Category Archives: writing

Full of Crap

full of crap As a co-host of the Dead Robots Society, I can tell you that a large number of our topics come from our listeners. Wolf Roark, a good friend and a man whose picture is next to lovable curmudgeon in the dictionary, recently asked one that resonates with me.

How do you keep the crap that happens in the real world from affecting the story you’re trying to tell?

Now, this question can be taken in a couple of ways. I’m going to answer in both ways that spring to mind:

Way the First – I’m a husband, a father, someone with a day job, and in general just a busy dude. In short, there’s a LOT of crap in my life. Things that take time. Things I waste time on. Things I actually have to do. All of that stuff can get in the way of telling the story, much less actually getting the story written down. There are a couple of ways you can prevent that from happening:

Have A Schedule – Much of the crap that gets in the way has its own schedule. I have to be at work at a certain time. The kids have a bed time. We eat dinner at roughly the same time every day. Why should writing be any different? I write nearly every day at lunch. This is a habit I’m trying to cultivate and am having some degree of success at. I also try to write at the end of the day, but that’s possibly the worst time to do it for me personally. If any crap hits the fan then writing isn’t going to happen. That’s why I don’t rely on having that time to write. It’s like a bonus. So you need to find the best time of day for you to write.

Be Flexible – This may seem to contradict the schedule thing. For me, it gives me some freedom. I used to write almost nothing. Months would go by and nary a word would I commit to paper/electrons. When I finally decided to “get serious” I would start of grand and then something would go to crap. I’d feel guilty, get discouraged, and give up for a few weeks. Now, if life interferes, I let it. Then I remember that writing can happen and WILL happen the next day. I don’t let that trap of guilt and shame slow me down.

Get Buy In – Make sure that the people in your life know how important writing is to you. My wife, God bless her heart, will go to great lengths to make sure that I know that it’s writing time. She hasn’t taken the nuclear options of stealing the remote or hiding my beer, but those cards are on the table.

Way the Second – It is entirely possible he meant “how do you keep current events or the crap at work from creeping in to the stories you’re writing?”.

I say, don’t stand in the way of those things. Inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places. Everything from the origin of the story itself to events in the story can and should be somewhat fluid. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, you can leave room open to being affected by that song you heard or that movie you watched. These days I think that can be particularly useful if you happen to be writing political thrillers, but every genre can and should tackle the sort of events and issues that we run into in our daily lives.

Then there are the things that happen in my personal life. Being a father and a husband has done nothing but make my writing better/richer/deeper. I let those things in. I draw events and interactions into my stories. I feel like that will help them resonate with people.

The Final Thing – It’s entirely possible that I’ve missed the point of his question. Or that you’re inspired to ask a new question or answer the question he seems to have asked yourself. Please do! That’s what comments are for.

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Gender In Writing

A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain1 I’ve been studying both French and Spanish over the last few months. I was fluent in French at one point and am working to regain that. I’ve never studied Spanish, but I’m finding that the dribs and drabs I’ve picked up over the years is leaking out of my brain and gaining flesh as I study. I’m using a combination of the Duolingo app/website and the podcasts produced by Radio Lingua.

One thing this study has reminded me of is the concept of gendered nouns (regardless of whether or not the physical object has a gender), and the fact that both languages change the spelling of adjectives based on the gender of that noun they describe. I wondered if that was changing at all in practice the way that it is, to a lesser degree, in English. While we don’t have gendred nouns per se, I can’t help but think how I’ve gone from saying “fireman” to “fire fighter” and “policeman” to “police officer”. There’s another change in usage that I’ve noticed. Certain masculine words like “waiter” are supplanting their feminine versions entirely, in spite of efforts to create words like “waitron“. Then there’s the question of pronouns. All three languages I speak have “him” and “her”, but the only gender neutral term I know of is the English word “it”.

The more I read when it comes to gender issues and the use of descriptors like cis-gendred and genderqueer to name but two that are new to me, the more I wonder if this neutrality trend is good or bad (or neither). As someone who writes some science fiction, I think about how to use language like this in my stories. It’s somewhat pointless to try and be accurate about how we’ll speak in twenty, fifty, or a hundred years. No one can be sure how language will evolve in the coming decades. We only know that it will. Still, it’s fun to think about. Then there’s the matter of respect for the communities that use those terms currently.

