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Guns, God, and Heavy Metal

The sun is shining and the breeze is rustling through the new leaves as the birds are going bonkers in the trees, but for some reason I’m in here writing. It was a long, depressing winter, but everything is finally green again, and all I want to do is find a nice place to sit in the sun and watch the life of rural New Hampshire pass me by. I won’t get to see much, maybe a few squirrels and birds, or maybe the fox that seems as happy to see the warmth and sun as I am. His name is Todd by the way, compliments of my lovely wife, a lifelong Disney fan. You can actually see a picture of him on her page by the way at Staving Artist Photography.

Anyway, the last thing I want to be doing right now is writing. Well, let me rephrase that. The last thing I feel like doing is writing what I know I should be writing, the conclusion to an adventure that I started almost five years ago and then forgot until last week. I can hear the characters now, clamoring for me to pay attention to them. The threats aren’t too bad yet, so unless I wake up tomorrow with the head of a dead notebook under my pillow I think they can wait another day or two.

Guns, God, and Heavy Metal. If any of my posts will get in me in trouble it will be this one, and the ones that follow its lead.

I almost named this Games, God, and Heavy Metal, but the alliteration wasn’t quite right, so I chose guns instead. I like guns, usually pixelated ones, and I’ve been a hunter since I was old enough to go out in the woods with my dad on the farm. Hunting was a big part of our lives and an important supplement to the food we already raised.

God is an obvious one. I’ve been a Christian for almost as long as I can remember, and I’ll honestly say that I’d be dead if there wasn’t something bigger than me with a hand in my world. But, as odd and unusual as some of the things I’ve seen have been, they, and this bit of my history, is a story for another time.

Heavy Metal, the last bit of the almost title of this blog, is where I want to stay for a while. I don’t only listen to heavy metal, I also like what I guess you could call modern classical, some hip hop, even a bit of country, but heavy metal is the only music that I listen to almost every day. Oddly enough, when I was little I didn’t listen to music much at all. I was more interested in stories, radio dramas and mysteries, things like the dramatized Chronicles of Narnia. Actually, I’m willing to bet that I’m one of the only millennials to have grown up listening to the radio for my stories instead of watching TV. The few times I did listen to music, it was mostly my dad’s Southern Gospel or old school country, or whatever was on the local pop station.

One of my friends gave me a mix CD of some of his favorite bands and the first song was Ghost Love Score by Nightwish. I’d never heard anything like it before. Actually I didn’t even know that people made music like that and I couldn’t wait to hear more. I found Dragonforce next, and then Within Temptation and Epica, and for a little while my interest seemed to stall there.

Five Finger Death Punch has become a controversial figure in metal and rock. I don’t really know why, and I honestly don’t care much, but I enjoy the music and it was my real gateway into Heavy Metal. Since I first listened to them, I’ve found Iron Maiden, Orden Ogan, Insomnium, Amon Amarth and a great deal of others. My interests seem to tend to Melodic Death Metal, Folk, and Power Metal. It’s a fascinating genre with an incredible diversity of sound and thematic qualities, and while you’ll always find elitists that look down on everything they don’t like the sound of, most of the metal community is open and welcoming. I was a loner growing up and I never thought I’d fit into any group, a metalhead and proud of it.

FYI, if you’ve never listened to any heavy metal before, I’d like to make two suggestions. First, look up Ghost Love Score by Nightwish. Second, listen to the Sons of Winter and Stars by Wintersun. Trust me, it’s worth it.

 

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My Favorite Dragon

I have a confession to make. I have a soft spot for dragons. They are my favorite fantastic beast, always have been and probably always will be. I’m not talking about the dragons in Skyrim or on Game of Thrones, as cool as they are, because technically they are Wyverns and I’ll never get over my disappointment. My kind of dragons come from World of Warcraft and Dragon Age. Have you seen that cinematic about Deathwing? How about the undead dragon from Wrath of the Lich King? Now those are my kind of dragons.  You can have those links here, and here, by the way and they are well worth watching.

Melody is the best representation I have of my own take on dragons. She deserves a full novel all by herself, but hopefully this excerpt will satisfy her for a while.

Melody MacTyre woke up alone in the snow, amid a ruin of fallen and broken trees. Her head was swimming and her throat ached horribly, as if she hadn’t had a drink in days. She stared at the sky in confusion, unaffected by the brightness of the sun as she looked past it into the countless stars.

“Move,” said a voice in her head, a voice not quite her own. “Get up!”

“I can’t,” she mumbled, the words feeling like fire in her neck. She looked down without moving her head, peering stupidly at the great limb pinning her legs to the ground. “I’m stuck….”

“Move the branch!” growled the voice.

Her leg moved, and involuntary jerk that sent the heavy branch tumbling away in a spray of powdery snow. Melody’s eyes widened and she stood up, looking down at her torn and dirty breeches in awe. The pain in her throat temporarily forgotten, she reached down to grasp a length of broken oak that would have taken ten men to move. With barely a thought, she flicked her wrist and sent the log soaring away into the forest.

She swore softly, nearly falling back into the snow.

“Well done,” said the voice. “Told you!”

“What’s going on?” asked Melody as the burning in her throat returned. “Wh… what’s happening to me?”

