Two Worlds

Air gently moved in and out, her heartbeat matched it, faster with every inhalation, slower with exhalation. Blood coursed through her veins, fast then slow then fast again with every beat of her heart. Electricity zapped along her nerves causing muscles to pull, push, and shift in nearly imperceptible movements.

“You’re doing it again, Tanya,” a quiet voice pulled her out of her meditation. She started, knocking the book on her lap to the floor where it landed with a muffled thud. “I don’t understand how you do that,” Diane whispered, as she placed her own books on the hardwood table and sat down on the mismatched chair next to Tanya. “It’s like you go into a trance or something. You’re here but no one is home.”

“It’s called meditation, you should try it sometime,” Tanya mumbled as she attempted to cover a yawn with a hand while arching her back and stretching out ridiculously long legs and arms.  She hadn’t realized she had been waiting in the still library long enough for her to fall so deeply into her subconscious mind and body. “You’re late.”

“Yep,” Diane said then pulled two large travel mugs from her bag, “the line at the café was ridiculously long.”

“You brought coffee? All is forgiven!” Tanya grabbed at one of them and popped open the sealed top. “Mmm, hazelnut,” she took a long drink and sighed. “Okay,” Tanya glanced at her watch, “I have to leave in about six hours, so do you wanna focus on bio or lit?”

“Bio, we’ve got that test on tomorrow. Your work hours have gotten weird, what do you even do there?”

“I switched to working the street rather than stare at a screen so it’s just wandering around and telling off people for trespassing.” Diane gave Tanya a long skeptical look then sighed and then flipped open a heavy textbook to a chapter near the middle.

“What’s the pain pathway and how does it work in the nervous system?”


Tanya stepped carefully into the alleyway. She should have waited for Dan but she had felt something that didn’t belong in the concrete jungle of the city. She was still a journeyman, not even an acolyte yet, working without a teacher was dangerous, but people had been hurt by things they couldn’t describe and this was what he was training her to do.

The only warning she had was a small huff followed by something furry and dense ramming into her side. Tanya flew through the air and hit the brick wall with her shoulder. “That’s going to bruise something fierce,” she muttered to herself and used the wall to climb back to her feet. In the poor alleyway light she could barely see the outline of a large canine. It growled then launched itself at her again. Not taken completely by surprise this time she spun to the left and reached out to grab the fur on its shoulders, pulling herself onto its back so she was straddling it. The canine shook itself so wildly that any thought of reaching for her knives was dismissed. “Whelp, here goes nothing,” she struggled to dig her hands deeper into its fur while using her legs to keep herself on its back and away from its snapping jaw or sharp claws. The fur was thick, dirty, and matted so that catching even a fingertip against the skin would have been near impossible in the best of circumstances. “Come on!” she grunted in pain as the beast threw itself against the wall, crushing her leg with its heavy body. Her hands began to feel hot as the hair on her arms and head stood on end. The creature’s fur was too tangled to respond readily but it tried, giving her a few millimeters of extra space to work with. A faint ozone smell gathered around them and the air crackled. She felt the leg of her jeans shredding as it was rubbed against the bricks just before she felt the sharp sting of hundreds of jagged edges grate and tear at her skin. She clenched her jaw tight, not now, focus! Finally, her fingers brushed against something more solid than fur and she channeled all the electric energy she could into the canine’s nervous system. It roared once then crumpled.

Tanya fell from its back, rolling several times before finally coming to rest on her back, her breath coming in quick, deep gasps. Muscles twitched and trembled all along her body in response to the left-over static that seemed to jump and sizzle across all her nerves. She felt like she had been hit by a bus. Using that much energy at once shocked her system almost as much as the thing she channeled it into. She closed her eyes to focus on her breathing, bringing it back down to a normal rhythm and calming her heart and her frazzled nerves.

She was still lying on her back when she heard gravel crunching under boots. They stopped right next to her torso and she resisted the urge to open her eyes immediately.

“You look a mess, Tanya. What the hell happened?” A deep, masculine voice asked from six feet above her. She waved in what she assumed was the direction of the still creature, wincing as the movement pulled at her injured shoulder. A silent moment then, “ah. I see.”  Concern touched the edge of his voice, “can you stand?” he asked from much closer to her head. She cracked open one eye. He was kneeling over her, his long face hardly more than shadows in the faint light filtering down the alley. It didn’t take much imagination for her to see the deep lines in forehead or worry in his brown eyes. She sighed before reaching her uninjured arm up for him to grab and help her sit up.

“Hey, Dan, you missed the fun,” she told him. She saw him looking at her leg, and answered the obvious question, “my leg’s a bit torn up.” She twisted to get a better look at the outside of her left leg. She moved her foot around in circles, fascinated by the way the muscles pulled and shifted. It hurt, but no more than her shoulder did. She used her good arm and leg to push herself up. “Right shoulder, left leg, at least I’m even.”

“That’s one way to look at it,” he mused. “Sorry, I lost track of time.” She waved his apology away. They both knew it wouldn’t have mattered much. He was much better at tracking and doing things from a distance, the glass cannon type. She was the tank.

“I left early anyway. Felt that thing nearby and didn’t want to let it get too far.” She gingerly put some of her weight on her left leg, wincing again at the pain, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been even a minute ago. One of the benefits of her talent with the energy that zipped through nerves and muscles was she could turn some of those nerves off and on. Most of it was subconscious, but her control was better now that she was using the ability daily. Small adjustments in the nerve pathways meant she could ignore it. For a time at least.

Dan held out an arm for her to lean on then led her over to the large creature against the wall. “What is it?” She asked. He pulled out a small flashlight and kneeled next to the creature. The light focused on its face. It looked like a dog in general shape, but its snout was much longer and broader than any normal canine. Its fur was a dark gray, mottled with spots of bare skin along its muzzle and side. Everything about it was exaggerated, like a caricature artist had drawn a demon dog and it somehow came to life.

“I’m not sure, I haven’t seen anything like it in real life,” he answered, while she slowly moved closer to it, “or smelled anything like it either.” He covered his mouth and nose with the collar of his shirt.  looked down at her shirt then and noted the dirt and greasy smears ground into the fabric. She brought it close to her face to inspect the damage and began gagging at the strong smell of dirty, greasy, wet dog. Nothing was going to get that out. “Another outfit gone. That’s the fourth one this month.”

Dan continued to inspect the beast, “it may be of the Wild Hunt… or a pooka?” he mumbled to himself. “What do you know of pookas?” He moved the flashlight so it was focused on her rather than the smelly… pooka. The stains and bloody leg looked worse in the harsh, white light. The thoughtful frown changed to one of concern when he got a better look at the damage to her leg.

“’Tis only a flesh wound,” she joked as he pulled out a roll of gauze and tossed it to her. The gauze wouldn’t do much more than keep additional debris out, but it was better than nothing. Better first aid with ice packs and bandages would come after they finished tonight. She quickly wrapped her leg as best she could, tied a knot in the gauze, then gestured at the creature, “had enough time with the to be able to track it?”

“Yeah, I’ve got it,” he stood up, stretching and rolling his shoulders. “You sure you want to do this tonight?” he looked at her leg then up to her face. “If your leg-”

“If we wait this thing’s fellows may move off or attack someone else,” She didn’t add that she’d be lucky if she could move at all tomorrow. Her muscles were already complaining and she knew from experience it would only get worse.