Given the choice between using words that are gender neutral, gender specific, or applying the current gender specific masculine (or feminine) term to the broader group; how do you address that in your writing? Does that depend on your genre and audience, or do you have a rule that applies to all of your writing?

“A TransGender-Symbol Plain1”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain1.png#mediaviewer/File:A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain1.png

The Teacher

Here’s my latest entry in my ongoing serial horror piece. This one creeped me out.

I’m interested in suggestions for a title for this work. Drop any suggestions in the comments.

Abe popped the gel coated tablets into his mouth and chased them with a slurp of the red wine he’d bought earlier that day. It had been a hell of a week at school and he felt like he needed a break. He walked over to the fireplace, glass in hand, and hit the ignition button on the fireplace. Peace and quite, an adult beverage, and the flickering of the gas logs were only the first course.

He relaxed into the easy chair, relishing the feeling of his skin against the leather. It was cool at first, but it soon warmed to body heat. He was a little disappointed that he had to enjoy this time alone. He’d hoped to have a date to share the pictures with, but the person he had in mind was being investigated. They’d have to lay low for a while. Abe had been enjoying his hobby for twenty years and knew what precautions to take. His friend was newer to the passion and may not be as well schooled in what to do and what not to do. That could be very bad for him.

Abe had slipped up once and it had nearly cost him his job. It had cost him his marriage and he needed to really be careful, but that was all water under the bridge. He grabbed his tablet from the table nearby and opened the texting window. The face that looked back at him was angelic. The boy, Charlie, was a junior in Abe’s French II class. His grades weren’t the best and when he needed extra help, Abe had been very understanding. After all, bad grades could cost him his spot on the football team and without that there would be no college scholarship.

Soon he and Charlie had quite the friendship. Abe had never taken it any farther than that. It had been tempting, but that was part of being careful. He’d used all of his knowledge of Charlie’s likes and dislikes to build Rachel’s profile. Rachel was seventeen, had flaming red hair, and was an average student. She told Charlie that she attended a school across the state and had heard about him in the newspaper. She friended him on Twitter and soon the two were exchanging emails, texts, and direct messages. Cultivating the relationship hadn’t taken long. Getting it to the point where Charlie was sending him naked pictures had gone fairly quickly. Once he had those, it was easy to take it further. Now he had pictures of Charlie’s friends taken in the locker room and even had a video of varsity cheerleading coach Dana going down on Charlie in the back of her Passat. All Abe had to do was convince Charlie that this was the sort of thing Rachel got off on. In return he sent Charlie pictures of Rachel getting off. That had been a piece of cake since everything of Rachel’s came from one of those “barely legal” sites.

Soon he would take it to the next level. He had plans to “discover” the online relationship and threaten to reveal it to Charlie’s parents. That, plus all of the pictures, especially the secret locker room snaps, would turn the young man into his slave. It was the long con, but the little nibbles along the way, the pictures and videos, made the wait worthwhile. He’d been unable to really look at any of the pictures Charlie had sent this week and settled in to appreciate them.

When he opened the folder he nearly shrieked. All of the pictures had been replaced by one photo repeated over and over again. The barrel of a gun pointed at a camera’s lens. “I don’t understand.” He was about to put the tablet down when his muscles started to cramp. He gripped the device in spasming hands. Any tighter and he might crack the screen.

A window opened on the screen and it was Charlie’s face, but only the mouth moved. It wasn’t Charlie’s mouth. “I see that the medication has taken effect. There was a ‘mistake’ and your regular dose of anti-anxiety meds was replaced with something a little fiercer. The man I received your information from had planned to make your outing a little more public. So I expect you would thank me. If you were able to form words.”

Abe could no longer feel his hands.

“I don’t usually kill people, but in your case I’ve decided to make an exception. I can be convinced otherwise. If you understand, grunt once like a pig.”

Abe tried very hard and forced air through his throat and out of his mouth.

