’d come to interview for an open position in the English department where he taught one section of Classics every semester.  Tall, slim, with gold hair, blue eyes, and long legs showcased in a pencil skirt and nearly-knee high riding boots, she’d immediately reminded him of the one that got away so long ago (stupid Eros and his stupid lead arrows).  So, he’d set about charming her.

Succeeded, too.  They’d had three dates before she’d gone to bed with him, and six months before he’d gotten her to move in.  Surprisingly, he hadn’t tired of her—in fact, he’d only gotten fonder of her the more he got to know her.

Maybe this one would last a little longer than the ones he’d been with before.

He headed toward the kitchen, wondering if there would be anything started for dinner, yet.  It didn’t bother him, if not—there was this new little Greek delivery place that had opened up a couple weeks back.  He’d gotten a menu and slipped it into the drawer with the other fast food delivery menus.  Sometimes both were too busy with grading to even think about cooking for themselves, and Kat didn’t like the idea of having domestic help.  He wasn’t sure if it was a class thing, or a privacy thing.

The stove was cold, but the coffeemaker’s on indicator light still burned green—the burner kept the coffee hot for two hours after the pot had been turned on.  There was still about two cups left in the pot, or about one of the giant mugs that both he and Kat liked for their coffee.  As he noticed the coffee and that it was pretty recently made, though, the light went off.

He shrugged, and reached for his mug, a tall, squared, black ceramic mug from their local big chain grocery/department store, hanging on the mug tree next to the coffeemaker.  He still had grading to do, even after the long day, after all; one mug wouldn’t hurt him.  A whole pot wouldn’t hurt, and if he found he still needed some after the first cup, he’d darn well make it.  He filled his cup and turned around, leaning against the counter and shuffling through the handful of menus in the drawer next to him.  The Greek place’s menu—and phone number—was in the top middle of the stack.  He tucked it under his arm, picked up his cup of coffee, grabbed the phone off the charger, and headed toward the living room, and the door to the study.  He rarely presumed to order for Kat.

As he passed the stairs to the second floor, he heard a soft, familiar moan drift through the air.  He stopped short, grinning, and set the cup of coffee, the menu, and the phone down on the table next to the stairway, and toed off his shoes.  He unbuttoned his cuffs and pulled his shirt off over his head as he crept up the stairs.

If she’d gotten started without him, it was only polite to not keep the lady waiting while he disrobed, after all.

He was down to his boxers and socks, shirt, undershirt, and slacks discarded on the way past the laundry chute, by the time he reached the master bedroom door.  His grin widened as he heard Kat’s breathing quicken and a more guttural moan escape her.  He quietly turned the doorknob and opened the door.

And froze.  Yes, his Kat was in bed.  Yes, she was in the middle of things.

She was not alone.

“Artemis, what the fuck are you doing with my girlfriend?” he sputtered.

Apollo’s dark haired fraternal twin sister looked up from where she was propped up on her left elbow, leaning over the beautiful blond in the bed, right hand busy between the other’s legs.  “What does it look like, dear brother?” she purred.

Kat screamed, scrambling for the comforter bunched beyond their feet, and yanked it up to her chin.  Tears welled up in her eyes—Apollo wasn’t sure if they were from frustration, embarrassment, regret, or something else entirely.

Artemis, on the other hand, was smirking like she’d just won a contest.  She hadn’t moved when Kat had, except to duck back out of the way as the blond had lunged down to grab the pale green comforter, and her right hand was now hidden under the comforter that Kat had just pulled over them.

Kat shoved Artemis flat onto her back, away from her, scrambling out of the bed and taking the comforter with her, and wrapped it securely around herself.  “You were using me!” she snapped.  “Weren’t you?  That look in your eyes and tone in your voice says it all.”

Artemis’s smug expression faded into one of mixed confusion and remorse as she watched Kat’s reaction.  “Kitty-Kat, it’s not just that,” she said softly.

“But it was at least a little bit, wasn’t it?”  Kat’s voice was soft, sad, and trembling.  “You were using me.”

