Thursday, March 28, 2013

Friday Flash: Shooting Stars

Shooting Stars
by Eric J. Krause

Timothy and Abby lay on the soft grass of Towerbell Hill, ready for the start of nature's firework show. Tonight was the night of the Quinn-Baines Meteor Shower, a once in a lifetime event. There were other meteor showers that could be tracked, but this one took the scientific community by surprise. Once it was determined that the rocks would burn up in the atmosphere, the event captured the population's imagination. Everyone wanted to view the spectacle. All around the half of the world where it was night, even in major metropolitans, the shower would be visible. And for the other half of the world, or if there were clouds in the area? The Internet, of course, had viewing options.

As luck would have it, Timothy and Abby both had the evening off, him from his job at Milton's Burgers 'N Ice Cream, and her from school. She technically had class until ten, but her professor knew he'd get no sort of attention out of his students, if they even bothered to show, so he canceled. They agreed that he wanted to watch the show, too. And it certainly was a spectacular night for it. Not a cloud in the sky, and their town, not large, but large enough to pollute the sky with its multitude of man-made lights, made way for the special night by turning off as many non-essential lights as possible. That brought out more stars than either could remember seeing since their senior class trip to the mountains three years ago.

"What time is it?" Abby asked, and Timothy held out his phone for her to see. A quarter after nine. The sun had set, and the stars were in full bloom. According to the media, the show would begin right about now. It would be a few trickles here and there, and then by 9:30, the meteor shower would begin in earnest.

Timothy pointed up. "Did you see it? A short one, but that was the first."

"Yeah, cool. Did you make a wish?"

He kissed her neck, murmured that he had, and squeezed her breast. She giggled and knocked his hand away in case anyone could see. Not that everyone wasn't focused skyward, but a girl couldn't be too prudent.

As the minutes ticked away, dozens upon dozens of shooting stars flashed across the dark night sky, some at the same time, previewing the awesome show to come. The ooh's and ahh's came from all over the hill, and Abby couldn't help but smile. The crowd reaction reminded her of a Fourth of July Fireworks Extravaganza. And, truth be told, this would likely blow any man-made show away.

More and more shooting stars streaked across the night sky, but then Timothy's arms stiffened around her. "What?" she whispered back to him.

"One of them changed directions," he said. "And I don't mean like a light bend. It turned a hard right."

"Maybe two collided. Or it hit something else."

"Another one did it," he said, fear in his voice. Why would that upset him? She noticed others around the hill shared his worried tone, though she couldn't hear their conversations.

She stared up, determined to see one change directions with her own eyes. She didn't have to wait long, nor did she have to concentrate hard. A half-dozen of the shooting stars turned, as if on cue, a hard 90 degrees to their right. The crowd on the hill now raised a ruckus.

"It's on the news," someone shouted. "They aren't just falling rocks."

"What does that mean?" someone else yelled. "What are they?"

Before the first man could answer, the shooting stars stopped and hovered in the sky. All hell broke loose.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Set Goals and Reward Yourself

You have plenty of ideas about what you want to write, how much you plan to write each day, and other tasks that will further your writing career. But how often does the day slip away? All of your good intentions to write are easily erased by other things that pop up in your day, both important and trivial. This is why you need to set goals. And not only set them, but write them down where you'll see them. That way they'll seem official to your mind, something not to be missed or ignored.

Personally, I write down my goals in a notebook that I keep by my desk. That way when I see it, I know I have writing to do. And inside, I've written down exactly what that writing entails. I have my weekly time goal (which, at the moment, is 25 hours dedicated to writing type stuff), my daily word goal (which is 500 words, though that usually turns into over 1000), a reminder of which blog posts I want to publish that week, a reminder to read at least a chapter in a book each day, and a reminder to publish something fun on my Facebook author page each day, and other such things. You can see not all of these are pure writing, but marketing of sorts, too. In my 25 weekly hours, for example, I allow myself to count my time on Twitter provided I'm clicking on links, commenting on posts or links when I have something to add to the discussion, retweeting, and generally marketing myself as a writer. Since using social media is a part of being a writer nowadays, I have no problem counting this time as part of my weekly hours.