“If you’re sure,” he sighed when he saw her nod. He took a deep breath then did something she couldn’t understand. Like her, he could do things most people considered impossible. A faint, purple mist gathered around his body, then with a gesture he directed it toward the dead creature. The mist seemed to sink into the dead pooka for a few heartbeats before it lifted away and stretched out into the night as a narrow ribbon. Dan set out slowly, giving her the opportunity to take the lead and set their pace.

Using Dan’s tracking mist they followed the route the monster had taken. It avoided main roads, sticking to roads or alleys with few lights and little traffic. After two miles the ribbon started to grow thicker and turn opaque. “I think we found its territory,” Dan whispered. The mist spread out to cover nearly the entire street, a smudge of smoke making the already rundown neighborhood they were in look like a horror movie set. Decrepit buildings and homes were separated by empty lots of land. All the yards were nearly uniform with bare dirt visible between clumps of weeds and detritus that the residents hadn’t bothered to put in the trash. It was an ideal place for things that didn’t belong but still needed to be near a source of food, humans.

Her turn. She took a deep breath before stretching out her senses. Her perspective shifted, as though she was viewing the environment from a few feet above her head in 360 degrees. The new view didn’t provide much more information than what her eyes had already seen, but at least she was less likely to be ambushed this time. Her hearing sharpened so that she could hear not only her heartbeat but also Dan’s and a few dozen small animals. Her mind automatically identified and dismissed irrelevant creatures too small to be another large creature like the pooka. Finally, her other sense, the one that felt for living things lifted away from her skin and slowly expanded in every direction. It confirmed the life she had already heard and dismissed, but just at the edge of what she could feel there was a large clump of things that didn’t fit anything she had encountered before tonight. She tapped Dan on the shoulder then pointed toward the source of energy. He nodded and took the lead as they carefully approached a large shed with broken windows and caving in walls on the far corner of a large plot of land. The house and shed had been abandoned long ago by the feel of the place.

Dan pulled what looked like a grenade from a pouch on the holsters crossing his chest. She gave him a questioning look, “new design,” he mouthed to her before tossing it into the center of the shed. His aim, as always, was spot on. “New design for what?” she whispered. Dan had a bad habit of testing new devices in the field. Sometimes they even worked that first use.

A soft hissing emanated from inside the building shortly followed by snuffling and huffing from several large mammals. The shed began to glow with a soft, ephemeral light, brightest near the center and weaker at the far edges. “Anything I should know before I charge in?” she asked as she pulled two knives from her belt. They were composed of a single piece of steel and veins of pure silver and iron along the length from the butt of the hilt to the tapering edges by way of a talented, magical, and expensive smith. They were worth every dollar. She needed silver and iron because she never knew what she was going to run into and some things from fairy tales were true, steel because there were things in the world even fairy tales couldn’t mention.

“Don’t breathe in the mist. It’s heavier than air so just try to stay on your feet,” he told her as he unslung a long rifle from his shoulder. She nodded sharply then dashed forward to jump through the window closest to them and hope there wasn’t anything sharp or painful for her to land on.

It had taken months of practice to move around without throwing up with her vision split in two.  Running, jumping, leaping, fighting, all that had taken thousands more hours of practice to keep from falling flat on her face. She leaped up, grabbed the top edge of the window frame to swing her legs through and released, controlling her fall. Her sky-view vision shifted inside with her, allowing her to see everything in the room. There were three pookas circling around each other, snarling and snapping in a sloppy drunk sort of way. The largest, seemed the most coordinated and broke off from the other two when she crashed through the window. It locked eyes with her for the barest of seconds before it ran headlong for her.

Tanya pivoted on her right foot, using the injured leg to push off the wall next to her and leap over the creature. She twisted midair while jabbing her knives into the pooka’s skin and channeling a sharp jolt of energy through them and directly into nerves along the its spine. It dropped to the floor with muscles still twitching. Not dead, but that pooka appeared to be down for the moment. Which was good since she was using far more of her energy tonight than she had on any other mission. She pulled her knives from its hide, wiped them on its fur and turned to face the other two. The smallest one dropped with a heavy thud at the same time that the sharp echoing retort of Dan’s rifle reached Tanya’s enhanced ears, making them ring loudly. Another monster was out of the fight. That left her with the last one until he reloaded.

She stalked forward, approaching the drunken pooka straight on, and took her first steps into the mist from Dan’s grenade. The gauze did little to protect the injured left leg from the mist and it began to burn like she had dumped a full bottle of antiseptic on it. The sudden change in pain made her breath hiss through her teeth and her eyes begin watering. I’m gonna punch him. Hard. First, she needed to punch the pooka in front of her.  Tanya closed her eyes to use only her clear, overhead vision which she shifted so that it focused forward on the creature in front of her. She turned her attention to her leg just long enough to turn off most of the pain receptors, she couldn’t afford the distraction. She struck at the pooka. It fell back on its haunches but whether from trying to move away from her or attack she didn’t know. She edged her way to its side, deeper into the painful mist, silvered knives weaved in front of her, as a warning that lunging at her would be painful.  Two more steps into the mist and her left knee gave out without warning, sending her sprawling alongside the pooka, knocking the air from her lungs, and plunging her entirely into the mist. The knife in her left hand skittered away but she had gripped the other tightly. Without thought she lashed out. The knife found flesh and she weakly pushed energy through, hopefully enough to knock the creature out.

Her lungs ached, and he was forced to inhale. Immediately she felt her careful control of her mind break apart, her vision splintered into a thousand pieces, she lost track of what was happening. She was tired. Some small part of her mind told her she couldn’t fall asleep. Something bad would happen. Her thoughts drifted, disjointed. Dan. Dan would have to clean up. He was good at that. She heard another loud retort, distorted as though it was traveling through water, and felt something heavy fall on her already damaged leg. She screamed. Her mind fractured and then she was falling down down down into a black oblivion.


The shock of freezing cold brought Tanya out of her unconsciousness. She tried to stand up only to have her legs slip beneath her on a smooth surface. Her head dipped into icy water. A bathtub. She sat up, moving slower this time. Water streamed down her face and neck and sparks jumped along water and her exposed skin while she tried to place where she was. The walls and lighting were familiar. Her bathroom. Her bathtub. Filled with water and ice. She turned to the open doorway knowing she would find Dan nearby. He stood in the hallway with the bottom half of his legs soaked and wearing rubber boots and gloves. Hasty safety measures when dealing with someone who lashed out with electricity, not a bad idea. She glanced down and noted he had tossed her in fully dressed and the water was already turning a distinctly unpleasant shade of gray with swirls of bright red blood near her feet.

“Ice? Really?” She sank deeper into the bath, not bothering to fight the shivering and reveling in the numbing sensation edging its way along her bruised and bruising skin and tense muscles.

“You like ice packs, this seemed more efficient,” he hesitantly stepped toward the doorway, but stopped when she raised her hand, not sure what she was going to do.

“I’m still angry at you,” he merely nodded, expecting that from her, “a little better warning next time?” He shrugged and nodded again. He would remember for a week. Maybe two. They both knew it, but he would try. “Any chance there could be warm towels and PJs after this?” she gestured to the water.

