Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Share your apocalypse!

share your idea for how the apocalypse might go down.
Zombie virus. Nuclear war. Asteroid. Post apocalyptic writing has been popular for years and it is a personal favorite genre of mine. Some of my favorite books, like Cormac McCarthy's The Road or Stephen King's The Stand are post apocalyptic. I want to hear about your version of the apocalypse. It can be as long or short as you want. You can post it to my facebook page  or into the Apocalypse topic on my forum or just respond here. Be creative!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Angels & Demons: The Two Faces of Holy Cross

It is Colorado’s most mythical mountain.
At the head of a gray basin whose old-growth conifers give way to gumdrop glacial boulders, where a winding crystalline stream dumps over gray ledges through deep pools and over tall cascades, Mount of the Holy Cross stands guard with its stern, weather-worn face.
Mount of the Holy Cross
Holy Cross, a 14er in Colorado
We stood at a kink in Half Moon Trail, lost in wonderment by our first look at one of Colorado’s most impressive sights. “That mountain is dangerous,” we were warned by concerned family members. “No one should ever climb that peak.” It seemed like a lot of fuss for a mountain that garnered a paltry class 2 rating. But of the many climbs my wife, Ella, and I have attempted over the years, perhaps only Capitol Peak generated a more negative reaction from our family and non-climbing friends. For me, however, encountering the stark beauty of that great mountain for the first time is one of the most powerful and emotional memories from my mountaineering life.
In my opinion, Mount of the Holy Cross is the crown jewel of the Sawatch Range, a spine of peaks in the center of the state that includes many famous summits such as Mt. Elbert, Mt. Massive, Mt. Princeton and La Plata. Holy Cross’s rugged north and east faces seem out of character in a range dominated by sleepy giants with long, relatively gentle slopes. The craggy, boulder-strewn basin into which the famous cross drains feels out-of-place, almost as if it was plucked out of more rugged neighboring ranges and dropped randomly here, 13 miles southwest of Vail.  
The postcard image of Colorado’s rood in the sky has inspired believers and non-believers alike ever since an 1873 photo by William H. Jackson first proved true the rumors of a mountain bearing the holy crucifix. It was featured in an oil painting by famed landscape artist Thomas Moran, as well as a poem entitled “The Cross of Snow” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. For decades the ostensible sign from God drew zealots and fanatics to make pilgrimages to the mountain to witness it. And the great cross of snow did not disappoint.
In contemporary times, the fervor surrounding the religious iconography of this diminutive 14er (the 3rd lowest of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks) has waned dramatically. The peak, however, continues to draw alpine and mountaineering enthusiasts from all over the world. Its popularity, combined with some unique and challenging terrain and a series of tragic and semi-mysterious accidents, has lent the mountain a new reputation. One of mystery, menace and danger.
Holy Cross has been called the “Bermuda Triangle” of the Colorado high country. So numerous have been the rescues, accidents and near-misses that people have come to view the area as cursed. The Holy Cross Wilderness is a rugged and convoluted landscape notorious for misleading trails and terrain that can quickly lead inexperienced and ill-prepared hikers astray. From the primary access point, the Half Moon Trail, hikers and mountaineers on most routes must climb up and over Half Moon Pass before reaching the base of the peak, an undertaking that requires at least 1,000-feet of “wasted” elevation gain in both directions. All of these factors combine to make Holy Cross more difficult and dangerous than your average class 2 Sawatch 14er.
Of all the accidents and rescues documented in the wilderness surrounding Holy Cross, two incidents in particular provided the most potent fuel for the emerging mythos of Colorado’s most mysterious mountain.
In June of 2010, a 31 year-old man from Chicago named James Nelson went missing while on a 5-day backpack trip in the Holy Cross Wilderness. Despite an exhaustive search that included over 100 volunteers, the days turned to weeks and the weeks into years and still no sign of the missing man was found. It wasn’t until more than two years later that his tattered campsite was spotted near an abandoned mining camp, and his remains were found at last. An investigation of the years-old scene, revealed no evidence of foul play. However, a journal may have indicated he was afflicted by altitude sickness. Still today, however, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions about what happened to Nelson, and the events surrounding his death are somewhat shrouded in mystery.
An even more disturbing and prominent incident was the 2005 disappearance of Michelle Vanek, a 35-year-old mother of four. Vanek along with her climbing partner had attempted Halo Ridge, a long and circuitous route that traverses several sub peaks including Holy Cross Ridge (Colorado’s 91st highest mountain), en route to the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross. Halo Ridge is known for its up-and-down terrain and long exposure to the above-treeline elements. Just five-hundred vertical feet shy of the summit but out of food and water, Vanek decided she was too exhausted to continue and gave her partner permission to go ahead to the summit. When he returned, however, there was no sign of Vanek. Despite the largest search in Colorado history, with over 700 people committed to the cause, no trace of Vanek was ever seen again.
*          *          *
The morning of our climb for was cool and calm, ideal for an attempt at the mythological Holy Cross. As we packed our climbing bags and departed our camp along the bubbling banks of East Cross Creek, first light cast camellia hues over the basin. Far to the north in the distance, the blade-like summits of the Gore Range cleaved the morning sky. In the ethereal light, the mountains could have been heavenly.
The Gore Range as seen from the trail to Holy Cross
By 9:00 am after a strenuous but non-exposed climb, we stood on the summit in ecstasy. “We made it!” Ella shouted with a hug. A brilliant panorama spread as far as we could see in every direction.
The clear skies had filled with high, horsetail clouds and the wind was beginning to whip at our shirtsleeves. We basked in the commanding beauty of the mountain for half an hour as the morning gradually matured. Knowing what a long day we had ahead, we grudgingly departed the summit and made the long descent back to camp. By the time we broke down our tent, re-packed our bags, and slogged partway up Half Moon Pass to the final overlook where Holy Cross would disappear from view for good, the skies had changed dramatically.
A terrible storm, black and menacing, hovered directly over the serrated mountain. The tempest appeared to be a product of the peak itself, boiling out of its summit and casting doom on the basin below. The mountain looked more evil now than angelic.
A sharp crack of thunder shook us back to reality.
“Come on,” Ella implored anxiously. “We need to get going.” We still had to climb over the open exposure of Half Moon Pass. Warily, I turned my back on Holy Cross, feeling moved by that potent place. Is there something mythical that gives power to Holy Cross? A spiritual vortex or religious portal? Or is it just something innate in the mountain’s rugged beauty and naturally complex terrain?
As we hiked out with forks of lightning stabbing the earth all around us, I couldn’t decide what difference there was between the two anyway.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Prologue of The Razed Ruins