“You’re looking at the barrel of a gun. You like young men to put their ‘barrel’s’ in your mouth. I say you combine the two and take the barrel of that .357 you keep in your drawer and put it in your mouth. Pull the trigger and everything bad will go away.”

Abe wanted to scream. There was no way he’d kill himself. Suicides went to hell and he had no desire to end up there.

“I know. I know. Killing yourself is hard. Here’s what will happen if you don’t. You’re thinking to yourself that the next words out of my mouth will be that I’ll make your little secret public. If I wanted that then I would have let your eventual blackmailer live. I don’t want your victims to be hurt by your sickness. However you choose to die, I’ll wipe every file you have. No one will know about your indiscretions. That I promise you.”

Abe was able to narrow his eyes.

“What’s the alternative? I’ll kill you. It will be slow. And painful. You’ve made a life out of stripping people of theirs. After you lose your pictures I will see to it that all of the care you’ve taken in building a respectful life will fall down around your ears. You will wish that you killed yourself. Then, one day, a person will come to you with a package. That will take your what’s left of your life from you, but only after you’ve lest everything you live for.” Charlie’s face faded from the tablet’s screen.

Abe sat there for exactly seventeen minutes, until feeling began to come back to his fingers and toes. He felt the tears trickle down his face. He could either take his life, or he could leave it for this monster to take. “What kind of choice is that?” He screamed to the empty house.

He managed to stand after another ten minutes. He dragged himself to the kitchen using walls and furniture for support. A splash of cold water on his face convinced him that this whole mad experience wasn’t a dream. “There’s no way someone could take my life from me. I’ve been so careful. I’ve followed all of the rules.”

The tablet beeped at him from the next room. He stumbled to the chair and picked it up in time to see icons began to disappear. The tablet rebooted. “You could get to that. Of course you could. I have other places. I’ve hid them where no one can find them.” Feeling began to return fully to his extremities. The pins and needles threatened to drive him crazy. He ran as best he could to his office. The computer there was clean. He clicked on a link that took his web traffic through layer after layer of obfuscation. Eventually he reached a computer located in another country. It was there that he stored a number of his dearest files.

When the barrel of a gun looked at him from the screen, he pushed back. “There’s no way. You can’t have gotten everything.” He’d spent years building relationships and getting the things he wanted most. They were slipping through his fingers. If the person could get to all of his files and get into his home and switch his medicine, what couldn’t he do?”

Abe dragged himself to his kitchen and pulled down the bottle of scotch. He unscrewed the cap and turned the bottle up to his mouth. The liquor burned his throat. Drink and more pills took him to a sleep devoid of dreams.

He woke up the next morning, hung over and sure that everything he experienced had been a horrid dream. He started to go to his computer when the phone rang. He jumped like he’d been hit with a cattle prod. He answered it on the third ring. “Hello?”

“Abe? This is Principal Faulkner. We need to talk about something.”

Abe shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs. “What is it, sir?”

“Abe, we’ve known each other for years. You’re one of the best teachers I have and I want you to hear it from me first. You’re being suspended, pending an investigation.”

They’d found out. The bastard that poisoned him had lied. He worked hard to keep his tone level. “Sir, Walter, I don’t know what this is about.” He came close to babbling out an excuse, but the principal hadn’t told him why he was being suspended.

“It’s probably nothing. We got a call from a parent and there’s some concern that you’ve been helping children to cheat on tests.”

A giggle burst out from Abe’s lips.

“You think this is funny?”

Abe cleared his throat. “Of course not, sir. I know how important reputation is. I just don’t see how you could possibly believe…”

“We have to treat each report of this nature as though it’s potentially true. Of course, I don’t have to tell you if this is true it will cost you your job. We’ll talk more in the morning. Goodbye, Abe.” There was a click.

“Goodbye, sir.” He hung up the phone. His job was gone. There was no truth to the idea of him helping a student to cheat. But someone who could get to all of his files and invade his home would have no problem manufacturing a cheating scandal. He walked to his office. The light was still on and his computer was still up. The wallpaper had been replaced with the picture that had haunted him last night.

“You win. Whoever you are.” He pulled open the desk drawer and pulled out a metal box. The pistol was nestled in black velvet. He cleaned it regularly and practiced with it. The short barrel was cold and tasted like gun oil.