As you can see, goals don't have to be overly specific - I don't break down how I spend each of those 25 hours, and as long as I'm writing some type of fiction, be it a full piece of flash fiction or a part of a longer story, I don't worry about tracking those words. I also called some of my goals reminders. Anything to make the writing day and week productive. Try it yourself. Start small so you simply get in the routine of not only setting goals, but following through on them.

And speaking of following through on goals, the best way to keep yourself honest is to offer yourself a small reward if you complete them. Pick something that will motivate you. Personally, if I finish all of my goals (note I said all - if I get my 25 hours, but haven't finished my words, I didn't earn my reward), I download an episode of a television show on Amazon. I've been doing this for a month, and so far I've earned the first three episodes from Season One of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. For me, I figure I can afford to spend $1.99 for a week of completing all of my writing goals. You may do something like this, or you might choose to allow yourself to watch a completely frivolous movie on Netflix or DVD or whatnot. You may treat yourself to a movie in the theater, a new book download, a decadent cupcake from a local bakery, or whatever else you can think of. As long as it motivates you to complete your daily, weekly, or monthly goals.

Set goals. It'll help you accomplish more. And reward yourself, even if it's just something small. But don't cheat, either on your goals or your rewards. The main point is to become a better author. So good luck, and get started!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Writing Prompt #130

Here is this week's speculative fiction prompt. I'm not labeling it this week, so take it whatever direction you choose. Have fun with it!

Your new running shoes have a special feature which allows you to run further and faster, but it comes with a unique price.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Writing Prompt #129

Here is this week's speculative fiction prompt. I'm labeling it as science fiction this week, but, as always, take it whatever direction you choose. Have fun with it!

A strange new social movement was actually started by space aliens (or time travelers). 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chapter 4 Part 3: Dragon Guard

Click here to read Chapter 4 Part 2

Dragon Guard
Chapter 4
Part 3

"I'm a dragon, and so is my dad," Andi blurted out. "Don't hate me."

"If he hated you, or was even frightened by you, he'd be long gone," Mr. Thomas said. "Not sitting here sharing an afternoon snack. As meager as it is."

"Yes, Lee, I'm well aware you want me to go to the grocery store," Mrs. Thomas said as she rolled her eyes. "I'll do it tomorrow."

Ben and Andi's eyes met, and she gave him a shy smile before concentrating on her soda can. What Mr. Thomas said was true, though. Andi being a dragon, whatever that meant, didn't frighten him one bit. And he certainly didn't hate her. Quite the opposite. But it did confuse him to no end.

"Besides," Mr. Thomas said, "he's your guard. He's programmed to not hate you, and you him." He gave Ben a hard stare. "But just because I acknowledge it doesn't mean I condone you putting your hands all over my daughter."



Ben could only sit there and wonder what was going on. He hadn't even been close to putting his hands all over her. They'd almost kissed, sure, but she started that, not him. And what did he mean that Ben was her guard? None of this made any sense.

"What?" Mr. Thomas said to his wife. "I'm stating my feelings. I thought you liked it when I displayed them."

"I also know you understand the concept of tact, but you're choosing not to show any of that at the moment."

"Excuse me," Ben said, hoping he spoke loud enough to be heard. He had, as all three looked at him. "Uh, well, I mean…" He took a deep breath, and though Mr. Thomas kept his sour expression trained on him, smiles on the faces of both Mrs. Thomas, and more importantly, Andi urged him on. "What do you mean I'm her guard?"

"It's fate, dear," Mrs. Thomas said. "You're destined to be Alexandria's Dragon Guard."

Chapter 4 Part 2: Dragon Guard

Click here to read Chapter 4 Part 1

Dragon Guard
Chapter 4
Part 2

When he did, Mr. Thomas frowned, looking every bit as menacing as he had yesterday morning. "You again? Are you spying on us?"