A tunnel of black, leafless trees closed around the rider. This is no night to die, he thought. But some malice was drawing near, he felt it. Like cold eyes leering through crooked gorse. He glanced over his shoulder. The road was empty. The only sound was the cadenced clop of his horse's hooves on the rime-dusted highway. The only sight the crescent moon darting through the naked branches like some phantom bird. He fixed his gaze ahead where the Great Highway tapered to an inky void.

His horse was exhausted, close to collapse. He'd coaxed the poor beast between trot and canter ever since the letter had landed in his care. His fingers slipped into his lapel pocket and closed around the folded parchment. His mind turned to it more and more.

As a rider in the Order of the Post, ferrying messages all across the realm was his life. But this mission had been unprecedented: he'd been tasked to carry a single letter.

Post riders, "featherfoots" as they were called, never made such a long journey for a solitary parcel. It was simple economics. This detail of the commission alone had raised his guard. Even more unnerving, however, was the seal melted over the folded corner: the double eagles of the Supreme Chancellor.

It was reprehensible for a letter's seal to break, especially if the seal in question was of the royal palace. Even worse, though, it had been under his care when the parchment worked free. 

The letter arrived at his station in the hand of a featherfoot he'd never before seen. A sum of three gold pikes was offered for the effort, more than double the usual rate. He'd been thrilled by his lucky chance. But now, this deep into the hated North, he'd give the coins back and more to return and refuse.

He'd pulled out the letter subconsciously. Again. He knew the addressee by heart:

Commander-in-Charge, The Shield

The Shield. He shivered. He didn't envy the featherfoot on the next leg of the journey who'd have to traverse through there.

Yes, reading the letter was forbidden. And yes, he eventually failed the test. It inscribed by a hasty hand:

Lock down the dragon. 83-32-7279. Nobody in or out. Await further instructions.


He knew it all now by heart. Lock down the dragon. For the thousandth time he guessed what it meant. Probably it was code to shield the true meaning from prying eyes. Like his. But the initials, S.G., combined with the seal of the Chancellor, made it hard not to assume that the hurried-but-still-tidy handwriting could belong to none other than the Supreme Chancellor herself.

And there was the Shield. Every man, woman and child in all four kingdoms knew the tales about it. The rider's bowels stirred with excitement and dread. Maybe it's not code at all. Maybe the old legends are true.

As night lengthened, so did its merciless teeth. The rider snugged his wool cloak. I hate the North. He was a man of Rocklands and felt like an intruder when ordered to make deliveries in Dehn. It was a strange land, with evil, barren landscapes and grim, dark-haired people who spoke in coarse tongues. At times, he rode through Pent or even Seldor for weeks, and though the culture there was quite different than back home, he never felt nearly as out-of-place as he did in Dehn for even the briefest visit.

 At times, he rode through Pent or even Seldor for weeks, and though the culture there was quite different than back home, he never felt nearly as out-of-place as he did in Dehn for even the briefest visit.

The glowing stationhouse windows blinked through a break in the trees, blazing like beacons in the colorless wilderness. It should have been comforting—something familiar in an alien sea—but instead, it only re-kindled his dread.

A letter from the Supreme Chancellor delivered to me by an unknown featherfoot. Destination: the Shield. Seal broken. Me responsible. The whole thing was ludicrous. How could he have been so foolish?

He eased his horse to a stop and dismounted gracefully. With a deep breath, he flattened his gray tunic, which bore only the winged foot that was the emblem of the Order. He didn't bother lashing his horse to the tethering pole. As soon as the letter was delivered he planned to commence the return south immediately, even if that meant riding through the night.

With the closed door in front of him, he straightened his back and sucked down a slow inhale. Forging his face into a look of confidence, the rider rapped the wood three times.


Inside, a ribald man lounged with his feet propped on a low table. His oily, shoulder-length hair formed a messy curtain over his eyes. Deeply stained fingers clutched a smoldering pipe, smoke billowing like flowing runes . He wore the same insignia on his brown tunic: the winged foot.

"You're late." His voice was throaty and baritone. A pale keloid clove his right eyebrow.

"Where's the stationmaster?"

"Off duty." Tobacco haze blurred his face. The rider frowned. It wasn't just unusual, it was counter to codified featherfoot principles. "You're here for the delivery?"

The rider mined the letter from his pocket. The scarred man rolled his broad figure upright and extended a long arm corded with muscle, hand open expectantly. The rider hesitated then deposited his charge. It should have felt good to be rid of it.

"You broke the seal." An accusation, not a question. The rider retreated a step.

"It came open on its own!" He tapped the hilt of his rapier.

The scarred man stepped forward again, brushing his cloak to the side to reveal a black scabbard and the hilt of his own glistening sword. 

"But the seal is broken. And from your watch. You know the oaths. And this bears the royal seal!"

"I read nothing!"

He laughed. "You're lying. I can see it in your eyes."