“Us,” corrected the voice. “It’s happening to us. I’m you too… or at least I’m your new memories.”

Melody’s head spun and she staggered away, her movements as quick as the wind. She came up hard against an unyielding outcrop of stone, shattering the rock with her shoulder as she tried to catch herself.

“Watch it!” cried the voice. “Take it easy! Act a little more human or we’ll never blend in!”

“What are you talking about?” screamed Melody, a low growl ripping from somewhere deep in her narrow chest.

“We’re a Blood Dragon now,” the voice snapped. “I’m your ancestral memories. The one who turned us should be helping us, but right now I’m all that we’ve got. So shut up and listen!”

The girl froze in shock as a vision of a tremendous creature with shining red, black, and purple scales popped into her head. The dragon spread its sail like wings and roared, spouting flame from its open mouth. She felt the beast inside of her at the same moment, straining, begging to be unleashed.

“No!” commanded the voice. “Not here, not yet!” Melody subsided, her breath coming in great, heaving gasps as the voice continued. “Blood Dragons don’t need to show their true form. You have all the power you need as you are right now.”

“My throat,” she choked. “It hurts.”

“It’s the thirst,” said the voice. “We have to feed!”

*

Melody dropped the last wolf to the ground, wiping the blood from her mouth as her fangs retracted. She looked around at the four others, feeling equal parts horrified and exhilarated. The wolf pack, once so terrifying as she followed her trapline, had been no match for her newfound strength and ferocity. It had been a simple thing to chase them down and drain them, their jaws not even scratching her skin in the few moments they had to fight.

“I killed them,” she panted, the thirst finally sated. “I… I drank their blood!”

“What did you expect?” asked the voice. “You’re a Blood Dragon now, a member of one of the three great dragonflights. You’re kin to the most powerful vampires in the world!”

“Vampire?” she whimpered, sinking to her knees as she stared at the slaughtered wolves. “Dragon? No, no, no, no, this can’t be real….”

“It’s real,” snapped the voice. “But whoever turned us attracted attention. If we don’t get out of here soon, we’ll be in trouble.”

Melody’s legs started to move by themselves and she was suddenly running, a drab blur moving through the winter woods. Her trapline was one of the longest in the area and the trek to her cabin, which would have taken days in the deep snow, took less than an hour. Though nearly twenty, Melody, and orphan, had spent almost two years posing as a fourteen year old boy, earning his income by trading furs. The remote cabin and trapline offered a hard life, but compared to the life of an orphan in the colony, Melody thought it preferable. Even as it was, it was getting harder to avoid curious glances every time she went into town.

“You won’t have to hide like this anymore,” said the voice as she opened the cabin door.

Unbidden memories of the men that the other girls had warned her about came to her mind.

“You’re stronger than them now….”

“Then what are we running from?” she demanded as she went to the hearth. The winter cold didn’t bother her, but the familiar ritual of lighting a fire was comforting. “If I’m a Blood Dragon, what’s there to be afraid of?”

If you enjoyed the story so far you can find the rest in my book Dragon Wings, available on Amazon Kindle. If you would rather have a hard copy, Amazon is happy to oblige.

Welcome Little Man!

Time has a habit of slipping away doesn’t it? The summer was busy, as it always is, and when it ended I thought I might actually have some more time to write posts for this poor blog of mine. I guess when your wife hits month six of pregnancy all the time flies away no matter the season, and now I find myself at the end of January with only a couple of new posts to my name, and bouncing, burping baby with me already curled around his tiny fingers and poised and ready to eat whatever time I have left. And I don’t even mind because he’s so stinkin cute.

 

One of my biggest fears about having a baby is that I won’t ever have time to write my stories. I already don’t have much extra time, but usually I can write a few pages of whatever project I’m working on. The fear comes from my own father, sorry for throwing you under the bus Dad, and from something that happened to him. Before I was born he was writing a book. After I was born, he never returned to it. To be fair he also worked on a farm which is a job that literally never ends. When you add a baby to that mix….

 

I don’t know why he stopped writing that book and as far as I know he doesn’t really even remember. Maybe he just ran out of time, or maybe it was just an interesting hobby to spend his free time on. I know I shouldn’t worry because it isn’t just a hobby for me, it’s a passion and a dream that is near and dear to my heart. I have no idea what I’d do if I couldn’t write stories. It would be as bad as if I couldn’t listen to music. Scratch that, it’d be worse though not by much. Whatever the reason was I know I won’t stop writing. If anything, this little munchkin of mine inspires me. I’ve already started a children’s book, written just for him. I’ve written him two others too, plus a book of short stories, but he’s going to have to wait until he’s a little older for those.

The Tale of Jenny Townsend

A couple of years ago, my wife and I went to Monhegan Island. I’d seen the island in the distance before, but I’d never been there. As far as I know, I’d never even seen pictures.  As we walked on the trail to the far side of the island though, the island suddenly began to feel familiar. Finally, the trees opened up and we found ourselves standing of an open space on the headlands, more than 100 feet above the water and I had the uncanny feeling that I had been there before. It was the strongest sense of deja vu that I’ve ever experienced. Eventually, the experience turned into the seed of an idea and the fictional island of Lost Harbor was born.