Ben shook his head and tried to say he'd come to warn them, but he couldn't get the words out. He glanced at Andi. Her face held an expression that was both horrified and embarrassed, and he couldn't blame her. If he was some sort of monster and she found out, he'd feel the same way. But she didn't need to. For reasons he couldn't figure out, he didn't care. He still felt the same about her as when she almost kissed him a few minutes ago. How in the world was he not more freaked out about this? About any of this?

"You know darn well he's not spying on us, Lee," Mrs. Thomas said. "And you know why he's here, too. Even if he doesn't." She flashed a warm smile his way which made him feel a lot better.

"Fine," Mr. Thomas said. He growled something under his breath, and then barked, "Andi, lighter fluid. The damn things are moving closer."

And they were. The body parts had been strewn across the backyard in heaps, but now looked like they'd been carefully placed for future reattachment. Ben guessed burning them was the only way to actually kill them. Had Mr. Thomas torched the ones from yesterday?

Andi came out with the lighter fluid, but wouldn't meet Ben's eyes. Did she think he wouldn't like her after what he saw? Or did she not like him anymore? He wanted to say something, but didn't dare in front of her parents, especially her dad. They were all silent until the zombies were well on their way to becoming ash.

Mr. Thomas spoke first, his voice calmer than Ben had yet heard it. "Zombies burn easily. It's one of the few ways to ultimately stop them." Ben realized it was directed at him, so he nodded to show he understood. In fact, even though he had no business knowing, he could have told them that. And he didn't think that knowledge came from watching zombie movies and playing video games.

"Since you haven't run off," Mrs. Thomas said, "you're obviously who we think you are."

He glanced over to Andi, saw her blush, and then back to Mrs. Thomas. "What do you mean? Who am I?"

"Let's discuss it in the house where it's not as smelly." She wrinkled her nose and looked at the burning bodies to emphasize her point. "I know Andi and Lee will agree with that."

Once inside, everyone sat around the kitchen table. Ben sat next to Andi and across from her mother's chair, while she sat opposite her dad. Mrs. Thomas placed a basket of potato chips in the middle. "What would you like to drink, Ben? I'm afraid all we have is soda, milk, and tap water. I haven't had much of a chance to grocery shop yet."

"Doesn't matter. I'll have what Andi's having." He cringed inside when he said it and wished he'd just made a decision. Mrs. Thomas hid a smile, Andi blushed and again refused to meet his eyes, while Mr. Thomas frowned.

She pulled four cans of soda out of the refrigerator and set them down in front of everyone. They each popped the tops and took sips, no one saying anything for a few beats. Mrs. Thomas broke the silence. "There's no need to hide anything, Ben, but I'm curious as to what you think you saw."

He grabbed a chip to give himself a few extra seconds to think. Should he go with the truth, or would they hold that against him? They were a different sort, that was for sure, and they might cover it up at any cost, including burying him in the backyard. No, he'd seen too many movies and cop procedurals. Whatever Andi was, and he honestly had no clue, she was a good…person or whatever. Her mom, too. He glanced at Mr. Thomas as he swallowed his chip; the jury was still out on him, though he couldn't imagine he'd be evil when Andi and her mom were so nice.

"I, uh, felt the zombies, and when I turned, I saw four at the front of your house, moving to the side gate."

"You felt them?" Mr. Thomas said.

"Yeah, like pins and needles on the back of my neck. Just like yesterday morning."

Mr. Thomas started to say something else, but Mrs. Thomas jumped in. "Lee, let him finish. What next?"

"I figured I should warn you guys, so I followed them into the backyard to see what they were up to. But you were already there, waiting."

"I noticed them right after I got in the house," Andi said. She finally looked at him, and they shared a smile.

Mrs. Thomas prompted him to continue. "And you saw us…"

"I saw you chop two up with a couple of swords, just like yesterday morning, and I saw…"

"Say it, boy," Mr. Thomas said. It sounded like a dare.

"I saw you and Andi turn into…" He almost said monsters, but caught himself. "…something."