The rider gauged his odds against the much larger man. He'd been selected to the prestigious featherfoot order for being light and fast in the saddle. But after crossing the wide realm too many times to recount he'd learned a thing or two about defense. Still... 

"I would swear to it. Hand on the Holy Book!"

"What man, alone on the Great Highway, could resist such temptation?"

"I did not read the letter!" He tried to sound confident, certain he failed.

The scarred man took another stride forward and the rider, a step back. The dance continued until his back met the door's iron handle. The scarred man stopped, flaring nostrils only feet away.

The scarred man smiled. "I believe you." 

He wheeled away with a laugh. The rider exhaled. 

"I take my vows seriously." The sooner I start back for home the better. He aimed to be as far from this place as possible by daybreak. "Tell you the truth, I'm glad to be rid of it. I want to get back south into Rocklands. It's so—"

He didn't see the knife coming. Only a fleeting glimmer as the cold steel reflected the room's only lamp. His world flipped over in blinding, searing pain. Shocked and speechless, he grasped at the hilt of the blade protruding from his chest. A scarlet rose of blood blossomed down his tunic.

The rider made a feeble attempt to draw his sword, but his strength failed too fast. The scarred man puffed his pipe casually.

As the rider dropped to his knees, then to his side, the world eddied slowly away to black. The last thing he saw was the scarred man neatly placing a hat atop his head and stepping over his body for the door.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016


post apocalyptic novel
It has been 3,394 days since Paxton Raleigh has seen anyone alive.

After a terrible plague nearly decimates humanity from the face of the world, Paxton has been left alone to deal with the vast emptiness, not too mention the crushing survivor's guilt, alone. But when a strange visitation shatters everything he thought he knew about the post-plague world, Paxton is drawn from the safety of his ranch on an increasingly complicated adventure where his own mind, and even his dreams, might prove to be the biggest threat of all.

Part 1- An Unexpected Visitor
Paxton has a surprise visitation while working on his family's remote ranch that makes him re-think everything he thought he knew about the post-apocalyptic world.

Part 2- Gathering His Life
Paxton gathers everything he needs for a journey to the empty town of Glenwood Springs, a place he hasn't visited in years. But is it as empty as he thought?

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Thursday, December 1, 2016


World War Two novel
Crossing the Rhine River in Germany 1945
The story of Albert Aldrich: writer, stoner, caretaker of his broken family, and part-time peeping tom. When Albert discovers a long-forgotten cache of his grandfather's journals, he embarks on a quest to tell his grandfather's story. He might create a better ending for them both.

In this sprawling epic novel, readers get both the story of Albert Aldrich, a broken and troubled young writer, and of Micky McKeever, his war-ravaged grandfather. While Albert attempts to bring meaning to his disappointing and downwardly spiraling existence, he encounters an outspoken city-girl who might strike the perfect balance to his rural Alaskan life. Mick, on the other hand, is a wildly popular musician and a GI in the 89th Infantry. Mick meets a gorgeous and independent nurse named Cassie and the two strike a thrilling romance with the worst possible timing.

The two narratives of Albert and Mick come together with fantastic complexity as Albert struggles to fashion a better denouement for them both.

Novel excerpts:

Prologue- The Storm
A crabbing boat is in trouble in a Bering Sea storm and the Captain grapples with life and the state of his soul.

Part 1- Albert in Alaska
Albert Aldrich struggles to balance his life as a writer, caretaker of his family and full-time enthusiast of marijuana.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