Jenny Townsend came later, a character drawn to the island by fate or destiny, and this is a piece of her story. I hope you like it, and if you do, the rest of the story can be found here in my book Dragon Wings.

 

There are a great many islands off the coast of Maine. Some of them are inhabited, others house only birds and seals. A few, like Monhegan, are havens for artists and poets. Lost Harbor is one of these islands, holding a small fishing village and creative enclave. There are more fishermen than poets, unlike its spiritual sister Monhegan, and it is longer and more rugged, dotted with cottages and covered with thick pine groves. There is a sheltered harbor on the northeastern tip, protected from the open water by the steep cliffs. I’ve heard that traveling poets argue which island is more inspiring, Mohegan or Lost Harbor, but judging from the pictures at least, this writer would choose Lost Harbor in an instant. A good thing, I guess, considering that I’ll be living there for the foreseeable future.

The woman at the ticket booth for the ferry looked me up and down, glancing at my meagre belongings and giving a double take when she saw the battered crate inhabited by my leopard gecko, Speckles.

“Staying out there for a while, are you?” she asked. “Earlier than usual to see artists heading out there… what are you, a painter? Poet?”

“Just a regular writer,” I replied. “No poet I’m afraid.”

She shrugged. “Well, have fun. Stay warm. Might feel like spring in here, but it still feels like winter out on the Harbor.”

I nodded and trudged down the gangway, dragging my stuff and hoping that Speckles would survive the cold. A part of me wondered what I looked like, a skinny twenty-seven year old that still looked like she should be graduating high school, dragging all of her worldly belongings to a ferry that would take her to a remote island twelve miles off the coast of vacationland.

An older couple nodded at me as I climbed on board and slipped past to an empty seat at the end of the boat. The ferry was heated, but a chill still hung in the air so I pulled my knees up to my chest and tugged my sleeves down to my fingertips, wondering if I would ever get used to the coastal chill. I had moved to Boston from Nevada where my father owned a very lucrative hotel. College was supposed to be my doorway into the bigger world, but after two and a half months of gender studies, I had had enough and escaped to southern Maine where I worked as a housekeeper cum maintenance girl at a small conference center. It was inland, almost half an hour’s drive from the beach, but there were days that I could still feel the winder cold rolling off of the North Atlantic. I shivered, wishing that I had taken the time to get an extra sweatshirt from one of the shops in town.

There was a clatter from the dock and I looked up just in time to see a woman come bustling down the ramp, almost running as she burst into the ferry. She was short and roundish, with a wide, jolly face and big blue eyes that seemed to sparkle even in the early morning fog. She caught sight of me and broke into a wide smile, almost bouncing along the deck as she rushed over and plopped down beside me.

“Another artist bound for Lost Harbor?” she asked, leaning over to make faces at Speckles. “Gotta say, I’ve never seen anyone bringing a lizard along with them out here. I didn’t know any of the rentals even let people keep pets. Is he going to be warm enough? I thought they had to be kept warm.”

I blinked, stunned by the torrent of questions and comments. “I had to set him up with a floor heater that runs on batteries, and I’m not renting. My grandmother’s old cottage is out there.”

“Oh, lucky,” she spouted, clapping her hands together. “I wish I could have come up here sooner than I did. I spent last summer on Monhegan painting, and they said that Lost Harbor has some spectacular views too, so I just had to come out here for a summer.” She nudged me with an elbow. “Crashing a relative’s place is the way to go believe me, I don’t think that my dad will pay for many more summers. I gotta set up my own gallery or something.”

“I’ve never actually been to the cottage,” I said, wondering why I was telling this to a stranger at all. “My grandma and my dad got into a fight years ago and they haven’t spoken since. When I quit college, I had a fight with my dad and he hasn’t talked to me since either.” My new friend was shocked into silence, her mouth hanging open and her brows turning up in a sad pout as I continued. “I ended up calling my grandma and she started coming over to spend Christmas with me.”

The girl’s smile returned. “Oh good, now you get to go visit her!”

“She died last month,” I said, swallowing the familiar lump that grew in my throat as I looked away. “She left everything to me, as long as go to live out there and try to get my dad to come visit.”

“That’s so sad,” she wailed, drawing a curious look from the couple ahead of us.

I shrugged, putting on the same brave face that I had ever since my father told me not to call him again until I was back in college. “It’s alright.” I cursed the tremor in my voice. “I’m used to being alone now anyway.”

“Well you’re not alone anymore,” exclaimed the girl. “Not as long as you have Amy Perkins to be your friend! Besides, we creative types need to stick together. What are you, a writer? I bet you’re a writer. I always wanted to be a poet, but I can’t rhyme worth a darn, so I became a painter instead.”

“How’d you know I was a writer? For that matter, how does anyone here know I’m an artist at all?”

Amy chuckled. “Only fishermen and artists are crazy enough to stay out on one of these islands for longer than a few days, and you just don’t strike me as a fisherman.” She gestured at her shirt, stained and spotted with colorful paints. “No paint stains, no camera equipment, probably means writer. While I was out on Monhegan I got good at guessing people’s hobbies.”