Mr. Thomas flashed a wicked grin that proved he knew what Ben almost said.

Chapter 4 Part 1: Dragon Guard

 Click to read Chapter 3 Part 3

Dragon Guard
Chapter 4
Part 1

"You didn't," Andi said, her hand pressed to her mouth. They'd walked home together and were almost to her house.

"Yeah. He all but asked for it by being an ass. So Randy and Vince filled a lunch sack with dog doo, and Jay borrowed one of his dad's lighters. I rang the doorbell as soon as Jay had the bag lit, and we ran like hell. We couldn't see from our hiding spot, but by the way he cursed, we knew he stamped it out. Hopefully with his indoor slippers."

"Oh no," Andi said, this time not successfully holding back the laughter. "I've made friends with a hooligan. Not doing homework yesterday, and telling me about lighting dog poop on fire today."

He winked at her. "Yeah, you better watch out. I'm dangerous."

She lost it even more and gave him a half-hug to keep from toppling over as she laughed. Ben took a deep breath and held it, but he didn't think she noticed. Good.

They walked a little ways further, and she wiped away some tears that had spilled out. By the time she regained control, they were in front of her house. "Thanks for walking me home," she said. "It's nice to have company."

"Glad to. You're fun to be around." And nice to look at, he thought, but didn't dare say it aloud. She dressed like most girls at school, with jeans and a tight white shirt, but he had to admit he liked the way she looked in the clothes better than any other girl.

"I don't know about that." She nudged his arm. "I've never even thought about leaving a flaming bag of poop on a doorstep."

He nudged her back. "I'm guessing you have some secrets you haven't told me yet."

"Maybe. You'll have to wait and see if I share."

Had she hesitated and looked nervous before she said that? No, he was being silly and reading too much into everything. "I can be patient," he said.

"We'll see." She turned towards her house, but before she moved, she looked back at him. "Hey, since you walk this way anyway, would you mind if I joined you on the way to school?"

His breath caught in his throat, but he managed to nod and choke out, "I'd like that."

"Me too." She moved her face close to his, then stopped, blushed, and hurried up to her house. Whoa, she almost kissed him. Too bad she stopped. That would have been cool.

He started towards home, not sure his feet were even touching the ground. He hadn't felt this good the time he and Melissa had made out, and Andi's lips hadn't even touched his. Weird. And she was so easy to talk to. He always ran out of stuff to say to Melissa, but with Andi he felt like he could talk for hours without repeating anything. And it was even better that they could be silly together. Melissa didn't tolerate that. They spent half of lunch today coming up with new ways to shorten different names after she said she went by Andi because no one expected Alexandria to be shortened like that. Everyone, predictably, tried to call her Alex.

Before he lost himself in more thoughts, he spun back towards her house. That strange tingling sensation assaulted his neck again, just like yesterday morning. No, that was impossible. All of that seemed like such a dream. How could the zombies be back now?

There were four shuffling around the house. Like people, each had different features and such, but all shared the same limping stride and pale bluish-green skin tone, just like the two yesterday. This group moved around the front porch and pushed through the side gate to the backyard. Ben dropped his backpack on the front lawn and followed at a safe distance. He'd see what they were up to and then ring the doorbell to warn Andi.

A quick peek into the backyard showed Andi and her parents already waiting for the zombies. Her mom had the same two short swords she used yesterday morning, but neither Andi nor her dad had any weapons at all. As the zombies lumbered forward, none of the Thomas's looked frightened. But that was okay because Ben's heart beat fast enough for everyone put together.

Without warning, Mrs. Thomas leapt, skewering a zombie's torso with one sword, while decapitating it with the other. In the same motion, she lunged at a second. While that was going on, something happened to Andi and her father. Their necks stretched, his about ten feet, hers not quite as long, and their heads morphed into some sort of blue reptile. No way. He was hallucinating again. But that wasn't true, and he knew it.