Artemis’s smirk finally totally disappeared, and she sat up, reaching out for Kat, who stepped back.  Apollo reached out and touched Kat’s shoulder, pulling her into his arms and turning her away from the bed.  He kissed her forehead.  “That’s what I’d like to know,” he said, voice hard and glaring at his sister.  He could be mad at her for his own sake later.  Right now, Kat was hurting, and Apollo wanted it to stop.

“Maybe at first,” Artemis said quietly.  “I mean, you tricked me into killing one prospective partner, and have spent our entire lives making sure nobody gets near me.  So, yeah: I came up with this idea to try to get whoever you were currently seeing into bed behind your back.  Just my luck, it happened to be a woman.

“Something went wrong, though,” Artemis finished, looking down.

“I’d be willing to bet that that something was that you fell in love with her, and she with you,” Apollo said softly.

“Yeah.  We—I—have been keeping the relationship quiet.  I didn’t want you to know.  I wanted to stay with her, not just score to piss you off.”  Artemis inhaled deeply, then blew the breath out harshly.  “I may have started out using her, but it’s not like that, not now.”

Apollo twisted his chin around to try to look down at his girlfriend where she had her face pressed against his neck, but she burrowed closer and wouldn’t look at him.  He felt her shoulders quiver a bit, and realized she was crying.  “There’s something you didn’t know.  I think she was trying to work things around to bringing you out of the wardrobe, so to speak.  We’ve been talking about this for a while.  Kat’s bi, I don’t mind, and we were talking about a girlfriend for her, one that I’d know about, but wouldn’t necessarily join her with,” he said quietly.  “I think she was trying to pave the way to bring you in.”

“No, I didn’t know that,” Artemis said.

“Were you just using her to get to me?” he asked, rubbing small circles on her upper back and glaring at his sister.

“Like I said: at first.  Then, I started to like her, and then I fell in love with her.  We’ve been seeing each other for nearly as long as you guys have.”  Artemis sighed.  “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

Kat hiccupped against Apollo’s shoulder.  Apollo sighed.  Usually about this time in the fighting over something, one or the other would try to destroy what they were fighting over, so that their sibling couldn’t have it.  He didn’t want that to happen to Kat, and for the first time in his life, was willing to share.  He studied his sister closely, and could tell that she felt the same.  “Well, sis, I think you have an apology to make,” he sighed.

“Apollo, I—”

“Not to me.  Her.”

Artemis climbed out of the bed, not bothering to cover her nudity, and walked over to where Apollo held their crying girlfriend.  “Kitty-Kat,” she said softly, touching the other woman’s shoulder.  “Hey.  I’m sorry.”

Kat twisted around in Apollo’s arms.  But she made no move to respond in any other way.  Artemis took a deep breath.  “I’m sorry; I want to try to make this right.  What can I do?”

“You can start by getting dressed,” Kat said flatly.  “I don’t want to look at you naked, right now.  You, too, Apollo.  I don’t appreciate being the rope in a tug of war.”  She pulled away from Apollo, and gathered her dignity with her comforter, and made her way into the walk-in closet in the master bedroom.

Apollo and Artemis watched her walk away and then looked at each other.  “I really blew it, this time, didn’t I?” Artemis asked.

Apollo sighed, moving over to the dresser that held his at-home clothes.  “I really hope not, sis.  This is the first time I’ve been this happy.”  He fished out two pair of sweats, two pair of socks, and two tee-shirts.  He raised an eyebrow and held up one set of clothes.  Artemis nodded, holding out her hands to catch the clothing Apollo tossed to her.  “If you’ve screwed this up for you, you’ve screwed it up for both of us, and it’ll take me a long time to forgive you for that.”

Artemis sighed.  “It really doesn’t seem like the grudge I’ve been carrying over Orion is as big a deal as I always thought.” She glanced at the door to the walk-in closet.  “Come on, little brother—she needs some space right now.”

He walked over to the closet door.  “Kat, we’re going to go get dressed elsewhere.  Just come out when you’re ready.”

There was no response, but neither Apollo nor Artemis expected one.  He followed his sister out the door, and they split in the hall, Apollo heading toward one of the spare bedrooms, and Artemis heading for the guest bath.