She hesitated and offered me an odd look. “I just realized that I forgot to ask you your name, didn’t I?”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Jenny. Jenny Townsend.”

“Well Jenny Townsend,” she cried, putting her arm around my shoulders as the ferry pulled away from the dock. “Let’s go on an adventure!”

Zombies, Vampires, and Ghouls Oh My!

I don’t like most modern zombie stories, but I absolutely love it when they are a part of a Dark Fantasy. Say what you will about World of Warcraft, but the undead story arc from the Warcraft Universe is pretty dang amazing and Northrend is flipping awesome. The Arthas story line from Warcraft 3 is still one of my favorite stories in video games. Actually it’s one of my favorite stories in general. The Forgotten Realms books have some pretty impressive monster stories woven through them too, and the hierarchy of the undead society is absolutely fascinating.

I liked these ideas so much that I adapted a few of them into my own short story, I can’t help it I swear, it’s just too much fun to build this kind of tale, and I ended up making one of the most elaborate worlds that I’ve ever dreamed of. Aravos is a single character in a much larger world, but I hope that you’ll enjoy this excerpt as much as I did when I wrote it. If you like what you see, you can get the full story here Dragon Wings.

 

 

Aravos had been a paladin once, a defender of good and a powerful champion of the Light. The Bulwark had been his home and defending the Kingdom of Stone his life’s work. Now he was imprisoned, trapped in the sunless depths of the king’s dungeons. The cell was small, barely wide enough for the elf to stretch out on the chilly floor. The only light came from the ghostly blue runes etched into his silvery, metallic skin. Hunger gnawed at his belly; he couldn’t remember the last time the prison wardens had brought him food. Not that it mattered much now, not with the dark magic that kept him alive. Well, sort of alive.

His keen ears caught a distant sound and he frowned. The tap, tap, of boot on stone grew closer and he stood wearily, the heavy chains that bound his limbs clanking loudly as he moved against the wall. Torchlight stung his eyes as the door slammed open.

“So you are still alive,” boomed a deep voice. A paladin in shining, golden armor stared at him with cold eyes, flanked by a pair of knights.

“Ser Halvor,” Aravos replied coolly. “It seems that death has not seen fit to claim me yet.” He narrowed his eyes. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”

“The king requests your presence,” Halvor grunted. He stepped aside. “Though why he wants to have an audience with a traitor is beyond me.”

Aravos shuffled out into the hall, trying to ignore the knight’s drawn weapons. He was thin, little more than skin and bones and between the large soldiers and the massive paladin, he looked even smaller. He winced as one of the knights pushed his shoulder with a plated hand. His eyes flashed and he shot the man a dark glare. Less than a year ago he would have towered over the man, dressed in his own battle armor. Now, the man glared back and shook his sword.

“Move!”

Halvor hesitated by a heavy door. “It’s daylight. If you go out in the sun, will you survive until we reach the palace?”

“I’m a Deathknight, not a vampire,” Aravos growled. “And I’m undying, not undead. There’s a difference. The sun’s no threat to me.”

“You fought for the Damned King,” snapped the paladin. “You led the undead against your own brothers, you commanded them… you’re no different from the rest.”

“My will was not my own,” said the Deathknight, squinting against the blinding sunlight. “You know that as well as anyone. When Ser Zeffron freed my mind, I turned myself in to the Church of Light. Does that sound like the undead to you?”

“Shut up,” rumbled the paladin. He started to continue but was cut off as screams and cries rose from the city below. He hefted his hammer and gestured at Aravos. “Get him out of here! Now!”

There was an explosion that shook the ground, knocking the weakened prisoner to his knees. The knights swore and grabbed him by the arms, hoisting him back to his feet as the paladin sprinted away. Aravos resisted feebly, helpless against their strength.

“What’s going on?” he asked. “What’s happening?”

“Don’t you already know?” asked one of the soldiers with a snarl. “You’re one of them!”

“Quiet!” cried the other. “Just help me get him to the palace!”

Aravos would have whitened if he hadn’t already been the color of pale silver. “The undead… they’ve breeched the Bulwark.”

A second explosion rocked the ground and Aravos fell a second time. “They have throwers,” he panted. “That means it’s an invasion, not a raid. You need to kill the commander, break their strength!”

One of the knights stopped and leveled his blade at Aravos’ throat. “You were their leader once! Why don’t we just kill you? How do we know that you aren’t causing this?”

“We take him to the king!” said the other, urgently laying a hand on his companion’s arm. “We have our orders!”

“Killing me won’t make a bit of difference,” Aravos said calmly. “You need to get these people to safety before the wall falls.”

The knight’s blade wavered. “They won’t make it through the wall… they can’t….”

Aravos bared his teeth in disgust. “You’ve never even been at the front lines, have you? Do you even know what those throwers are casting? Didn’t you hear me say that the undead are already inside?”

Something slammed into the walkway ahead of them, throwing them to the ground and showering them with dust. The knights lurched to their feet, raising their weapons as a hideous shape emerged from the choking dust. Its flesh was putrid and discolored, crisscrossed with oozing scars, held together by sloppy stich work. Its hands were gone, replaced by rusted iron hooks. A single milky eye rolled in its socket, locking on the knights and the prisoner as they shifted nervously. Aravos could see the blood drain from their faces as the monster moaned.