As her mother decimated the second zombie, Andi and her father each bit the remaining two in half. When all four lay in still wiggling pieces, Andi and her dad reverted back to normal. Ben blinked hard to see if all of this had really just happened.

"Andi, the lighter fluid is in the garage," her dad said. "It's next to the box marked BBQ. Go grab it before they start to regenerate."

"Wait," Mrs. Thomas said. She looked towards Ben, and Andi and her dad tensed, ready to jump back into action. Ben pulled his head back and hoped she hadn't seen him. He thought about running, but before he moved, she said, "It's okay, Ben. Come on out."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Friday Flash: Russian Roulette

Russian Roulette
by Eric J. Krause
Ryan took a deep breath and tried to remain invisible. He'd already revealed that he asked Hannah Bailey, the prettiest girl in school, out on a date. She'd been polite about it, but still turned him down faster than a rocket accelerating out of the Earth's atmosphere. He'd never told anyone, not even James, his best friend, and now everyone at the party knew. No doubt that would equate to the entire school. Why had he come tonight? He'd have been much happier mining and blacksmithing in World of Warcraft while watching a MythBusters marathon. But, no, he had to be stupid and show up in the hopes that a girl would somehow notice him. He should wait for college when girls actually took brains into account when judging guys. At least that's what Brandon, his big brother, and maybe the only person he knew who was smarter than him, said.

Now he just had to stay hidden in the background and hope no one noticed. It worked well at school, and since these were his classmates, there was no reason it shouldn't work here. He hoped. After all, in this game of Truth or Dare, if someone didn't answer a truth or perform a dare, they'd be held down, pummeled, and who knows what else. From the stories he heard, the last part was scariest.

Diana Samson scanned the room and found Tyler Huxley. "Tyler, Truth or Dare?"

Tyler flipped his hair and flashed a smile that made the girls swoon. Ryan didn't get it, as Tyler was a slacker who did nothing with his life but smoke pot, drink booze, and skateboard. What sort of future was that setting up? He probably wasn't even going to college, which Ryan had planned for himself since the second grade.

"Dare, baby," Tyler said. "And I hope it involves you."

Diana giggled, blushed, and looked at her friends, who giggled back and nodded. "Yeah," she said. "I dare you to go into one of the empty bedrooms with me."

Tyler shrugged and stood. "Accepted." The two headed for the back of the house amid cheers and cat-calls. If Ryan could be assured of a dare like that, especially with a hottie like Diana Samson, he'd try to be noticed.

"Okay," Henry Rogers said, "we're not going to wait for them to come back, so I'll choose the next person." No one objected. "How about you, Ryan? Want to tell us about more girls who were out of your league?"

Ryan's face ignited as all eyes turned to him. He looked to James for support, but found him staring at his shoes. Thanks for the support, bro.

"What's it gonna be, lover-boy? Truth or Dare?"

Everyone expected him to choose Truth, but there was nothing safe about that. By the twinkle in Henry's eyes, the question wouldn't be comfortable, and maybe a bit dangerous. Besides, since Henry, who was quite popular, teased him about girls, maybe he'd pick one of his lady friends to do something with Ryan. And if not, Henry had the imagination of toast and would probably come up with a lame dare on the spur of the moment. Ryan wasn't a gambler, but this bet was worth taking.

"Dare." He again glanced to James, and this time his friend stared back, but his expression didn't exactly send Ryan's confidence soaring.

"Wow, didn't think you had the balls, Egghead. But let's see what you're really made of. If you do this, Hannah Bailey might even go out with you." Henry reached into the backpack lying at his feet and pulled out a pistol. The room gasped and went silent. "This is a six-shooter with one bullet loaded. You ever hear of Russian Roulette?"

Ryan nodded, his mouth too dry and his throat clenched too tight to answer.

"Good. I dare you to play. Just one time. Spin the chamber, put the barrel to your head, and pull the trigger. That's it."

"No, come on, that's stupid," James said, leaping to his feet. "Where'd you even get the gun, Rogers?"

"What does that matter? He doesn't have to play. But, remember, there are consequences."