The computer began beeping as files were deleted and tracks erased. The sound of whirring was overshadowed by a single, muffled shot and the splat of blood and brain on plaster.

Playing A Player

This is the next in my ongoing horror serial. Enjoy!

SanDisk_Cruzer_MicroElard finished his jog and stopped outside the library to cool down. He felt bad for Melanie. He didn’t know exactly what happened, but he knew one thing. She was no liar. He’d do some snooping on the library computers and see if the guy bugging her had left any trail. Then he’d take it from there.

He walked into the library and headed for the computer that Mel used. She was a creature of habit. If the computer she wanted wasn’t available then she’d wait. Elard was a different creature in many ways. The computer she always used was occupied. That just wouldn’t do at all for his purposes. He walked up to the baby faced young man hammering at the keys. “How you doin’ sweetie?”

The guy didn’t even flinch.

Elard touched him on the shoulder. The white button down shirt the hammerer wore was lightly starched. “I was talkin’ to you sugar.”

This time he flinched. “Huh?” He looked up at Elard with big blue eyes. “Can I help you?”

Elard nodded. “This computer has some viruses on it. Seems like someone was looking at baby porn on it. Pictures of naked little kids. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” He stared at the man-child. Poor thing couldn’t have been more than six months out of high school.

“Shit no.” His fingers practically shot away from the keyboard. “I was just working on my term paper.” He scooted back and adjusted his thick framed glasses. “You go ahead and do what you need to do.”

“Thanks.” Elard nodded. “You toddle on over there.” He watched the young man walk away, taking note of the tightly fitting trousers. “Too young and innocent for me.” Elard turned his attention back to the computer. He plugged a usb stick into one of the available ports and powered it off. When he turned it back on he waited for the right screen and forced the computer to boot from the stick.

“Excuse me.” The voice came from behind Elard.

Elard turned to see the young man had come back. “Yes, sweetie.”

“Did you save that document? The one I was working on.” He pointed at the computer. His hand trembled slightly.

Elard shook his head. “Fraid not. You weren’t working in the cloud?”

“The what, now?” The young man cocked his head.

Elard sighed. Young and not too bright, in spite of the nerd chic look. “Google docs or some such?”

“No. I was going to save it to my USB thing when I was done.” He looked at the mostly dark screen. It looked for all the world like he was going to start bawling right here in the middle of the library.

Elard put a hand on the man’s stomach. “You sit right over there. When I’m done I’ll recover it for you.” The stomach underneath that shirt was hard and flat.

His eyes cleared up. “That would be awesome. I don’t know how I can thank you.”

Elard flicked the fingers of his other hand. “We can talk about that later. You go sit down and let daddy work.” He swiveled in his chair. He hadn’t been a dancer his whole life. Computers and anything electronic gave him a sense of control and power. When he’d get beaten up, he’d spend hours in the school computer lab healing and hanging out with the other rejects. He didn’t get the hang of them right away, but now everything about them made sense.

He sifted through the computer logs and the files on the PC and then moved out to the network. Every computer in this building had a chunk of code that could turn it into a zombie with one string of nonsense put into the right folder. The person that had taken these machines over would know nearly anything the people on the computers did. Key loggers would store anything that was typed and another piece of malware would grab screen shots periodically or if certain keywords were typed in. Go to a bank’s website and he’d have your balance and login information. Download smut and he’d know it. There was even a bit that used the webcam as a spy eye.

None of that mattered right now, since Elard’s homemade bootstick kept all of that cordoned off. All the mystery person would know was that this computer was down for a while. He could possibly guess why, but Elard wasn’t making any changes. At least not yet. He took his own screenshots and copied the bots of code that he could without tripping any alarms.

It was no wonder that this person knew Melanie well. He or she would have been able to cyber stalk her for at least the last year. What she didn’t do on her laptop she did hear. Hell, the person likely had her laptop owned as well since the girl used the same USB stick here and at home. She didn’t update their antivirus as often as Elard recommended, not that most AV programs could keep up with people like the one who was doing this. He was no script kiddie. Those pseudo hackers were no better than trained monkeys. Some of them very well trained. No, this person was on Elard’s level, if not above it.