“It’s a flesh golem,” he said quickly, wishing fervently for a blade of his own. “An abomination! Strong but slow! Don’t let it get you in a corner!”

The first knight swore and charged recklessly, driving his blade into the creature’s barrel-like chest. It roared, more in rage than pain, and swatted the knight with a heavy arm, catching him in the stomach with the hook and hurling him into the air. It pulled clumsily at the blade in its ribs, slashing its own flesh at it hooked the sword’s hilt and tugged it free. The weapon clattered to the floor, covered in black ooze, forgotten.

“Take the legs!” Aravos yelled to the surviving knight as the undead thing shuffled forward. “Knock it down and take its head!”

The man yelled and darted forward, ducking a wild swing from the beast’s hook hand as he hacked at the monstrous leg. It growled and stumbled, crashing into a wall as it waved its arms, keeping the knight at bay. Aravos gathered his strength and ran forward, throwing himself at the fallen sword. The knight, too distracted by the undead thing’s deadly hooks to notice the elf, cried out in pain as a blow caught his shoulder.

Aravos swore and snatched up the dead knight’s blade, nicking his thumb with the keen edge. He traced a rune on the hilt, feeling the magic in his runic tattoos beginning to awaken. The red symbol flashed and the Deathknight cried out as the magic flooded his body, swelling and healing his withered body and filling out his gaunt frame. The crude rune flashed a second time and icy chains burst from his outstretched hand, wrapping around the golem and pulling it to the ground. The knight yelled in triumph and brought his sword down in a sweeping arc, parting the beast’s head from its shoulders. It collapsed with a wet thump, still bound by chains of frost.

 

 

Does this Count as a Review?

I don’t really have a single song or artist to review, just an entire genre. I know right? That’s an awful lot of music. Don’t worry it’s just a sub genre. Well, a sub genre of a sub genre. Can you guess what it is?

If you’ve read anything else that I’ve written on here, it’s pretty easy to guess that I’m a metalhead. I started on symphonic metal and lived there for a while, with Nightwish, Epica, Kamelot, and Within Temptation. Next I found Five Finger Death Punch, Disturbed, Battlebeast, and Orden Ogan, stepping from symphonic metal into more “generic” american and European heavy metal, but soon after I found a certain subsection of death metal. Amon Amarth was the first one, then Dark Tranquility, Kalmah, and Omnium Gatherum. When I first started listening to melodic death metal I felt almost like I did when I first discovered Nightwish. I hadn’t realized that people made music like this, often blending stunning music with deep, melancholy  vocals.

It’s easily one of my favorite types of music to listen to when I’m writing. Some of the groups are more energetic than others and if I want the audible energy boost I’ll put on something like Kalmah’s Heroes To Us. If I want something more relaxing, I can go to Omnium Gatherum’s Rest In Your Heart which is absolutely beautiful. I love music in general, yes, I’m also including genres that aren’t metal, but if I had to choose one genre to listen to for the rest of my life I’d happily choose melodeath.

Misty’s Story

I’m going to try to do something that I’ve never done before. I’m going to give you an entire story, at least if you want the entire thing. I posted part of this first chapter before, but I’ll put the entire thing in this post. If you like it, please share it, like it, and comment. If I get enough of a response, I’ll put up the next chapter.

 

Chapter One

 

“Oh god, Benny!” I groaned as I opened the apartment door. “You’re supposed to warn me before you do this!”

“Ignore my room-mate,” Benny grunted to the girl I sincerely hoped was a client and not a conquest. She snapped another photo and nodded. “Good. We’re done. Come down to the studio tomorrow and we’ll go over what we’ve got. If you like it, I’ll send it in.”

The woman nodded and vanished into the bathroom. Benny felt my eyes on the back of her head and sighed as she began to pack up her equipment. “It was a fashion shoot Mist, relax.”

“Don’t fashion shoots require the clothes she’s trying to sell?” I quipped, kicking off my shoes and falling back into the comforting embrace of the couch. “And don’t you have your own studio now? And for that matter, didn’t you move out last week?”

“Maybe I missed my girl,” Benny said with a chuckle. “Besides, I needed the brickwork.” She sat down beside me and started to fix my messy black braids. “Seriously, you need a better job. You have sawdust all through your hair again.”

“I need money to support my gaming habits,” I replied. “And since all I can seem to get for my books are rejection letters, the money needs to come from somewhere.”

“You can still write for my magazine you know,” she insisted. “It has to be better than working maintenance at the Complex.”

I winced as she tugged a stubborn piece of sawdust free. “My dad was the maintenance director where I grew up. I helped him ever since I was strong enough to lift a hammer. Honestly, I think your magazine would like me better as a subject than a writer. I doubt they’d like my ideas very much.”

“You could always model for me,” she said as she worked, something that she had been bugging me to do almost since we met. “Your tattoos would look awesome, and the magazine would pay you.”

My eyes went down to the colorful patterns and pictures inked on my arms, cartoons, skulls, dragons and more, all nestled in flowering vines that crawled up from my wrists to my shoulders and down my torso to my legs. “It makes me feel weird Benny. I got these for me, not for anyone else.”