The Silent Stones: Gathering His Life

post apocalyptic novel
Map of the post apocalyptic Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Back at the house that night, Paxton was trying to play the guitar. Just four days earlier, while working in the south garden, he’d felt the unexpected inspiration to pick up the instrument back up, something he hadn’t done in over a year. He’d stopped working that afternoon, instead spending the next eight hours playing almost continuously, running his fingers through every song he could remember, and even some he couldn’t.
But now his stomach felt heavy. He tried to sing a song he’d sung a thousand times before, but his mouth was too dry. After fifteen minutes of half-cocked effort, he placed the guitar back in its case and snapped the latches closed.
He threw down the last gulp of a whiskey bottle from the back of the dusty cabinet.
Paxton resumed his earlier pacing. Darkness had fallen. Culligan stood outside, his silhouette just visible through the window in the faint light of a waxing gibbous. He was staring in, watching Paxton. A pewter kettle swayed lazily above a low-burning fire on the western side of the room. On the wall above it hung various tools for carpentry, horse-shooing, and leather work. Some were antiques, not that that mattered.
Though Paxton had been home over an hour, his boots were still on. Each step dropped with a double-tap on the hardwood floor. He did not pace simply back and forth but in an erratic swirl, visiting nearly every corner of the one-floor, four-bedroom house. Several other lanterns were lit, the house alive with light. This, too, disturbed Culligan, who’d grown accustomed to Paxton’s self-imposed darkness.
A plate of boiled beans was growing cold on a table near the fire. Paxton stumbled upon them occasionally as he pace, pausing each time for a small bite with a wooden fork.
He was talking out loud. Or perhaps to Culligan, who he believed could understand him whether he heard the words or not.
“We shouldn’t go, Culligan. I hate that place. I swore we’d never go back.” He stopped pacing, his eyes blank in thought. “But maybe we need this. It has been four years….” He resumed walking. “I know, Cull! You don’t have to tell me about last time! Why do you think I haven’t gone back?” He returned to the hearth, ladling water into a ceramic mug for tea. “No, it won’t do any good. There is nothing for me there. We can manage, Cull. We got everything we need.”
Paxton sat at his dining room table, looking directly out the window at Culligan who stared back through the glass. He didn’t speak while he ate. He kept picturing the helicopter, combing his mind through the details. His hand trembled as he hoisted his spoon for a bite.
“Yeah,” he said out loud in a tone of reluctant concession. “We have to go.”
Finding some resolution, his hand steadied and he finished his meal.
It started raining half an hour later. Culligan swooshed his tail happily when Paxton stepped outside to organize their gear for the following morning. He slid a rocking chair against the wall, dropped his saddle onto a wooden chest, and straightened a rusting horseshoe upright against the porch column. Running his hand on Culligan’s side, he circled to the horse’s front.
“Summer solstice tomorrow.” He walked to the north side of the house to his toolbox where he snatched several items and stuffed them into a canvas satchel. Though town was only 15 miles, he hadn’t made the journey in almost a half-decade. His father had ingrained it into him over and over: it’s always best to be over-prepared. He added a hammer, wrench, multi-tool, three types of knives, measuring tape and several boxes of nails.
He loaded a smattering of tools into the saddle bags: saw, hatchet, matches, knives, can opener, nails, screws, shaving razor, screwdrivers, wrenches, ammo. The plan was to be back that same night, but things did not always go according to plan. “Always be over-prepared, Paxton,” he said out loud, mimicking the sound of his father’s drawl.
Once the usual accoutrements had been assembled, Paxton stepped out from under the eaves to glimpse the stars emerging behind the curtain of rain. The clouds split lengthwise across the sky, undraping a brilliant moon. The rain fell so lightly it was dry as soon as it touched his bare skin. He removed his hat—something he rarely did—and let the fine mist fall on his balding head.
There is one more place I have to go. He stepped out into the night.
It wasn’t far, just far enough to be safe had anyone come looking. And there was a time when they had. Of course, Paxton wasn’t in the mood to think about that now.
A half mile up the creek, the entrance was concealed in an insignificant copse of trees away from the trail and prying eyes. Paxton had to crawl to get in. There was an iron gate fitted precisely into a concrete bunker, locked tightly with a bolt-cutter resistant system. People had called his dad crazy for building it.
Eight steps led into the bunker, whose walls, Paxton knew, were two-foot-thick rebar-reinforced concrete. This was where his father kept his finest treasures. Paxton walked underneath row after row of canned gods, some five years beyond their expiration, to the middle segment of the 800 square foot structure. Paxton did not need to search; he went immediately for two ammo cans high on the top-right shelf. The sound of the rusty latches echoed like a firecracker when he flipped them open. Paxton gathered a dozen sets of primary-lithium batteries, testing each on a sleek silver flashlight before dropping them into his satchel.
“Just like new. It pays to buy the best of the best. Now more than ever, eh Cull?” He remembered the horse was back at the house. The rain was intensifying; he could hear it roar down above him. He grabbed a full 1-gallon gas can. Just in case. In the next room, he filled an army-green satchel with rice, jerky, dried fruit and beans and searched through the canned goods, selecting any less than three years past its expiration.
Paxton opened a gun safe in the very back. It was important, even on a short journey, to always have options. “Survival is largely who has the most efficient tool,” his father used to say. “And the better brain to use it.” Paxton grabbed a .50 caliber sniper rifle and his father’s sawed-off shotgun. Those paired with his grandfather’s Colt—which he kept always in hands reach—and a knife or two for the dirty, in-close work and he figured he had the edge in almost any scenario.
Back at the house, Paxton calmed an agitated Culligan and began organizing everything into taxonomized piles on the living room floor. His bedroom closet was lined with rows of nearly indistinguishable white, black or light-blue button-up shirts paired with a handful of vests. He grabbed one of each.
Paxton halted in front of the oval mirror on his mother’s antique apothecary table. Increasingly in recent years his own reflection had become hard to see, like his face had been smudged by a clumsy eraser. There was no logic to it. No reason his eyes—which saw everything else in near-perfect clarity—weren’t up for the task. But the longer he stared the more the details of his face dissolved away into nothing. But tonight every square inch was visible in full verisimilitude. His beard was coarse and uneven. He spotted a gray hair on the left side of his chin. Leaning in closer, he was alarmed to discover it wasn’t alone.
The rain continued and Culligan wandered to a grove of willows away from the house as he sometimes did when he was agitated. Inside, Paxton finally laid down for a few hours’ sleep in the comfort of his own bed. First light we’ll hit the road.

Almost immediately, he was fast asleep.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Navajo Pride