Thinking better of the notion that his own stick was “invisible” to this person, he pulled the power cable and the USB stick. He’d be careful about the next place he plugged it in and then he’d destroy it. If there was anything nasty on there he’d minimize the damage and then make sure no one else got infected.

“Can you get my file?” The voice coming from behind him was timid.

Elard turned and really looked at the person. He could see the binding now under the white shirt that kept his breasts constricted. Whether the guy was a pre-op trans or a cross dresser or any number of other choices on the gender spectrum, he was good and would fool most people. Hell he’d fooled Elard. He held out a hand. “Name’s Elard. Sorry about all of that garbage I fed you a few minutes ago.”

“You can call me Gus, Elard.” They shook hands.

“That computer really is fucked. You don’t want any part of any file that you had on there. I wasn’t feeding you a line about that.” He pulled the guy’s USB stick from the computer and handed it to him.

Gus got that cry-baby look again.

Elard felt more than a little bad about how he’d treated Gus earlier. He’d turned on the creep factor pretty high. “Hey, look, I know shit is hard. You lost your paper. We’ll get you fixed back up.”

The look disappeared like Gus’s flipped a switch. “Gotcha.” The young trans person winked.

Elard laughed. “You played a player. Well done. But I really can help you out with that paper and I can introduce you to some friends.”

Gus narrowed his eyes. After a second he nodded. “I’d like that.” He grabbed his things and they walked out into the chilly afternoon.

Hacking the Hacker

LG_L194WT-SF_LCD_monitor Stanley chuckled to himself as he logged off of the school’s server farm. The teacher deserved everything he’d get for hiding his sexuality from their students. Now, not only would everyone at the school know, they’d have photographic evidence by way of new wallpaper on every PC in the district. He swiveled in his chair and opened the nearby fridge. The cold can of Roadblock would be as much celebration as he’d have time for tonight. He had a maintenance window to attend to.

He cracked open the can and had half of its contents down his gullet when he heard the ping. It came from the surround sound speakers, moving from one to the next. He followed the sound, swiveling in his chair until the noise stopped in the speaker above his monitor. It continued repeating, rapidly increasing in volume and frequency until he had to put the can down and cover his ears.

The high pitched whine stopped only when he kicked the speaker plug free with his foot. “What the fuck?”

“Do I have your attention?” The black box stared at him from the center of the thirty-two inch monitor.

He slid up to his keyboard and grabbed the can of Roadblock. It tasted like ass, but it would keep him awake. He tapped with his free hand into the new chat window. “You do. And that’s not something you want.”

“You don’t have to type. I can hear and see you.”

He squeezed the can in his fist and the aluminum crumpled. “Then hear this. Get out of my system, or you’ll regret the day you were born.”

“How cliche. How do you know I don’t already?”

“Huh?” He pitched the can over one shoulder and belched loudly.

“I may already regret that day. That may be why I feel the need to poison energy drinks.”

Stanley burped again and tasted something coppery. “What the actual fuck?” He reached out for his ‘droid and as he did he realized he now saw two of everything. “How? Why?” He burped again, this one long and rumbling. His chin felt wet.

A mechanical voice crackled over the speakers. “By now you won’t be able to see what I am typing. Your vision will continue to get worse, and soon all you will be able to take in is a liquid diet. You are a creature of habit, Stanley. I won’t bore you with the how. The why would be the petty games you play with people’s lives.”

Stanley flopped out of his chair, and as he did his hand swiped the phone from his desk. His vision grew dark. “Call nine one one.” He managed to spit out the words and a surprising amount of fluid. As the operator came on line, all he could do was weep and belch.

What he didn’t see were his screen’s and computers going dark, one by one. The final screen showed data being siphoned from his computer at a phenomenal rate.

Free Ride

camaro Melanie couldn’t remember ever having a more miserable forty-five minutes. She came back into the foyer of the police station every ten minutes to warm back up, but it wasn’t the cold as much as it was the feeling that she was completely alone. She’d killed a woman, though she didn’t know it would happen. Whether she’d ever be convicted of any wrongdoing didn’t matter. She’d carry the guilt with her forever.