Benny started to reply but paused as the model came out of the bathroom, thankfully fully clothed. I listened absently to their soft chatter before turning on the TV and picking up my game controller. The door closed, and Benny sat back down to watch me cut a swath through a horde of enemies.

“Long day?” she asked. “Must have been, the way you’re going after those Uruks.”

“Had to come home a different way today,” I said with a yawn. “Police had the roads closed for some reason. The security guard didn’t show up last night either, so I spent most of the day cleaning up graffiti.” A police siren screamed outside and I gestured to the window. “See, that’s like the fifth time today. Is it always like this? Have I just never noticed it before?”

Benny shook her head. “No, now that you mention it, there are more sirens than normal. I wonder what’s going on.”

She got up and peered out the window before shooting me a mischievous grin. “Maybe it’s the start of a zombie apocalypse. Be great for you wouldn’t it? Isn’t that what you gamers have been training for?”

“I’ve played Dead Space and the Last of Us,” I snorted. “Trust me, if zombies start running around, it won’t end well for anyone.”

“Well, if I become a zombie, make sure you shoot me okay,” Benny said, picking up her stuff. “I don’t do rags and dirt. See you tomorrow Misty.”

I waved over my shoulder and she started to leave, only to stop at the doorway.

“You sure you don’t want to move with me?” she asked. “My apartment at the studio is big enough for you too.”

“Too far away from the Complex,” I replied, pausing my game. “I wouldn’t be able to board there.”

My friend rolled her eyes. “Y’know, most people are willing to take the subway.”

I made a face. “It’s too crowded down there, too claustrophobic.”

“Have it your way.”

“Hey,” I said. “Thanks for the offer. Really.”

Benny smiled. “No prob. Stop by anytime okay?”

“I will. And if you ever need some…” I blinked and glanced at the plain walls. “Fine brickwork for your photography, just give me a call.”

Sharon Bennet, better known as Benny, grinned and left. The sudden quiet and emptiness was still a shock and I dove back into my game, hiding from the unfamiliar silence and ignoring the pull of the empty notebook on my desk. My phone chimed and I gave the screen a passing glance. An email. I recognized the address and my heart sank. It was a reply from a literary agent, doubtless another rejection to add to the growing mountain I kept in the darkest corners of my mind.

I almost put the controller down, pulled by a flicker of hope that this might finally be the letter. The cold, empty feeling in my stomach told me otherwise.

“I’ll deal with you tomorrow,” I muttered. “I don’t think I can handle you tonight. At least tomorrow’s my day off.” I smiled as a tough orc fell beneath my character’s spinning blades. “Then I can vent on you guys instead of the drywall I have to do.”

I didn’t know whether it was the shrill ring of my phone or the muffled shouts from down the hall that woke me first. I moaned wearily and reached for the offending device.

“This is Misty Owens,” I said, cursing silently at the croak in my voice. “Oh, hey Mr. Ellis.”

“Sorry to call you like this, but Marcus didn’t show up and Ryan called in sick. I know it’s your day off Misty, but could you come in and be on call?”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah sure. I’ll be in as soon as I can.”

“Thanks Misty. I don’t know what we’d do without you.”

“The Complex would fall apart that’s what,” I muttered as the line went dead.

I yawned and switched off the TV on the way to my bedroom. The Complex was fifteen minutes away using my modified skateboard, a shorter commute than any of my co-workers, but Mr. Ellis sounded desperate and I didn’t want to waste any time. In three and a half years, he had only ever called me in on my day off once.

The shouting from down the hall changed its tone as I scrambled into clean clothes and then ended abruptly as a door slammed.

“Maybe I should move,” I grumbled as I tried unsuccessfully to tame my unruly hair. “No hair products to steal and angry neighbors as an alarm clock.” Finally, I gave up and pulled my shoulder length tangle back into an untidy bun.

The clock taunted me, and I decided to skip breakfast, stuffing my feet into my work boots and snatching up my wallet, keys, and long board as I ducked out the door. I paused by the elevator, listening. It wasn’t the first time my neighbors had fought. The police had even shown up once or twice. I wondered why Mrs. Jackson hadn’t just up and left yet. My heart sank as I heard what might have been sobs from behind the closed door.

I was still troubled as I reached the streets, but the crowded roads soon distracted me. It was hectic, even for a Saturday. I had moved to the city eight years ago for college but still wasn’t used to the aggressive pace of life. People were always quick to anger and seemed ready to shout at the smallest provocation. Today was even worse than normal and the tension was palpable enough to give me an instant headache. The day was bright and clear however and the feeling of wind on my face helped immensely. My power board was fully charged and I felt a pinch of regret when the Complex finally came into view.

“Oh, I wish I could just keep going,” I said as I ducked through the parking office.

“Tell me about it,” chuckled Thomas, the ancient parking supervisor. “Hey, wait a minute, isn’t today your day off Misty?”

“It was supposed to be, but Marcus didn’t show up and Ryan’s sick.”

The old man shook his head. “Well, hopefully Marcus didn’t get caught in that business down on Ninth. I almost didn’t make it in today either.”

I cocked my head to the side. “What happened on Ninth?”