“As you wish,” he said then laughed when a bar of soap bounced off the door jamb next to his head. The door shut as he moved away from her bathroom and she heard the dryer turn on a minute later. After what seemed like an hour later, but was probably only twenty minutes she was dry, warm, and tending to her leg. A quick glance at a clock told her it was nearly 6am. On Thursday. She had that bio test in four hours. Shit. Dan saw her shoulders slump and took a guess, “Test today?” She nodded sullenly, finishing up with the ace wrap. “You’re young, but you’ll need to choose soon, Tanya. You can’t continue to live two different lives.”

“I know. I just… I don’t know yet, Dan.”


Tanya hissed when she felt something connect hard with her leg. Her left leg. Her still shredded left leg. She looked to the side where Diane was glaring at her. “What was that for?” she mouthed silently. “You fell asleep. Again,” she hissed. Tanya just sighed then looked back at her test. She had just started the long answer questions and only had fifteen minutes left. Right. She could do this. What is nociception? Describe its pathway and process using as much detail as possible. She giggled to herself, if there was something she was intimately aware of at this moment, it was the perception of pain. Putting pencil to paper she began to write, the motions of her hand matching time to the throbbing in her leg.



Rowan pulled tight on the edges of her slightly too small blood-red cloak and wrapped her arms tight around her middle in a failed attempt to keep what little warmth it trapped next to her body. Despite her efforts the cold, winter wind cut through each layer of clothing even as the contrary, stronger gusts pulled the fur-lined cape and hood from her face and forced her to the edge of the trail. The crusty snow was deeper there and her oiled leather boots sunk up to her ankles each time, forcing her tired legs to work harder to pull them free to return to the hardened trail and continue moving forward.

She struggled to keep to the trail even without the wind pushing her about as it carried hard pellets of snow into her face, and more importantly, her eyes. Tall, hard wood trees, normally bright with great, green leaves, played the role of ghosts as she squinted through her frosted eye lashes. Her breath clouded and warmed the air around her face just enough to melt the snow as it approached her face but froze immediately upon hitting her cheeks, nose, and eyelashes. Every few minutes she gritted her teeth and forced herself to reach a hand through a tiny opening to wipe the frost away and dab at her nose. The wind took advantage of her distraction and attempted to steal the cloak, making it fly behind her and snap loudly in the woods. It startled her each time as it broke through the rhythm of the crunching snow under her boots and the wind rattling through naked tree branches. The wind and Rowan traveled the otherwise silent woods together, the only things that seemed even partially alive. Even the sun hid from the forest in perpetual twilight hardly sharing its muted, diffuse light. It reminded her of the unnatural stillness of a graveyard. The thought sent a shiver down her spine.

Finally, Rowan’s feet stepped on the little used path that led to her grandmother’s cabin. People came up with all sorts of stories to explain why her grandmother lived so far away from any settlement. Some people whispered salacious rumors, she consorted with the devil, or the fae touched her long ago. Rowan’s monthly visits resulted in those same people attaching similar rumors to her. She little cared for what they thought. Her grandmother told fantastic tales and shared her secrets and tricks with her granddaughter. Rowan, barely sixteen, knew much more about the world and the men and women that inhabited it than any of her peers in her own village.

A few yards onto the narrow path she began to feel uneasy though the source of her unease eluded her. After she passed through the last screen of trees and saw the cabin she realized what she missed; the smell of wood smoke. Without thinking about the consequences of her actions she broke into a run, her need to know overriding her need for caution.

She slipped and fumbled her way toward the now ominous cabin. Fifty yards from the door she fell fully into a deep snow drift and knocked all the air from her lungs. Her stunned diaphragm refused to move despite her heart and brain’s desperate need for air. I can’t breathe, she thought, panic building in her chest, further preventing her from gaining control over her muscles. Her vision clouded over, white and black and shimmering closed about her. The snow surrounding her grabbed at her and prevented her from being able to pull herself out. She struggled less and less as each limb gave up, the cold leaching her strength.

The distant sound of a wolf howling escorted Rowan into the deep, black depths of unconsciousness.

Ender’s Game Movie “Review”

First some background information.

Ender’s Game is, for good reason, considered one of the best sci-fi books out there. Orson Scott Card (OSC) wrote the book in 1985 and it is what catapulted him into fame, despite the fact that most people who have read his fantasy work have told me that they prefer that over Ender’s Game. Personally I found Ender’s Shadow to be superior to Ender’s Game but thought both were good reads and a really interesting introduction to sci-fi. Card has continued to write in that universe and many others. However, he has also diverted off the path of just being a writer and is also using his name and money to support and promote other causes, primarily anti-LGBT and equality campaigns. His name is big enough, the amount of money he’s spent large enough and the timing of the movie is just right so that equality and LGBT activists have called for a boycott of any and everything that Card has touched. Really, Card has said a lot of stuff over the years and supported enough groups that are against the rights of others that I can think of very view people I know who wouldn’t offend Card. So then the question I must answer is why did I go to see the movie? Two things: The first is that he will not get enough money from my ticket to make up for me not wanting to support a new sci-fi film. We aren’t seeing enough of those coming from Hollywood and there’s a chance that if this one does well then they’ll look at doing others. Hopefully those others won’t include a writer who is as much of a dick as Card is. The second is that I was really curious to see if they’d be able to pull it off. Ender’s Game is such an internally driven book where few of the motivations can be easily played out by anyone and it would be ridiculous to have a character do voice over through most of the movie just to explain what’s going on.

For those like me who don’t like the idea of supporting Card much at all but do want to see the movie you can always donate money or your time to a GLBT/human rights group. You could do that even if you don’t go and see the movie, too.

Right, so the review part.

To get it out of the way – I did not like it as an adaptation of the book Ender’s Game. However, if it were just a standalone movie that took its cue from the book I’d find most of it to be pretty cool, good even. That was not the case though. Consider yourselves warned, there be spoilers beyond this point.

SPOILERS I TELL YOU! SPOILERS! (I hope that sounded as cool in your head as it did in mine.)

Ender Wiggin is not just smart, he’s a genius on par with Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. Actually, all of the kids that were candidates for battle school are geniuses like that. It was never made clear in the movie that these kids are waaaaaaay more intelligent than their teachers. It wasn’t made clear that they were all expected to be able to fight as much with their bodies as their brains. It also wasn’t made clear that they spent a long time on the battle school. It wasn’t clear that these kids start at 5 or 6 years old and don’t leave until they’re between twelve and fourteen. Yeah, they had to compress some of that in the movie, okay, I’ll give them that. But there is no way in this world that they could have compressed it to fit into less than a year and that they had twenty eight days from the last Dragon battle to the start of the “real” war like what was displayed on their countdown timer of doom. That made the whole thing even less likely. That was the point that I decided they really didn’t know what they were doing.

Oh, it was never made clear either that these students were expected to be able to kill and that it was one of the things that got them into battle school, that ability to do so. Ender got in because he killed the first kid. He stayed in and was recognized as the person they were looking for because he killed Bonzo but hated himself from the moment that he realized he was going to do it. Bonzo didn’t trip, he was killed. If they had done those sequences right then the dialogue with Valentine where she tells him that he isn’t like Peter because he has to be able to love someone before he can kill them would make so much more sense. As it is they just sort of hang there.

Once the movie goes up to the battle school, we’re up there and never hear anything more about what’s going on down on the ground. There was so much politicking going on down there and Ender’s siblings were THE movers and shakers. They did so much and there wasn’t even a nod to it in the movie. Bah!