Finally, the dark blue Camaro pulled up in front of the station. Rage Against the Machine belted out from the speakers, audible even five feet from the car. The screaming died down mostly. Elard climbed out of the driver’s side and looked around. When he saw her he smiled. “Come on and get in before we both freeze our nuts off.”

She smiled back at him, a weak and watery grin, but it was still there. “Our boobs in my case. Though they’re about the same size.”

He got back in the car and she heard the lock disengage.

She opened the door and climbed in. The car smelled of cigarettes, fast food, and farts. It wasn’t the most pleasant combination, but it was familiar. She’d gotten a ride from him more than once and the conversation always made it worthwhile. “Thanks for coming to get me.”

He threw the car into drive. “No worries, Mel.” He pulled into traffic. “You just make sure and return the favor some day. So, what happened? If you feel like talking about it?”

Melanie looked over at her friend. They’d known each other for the last two years. That didn’t seem like much, but they’d packed a lot of living in that time. They moved in together six months ago and there had been no creeping or hanky panky on his part. She still wasn’t sure if he was straight, bi, trans, or what. “I don’t know. It was bad stuff.”

Elard looked over at her. “It’s cool. You tell me what you want, when you can.”

They rode in relative silence for a few minutes. “Someone is dead.”

“Okay.”

“I didn’t kill them, or at least if they’re dead because of what I did, I didn’t know that it was going to happen. Someone hacked into my computer at the library and gave me money to deliver a package.” She took a breath.

Elard reached into the space between them and pulled out a cigarette pack. He shook one out and stuck it in the corner of his mouth. When he put the pack back in its place he pushed in the cigarette lighter. “Hacking isn’t the right word for getting into those PCs. They’re more wide open than a Thai lady-boy all grown up.”

Melanie didn’t know if she should be surprised that he didn’t mention the killing. She pulled a long face at the analogy.

“You did something you shouldn’t have. Question is, what are you gonna do about it?”

She squeezed her eyes shut. There were no tears forthcoming. She worried about that. She hadn’t cried yet. “I don’t know. Fuuuuck. I don’t know.”

“We’ll find this guy. Then we take him to the cops.”

Her eyes popped open and she looked at him. “You can do that?”

The lighter snapped out and he lit the cigarette. “We can do that.” He puffed smoke out. “I can have a look at the computer. We can find out how he paid you. We’ll build a case.”

“Just like CSI.” She chirped. She actually chirped.

Paul chuckled. “Nah. It’ll take more than an hour. And we may not get everything we need. But I think we can. You better think about being honest with the cops though.”

“How do you know I haven’t been?”

“You’re sitting with me. You tell them that you got paid, and they’d crawl into your life so deep you’d wish they’d bought you a drink first. Still, you need to know that honesty’s almost always the best policy. Except when it isn’t.”

She wanted to punch him in the shoulder. Instead, she started to cry. Her vision tripled and quadrupled like one of those dragonfly kaleidoscopes. She sobbed and clutched her stomach. She wasn’t alone, but she still felt lonely.

Middle Grade Series Name Poll

I asked for some ideas for a series name yesterday. I’ve written some Middle Grades accessible horror stories and I’ll be writing more. They’re all short and I want a “banner” to tie them all together. These will be like Goosebumps but a bit darker.

To that end, I present my favorite suggestions so far. If you got one you think top these, you can add it, but it needs to be awesome! Thanks for your help!

Down at the Station

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe beefy detective slammed his hand down on the table for the third time.

Melanie promised herself she wouldn’t flinch, but she did.

“Who did you get the box from?”

“I didn’t do anything wrong.” Her voice trembled. But hadn’t she? Oh good god, what had she done? She’d taken the stupid, fucking box from that creepy lady. Her bank account had the money deposited, or so the text had said. Soon they’d throw her in jail and it wouldn’t be Orange is the New Black or Mayberry RFD. She’d probably die in a filthy shower and all because she’d been-

“Focus.” The bark snapped her out of the reverie. “”Look, honey…”

“Melanie.”

“Fine. Look, Melanie, right now you’re not being charged. You’re no killer. Hell, the woman isn’t even dead. At worst, you screwed the pooch. You’re young and cute. The DA will likely let you go with a slap on the wrist.”