“Some animal mauled a couple of people I guess,” Thomas replied. “Some pea brain had a pet tiger or a bear or something and it got loose. Police swarming all over the place.”

He stopped and scratched his chin. “Hold on a minute. I could have sworn I saw Marcus down by the breakroom.” His bony fingers twisted his white hair. “Don’t get old kid. It messes with your head. See you later.”

I waved and slipped away into the back hallway. Ellis was in his office, hunched over his desk fan.

“Oh, hey Misty,” he said, wiping his face with a towel. “Sorry to call you in like this, especially on a day like this. I thought we were done with the heat waves.”

I glanced at the thermometer on the office window. 76 degrees. “Are you feeling okay sir?”

He nodded, his dark skin glistening with sweat. “Yeah, I’d be perfect if it wasn’t so damn hot in here.”

“Okay. Well, I’ll just keep working on the new offices.”

“Sounds good,” he said, hunching back down in front of his fan. “Oh, make sure you stop by the break room on the way to the shop. I brought in some doughnuts.”

I thanked him and left, hurriedly shutting the door behind me. I had gotten a fever a few months before and was eager to get out, just in case. Hopefully I hadn’t already caught it. Whatever it was.

“Seriously?” I moaned as the breakroom door swung open under my fingertips. “Who left this open? That’s the third time this week.”

I stepped inside and groaned again, kicking at a stack of trash bags. The lights were on and the Tv was static. Colorful curses floated through my head as I mentally berated Marcus for not fulfilling his promise to clean up. My nose wrinkled as I closed his open locker. The clothes he had worn yesterday were inside and reeked of sweat. I saw his backpack in the corner and my eyes narrowed.

“Marcus?” I called. “Are you in here somewhere? Marcus!”

The only sound was that of the traffic and sirens outside. I shrugged and put my pack and powerboard in my locker, snatching up my radio as I left. The workshop was beneath the main building, in the middle of a network of hallways that connected the gym to the ice rinks and the pool areas. I loaded a cart with tools and supplies, thankful that Marcus had moved the drywall to the worksite a few days earlier. I could move the heavy sheets well enough, but my jovial co-worker towered well over six feet tall and almost a decade in the military had prepared him perfectly for hauling construction materials.

“Be easier if you were here Marcus,” I sighed as I pushed the cart to the door. “Just have to make some blocks I guess.”

Something clattered behind the stacks of tools and materials, a loud, metallic clang that made me jump.

“Hello?” I called, peering through the shadows. “Is anyone there?”

I picked up my crowbar, suddenly wishing that I had bothered to turn on all the lights.

“Marcus? If this is a joke, it’s not funny,” My knuckles turned white as I tightened my grip on the makeshift weapon. People had broken in before, mostly addicts or homeless looking for shelter. Once a family of racoons had even found their way inside. If I had a choice, I would rather escort a homeless person out than tangle with a racoon. “Hello? Is someone there?”

Something rustled in the darkness and I heard a low, burbling hiss that made my skin crawl. When the… thing stepped into the light it was all I could do not to run away in a blind panic. Ragged clothes stretched tight over a heavily muscled, misshapen chest and twisted, uneven legs. Its head was bulbous and scabbed, with red, shining eyes over a gaping maw filled with jagged teeth. The thing hissed again and raised a massive arm, reaching out to me with long, curved talons. A flap of shirt shifted, showing a familiar name tag.

“Marcus?” I gasped as the thing that used to be my friend towered over me. “Is that you?”

Marcus roared and lunged, missing my skull by a fraction as I ducked and slammed the crowbar into his side. The hit staggered him, and I swung again, catching the monster on the side of the head, sending him tumbling to the floor. It howled with anger and I dashed wildly to the door, slamming it behind me and shoving the crowbar through the handles, locking the beast inside.

The doors shuddered under its fists and I sprinted away, not waiting to see if they would hold. Another creature roared from somewhere ahead and I dodged into the freight elevator, slamming the button for the delivery dock. I heard the screams before the elevator even came to a stop and I pressed the button again, yelping in fright as one of the monsters slammed against the gates. Behind it, I could see several more, chasing people as they fled the parking lot.

I slid to the floor, shock and fear making my knees weak. The elevator ground slowly to a stop and I prayed desperately for the third floor to be clear. While technically part of the main sports area of the Complex, the third floor also housed a small television studio with its own separate staff and crew. I rarely had a reason to go to the third floor and had a long moment of panic as I searched for the stairs. There were shouts and the roars of at least one monster not far away, but when I found the stairs the path was clear and deserted.

“Please don’t be a monster, please don’t be a monster,” I whispered as a door slammed somewhere below. My heart began to pound as I looked over the ledge. Nothing. I slipped back down to the ground floor, keeping my footsteps as soft as possible. A large shadow blurred through a distant doorway as I entered the main hallway and I dropped to a crouch and froze.

“Misty!” hissed a voice from the other direction.

“Thomas?” I gasped as the old man tottered out from an alcove. “What’s happening?”

He grabbed my arm and pulled me away. “No idea! I was talking to someone at the gate and the next thing I know, he turned into one of those things. Took off after a couple of joggers. Come on kid, let’s get out of here!”