They decided to compress all of the “simulated” battles to less than a half-dozen, okay, fine, I can understand that. However, there was no reason whatsoever to move EVERYONE to a planet outside the solar system! They even threw around the word ansible and communication even if they didn’t explain it. Being closer to the fight meant nothing AND it got rid of the point that this whole damn thing had been planned years and years and years in advance. The *only* reason for making that change was so Ender could walk outside his little safe place and find the queen’s egg, which screwed up the ending in so many ways I can’t count them all. The way they showed Ender finding the random Queen egg just laying around WITH a dying queen to protect it did two things: showed that there were probably more formics living in other places and that Ender didn’t complete genocide and made the entire fleet appear to be entirely incompetent for not making sure the area around their base was clear, at least far enough that a kid couldn’t walk for a few minutes and run into a formic. You know, an alien that has a strong history of trying to kill humans without asking any questions? GAH! That was just bad. Bad, bad, bad.

A few things they almost got right – the relationship between Ender and Petra. I think Hollywood actually wanted to make it into a love thing but someone came by and said “no, that’s going to get you killed more than this whole Card thing is,” so they didn’t. Instead they made it borderline, which I can deal with. Petra rescues Ender, makes him look awesome and they work well as a team. Alai gets named and the lesson he teaches Ender about peace is there. Bean is mentioned though it’s more like the screenwriters were told to name one of the kids “Bean” and to make him smaller and spin around in the battle room.

Oh the battle room. You know, I will forgive them for how they portrayed it. Yeah, fine, they completely screwed up with the design of the school and how the battle room was supposed to look and how the whole gravity thing worked there. I never expected them to get it right anyway. However, I do think that the visuals we got from their version was pretty damn awesome and much more visually pleasing than the big white/gray/black room that I had from the book. I don’t think movie audiences would have been satisfied with a battle room that was true to the books.

I’ll even give them the few battles they showed. They did a lot better will all of that than I had expected them to. I hope to see some of the things they learned from filming those scenes pop up in other movies because it was really fun.

I’ve totally lost all my steam here, so I’m just going to leave it at my previous assessment. If I hadn’t gone in knowing it was supposed to be Ender’s Game it would have been a whole hell of a lot better. Generic space sci-fi movie gets 4/5 stars, Ender’s Game adaptation gets 1.5/5 stars. They intentionally got too many things wrong for me to give it any higher of a rating.

What Book Publishers Do Right and What They Do Wrong

I love books. They have my friends since I learned how to read and there are somewhere around 1000 in my house not counting e-books or audio books. There is no way I will ever be able to read all of them in my life-time but that doesn’t keep my from purchasing more.

Except I have not been purchasing anywhere near as many books as I once did. This has much to do with the pricing of books. Hard cover books are excessively expensive. Enough so that unless you purchase them from a small, local bookstore you get anything from a 10-30% discount on purchasing them. Trade editions (the ones that are somewhere between the size of a hard cover and the size of most paperbacks, also known as mass market) are less than 1/2 the price of hard covers only they don’t come with any sort of discount. Shame in my opinion. Mass market prices have gone up $1-3 in the last four or five years. Then you have electronic books. In some cases they are the same price as trade books which makes them more expensive than the physical book. In other cases they are the same price or only $1-3 less, making them the same price I would have expected to pay for a physical copy five years ago. The electronic copy of a book does not have the same value or worth as a physical copy but we, the consumers, are expected to not realize that. That’s without getting into the whole DRM/DRM-free battle. I’ll leave that to my husband to explain.

The long story short here is that I have avoided purchasing many books because I cannot justify putting yet another book on my already overflowing bookshelves that I may or may not read. I also am unable to justify the price of the electronic copy of the book even if that’s the most convenient way to read.

There are two publishers (that I am aware of) that continue to price-fix their e-books so they are more than their physical books and are sold with DRM. The biggest culprit of this, at least of the publishers that I tend to read books from, is Penguin Group which publishes most of its sci-fi/fantasy books under Ace Publishing. They were so bad that I just wrote a letter to Penguin Group voicing my concerns. You can read it at the end if you’re curious.

Some publishers are slowly figuring this out. They are making a token effort at satisfying their consumers. Their electronic books are at least consistently less than mass market books and they are DRM-free. Tor/Forge of Macmillan is the best example that I’m aware of, again because they are the sci-fi/fantasy publishing company for Macmillan. They’ve at least made a few steps in the right direction. O’Reilly Publishing has gone even further. They publish technical books (I keep mistaking them for text-books) and give their consumers the option to purchase the e-book in addition to their physical books for an additional $5 just by entering the ISBN number. Considering the fact that the absolute cheapest I’ve seen any of their books is $32 and they go as high $150 that is a fantastic deal.

I’ve seen individual authors do some really cool things too. Small, self-published authors frequently keep their e-books under $5, closer to $3, and will even give their first book for free to get people reading. There are several authors that I’ve started to read because of programs like that. Even big-name authors give cool deals to their readers when they can. The most recent I can think of was Brandon Sanderson who emailed the e-book of one of his novellas to anyone who emailed him a picture of them holding a copy of the physical book without asking for a penny more. He is really pleased with how that has worked out for him and is hoping to be able to do similar programs with his books in the future. He would really love to see the big publishers doing something like that for their consumers. He’s really pushing it for his next big release and I decided to email his primary publisher, Tor/Forge (Macmillan), to encourage this practice. Again, email can be found at the bottom.

I cannot wait for the time when publishers realize that e-books are the way to go. I am dearly attached to my physical books. I also dread moving them and needing to purchase more and more bookshelves. I like the convenience of my e-reader. I’ve already written about the pros and cons, here, so I won’t repeat all of it. Let’s just go with that the idea that I like both and see the pros and cons of both but like carrying my ereader around a whole hell of a lot more than all my physical books. I tend to hurt physical books when I carry them around.

There are a few good options for publishers. I addressed some of those in my email to Tor/Forge asking them to consider allowing consumers to purchase physical books and then get the ebook version either free or at a much reduced price. I would highly encourage anyone else who seriously enjoys reading books, whether they use an ereader (yet) or not, to email various publishers about this too. You could even copy what I’ve written below, though I would encourage you to add your own thoughts as well. My first email below is requesting a publisher to bundle physical books and ebooks together. The second is my email to Penguin Publishing regarding their horrid ebook pricing. It’s maybe a bit more negative in tone than I normally write, but they continue to anger me. My husband and I both will be writing to every publisher every time we don’t purchase a book because of stupid price schemes. If you’re upset by some of the not so awesome policies of publishers, I would also encourage you to email/write them about it as well.

Whether you do voice any concerns to publishers or not, thank you for reading this.

To whom it may concern,

I am writing you on behalf of myself and my husband. We are both avid readers and have been frequent purchasers of books published by Macmillan or subsidiaries, particularly Tor/Forge books. We have also grown quite fond of e-books due to their convenience and the fact that we can both read the same book(s) at the same time. This has also put us in a bit of a pickle. It is difficult for us to justify purchasing a physical book unless it is a special circumstance, e.g. a release from an author we want to display on our bookcases, but it is even more difficult to justify purchasing the e-book when it is either the same price or within $3-4 of the physical book. An electronic copy of a book is not worth the $5-10 that we are asked to pay. This has led us to purchase far fewer books than we otherwise would purchase. We leave bookstores empty handed seven times out of ten. We both have dozens of books on our individual Amazon wishlists that will never be purchased at their current pricing.