            The road snaked across the desert landscape in broad S-curves, pulling left around a bluff here, and back to the right around a mesa there. Rodger whistled as he drove, tossing an empty soda bottle over his shoulder. His CD player was malfunctioning and the radio had been reduced to fuzz not long after the Colorado/Utah border. He filled the air instead with the sound of his own voice, which frightened him at first but he eventually became accustomed to and now liked a great deal.
Rodger examined himself in the mirror, turning his head from side to side. He thought his appearance to be quite handsome but, on closer inspection, pushed the mirror aside until all he could see was the black road slithering away behind him.
The desert, he thought. It even looks hot. Rock the color of fire, air melting and dancing like flame, the sky set alight by the waning and waxing sun. He smiled at his poetry and wondered if he would be as brilliant as a song writer.
The highway sank over the crest of a hill and descended towards a tiny white cluster of trailers and buildings in the distance. It was the beginning of Indian lands, the worst part of the drive as far as Rodger was concerned. The derelict remains of a culture ruined by a western way of life they didn’t understand. They’ve given up, thought Rodger. They simply wait in this wretched heat for their turn to sink back into the earth, the mirror reverse of how they believe they were created.
Rodger turned the mirror back to his face. “How,” he greeted himself, waving his right hand in a rigid circle. The sound of his voice made him grin.
“How,” he responded. Quickly, he lost interest and turned his attention, as he frequently did, to his future as a rock and roller. He supposed he’d have to buy an instrument and learn how to play. It’s got to be a guitar, he thought. Girls like a man that can play the guitar. Keyboardists and bass players are pussies.
Rodger glanced down at the needle of his gas gauge and grumbled, flicking it hopelessly with his right index finger. He hated having to stop now. There was little choice, however, as so few pumps dotted the landscape. He hated the reservation with its beggars and feral dogs fighting for scraps in the grocery store parking lot. And he hated the heat.
The first of the trailers zoomed past his windows. Rodger couldn’t imagine living in such conditions. They were so isolated and lonely with miles of white hot desert between them. What did these people have? What did they do? Nothing but the undying heat of the desert and the inexorable reverse of the clock in which their own share of time was sadly fading.
A crude, hand-painted sign caught Robert’s attention as the frequency of the trailers increased. Navajo Pride it declared in red spray paint. Looking around at the assemblage of poverty and despair, Rodger wondered what exactly there was to be proud of. Perhaps the sign was a melancholy declaration, satirically placed. Or maybe it would be better with a question mark at the end.
His destination wasn’t far outside of this little town. Rodger wanted to make sure before going about the business he’d come all this way to go about his gas tank was full. That way tomorrow, when he was done, he could make a quick escape. He wanted to put as many black-topped miles between himself and this forsaken country as possible.
He pulled into the derelict town’s lone gas station; a place where the tumbleweeds were real and skin was reddish-brown. Rodger’s car, the shining black symbol of his success, came to a rest and the fluids settled after so many miles and hours of sloshing back and forth. When he stepped from the car, he was immediately overtaken by the heat. He paused when he reached his full height and brushed sweat from his forehead with the back of his sleeve. The black surface of his car was hot enough to reduce his skin to wrinkled blisters with too prolonged a touch. He cussed under his breath that there was no pay-at-the-pump. Life is primitive in the wasteland. In a place like this, he preferred to do his business anonymously.
Inside, it was clear he was the minority. He did his best to blend in. A rack beside the front counter was loaded with cassette tapes of artists that had gone out of style no fewer than fifteen years earlier. A chubby Navajo behind the counter did not smile at him as he paid for gas as quick as possible. He couldn’t wait to get out of the store and out of town.
Back outside a massive Indian with a lopsided gait circled around his car and stared at it with the same interest that the feral dogs had when spying a piece of meat. Rodger slowed his pace and tried to talk himself out of his irritation. He wasn’t out here to pump up his blood pressure. He was here to find new purpose. He passed the Indian without a word, unlocked the door, and made to enter the driver’s door.
“It’s a nice car,” the man said. Rodger looked at the man with impatience.
“Thanks.” He smiled sarcastically.
“Hey, could you help me out? I just had back surgery and I need some money.”
“I don’t really have anything on me,” Rodger lied, fingering cash subconsciously in his pocket.
“Just a dollar?” the man pleaded.
Rodger started to lower himself into the car to drive away but the Indian stuck his arm through the door to keep Rodger from closing it. “Anything will help.”
Rodger felt a rising panic. His mind was filled suddenly with fears of being drug out of the car and robbed or beaten or, even worse, scalped. He had to get rid of the beggar and fast, so he retrieved his hand from his pocket and handed him the first bill that his fingers had clasped around. “Here,” he spat. He shuddered when saw the numbers printed on the bill’s surface: $100. Judging by his reaction, the Indian was more surprised than Rodger and pulled away from the car to examine the bill and make sure it wasn’t fake. This gave Rodger the chance to slam his door and punch the lock button. Before the door was fully shut, he was in gear and speeding away. The Indian, still entranced by the bill as if it were lost treasure, disappeared in the brown fog Rodger left behind.
The soda bottle he’d earlier discarded was rolling obnoxiously across the floor banging and clamoring against the doors and seats. Allowing an empty coke bottle to roll around on his usually immaculate floor was exactly the sort of change he was trying to make. He was “loosening” up. But the Indian had him rattled. He grabbed the empty bottle and ejected it out his window.