Apollo heard the shower start as he was leaving the guest room, and headed downstairs to make another pot of coffee.  He snagged his mug, the phone, and the menu on his way into the kitchen, and stuck his cooling coffee into the microwave to heat back up.  It beeped as he was rinsing the carafe to refill the reservoir.  He finished setting the coffeemaker to brew, and took his coffee to the kitchen’s four person breakfast nook.

He heard the shower in the guest bathroom stop, and the one in the master bath start, and stared into his coffee, waiting for his sister to appear.  When she did, he nodded toward the coffeemaker and the mug tree beside it.  She didn’t say any more than he did, just helped herself to mug and coffee before drifting over to sit across the table from her younger twin brother.

Together, they listened to the sounds Kat made as she finished her shower, dried her hair, and got dressed.  Apollo glanced up at his sister, and blinked.  She hadn’t bothered drying her hair, but the wet ends dangled at least an inch above her shoulders.  He was used to her hair reaching halfway to her waist, and tied up in braids.   “When did you cut your hair?” he asked.

Artemis’s upper lip twitched.  “You’re just now noticing?” she asked.

Apollo rolled his eyes.  “Well, sis, that didn’t seem really important when I came in.”

Artemis blushed and sighed.  “Look, I thought you were going to be a lot longer—she let me hear the message you left on her voice mail about the little kid.  By the way, how did that go?”

“Kid’s going to be okay.  One of the cops is going to have to recover from a bruised ego, though.  Thought his job was more important than mine, and didn’t want to let me take care of the kid before he was done with his investigation.”  Apollo shook his head.  “I don’t get some people and their priorities.”

“Neither do I,” Kat said from the kitchen doorway.  Both twins looked up and Apollo stood to go to her.  She waved him back into his seat, and headed for the coffeemaker and her own mug.  She ignored the twins as she poured her coffee, then headed for her special flavored creamer in the fridge.  Apollo winced as he noticed she reached for the chocolate creamer—the one she saved for when she was really upset.  She took her time adding the creamer, the sugar, and adjusting each to suit her mood.  Then, she turned around and leaned against the counter behind her, facing the breakfast nook.

“I kind of suspected, on an unconscious level, that you were that Artemis.  That he was that Apollo,” Kat began.  “Not on a conscious level—it’s hard for someone who was raised Catholic, even if they’ve left the church, to believe that you guys exist, and I never really made the connection between the two of you.  That said, you’re so much like him that it felt right, like I wasn’t cheating on him.  It makes sense—how I fell in love with you both, and how both of you, who are more alike than either of you want to admit, fell in love with me.

“What I didn’t suspect was that you were using me.  I don’t know if I can forgive you for that, but I can try.  You are going to start to try to make up for using me by having dinner with us.  We’ll talk—all three of us—and we’ll go from there.”

Apollo and Artemis blew out a breath in a relieved sigh.  Both stood up at the same time, and converged on Kat, wrapping arms around each other in a three-way hug.  They stood there quietly for a moment, then Apollo’s stomach growled, followed by Artemis’s.  Kat giggled.

“Supper time,” Artemis said, looking between Kat and Apollo.  “Are we staying in or going out?”

“Delivery Greek okay?” Apollo asked, holding up the menu.

The writing life…

Well, I did manage to get some writing done, last week.  Just enough to discover that the approach I’d planned for a sequel to the book I’m almost ready to publish…isn’t going to work.  I’m going to have to play with it a bit–maybe do with it like I used to do for my essays in college: start somewhere in the middle, write to the end, then write the beginning.

After, of course, I write the outline so that I know what the plot’s going to be.  I think I can do the outline this month, and start writing next month, after I turn in my grades. 

Beyond that, I do have another finished first draft that I need to finish going through and revising.  I have a colleague at the university where I teach that wants to be a beta-reader for it, because I created a new magic framework system for that world…based on some of the basic foundation principles of linguistics.  And my colleague teaches the linguistics classes, and has since long before I sat in his classes as a junior. 

That one is going to take a bit more work.  I wrote half of it more than a year ago, got stuck, set it aside, then went back and deleted the part I got stuck at, and finished the rest.  I need to go through it with a fine-toothed comb before I let anyone else see it, to make sure there aren’t any gaping plot holes big enough to fly a dragon through. 

Since it isn’t still in the initial burst of writing it stage, though–the one that takes so much time and mental energy, I might be able to get that done before the end of this month. 