There is a solution that already seems to be working well for the movie industry and a practice that has also worked well for O’Reilly Publishing. When a consumer purchases a movie they often are purchasing an electronic copy of the movie as well. The movie industry does continue to sell movies and continues to make good profits. O’Reilly Publishing has set it up on their website so that a consumer can download a technical book for $5 after entering in the ISBN number for a physical copy of the text that they own. Again, they continue to make profits and have made no indication that they intend to change their policy. I would not propose that you rely upon the honor system like what O’Reilly does. However, what I propose would be two things: A hardcover purchase comes with a free copy of the electronic version of the book in whatever format each consumer’s e-reader supports. A soft cover purchase, whether trade or mass market, will come with the option for a reader to add on the electronic version for $1 more, again in whatever format works with their e-reader. This would also make the decision to shop at the local bookstore, as compared to Amazon or other online retailers, easier.

Another anecdotal note is based on comments from Brandon Sanderson at a recent book signing. He experimented with giving his readers the e-book copy of his novella, Emperor’s Soul, if they emailed him a picture of them holding the physical book. He has had good sales for this novella and has gotten many positive responses from his readers for this action. I personally believe that he is part of the leading wave of authors who have recognized that readers want to have options like this and that e-books will not kill the book industry but can be complimentary if handled properly.

I can guarantee that people like my husband and I, who are not alone in our desire to support authors and new books being released, would make many more book purchases.

Thank you for your time and consideration

Grumpy email to Penguin:

To whom it may concern,

I am writing you concerning the price of the e-book Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein currently published by Ace, a subsidiary of Penguin. This book was released in 1959 and was an award winning and best selling book at that time. It is still considered a must read for any sci-fi reader. However, you have lost at least 2 purchasers of a new copy in all formats because of your pricing for the e-book. $9.99 for an electronic copy of a book that has been available in mass market, currently priced at $8.99, for over 50 years is unacceptable. I have spoken with multiple people regarding my disgust at this pricing scheme, the vast majority of whom also read e-books. When I do purchase this book it will be at a used bookstore specifically with the intention to avoid giving you, the publisher, my additional financial support. I will not purchase any e-books from Penguin Group Publishing nor any of its subsidiaries until your anti-consumer policies have changed. I will also not purchase any other books, physical or audio, from your publishing group. I will continue to discuss my concerns with friends, family and co-workers to educate them on the way some publishers prey on their consumers.

Sincerely, a former Ace/Penguin group consumer,

Maybe Not So Crazy – Writing Idea

Mostly still not really edited but some revision to go with what the character wanted anyway. Still don’t know if I like the way the end went.

It had always been assumed I was crazy. My parents, friends, distant relatives, even me, we all knew I was crazy. Not the sort of crazy you see on street corners with people holding signs and talking to themselves and smelling really bad. Not like the crazy that rages against people and assumes the government is out to get them and that everyone is poisoning them. I don’t think I’m God or Jesus or a rock star or anything like that. But I have heard voices for as long as I can remember. I stopped talking back to them around middle-school. They never responded to me and never seemed to be talking about anything that was going on around me. They just… were. That’s all. I hardly notice them anymore to be honest. I stopped listening to them in high school. Well, mostly. I would listen to them at night sometimes, those times when I couldn’t fall asleep. It was my version of counting sheep. I’d listen to them ramble and soon would drift off to dream land and that was it.

Well, I guess that wasn’t entirely it. There are all the crazy, weird-ass dreams, too. Those don’t bother me much either. I do use them as jump off points for short stories. I’m told that I do talk when I’m dreaming. Loudly. My parents shunted me to the basement as soon as they could so they wouldn’t have to listen to me yammer anymore. That’s what they called it around me, but I’ve overheard them whispering about how scary it really is. Apparently I talk about assassination and plots and some sort of war that I don’t understand. Kind of fantasy stuff that only old school fairy tales are willing to hint at – Rumpelstiltskin sort of evil creatures. They’re really night-terrors actually. I don’t think of them that way anymore, but when I was little I did.

Really though, I’m not as crazy as I sound. I was a straight-A student all the way through school and college. I’ve got my bachelors in creative writing and have published most of my short stories and am in the midst of a novel. I have never been fired even though I have always worked at least one job from the age of fifteen and two or three jobs since college. Strangers at the bookstore and coffee shops I work at don’t know I’m different. My editor doesn’t know where all my crazy ideas come from. Publishers don’t care as long as my stuff sells.

So, I guess, in the long run it doesn’t really matter that I hear voices. According to psychiatrists that I’ve seen I’m not really diagnosable as anything because I lead a perfectly normal life. They’ve tried meds just to see if the voices will react but all that happened was that I slept. A lot. And felt really fuzzy in my head. My own internal voice was all jumbled and mumbling and couldn’t track at all (especially on Haldol, that stuff messes with you) but none of them fazed the voices. That was the part that really freaked out the psychiatrists. Nothing worked on the voices and I responded to the drugs the same way that a “normal” person would.

Thinking about that makes me feel even more crazy. A weird sort of crazy. The sort that even people who deal with crazies can’t figure out. That’s about when I stopped thinking about them at all. I wrote down my dreams when I woke up, went to the coffee shop, stocked books and answered the ridiculous questions customers came up with, went home to my cat and wrote then went to bed. The routine blurred the days and those blurred days dulled the voices.

Until about a year ago that is. Then they got loud. Really loud. Like I couldn’t move because of migraines and was having seizures and ended up in the hospital for so many tests that I am still paying for them even with decent insurance sort of loud. Again, the neurologists and psychiatrists were just as stumped as the previous psychiatrists were. According to the CT scans and MRIs and EKGs and sleep studies and whatever other tests they did my brain and body were perfectly normal. Absolutely normal. Like the sort of normal that is used in presentations that doesn’t really exist sort of normal. Well, there were some weird spots that would light up when I was asleep, but they’ve seen that in other people who have vivid dreams, so again, not really all that weird. Actually, I think they said that activity was absolutely textbook standard for night-terror brain activity. I think they were split on whether to use me as a case study, destroy all the evidence because it was too weirdly-normal or conclude that I was making everything up and just wanted a break from my dull life. I gave those last two a nicely worded letter telling them to go fuck themselves. Hindsight says it wasn’t the best idea but they pissed me off. Anyway, I sort of agree with the second group of docs. I basically think of my brain as so normal that it’s no longer normal but just on the other side of the dividing line between normal and freaking weird. Not schizophrenic. Not bipolar. Not depressed. No growths. No abscesses. Not even any concussions. Just weird. Basically the story of my life.

So I was crazy and weird but normal all at once. It probably should have freaked me out and led to some sort of breakdown at least sometime in my life. But that’s just not how I roll. Probably because my brain is too weirdly normal to accommodate such a normal response to so many weird things. Which sucks by the way.

I got out of the hospital after about a week when everything stopped. Just stopped. Migraine gone. Seizures none-existent. Voices missing. I never thought I’d say it but I was suddenly very lonely.

That lasted for about three days.