"No, Ryan, don't do it" James said. "It's better to get beat up than risk your life. C'mon, man, you got MIT waiting for you. Take the black eye, and we'll get out of here."

Ryan almost agreed, but then he looked around the room. Some of the girls had lust in their eyes. If he did this, it might mean a date before high school was over. Maybe more than a date. Sure, the one in six odds were bad, but still. Five out of six were safe.

He strode over to Henry. "Fine. Give it here." Ryan had been smart his entire life, and he'd received great grades and entry into a pristine university because of it. But right now he wanted a girl. A hot girl. And this was his best bet.

Henry popped out the chamber, showed him that there was indeed only a single shot loaded, and spun it before popping it back in. Ryan couldn't tell where the bullet went. He took the gun and saw the fear in Henry's eyes despite a desperate attempt to remain cool. No doubt he'd expected Ryan to not only decline but to try to run to get out of the punishment. It wasn't too late, and now he had the gun in his hands. No one would grab him while he held a gun.

Another quick peek around at the girls drove him to continue this stupidity. He'd be a legend, right? And girls loved legends. James again tried to talk him out of it, but Ryan ignored his buddy. Henry gave him a shrug which said, "Whenever you're ready," and Ryan put the gun to his right temple. Sweat beaded up on his forehead, but he barely felt it. He cocked the hammer back, took a deep breath, and pulled the trigger.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Writing Prompt #128

Here is this week's speculative fiction prompt. I'm not labeling it this week, so take it whatever direction you choose. Have fun with it!

One of the books in the library glows.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Final #NaNoReMo Post for 2013

It's a week into March, and I'm just now calling National Novel Reading Month done for me. Yes, it took an extra week than it should have, and since I finished one book (see here if you're interested) in the allotted time, I feel I'm well within my rights to extend the reading month a bit. If you disagree, I guess you can always call the Literature Police on me, eh?

Anyway, last night I finished Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera. I enjoyed the heck out of it. You can visit my review at Goodreads, or you can simply read here what I said about the book:

"Really enjoyed this one. I had no idea what to expect from it; yes, I know all about the movies and the big Broadway musical (which I saw many, many years ago in LA), but I honestly knew nothing about the original book. I thought it was a very smooth, fast read. The characters were fun, and the phantom was an excellent villain, well worth being an iconic horror figure (though for different reasons than I first thought). I found the main story enthralling - the love triangle between Raul, Christine, and the Phantom - while the portion of the Phantom vs. the Opera House managers to be quite funny. I read that portion as more comic relief than anything. Even if you don't like to read classics, give this one a shot. I highly recommend it!"

So I view this year's National Novel Reading Month a success, even if I did add a week to it. I don't know if I ever would have gotten to the two books I did if it hadn't been for this kick in the pants. And I enjoyed both reads immensely. I've already planned on reading The Picture of Dorian Gray next year (unless I get to it sooner, though it is unlikely). If you also participated, I hope you got as much out of the experience as I did!

Quick update on A Princess of Mars: I said I had put John Carter, the big budget movie from a couple of years ago based on the book, at the top of my Netflix queue. That is true, and the movie is even now here at my house. I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, but I plan to soon. (I also have the movie based on the Broadway musical based on The Phantom of the Opera here, too.) I doubt I'll blog about my experience watching it, but if you're interested in my views, feel free to ask me in the comments of this post or contact me on Twitter or Facebook. I did watch a movie called Princess of Mars on the SyFy Channel last week, which was loosely based on the book - it was a present day retelling where John Carter went to a planet called Mars in a distant galaxy, not our solar system's Mars. Both the acting and the story were awful. Though many pieces of the movie were taken from the book, the overall story was changed. If it had been done well, that might have been okay, but it wasn't. I don't recommend that particular flick to anyone.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Writing Prompt #127

Here is this week's speculative fiction prompt. I'm labeling it as horror this week, but, as always, take it whatever direction you choose. Have fun with it!

A mummy's curse falls over an entire town.