In the meantime, though, I’ve got grading to do.  My students have weekly blogs I have to grade (900 words spread over three posts for one class, and 1000 words spread over two posts for the other, plus two required comments for both), and the other class will have papers due on Monday.  Grading helps pay the bills, so that comes first. 

Maybe, eventually, the writing life will start being able to help pay the bills, but I don’t foresee that for a good while, yet.  My current book has sold a few, but it’s been kind of dead for the past couple months.  Since I put that one together from stories I wrote while I was in college and a survivor recovering from childhood abuse, I’m not really worried about it doing well.  Publishing that book was less an attempt to be a writing success, and more a bit of self-help therapy.  The stories in it are, for the most part, pretty depressing, for lack of a better word. 

Still, it is something I’m proud of.  Just not something I would personally read for fun.

A Meeting of Strangers

This story doesn’t fit in my Modern Gods world, but it’s a fun one.  I wrote it in high school, if that tells you anything about my psyche.  So, without further ado…

It was a cold, December evening.  The sky loomed overhead, gray, overcast, and heavy with a snow that refused to fall.  The devil shivered and grumbled on horseback.  He topped a small rise, brightening as he saw a lone cowboy huddled miserably over a small, smoking campfire.

The devil grinned, taking on the guise of a rich Easterner.  He rode up to the fire, dismounted, and turned to face the cowboy.  “How do, cowboy,” he said pleasantly.

The cowboy tipped his hat back and looked up at the stranger from under the wide brim.  He was gaunt, hollow-eyed, and skeletal.  Except for his burning gray eyes, he looked like he’d been dead for a couple of days.  It was a shock to hear the pleasant, gravelly voice with which he spoke.  “Howdy yerself, stranger.  Set down.”

“Thank you,” the devil replied.  “Don’t mind if I do.  You got anything to eat?”

The cowboy shook his head once, his gaze never leaving the stranger’s.  “Nope.”

The devil, disconcerted, asked, “Well, are you hungry?”

“Yep,” the cowboy answered.

The devil hurriedly left the fire for his saddlebags.  Something about this starved cowboy seemed vaguely—not wrong, just—not right, and he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.  “You’d better be watching this, Claudias,” he whispered into the evening’s chill breeze.

“I am, master,” the wind moaned.

Returning to the fire, the devil put some leftovers on to heat.  “Cold night, ain’t it, cowboy?” he remarked.

“Yep,” he replied softly.

Unnerved, the devil prattled on.  “Don’t talk much, do you?”

“Nope,” came the short reply.

The devil finally realized what seemed so wrong.  This gaunt, half-starved cowboy was somehow making him, the Lord of Hell, nervous.  He looked up from the beans and salt pork over the fire and forced himself to meet the cowboy’s gray eyes.  “What’s your name, cowboy?”

“Depends,” the cowboy grunted, upper lip curling in a silent snarl.

The devil dropped his eyes back to the beans.  “On what?”

“On why you want to know,” the cowboy replied, low voiced.

Silence fell over the small camp.  The beans finally warmed to a palatable temperature, so Old Nick dished them up and handed a plate to the cowboy.  A rare smile accompanied the cowboy’s few words, “Much obliged, stranger.”

They ate in silence.  The cowboy finally turned from the Easterner and lay down, pulling his hat down to cover his face.  The devil smiled and whispered a single word.  Time crawled to a standstill, and with a sigh of relief, the devil dropped his disguise.

“Where are you, Claudias?” he called into the evening breeze.

A minor demon appeared before his disguised master.  “I’m here, master,” he answered.

“Did you learn anything?” the devil asked.

Claudias hung his hideous head.  “No, master.  He doesn’t say enough.”

The monarch of hell stroked his chin thoughtfully.  “I wonder who he is.”

Claudias sidled closer.  “Master, maybe we would learn more if he knew who you really are,” he suggested, cringing away from the expected blow.

The devil raised a hand to backhand the little demon, then stopped to actually consider the suggestion.  “Maybe you’re right,” he said thoughtfully, lowering his hand.  “I’ll try it.  Disappear, you ugly little son of a gun.”