Then they started up again. Only this time they were aware. That’s the only way I can describe it. They started talking about what I was seeing and hearing and even feeling. They were violently loud the first hour then it was like a volume knob was dialed back. Not on my side, but on theirs. I don’t know how to say why that’s how it was, but I just know that my brain wasn’t capable of dialing anything down at that point. I was back in the fetal position and wishing I could find my way into a nice medication induced coma again. After a day or so to recover from that hour of arguing and my name being yelled back and forth, oh yeah, I forgot to mention that they knew my name, didn’t I? Well, they knew my name and they were saying it for the first time since I can remember, and they seemed to be arguing over what to do about me. Like whether to kidnap me or kill me sort of what to do with me. Awesome. That’s not disturbing or anything.

After the volume got dialed back and I more or less recovered from the blast of argument I still heard voices, but it seemed like they were only saying things that they wanted me to hear. I wasn’t hearing just random crap anymore, but intentional stuff. There were even times when they seemed to be able to blur the words, sort of like if you’re at the beach trying to listen to someone talking twenty feet away but the waves and wind are too loud to hear more than that they are saying words in what is most likely a language you understand.

While there were fewer voices overall, I finally figured out that there were two groups, one wanted to kill me, the other kidnap me and both were trying to figure out how to do it without the other knowing. Or me.

I already knew I was crazy. That was never in question. But now… now I was edging toward the sort of paranoid crazy that the people on street corners shout about. People were after me. They wanted to hurt me. Only they were still all in my head. It’s really hard to ignore voices that talk about how you need to die. I tried, I really did, but there’s only so much I’m capable of, even with my supernaturally normal brain.

Then there came the voice that started talking to me. Well, there were two eventually. One guy, one lady. They seemed to think I should know them and they started talking about how they were sending some people out to rescue me and just to wait and I’ll be back home and some other bizarre stuff. I initially ignored them. Then I protested that I was home, that I didn’t need to be rescued. I tried asking them what in the world they were going on about. They told me. I think. But it was more conspiracy theory stuff only they claimed to be from some alternate reality. Yeah, I stopped listening at that point. Like I said, conspiracy theory crap. And we had already established that I am crazy. Was crazy. I was crazy. I’m pretty sure I still am. Maybe I’m in an asylum somewhere and just don’t realize it. Perhaps it’s better not to know for certain. I had always assumed the old saying was true, “Only crazy people don’t question their sanity” or however it goes.

One year. One whole year spent spiraling further and further into the real crazy realm. Fun times. I have a lot more sympathy for the dudes on street corners now.

So yeah, I stopped wondering about conspiracy theories around the same time that two incredibly beautiful/handsome/oh my, can I bang you now, guys show up at my apartment and try to tell me that I need to leave with them right away before I get murdered. I don’t know why but I invited them in for tea instead of running off with them. Maybe I was hoping for some action, it had been a while after all. Instead they drank tea with me, tried to convince me I’m some sort of inhuman creature called Sidhe or Fae or whatever. I didn’t believe them, stopped listening and was trying to figure out the best way to kick the pranksters out on their asses when they killed a man.

To be fair he did sort of have it coming. A man jumping through a window with a lot of wicked looking knives probably doesn’t want to sit down for a cup of tea. Two of those knives would have impaled themselves in my chest had one of my actually invited in guests not knocked me out of my chair while his buddy wrestled the other dude into my kitchen. Which he spent the better part of three hours cleaning up afterward. Or so I’m told. I spent most of those three hours plus another twelve in my bathroom throwing up every meal I’ve ever had. While my tea guests/rescuers slept somewhere out front, I slept in my bathtub clutching my cat. I think I slept. I’m assuming they slept. I don’t actually know. The next morning they were still in my apartment and insisted I leave with them. I refused at first, but then they pointed out the daggers that were still embedded in the wall and said something about more killers on their way and that I was lucky and yadda yadda yadda. I didn’t argue much more. I’m sure they disagree with my point there. They didn’t want me to bring my cat, Snickers. I refused to leave without him. Made sense to me at the time. I didn’t want to come home to find him dead waiting in front of the door. They complained, something about cats being a massive nuisance and not welcome where we were going. They relented after I told them they could go fuck themselves if they thought I was leaving without my cat. Apparently that’s my fall back when I’m pissed. I need to come up with something else more creative to say.

Three days and a lot of miles later we ended up in BFE (that means butt-fuck Egypt, just in case you were wondering) nowhere Pennsylvania and hung out there for days. I didn’t know what we were waiting for. They kept saying we’re waiting for the right moon or something, but I didn’t really understand why and they said they can’t tell me why until I see it for myself.

On the plus side I haven’t heard much in the way of voices in my head since they showed up. Oh, the occasional thing from the lady and man that keep trying to tell me that they’re so glad I’m on my way “home”. On the bad side I recognized both these guys voices when they asked to come in to my home. I forgot to mention that, hadn’t I? That was probably why I invited them in for tea. Why shouldn’t I? My voices materialized in the form of some of the most handsome guys I’ve ever seen, may as well take advantage of the eye candy before I get hauled away to the funny farm. In this case they were the ones that did the hauling rather than the police like I had expected.

You know, I’m sure you’re as confused as I am, well was. Let’s go back a bit. A little more detail would probably be good. It’s not like I don’t have time. It seems like all I’ve got is time.

So, from the beginning. Maybe not the very beginning. That’d be too boring. Let’s start with the day that I met my two rescuers, captors, whatever. The day that I found out I’m a Changeling and the daughter of ambassadors for the Seelie Court to the Unseelie Court. The day I found out I’m either crazy as a loon or never was crazy. Man, do I wish I was still crazy. That’d be so much easier than the other. I really hope I’m locked away somewhere, else this is going to be the most unbelievable thing ever. So here goes, story time.

Not so long ago a crazy lady was startled from her manuscript by three loud knocks on her front door…

Anomalycon 3: Thoughts and ramblings with pictures!

One family enjoying themselves at Anomalycon

I spent this past weekend in a fantastic and improbable place. Some very smart and mad people created a time and space anomaly right inside a hotel in the Denver Tech Center. Hundreds of the quirkiest and geekiest people in Colorado were pulled into this anomaly (I promise, I’ll stop) and all sorts of mostly controlled chaos and fun ensued.

This was my second time attending Anomalycon, a steampunk/alternate history and science fiction convention. Really, the only reason why I went last year was because I happen to know the person who was that right combination of insane and incredibly organized and motivated and started the whole thing and is still in charge. I came back this year because I enjoyed myself so much and because I like supporting cool causes of which new cons ran by friends falls under that category.

I already had an agenda when I went in. I was going to watch every performance of Pandora Celtica because they absolutely rock. In a faerie, acoustic, punk, but not really rock, sort of sense. My husband has spent much time the last year randomly surprising me with their music just showing up in my phone or home, but the live performance is where they go from awesomesauce to completely made of win. This weekend was absolutely no exception. I greatly enjoyed their two shows, and as usual, wish they had performed at least one more time. Though where I would have fit that into the very busy weekend schedule is anyone’s guess.

I spent pretty much all of my time at the con in the writing panels. Thirteen of the twenty panels/performances we attended were in the “writing” room, much to my husband’s dismay. Or so I imagine since he spent the majority of his time reading programming manuals or looking up tech stuff. *sigh* For myself, each panel increased my interest in writing, real writing, and poked at that dream I had put away of ever doing anything with it. The panel on overcoming writer’s block (ugh) sort of knocked loose some of my excuses that I always come up with for why I can’t/won’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t bother. Sometime around Saturday evening during the NanoWrimo panel, I decided that I was going to give this whole thing a go. Again.