“Fuck it,” he said aloud and felt better.
Rodger’s destination was a small canyon just ten miles outside of the village. A friend had told him about it. It was a canyon where he could re-connect and re-define. He could brag about it Monday at the office. The secretaries would listen with rapture. Maybe he’d start working out after work or, even better yet, before work. Everyone would notice.
A few miles later, his car rolled to a halt at the parking lot that had been described to him. He looked out tentatively at the enormous bulges of rock and the twisted juniper trees and the ankle high beds of knives and needles that called themselves cacti. The whole idea was dripping with naiveté. It had been foolish of him to come and he knew it.
But it was too late. He had already made up his mind. He couldn’t stand the thought of going back and explaining to everyone back at work why his sojourn—the one he’d made such a deal of explaining Friday—had failed. The trunk popped open and he retrieved the two newest additions to his garage: a bright, Everest-worthy backpack and the stoutest hiking boots the outdoor store had to offer. He laid them both side-by-side in the sand.
“Christ, it’s hot,” he said wiping his forehead again. He stuffed his feet into the new boots, ripping off a tag that was attached to the eyehole of the highest shoelace rung. The stiff shoes felt strange on his feet.
A few minutes later he was moving towards the great swell of orange and white sandstone that arced into the sky in front of him. It was an alluring and threatening place and, for a moment, Rodger’s sense that he was making a mistake became more powerful. He turned back to his black car. Already it was tiny in contrast to the immensity of the desert. But it looked comforting, like sanctuary.
“Christ, it’s hot,” he repeated. He retrieved his water bottle from his backpack and took a long drink. Already he was parched.
Rodger walked through what remained of the day until the sun was set afire and the sky matched the hell-red of the bluffs and mesas. The canyon closed in around him and its shadowy faces were drained of texture as the light waned. Rodger picked a campsite at the foot of the canyon’s walls and pulled his new boots off blistered feet. He took a moment to wiggle his toes and examine the damage he’d done. Though he knew the hike out would be painful the following day, he relished the idea of having a good limp when he returned to work on Monday. A limp is always good for conversation. When people asked how he got it he could sound brave and get sympathy.
Rodger fumbled with his tent until well after dark, muttering curses at increasing volume as he fumbled with the poles and the directions and  struggled find a spot without rocks to pound in the stakes. When the tent was finally erected—though it looked somehow lopsided—Rodger was exhausted. Instead of making dinner as planned he threw a few mouthfuls of trail mix down his throat and wiggled into his sleeping bag to sleep.
 *          *          *
The sun had barely begun to rise the following morning when Rodger decided to break camp and flee the forsaken desert. He had slept terribly, as bad as any night in the entirety of his life. He’d spent most of the night awake, listening to the sighs and moans of the desert and expecting at any moment some great, desert beast to take interest in him. By morning, when the sun was touching the tops of the canyon walls, he felt braver and by the time camp was broken, he couldn’t believe his foolishness—his chicken-shitedness, as he’d been calling it—the night before.
It was unbearably hot already by the time he’d started his long retreat on blistered, battered feet. He plodded along occasionally stumbling over protuberant bulges of sandstone and small, sharp-cornered boulders. He couldn’t be sure how far into the canyon he’d walked, but it sure as hell seemed farther on the way out.
At long last the terrain became familiar again and he realized he was looking at the same landscape he’d seen from his car the day before only from the opposite direction. He rounded a final corner and his car was visible as a insignificant, black spot below in the distance. He stood looking down on his vehicle and the road with a certain melancholy, feeling as if he were at the end of some great accomplishment. He beat the sweat off his brow for what he hoped would be the final time.
Just one last pitch of steep rock and I’ll be free, he thought. His energy was perking. He felt as if he’d defeated the canyon and defeated nature. He turned back to the canyon from which he’d emerged and upraised his middle finger in contempt. Satisfied, he began to scramble down the steep, rocky slope in high spirits.
But halfway down, disaster struck. A large rock came loose under his step and his balance was compromised. He tumbled once, rolling sideways and feeling a number of sharp, sandstone teeth biting at various places along his body. He cried out once in pain, but his voice was hollow and unnatural in his head. He dug his blistered feet into the dirt and rocks, trying to arrest his momentum, but it slipped into the crevice between two boulders. Sharp pain shot up his leg and back as his foot settled and refused to move. His body flung forward around the fulcrum of his pinned ankle. He heard the bone in his leg snap and knew without question it was broken.
His body came to rest. Hot tears were already dripping from his eyes. He tried to work his leg free from the boulders that had broken it but it would not budge. It was pain to even try. From his awkward position he tried to tug his legs free with his hands but it didn’t so much as flinch. After an hour he laid back and rested.
Nature, he thought. I hate it. As the heat and dehydration sunk deep tendrils into Rodger’s mind he began to doze off into dreams of rock and roll and groupies.
*          *          *
A few days later a lone Navajo emerged from the same canyon. In his hand were the leaves and stems of a variety of plants both fragrant and colorful. He came upon the scene of the white man whose leg was splintered and pinned. He reached down and felt the man’s silent neck. There was nothing to do. He whispered a few words in his native tongue and stepped around the dead man in his path. At the road he walked past the man’s black car and turned left towards town.    