“Mr. Ellis has a security door in his office,” I gasped. “You’d need a tank to get through that thing. He’ll let us in.”

“What if he isn’t there?” asked Thomas. “What if he’s one of those things?”

“Then we keep running.”

The old man shifted nervously as we stopped my Mr. Ellis’s office. “Hurry Misty, I think I hear something!”

“The door’s open,” I said softly, peeking through the crack. “I don’t see anyone. He must have gone out. Come on.”

Thomas followed me inside. “What do we do now? Even if we stop those things from getting in, what happens then?”

“We need to get to the panic room,” I said, slamming and locking the door. “There’s food, water….” I turned around and trailed off.  “Oh no… it’s open….”

There was a rustle from behind the half open panel and the old man’s eyes widened.

“Misty!” he cried, snatching up a baseball bat from a rack and shoving me away. “Get back! Get out kid!”

The panel smashed open and the monster barreled out, roaring and slashing with heavy claws. It shrugged off Thomas’s feeble blows and caught him by the leg, almost casually tossing him away. I cried out as he slammed headlong into me, driving me back into the window. I saw stars as my head bounced off the glass and I struggled to keep my balance as I clutched Thomas’s limp body. Before I could even begin to react, the monster pounced. Its fangs missed me by a fraction, its massive body shattering the glass and tumbling out. I screamed in pain as its claws tore into my shoulder and dragged me out into space. A shard of glass slipped between my ribs as I landed, and the world dissolved in agony. The pain faded as quickly as it had come, snuffed out by shock as my eyes cleared and locked on the bloody shard jutting from my chest. Something wet spilled from my lips as I struggled to breath and darkness swirled on the edge of my vision. The monster loomed over me, reaching out with bloodied claws. I closed my eyes, resigning myself to my fate.

 

 

Heavy Metal Saved My Life

I wish I could say that it was the Church that saved my life, or that it was my family. Don’t get me wrong, I know for a fact that I’d be dead if God didn’t move in my life, but it wasn’t the church that did it.

I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, even before I realized what the cloud of gloom was, but there were two points in my life where it was almost impossible to get out of bed in the morning. Once was right at the end of my college career, carrying through a pair of horrible jobs immediately after. Music played a big part, but I was limited in what I could listen too. I’d found Nightwish and a few other metal bands in high school, but was told in no uncertain terms that it wouldn’t be all that I would listen too, and the few times I shared bands with my parents, all they could hear was the sound of the vocals. While I was in college, a small Bible college in northeastern Pennsylvania, we technically weren’t supposed to listen to and music that wasn’t approved by the school. It didn’t stop us, but it made my favorite bands, even the Christian metal bands I found, seem like guilty pleasures. The two men that I worked for after college weren’t much better. They attended the same church as I did, and their view on music was actually pretty extreme and I learned quickly to never let them hear what I was listening to. One of them even claimed that any music that raised your heart rate was evil. Still, whenever I could I’d have my headphones in, clinging desperately to the music just to stay sane.

Writing helped too, at least at first. I actually finished writing my first book right in the middle of this period of depression, and that fact alone helped for a little while. I know my parents wanted me to succeed and I know that they support my writing habit now, but then they seemed to think that it was a waste of time. This was right after I finished college, before I found a job, and the weight of rejections both in my job hunts and in my queries continued to build until it broke whatever spirit I had left. Writing stopped being a source of joy, stopped being an escape from the pain.

It was video games that really saved me this time, another hobby that my parents didn’t care for. Mass Effect, Fable, Gears of War… they were stories that carried me through the darkest time that I’d ever experienced.

Last year a storm swept through New Hampshire, downing more than a hundred trees on the camp property and knocking out power for an entire week. It wasn’t the worst time I’ve ever had roughing it, but it was the first time that I ever did it with my wife. The world seemed to go downhill from there, before we could clean up the mess snow was flying. The cold and dark seemed like it would never end, and we had one mishap after another and it wasn’t long before the Seasonal Affective Disorder that I’ve always struggled with grew into a full grown bout of depression.  Eventually it felt like something had torn my heart out through my chest and all I was left with was the pain of the wound.

Games helped again, and I finished my third book. This book gave me one of my favorite characters, and I know it sounds weird to call a character a friend, but that’s what she was. What really got me through was the music. I’d moved past Nightwish, deeper into the wild and wonderful world of Heavy Metal. Amon Amarth, Five Finger Death Punch, Disturbed, Orden Ogan, Parkway Drive, Kalmah, Battle Beast… it was a lot easier when I didn’t feel like I had to hide that I was a metalhead. I honestly don’t know what I would have done to get through the days if I didn’t have music to listen to. It’s hard to think of two metal bands that are more different than Nightwish and Five Finger Death Punch, but I don’t think I would have been able to survive without them. Well, I might have survived, but my mental health would have been damaged beyond repair. My family saw some of the damage that had been done and they’re a source of support now and I have a great church where people actually tend to practice what they preach, and I can play games in my spare time and I’m working on yet another book. My heart feels like it’s back in my chest again, most of the time anyway, and my music helps keep my thoughts in line and under control.

I don’t recommend it as a remedy, but metal saved my life.