There were a finite number of authors/guest panelists, which means that by the end of day two, several of the authors were recognizing me. Rather than hide and shuffle off to a corner as is usual for me. Instead I hung out and talked with them and some of the artists. Some of them even autographed my copy of an anthology they took part in writing, Penny Dread Tales Vol III. Some of them even gave me the go ahead to Facebook-stalk them and I did! O.o Just in case you were curious, that is waaaaaay outside my comfort zone. Majorly so. But, they were really friendly and gave some great advice, and even if I never actually do anything further in writing, I can always watch for their new projects and all that good jazz.

None of that really gives a good indication of what Anomalycon is though, does it? Just me rambling on about stuff. So, let’s go on to pictures! Most of these come from Westword, a local paper that has been coming to Anomalycon all three years.

Authors S.J. Chambers and Gail Carriger at a free-for-all panel

Probably my favorite “costume” of the entire event

Taking a break between events

The tallest member is hiding behind the speaker...

Pandora Celtica!

Gizmos! Gadgets! Doohickeys! Thinga-ma-jigs!

Why not?

So Much More Interesting Inside My Head

Please note that I have not editted this, nor have I done any sort of spellcheck or grammar check or anything like that. If you notice any gross errors, please let me know so I can correct them? Thank you!

Inspired by:

Kendra had no place to go, no place to be, and if she were honest, no place that she had been either. Oh she physically inhabited a certain more or less static volume of space and interacted with other things and people that also occupied their volumes of space, but she had never really been there either. She didn’t think she was crazy. She could tell the difference between what was going on inside her head and what happened in the rest of the world. Mundane as it always was, she never understood why others were so preoccupied with what happened outside their spaces and the places that only they could see.

She had been disabused of that notion and logic only after she realized that not everyone saw things, experienced things, took part in things inside their heads as she did. It took her 17 long years to understand that when others told her that they had no clue what in the world she was talking about that they were telling the truth. They truly had no idea. They couldn’t see like she could.

So she withdrew further into her internal world, seeing the fantastic happening all around her while those she passed by refused to acknowledge that anything fantastic could happen to them, around them. The only people who seemed to have some idea, saw some small portion of what she did were the very young or others on the fringes of society: street bums, whores, alcoholics or addicts. They saw portions of it, though often they were in such desperate situations and life states themselves that they were tormented. They could only see the pain, the suffering, the red that she shied away from in favor of more pleasant things. She felt sorry for them, but had no idea what to do to help them so she avoided them. The demons and torture around them scared her.

Which was why she had no idea how she had gotten sucked into where she was now. All around her was black slashed with red and the feeling of eyes all around her. She was walking as fast as it was possible to without actually running, bumping into people that she could barely see as shades within the world she had fallen into. Normally it was the other way around, but today it was different. Today the real was less tangible than the imagined and she was scared. So very scared.

The black and red world was full of trees, trees that seemed to be growing in front of her, reaching out for her, trying to tangle her up in their limbs and roots and piles of rotting leaves she had to shove her way through. She had no idea why the real people around her couldn’t see or understand her struggle, why they seemed to ignore what was happening right before their eyes.

Something finally managed to take hold of her backpack and pulled her off her feet. She landed hard on her butt, her teeth snapping together and setting off a ringing in her head while cutting off a scream. With barely a pause she rolled over and away from whatever had grabbed her, the trees she thought, and scrambled to her feet before setting off at a run. Her backpack thumped against her back several times before she thought to tighten the straps. She was already breathing hard and had barely gone more than a few blocks. The price she paid for avoiding actually running and instead reading while pretending to use the bike or treadmill.

She was stumbling more now. Tree roots seemed to move in front of her and she was getting scratched and her clothing torn from the damn trees towering above. If she didn’t know any better she would have thought it was something like Mirkwood Forest. As soon as the thought passed her mind she felt the presence she had felt earlier grow infinitely stronger. She wasn’t uncertain about the watchers. She knew they were there as certain as she knew that it was her thoughts that brought them into being rather than the shades they had been.

They moved now, following her, running ahead of her, jumping through the trees as though they belonged. Which if she thought about it, they did. She was the intruder here. She had stepped into their realm, their reality.

She no longer had any idea what was going on in the Real World. the street and buildings and few people around were barely outlines against the darkness. She had no idea how it was that she had not been hit by a car or bus or something. It would be the highest irony if a bus were to get her, at least in her opinion. No one actually got hit and died from that, at least not that she was aware of.

The problem was that she was tiring. Quickly. Her legs hurt. Her arms hurt from protecting her face and chest from getting the worst of the scratches. Her lungs felt on fire. Her right side was ready to split open. Her heart was pounding hard enough that she could feel it in her fingers, her head, hear it in her ears. What happens if I actually fall? If I stop… What happens to me then? she couldn’t help but wonder. She was certain she would find out soon.

Just then she saw someone else, a real person’s outline becoming stronger, less outline, more three dimensional. More real in this world she was struggling to escape from. A man who seemed just as startled as she was to be there with her, wherever they were. She was coming up on him fast, faster than she had thought she was actually moving.

“What…?” She could see the question on his lips and face more than she actually heard it.

“Run!” She called to him, grabbed his hand as she passed him. He didn’t really question, just stumbled as he turned to follow her before catching up and running besides her.

“Do you know this place?” He asked between deep breaths. She shook her head, not knowing if she could answer and still run, even if she knew the answer. He appeared to be much more accustomed to running than she was and asked another question. “Have you been here before?” Again, she could only shake her head. “Well, I have. It won’t end until we face them.” She chose that moment to fall, tripping over her own feet. She fell hard, the wind knocked out of her enough so that she couldn’t actually pull in any air. The panic that had been pushing her to run washed over her, freezing her further.

“No, no, no, no, no,” was all she could think. A century later, when her lungs finally started working again, it was all she could say. She was trapped, and so was this man and they were going to be killed, or driven mad or lost in whatever place had swallowed her and now him.

She didn’t see the transformation he went through, but she sensed something was happening. In her panic, all she could manage to feel was that the world was falling further away, something new was making it go away. However, he went from just another 20-something young man, a little on the skinny side, and definitely not the “hero” type to someone wearing leather and metal armor. He had a bow and a quiver of arrows. And a sword. And he moved like he knew how to use them.

She felt his arms pull her up from the floor of the forest or street, whichever it really was anymore and she was forced to see what had happened to him. All she could do was gape in dumbfounded astonishment and wonder. “How, what… I don’t understand.” He just shook his head and shrugged, “You don’t really need to. Just imagine. Use that wonderful head of yours that brought you here in the first place. Take control of yourself.”

She didn’t really understand him. Not with the part of her brain that struggled against fully accepting what was all around her. But that didn’t matter. Because there was another part of her brain that knew exactly what to do and the desperation she felt to the very core of her heart urged that part of her brain to take over. Her clothing shifted, became heavier, more sturdy, changed to a combination of leather and cloth, something like the man’s own clothing only lighter, no metal, just the leather. Her back pack became a quiver to match his and she knew a bow was waiting for her to grab it up. In her hands she found a staff as thick as the first knuckle of her thumb and at least a foot taller than she. But the thing that she noticed the most was that her fatigue and panic seemed to drain away from her through her feet and she could almost see it slithering along the ground, leaving her in her new-found power.