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Friday, November 18, 2016

The Silent Stones: An Unexpected Visitor

His father was the last person he’d seen alive and that was 3,394 days ago.
There was no reason to think about that now, standing alone in a Colorado meadow with a mattock in his hand and a hot wind exhaling against his face. He hoisted the iron high above his head and brought it down with a shoop in the soil.
High above, a lone cloud drifted between him and the sun. He closed his eyes, relishing the temporary reprieve. But as soon as it was there it was gone, and the full-strength of the June heat resumed.
Beads of sweat rolled from his forehead like tiny glass balls as he brought the iron mattock down again.
Paxton Raleigh had towed, with some struggle, a red wheelbarrow overloaded with seedlings, clones and tubers up the decaying trail. The rainy season was on him, and he would need better food stores if he wanted to survive another winter like the last.
post apocalyptic novel
Paxton and Culligan face the 
post-apocalytic world alone
By the angle of the shadows, Paxton could tell high noon had passed. He propped the mattock handle-up against an aspen tree. “Lunch time, Culligan,” he said to his light-brown horse who stood nearby flicking his ears from the flies. Paxton rummaged through a leather satchel attached to Culligan’s saddle and extracted a slab of dried meat the size of his palm and a loaf of bread wrapped in a red handkerchief. He dropped his weight into the flickering shadows of the aspen leaves and drank deeply.
The horse snorted. “Don’t get too comfortable now. You know damn well we got ditch duty. And we have to check the traps.” The animal twisted his long neck Paxton’s direction. “There’s no putting that off any longer.” Culligan swished his tail half-heartedly. “And no back talking, Cull. I said I’d wait and see if it rained and it ain’t.”
The two had nothing else to say. Paxton worked on his lunch, chewing ravenously and washing it down with cold water from the creek. When the food was gone, he pushed himself stagnantly to his feet and stretched, his back crackling like a fire.
After mounting Culligan with a protracted effort, Paxton guided him slowly along a faint trail, switchbacking up a long slope until the valley floor was several hundred feet below. Paxton reined Culligan to a stop, and drank thirstily from his canteen.
“The next two months are going to be like this, Cull,” he said. “The heat takes the work right out of you.” He looked down on the ranch far below. The aluminum roof gleamed in the sunlight at the west end of the meadow. Behind it, wider and longer but not as tall, was the barn.
Paxton and Culligan stayed motionless for some time. A light breeze did little to oppress the vicious sun and the heat radiated back from the ground. Don’t forget last winter, he reminded himself. One more season like that I won’t be around for the next.
From this higher vantage, he could see a few scattered clouds building to the west: a welcome sign. Steering Culligan away, they continued up the trail, slogging upward for another ten minutes until they crested the long hill at last. Unseen waterfalls grumbled in the deep canyon below.
With easier traveling, the tandem made better time, and in just a few minutes, the trail returned to the water at a wide, motionless marshland. Paxton dismounted, loosened the mattock and a shovel from the saddle, and stuffed a small pinch of Copenhagen between his teeth and lower lip.
Culligan puffed.
“I’m quitting! Down to one log anyway and it’s all dry.” Culligan turned away.
A strange wave of déjà vu flooded over him: the warm tickle of nicotine on the back of his throat bringing back the past in near-perfect fidelity. The sensation was so lucid and powerful, for a moment he felt as if he toed the border with one foot in both past and present.
Shaking off the sensation with a laugh, he turned away from Culligan and hauled his tools to the creekside.
His father had dug the old ditch when they’d first bought the ranch many years before, but disuse and time had steered the water back to its natural path. This spring, however, Paxton had laid out a plan for the fall he hoped would yield more food for winter than ever before.
But before he could start on the ditch, he had to check his traps. He laid his tools in the dirt and followed a faint trail upstream through head-high willows. His boots squished in the gluey marshland. At the head of the valley, the creek spilled from the scree of the high basin above. A small lake formed at the base of a tumbling cataract at the head of the valley. Paxton worked through the brush to the northwest corner where he’d set his trap on a well-beaten game trail.
“Nothing, Cull,” he said when he got there, forgetting that the horse had stayed behind. He inspected his handmade trap, tightening the knots, the noose, and replacing the bait. Farther along the trail, each of the six traps he’d set was the same.
He returned to the creek where Culligan was swooshing his tail lazily. Paxton swatted a mosquito from his ear and retrieved leather gloves from his pocket. He fired Culligan a glance from the corner of his eye.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he warned. “It’s all random, whether you catch something or not.”
Paxton took up the mattock, aimed an angry stroke and sunk it halfway into the mud. The earth here was tough: full of embedded stones, stubborn roots and dense clay. “This is gonna take a while, Cull.” He took another swing, striking something hard three or four inches down. “But a while is all we have, I guess.”
Paxton aimed another stroke but paused. A strange thumping noise suddenly surrounded him. At first he thought he was imagining it: the return of the déjà vu. It seemed to be coming from the very earth itself.
 “Culligan!” he yelled. Dropping the mattock, he dove behind a thick tangle of scrub oak just as a helicopter exploded over the ridgeline with frightening intensity. Paxton surged with adrenaline. Somewhere from his periphery he saw Culligan bolt down the hill.
Even from his low vantage, he could see the helicopter was white with a navy-blue tail, bearing no other markings other than a serial #:  N7-1482Z. The helicopter hovered not 200 yards north, its rotor wash jerking around the brambles where Paxton hid. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the strange machine drifted his direction until it was directly overhead. The sound was deafening, filling his ears and sucking the air from his lungs. He had never heard such a terrible noise, like the beating wings of a grotesque prehistoric hornet. Not for almost ten years had he felt such fear.
Culligan whinnied in the distance, a horrible sound unlike any he’d heard before from the animal. All Paxton could see through the branches was blowing dust and twigs. The helicopter was facing and drifting away.
Paxton’s fear was ebbing. The pilot! There has to be a pilot! But just when the thought crossed his mind, the helicopter spun west and rumbled down the valley and away. The wind and noise quickly subsided. Paxton forced himself to swallow a few deep breaths and sat up straight. The helicopter was hovering over the ranch. He watched it, still in utter disbelief.
“Culligan!” he yelled, yanking his gun from its holster. No longer afraid, Paxton jumped to his feet and sprinted down the trail, waving frantically at the tail rotor of the aircraft.
“Wait! Stop!” he yelled. His lungs burned. His feet tangled on something in the grass sending him plummeting forward. His pants ripped as his left knee absorbed his full weight. Paxton ignored the pain and bounced back to his feet. “No!” he yelled again. “I’m right here!” The helicopter hovered directly over the ranch for a moment. Then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, it lifted over Storm King Mountain and vanished.
Paxton ran impotently, gasping and bleeding for another 200 yards before collapsing on the hard ground under a thicket of willows.
“Culligan!” he yelled again, breaking the new silence. A soft breeze whispered through the willow branches. On his stomach, he recovered his breath slowly.
So there are more.
But at the appearance of something so unexpected—something from another life long ago—his mind had been consumed by the possibility of danger. He hadn’t thought about the contact that could have occurred until it was too late.
I’d convinced myself that the new world was not only okay but actually better. But the prospect of more represented by that helicopter had provoked such a feeling that he knew now—lying face down in the cool grass in a world just as quiet and empty as it had been an hour earlier—he’d been wrong.
He became aware of the quiet shuffling of feet and felt a wet nudge on his back. When he rolled onto his back, he was looking down the twin-barrels of Culligan’s snout at shockingly close range. The horse snorted.
“So we ain’t alone.”

(Read next section: Gathering His Life)

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

RAZED RUINS: Chapter 1: To the White City

"And he sayeth to me, 'My sweet Queen Tala, I took all of my most prized relics, the greatest heirlooms of the greatest house that ever was, and buried them in a chamber so unfathomable it will be forbidden to all but the most worthy suitors. And God help them should they solve its mystery. May their hearts be true, for the power they discover within will awe all the world.' "

It is these words, laid out in Omar: the True Story from Those Who Knew Him Dearest that kindled the legend of the Forbidden Chamber, the mythical cache for the treasures of Omar Roberts I, the Hero King. The account is purportedly written by Tala Roberts, Omar I's fourth and final wife. Many scholars, however, posit numerous explanations for why the account and reality might be divergent, from heavy-handed embellishments by a so-called "ghost writer" to intentional deviations from the truth by Tala herself. One popular theory suggests that the book was actually fictionalized much later, perhaps has late as 1350 NE, three and a half centuries after the Hero King's death.