“I’m not being charged?” She remembered something she’d seen online. She could go. They hadn’t read her her rights.

“Not yet.”

“Can I go, then?”

The big man scowled at her. “You can, but if you do, you damn sure better stay where we can find you.”

She stood. “I gave the officer my address and phone number. I want to catch the creep who did this as much as you do.” She had held back a few details, not sure that they’d believe a story about a computer making her the offer or taking money to do it. She’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As if reading her thoughts he got closer to her. Close enough that she could smell the corned beef and sauerkraut on his breath. “If we ask you more question in an official context, you better pray that your story hasn’t changed. Pretty girl like you doesn’t want to go to jail. The other jail bait isn’t all that you’ll have to be afraid of.”

She made a gagging sound in the back of her throat. She didn’t think she was going to throw up, but bile flooded her mouth.

He back peddled. “Restroom’s out there in the hall. Puke in there if you have to.”

She had already stood up before the second sentence started. She fled the interrogation room and managed to make it to the bathroom and spit out the foul mouthful before it caused her to vomit for real. Rinsing out her mouth made it a little better. She fished her phone out and texted Elard.

Come pick me up at the police station.

The text back was full of misspelled profanity and a promise to get there soon.

She waited outside in the cold, not feeling the least bit safe. Her phone vibrated against her thigh. At first she thought it was the phantom vibration she sometimes got, but it continued. She pulled out the phone and flipped it open.

Do you want another job?

She threw the phone down like it had grown eight legs. It shattered on the concrete.

What’s in the Box?

Continued from yesterday’s story.

Melanie stood in the chill air, rubbing her arms and generally wondering why she was here. “Five hundred dollars. Five hundred dollars.” She waited next to a toy store that had gone out of business about ten years pre-Brony. Nobody, sketchy or otherwise waited for her. “Maybe I got the location wrong?” She pulled out the folded square of paper, wishing she’d taken her brother’s offer of a smartphone instead of the stupid flip phone she had. The little gold star put her right on this street.

“Five more minutes and I may go see if I can beg a slice from Elard.”

Lights flashed at the corner. They were headlights, belonging to a relatively new BMW. She was no judge of what model it was, but it meant money. She stepped to the curb and waited, hoping she didn’t look like some towny street walker.

The car slowed and pulled to a stop beside her. Its window buzzed down. A woman, judging by the puff of perfume she got, leaned over. She wore a scarf around her head and a pair of sunglasses in spite of the hour. “This box is for you.” Her voice was one of those throaty purrs that made most men go weak in the knees, between Eartha Kitt and Kathleen Turner. It even affected her a little.

She held out her hands. “How do I get my money?”

“He’ll give it to you.” She put the car in park and stretched out with a brown paper wrapped parcel. “He always gives what he promises.”

She grabbed the box, noticing that the woman wore skin tight leather gloves. They looked like fine leather. Only when their hands brushed did she realize that they weren’t gloves. She shuddered and almost dropped the package. They both gasped.

“Don’t drop it for god’s sake.” The woman almost screamed the order, purr moving towards shriek. “And whatever you do, don’t open it.”

“Alright, I won’t.” She started to ask where she needed to take it when she saw the address. It was for some place here in town. And not too far away.

“Get it there in the next thirty minutes or don’t bother. And put it in the person’s hands.”

She started to ask how the man would know when she’d done it. The window buzzed up and the car actually squaled tires as it moved away from the curb. Melanie took a step back and looked at the package’s address. “Two-thirty Healy Boulevard. That’s at least a mile away.” The address seemed familiar. She started walking, thankful that everything had so far been in walking distance. She didn’t have a car.

As she walked she shifted the box back and forth. It was about twelve inches square and six deep. She shook it slightly and there was a sloshing sound and a light rattle. It must be fragile. “Maybe it’s a liquor bottle. Got to be someone’s birthday present.” It was heavy, too. Maybe a brick in there to through the birthday boy off.