Claudias wilted in relief and faded into invisibility. Satan whispered softly, and time unfroze.  He pointed a misshapen forefinger at the cowboy and grinned wickedly.

The cowboy moaned and began to thrash around.  He sat bolt upright, screaming wildly.  Still panting, he looked around.  All was the same as it had been when he’d gone to sleep except for one thing: the devil now sat where the stranger had been sitting before.  “Who the hell are you?” he snarled, vicious in his fear.

The devil shrugged.  “Which name do you want me to use?  I have a thousand.”

The cowboy his hard at the stranger at his fire.  “Just tell me one,” he replied, deadly cold.

Satan shuddered, bothered by the complete lack of fear on the cowboy’s part.  “Well, most of your kind call me Old Nick or Old Scratch,” he replied weakly.

The cowboy smiled grimly, and looked down to roll a cigarette.  Time again came to a screeching halt, this time without the devil’s command.  Startled, he glanced around, and found Claudias groveling on the ground at his feet.

“What is it, Claudias?” he asked impatiently.

“Master, beware!  You don’t want his soul,” the little demon exclaimed.

Irritated, Satan kicked the imp lying prostrate at his feet.  “I need every soul I can get.  Why shouldn’t I try for his?”

The small demon cringed away from his master’s cloven foot.  “He doesn’t have one, my lord.”

“Don’t be absurd,” the fallen angel snapped.  “Every human has a soul.”

Claudias began to fade, and raised his face to his dark master before he was gone completely.  “Ask him again who he is, master.  You’ll see.”

As soon as the little demon was invisible, time thawed from its standstill to its normal flow.  The cowboy finished rolling his cigarette, lifted a small, burning twig from the edge of the fire, cupped his other hand around the freshly rolled cigarette to shield the fragile flame from the sharp, cold wind.  His hungry, haunted eyes reflected the dancing flames.  He took a deep drag, exhaling rudely in the devil’s direction.

Finally, after a long, uncomfortable silence, the devil burst out, “Who are you?”

The cowboy, speaking around the butt of the cigarette, replied, “Why d’ya wanna know?”

The devil waved a hand impatiently, fanning away the tobacco smoke that the cowboy kept directing toward him.  “I’m behind.  I need to gather in more lost souls.”

The cowboy smiled grimly.  “You don’t want me.”

“And why wouldn’t I?” the devil persisted.

The cowboy looked away and leaned back, pulling his hat back down.  Flipping the cigarette but away into the fire, his smile widened, though it still didn’t reach what the devil could see of his eyes. “Because I’m still hungry. I was here long before you were, and I’ll be here long after you’re nothin’ but a story that mothers use to scare their children.  I reckon I’ll be seein’ you before long, in the scheme of things.”

The devil turned to stare into the fire.  From time to time, he glanced at the neutral force of nature embodied seated beside him, thinking of the delicious irony that Fate had set up in this meeting.

Lucifer and Death both sat in silence, watching the fire die down to embers, watching the warm embers fade into cold ashes.  As full dark settled, both vanished into the night, leaving only the ashes of the now-dead fire.

The writing life…

Huh.  I was expecting to be working as fast as I could all weekend to get my grading done.  Turns out that three-fourths of the students that turned in a paper turned in A-quality first drafts, which take about five minutes on average to grade.  It’s the ones that need revision that take a while, and the more revision needed, the longer it takes to grade. 

Since I was wrong about how long papers were going to take, I’ve got a bit more time to write than I thought I would. 

I don’t know if everyone’s heard about it, but this month is the National Novel Writers’ Month, or NaNoWriMo.  It’s a privately funded…event, for lack of a better word.  Funds are raised through the year through private donations, and it challenges writers to write a set number of words in the month of November.  It also provides a platform for writers to encourage each other, and to brag about their progress toward their goals.

I’m not a joiner.  I won’t participate in the actual event.  I will, however, snag their idea for a set number of words to write per a given month.  Since I have two kids, two kittens, a puppy, a husband, a house, and forty students to take care of, that month is not going to be November.  Yes, I will try to write a set number of words, even in November, but my real push is going to have to be between the end of semester, the second week of December, and the start of Spring semester the third week of January.

As for now…I’ll write what I can, when I can.