Although the legend of Omar's Forbidden Chamber—usually thought to be located in his luxury fortress of Shamala—is perhaps the most broadly-syndicated myth in the modern canon and has drawn the interest of countless historians and tomb raiders for many centuries, no indication of any secret treasure has ever been discovered. So little evidence has been found, in fact, that recent decades has seen a steep decline of interest in the pursuit of the Forbidden Chamber. Chamber Hunters, as they were once called, are now all but extinct.

*          *          *

"What are you reading?"

The fiery gaze of the sun filtered down through the gossiping leaves of a cottonwood onto Vallario Roberts where he sat beside the crystal-cool water of a murmuring brook.

"Legend of Omar," he replied to his twin sister, Galia, as she wrung soap from a beige tunic. Vallario thumbed the book closed and dropped it into his leather rucksack.

Galia leveled her eyes on him. "You're not thinking about that again, are you?"

"I know you don't believe in it." Her stare was heavier than gravity as he tossed pebbles in silence. "At least it takes my mind off..." He trailed away pathetically. The embarrassment was still too fresh to say the rest. Even to his twin.

Galia scooted closer. "Don't think about it. I'm sure she just—"

"Just what?"

Galia crushed her lips together. "It doesn't matter what she thinks! You're too good for her anyway!"

Val tossed another pebble, more firmly than the last. No one in the family ever faced such an insult.

"Are you excited to see the capital, Val?"

Val was happy to entertain a new subject. "After three weeks in that miserable carriage, I don't care where we stop."

"You never had the stomach for traveling," she laughed, flipping her curly, golden-brown hair over her shoulder.

"It's not that I don't have the stomach for traveling," said Val. "I just...I just have a hard time sleeping on the road."

"We've stayed in inns more than half the nights. And besides, how many times have you left Tahala in your entire life? Honestly?"

"I've left the city!"

"How many times?" She inclined an eyebrow.

"I don't know," he responded evasively. "A few."

"Father is always asking you to come along when we travel. Mother too. But all you do is barricade yourself in the library and pore over books about the Forbidden Chamber."

"I like where we live! Why would I need to leave?" His face was getting hotter.

"Don't get angry!" Galia giggled. "As for myself, as a woman grown, I understand the need to respect and experience culture. I know you are still just a boy...."

Union law defined that a girl came of age at 16 but boys had to wait a full year longer.

"We're the same age!"

"We are not!" Galia added. "I am ten minutes older."

Val was saved from having to concede by a terrific splash. Crystals of water ejected from the pool, soaking both twins. Val jumped up in alarm, tripped over his bag and toppling to the ground.

"Pall!" cried Galia. "I told you not to throw rocks!"

For a moment there was no response. Then, piece-by-piece, their two-years-older brother emerged from a scruff of oak brush, grinning victoriously.

"How could I resist?" Pall boasted. "When you make such easy targets?"

Val dusted himself off. "What have you been doing?"

"Just stretching my legs," Pall responded, but Val noticed his hands fidgeting with something in his pocket. "Tomorrow we'll finally be in the White City. Couldn't come soon enough, if you ask me."

"Oh, please," Galia complained as she inspected her clothes for mud. "You both can be such...cowards."

"I'm just anxious to get to the party," their older brother said with a dismissive wave. "I don't know why father is making us stop. We could be in the capital now if it wasn't for—."

"There you three are!" interrupted a booming voice. A lord in a dazzling violet robe loomed at the top of a small rise, his fists pressed into each hip. "Your father commands your return. The caravan is ready. We have to make it withing range of the city by tonight!" After a pause he added, "It does not do for princes and a princess to be late. The Five Year's Fair will go on with or without you." He spun away and vanished.

"I see Master Sallano is in a wonderful mood," said Pall.

Christofer Sallano was master of counsel to the throne of Shamala. Other than being the top advisor to Val's father and mother, he'd also been a mentor, instructor and friend of Val's since he  was a young boy.

The Five Year's Fair will go on with or without you. Val didn't need to be reminded of their destination; his anxiety had been growing like a thundercloud with each passing league. He'd begged to stay behind. There was nothing Val disliked more than crowds and chaos, and this Five Year's Fair was expected to be the largest in decades, perhaps ever. Besides, since he was not yet of age he wouldn't be allowed a vote when the lords and ladies sat down to select the next supreme chancellor.

But of course his father had insisted. This year's fair, he'd informed him, was important for two reasons: first, it marked the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Union, and second, Lady Sandra of House Gonsales—perhaps the most broadly respected supreme chancellor the realm had seen in a century—had reached the end of her 15-year term limit.

"The royal family will all be present," his father had said. And since he was Sean Roberts II, King of Tahala, his word was final.

The three siblings gathered their things and scrambled back to the carriages. To their surprise, the King sat in the driver's seat, grinning merrily.

"Your mother wanted to sleep. I took the excuse to relieve Kiwen of the reins." He smiled down on the siblings. "Entertain the desires of an old man and allow him to enjoy the last of the Lonely Highway with his children!"

Galia giggled and jumped up beside him. Val quietly followed. Pall, however, stayed firmly planted.

"Pallar," the King bellowed. "I want my oldest son at my side."

After a show of reluctance, Pall filled the seat to his right. The King grinned as he coaxed the horses forward and the caravan began to roll. "It's still a long ride to the capital."


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