“Now that’s more like it! I’m Mark, by the way.” He gave her a wink as he turned around to look at where they had stopped so suddenly. “Kendra,” she said, her voice quivering far more than she liked. “Nice to um, meet you, Mark.” She had no idea why she said that, but it just slipped out. Her parents would be proud. She was in the strangest situation she could have imagined herself in, but at least she hadn’t forgotten her manners. “Likewise. Now do you know how to use those things?” he asked.

She looked at the staff in her hand, reached behind her and felt the feathers at the ends of her arrows. “No, not really. But… that’s not right. I think that if I just stopped thinking about not knowing, I feel that I do know how to use them.” She wasn’t quite sure what to make of that, but it was right. If she stopped thinking about what it was that she was doing, she seemed to be able to settle more comfortably into her new “role” whatever that was.

“You’re catching on quick,” he said as he nodded and smiled at her. “Now, I think there’s something big that was chasing you, and before you can go home, we’re going to have to make it go away. You up for that?”

Kendra didn’t really think so, but what else could she do? Give up and just let this world take her away? So she swallowed, breathed deep and nodded. “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

“Perfect. I do believe that we will be wanting to start with the bows yes? You can keep that magnificent quarter-staff close by at your feet, yes?” She nodded and dropped it, catching it with her foot and leading it down to land softly at her feet. Her hand reached back again and pulled the bow and an arrow out of the quiver. She saw that he had several sticking out of the ground in front of him and followed his lead again. How does he know what to do? she wondered. She didn’t have much time to wonder. The creature that had been chasing her down could be heard drawing close to them, the trees snapping apart and making so much noise it was a wonder she hadn’t heard it before.

“Steady… relax and just try to get out of your way,” he mumbled to himself as much as her she thought. Regardless, she nodded and pulled the bow up into a ready position, an arrow was knocked, but she hadn’t drawn it back yet. No reason to tire herself keeping tension when it wasn’t time yet.

The dreadful crashing came closer and closer, getting so loud that it was a wonder all the trees in front of them didn’t jump out of the way of whatever creature was causing so much damage. The thought that the trees could jump out of the way didn’t seem so odd after her long flight through them. She knew they were something more, something else besides mere trees.

Finally creature could be seen through the trees, charging directly toward them. She couldn’t stop the gasp that was a twin to Mark’s when they both realized what they were going to have to fight. “Of all the things you have to think of a Minotaur?” he said, managing to sound impressed, disbelieving, and resigned all at once. “It’s not my fault that damn thing is after me,” she responded sounding much more petulant and defensive than she would have liked.

At that time though, the creature was within bow shot for Mark and he loosed an arrow. It hit in the shoulder of the massive creature, but didn’t appear to actually cause any damage, but did seem to smart since the creature bellowed at them and if anything, moved faster. A second arrow from Mark and one from Kendra joined the first. Neither bothered aiming for the eyes or something silly like that. Even if they were mysteriously capable of using weapons that they had never touched before, or at least Kendra had never touched hers before, they were not foolish enough to believe that meant they could hit something that they couldn’t even see clearly. Not yet at least.

Seven times they fired at the creatures, four arrows for Mark, three for Kendra before they had to throw away their bows and take up their melee weapons. Kendra didn’t know how hers could be of any use in this battle, but she was going to try. At the very least she could distract the Minotaur while Mark did something real with the sword.

With a battle cry, or at least that’s what she hoped it was, she moved forward to meet the Minotaur. At least that’s what she wanted to make it think before she quickly ducked to the side and cloths-lined it with her staff. It didn’t fall, but it did stumble a step before turning on her. She was able to see quite clearly the red eyes and fierce face which seemed to suck all the courage right out of her. At that moment though Mark came in and managed to make a very nice cut along the Minotaur’s back. nothing deep, but definitely painful. It bellowed in pain and rage and threw out a hand with what appeared to be a hammer and caught Mark in the shoulder. The force of the blow knocked him ten feet away where he fell in a heap.

Kendra stared at Mark in horror for a second too long. The Minotaur rounded on her and swung the same hammer at her head. Agility that she had never before possessed saved her and even gave her the opportunity to hit the hammer-wielding wrist hard, hard enough to make the fingers spasm and refuse to obey the commands of its owner. The hammer flew a foot or two before thudding to the ground. The Minotaur screamed again.

Kendra seemed to dance with the creature, moving in and out of easy range for it, all the while hitting it hard with her staff, including shoving several arrows deeper into its body. She knew they had to be hurting it. There was no way that they weren’t, that two of them hadn’t now punctured its lungs and it would eventually drown in its own blood. That was neither here nor there apparently as it didn’t seem to be tiring and continued to come back at her with the same strength and ferocity as before.

She was so consumed with evading and hitting the Minotaur that she never saw Mark pick himself up, grab up his sword and manage to shake off his injuries enough to fight again. At least she didn’t see him and he stepped forward and jammed the blade into the creatures neck. It grasped at the sword, incomprehension obvious in its face. It started to fall and Mark released the sword, stepping away from the Minotaur. He grabbed Kendra and pulled her away too. They watched together as the Minotaur died from its multiple injuries. After a full two minutes of watching the creature’s chest and seeing no evidence of breathing, Kendra finally gave in to the overwhelming emotions she felt.

Her legs slowly gave out on her and she found herself on the ground and crying. Mark held her against him, telling her she was alright and safe now over and over. She knew he was right, but that didn’t stop the shock from taking over her mind. She was aware of what was going on, but was incapable of stopping it as much as she had been incapable of doing anything but run before she had tripped and fallen that last time. She was pretty sure Mark was as aware of it as she was. As her tears dissolved into quiet hiccups and sniffles, she finally managed to ask what had been going through her head for the better part of the last 20 minutes. “Who are you?”

“If I said your friendly, neighborhood Spider Man, would you leave it at that?” he asked, a half-smile and raised eyebrow showing that he was mostly joking. “Really though, I’m just someone like you. Or at least that’s what I would have to assume since I’ve never met anyone else who could be here too.”

“I don’t understand. How is it that you are here? Where is here?” Her only answer was a shrug. They sat still for another two minutes before he finally managed to stand himself up and pull her up to her own feet.

“All that I know is that if we start walking that way,” he gestured in the direction that had before only been more forest, but which now sported a pathway and an obvious light source beyond the dark blacks and reds that made up the rest of the forest, “we’ll eventually end up out of Here and back in the Real world.” He started walking, though he did make sure to pick up both bows from the ground before following the path. Once she caught up with her quarter-staff he passed her bow to her and they both put them away.

“I could really use a cup of coffee, what do you think?” He said, breaking the long minutes of silence that had fallen over them and the forest. “That would be lovely,” she said. The light was getting brighter and she felt her new clothing dissolving away, returning her to what she had been wearing when she left college not more than an hour before. Mark was now in his jeans and t-shirt and she could see outlines of buildings and the street and cars and people again. Those were becoming more substantial while the forest became less. By the time they reached the local coffee shop there was no evidence of the forest or their battle or her desperate flight.

“After you, m’lady,” Mark said as he held open the door for her. She smiled at him and passed into the coffee shop with him close behind her.