She took a left onto Healy. The address was only about a half mile down if she remembered right. Then she remembered what the address was. It was either the free clinic or very near it. She’d gotten her flu shot at the clinic a month ago. She couldn’t remember the precise address of the place, but she thought it was in the two hundreds. She stopped when she saw two-ten and saw that the free clinic was two-twenty.

It turned out that two-thirty was a thrift store. It was late, but she could see that there was a light on inside. She put the box down and started to knock. Then the first misgiving kicked in. What if it’s some kind of practical joke? She wouldn’t get her money and someone would be pissed at her. “I should just knock and run.” Then she remembered the woman’s words. She had to put it in the person’s hands. If it wasn’t a joke, she wouldn’t get her money.

She picked up the box and held it underneath with her right hand. She knocked with her left.

“We’re closed.” A muffled voice yelled from the other side.

“I have a package for you.”

There was a pause. “We don’t take deliveries at night.” The voice was closer, but still muffled.

“Look, I don’t get paid if I don’t give this to you and I could use the money.”

The door opened a bit, a chain holding it closed. The woman on the other side wore skinny jeans and a tie-dyed sweatshirt. She had a nice figure, but had to be at least as old as Melanie’s mom. “Can you fit it through the door?”

Melanie held it up. “It’s kind of too wide, and I’d hate to break it. I think it’s fragile.”

The lady looked at the top of the box and Melanie could swear she gasped. “Damn it.” She closed the door and there was a rattle as she undid the chain. The door opened wider. “Give it to me.” There was heat in her voice.

Melanie handed it over. “I hope you enjoy… whatever it is.”

The lady took it gingerly. “I doubt I will.”

“What?” Before the drawn out syllable ended the door slammed. “Well fuck you very much.” She turned and walked a few steps away. Her pocket vibrated. She took out her phone and saw that she had a text.

“Thank you. Your money has been deposited.”

“How the hell did you get my?”

Before she could finish the question, there was a muffled thump and a drawn out, warbling scream from inside. Melanie spun around and went back towards the shop. The light coming from the windows flickered.

“Oh my god.”

Poverty Vs. Common Sense – #VSS

320px-Money_Cash Melanie shut the web browser in disgust. The Tumblr post that had been left up showed some guy’s junk covered in leeches. It looked fake to her. Good, but fake. Her brother had been doing horror make up since they were both in second grade. He worked at Weta now and she was stuck studying at state college in Pennsyltucky. She couldn’t be too bitter, though. Life could be a lot worse she guessed.

“Hey Mel, you want to grab some pizza?” The high pitched voice was not so high it wasn’t recognizably male.

She turned and saw it was Elard. The tall gangly sophomore wore a pink tutu and a cropped top. “Nice outfit. Aren’t you afraid of getting cold?”

He smiled. “I’ve got enough fur that it’s not too bad. So, ‘za or no?”

“I’ll pass this time. I’ve got some cramming to do.”

“Buzzkill.” He waved fingers at her. “JK. Talk to you later.” He flounced off to meet with the rest of the group.

For a moment she thought about giving in. Her stomach rumbled, but her bank account had an echo. She turned back around to the computer and was surprised to see a box had popped up on her screen.

"Hello, Ms. Rossi. Can I interest you in a money making scheme?"

She snorted. “Must be a virus. Stupid men and their stupid porn.”

"I assure you that I am not a virus, Ms. Rossi."

Her jaw fell open. “You can hear me?”

"And see you. That's a lovely sweater, though it looks a bit out of style."

She picked at the bulky beige sweater her grandmother had made. “Thanks. I… What the fuck?”

“Sssssh.” The librarian at the desk must have heard her.

The machine’s webcam had a green light beside it. Whoever this was really could see her. “So, how can I make some money? I won’t strip and I won’t do anything illegal.” She didn’t think she had the body for stripping, but still it always struck her as skeevy.

"Nothing illegal is required."

The browser opened and Google Maps fired up.

"Merely go to this address and someone will be waiting for you. They will have a package for you to deliver."

Common sense warred with poverty. “How much?”

"Five hundred dollars."

She hit the print button on the browser. The library printer whirred to life.

SHOULD SHE MEET HER TRAGIC END OR SHOULD THE PERSON RECEIVING THE PACKAGE MEET THEIRS?

Let me know in the comments.