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Telling Stories With Kids

How do you teach children creativity and the art of story telling? With the digital era firmly enshrouding their lives at a very young age it’s becoming harder and harder to get and keep their attention. In spite of this hurdle it’s so important that we allow kids to be kids and to be as creative in their play as possible. The problem as I see it is that so much of their “creative” play is just children repeating what they see on television, social media, and from shadowing what their friends are doing. How then do you really teach them creativity and to not just plagiarize or regurgitate what marketing firms bombard them with?

This site is my attempt to not only hone my craft of story telling but to also put into words my thoughts, ideas, and random revelations along my journey. The above observation and my reaction to it may not be typical but the result was certainly interesting. On to where I was going with this …

I was sitting down one night reading to my children when I was struck by how limited the stories were that I had been reading to them. It’s no fault of my own, I to am influenced by marketing, top ten lists, and recommendations by friends.

When I was reading the books I realized that my kids weren’t themselves being creative. They were reading a story who’s purpose was usually to teach them a lesson or perhaps to educate them about something new. What they weren’t doing though was thinking for themselves.

I know my kids are young and I’m not expecting them to narrate to me the next great american novel but I would love for them to be involved in creating, asking question, and discovering right from wrong rather than just consuming everything. So to start them off I decided to read the next book to just near the end and then close the cover. After the shock wore off I asked them “what happened next?” Given that we read to them each and every night they were able to quite surprisingly narrate the remainder of the story almost word for word. It was scary actually, I’ll admit it, but impressive still.

I then challenged them with another question … “and then what happened?” A simple question but they weren’t sure how to react to it at first and responded with “nothing, that’s the end”. Continuing on I said “But that certainly can’t be the end. Character X didn’t just disappear did they? Wouldn’t they keep on chugging along or go on a new adventure to meet some friends right?” They didn’t know what to say to this so I helped them along a bit and made up a new extended ending.

They were smiling from ear to ear and laughing so hard. They hadn’t imagined that something else could happen and certainly not something like that. The next night when I read that same story again (on purpose) they wanted the same ending but I didn’t give in. “I don’t think that’s what happened this time” I said. This time I made up another completely different ending and again they were so excited they were practically bouncing out of their beds. They actually added some bits of their own to the story which was great.

To see the excitement and spark in their eyes as we were doing this was amazingly rewarding. Something as small as making up a new fun ending to a previously stale story changed story time into exploration time. Within days we weren’t even using books any more but were instead making up entire stories from scratch.

I won’t deny that their stories often have a similarity to something they’ve read or heard me tell but as they become engulfed in their own storyline and relax into their own voice things change. They start to show their creativity and ingenuity making up entirely new characters, words, worlds, and plot twists.

You could argue that there are no new stories being told any more. That they are still just regurgitating things they’ve already experienced but I’ll argue otherwise. When they’re sitting there consuming media they react and absorb things differently than when they’re creating that content. The spark and excitement is present when it’s their voice, something that’s never there when they’re just consuming.

So my suggestion to you, get out there and tell a story to your children. Their age doesn’t matter … just tell them something they haven’t heard before. Make it something from the heart, something exciting and creative or perhaps an interesting life lesson you’ve went through. Instill in them the passion you have for experiencing life, telling stories, and enjoying the art of the spoken word.

Word Count: 795

NaNoWriMo 2015

I wanted to write a posting to let folks know what I’ve been up to. There’s a big gap between my last writing and today. Trust me when I tell you I’ve been writing a lot. I’ve actually been working furiously on researching, outlining, and preparing for NaNoWriMo.

For those who aren’t familiar NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It’s always the month of November and has been going on for years. Traditionally you set a goal of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. That’s a lot of words but that’s the point. No editing, no proofreading, just writing.

I’ve written a few science fiction pieces I really liked but never published. I was sitting there brainstorming a topic to write about during NaNoWriMo and it all came rushing at me. A story line, characters, and plot twists. I still have a few holes to fill and things to research but it’s pretty exciting. A perfect time to see what I can make of it.

I know I have a lot to learn but what better way than to write? I’ll still be writing here quite often to explore other outlets, refine my writing, and to work out ideas. I’ll also be posting some of the chapters as I finish them in a hopes of getting feedback.

Word Count: 222

Expanding Into Long Form Writing

I’m sitting here on the morning train frozen from head to toe waiting for these heaters to work their thermal magic. Even with the freeze I’m still lost in thought. Yes, I’m wondering when my body is going to regain some feeling from standing in the unusually cold weather waiting on this bloody train but I still have other things on my mind as well.

I’ve really been enjoying writing here and the more I write the more I want to write, it’s a vicious cycle. I find myself wanting to continue writing more each on of the stories I start. It’s difficult at times to wrap up my thoughts into around 750 words. I know that isn’t the point of writing, to just do 750 words. I do however want to tell a story, control the narrative, and do it within a controlled time period. I want to use it to improve my writing while at the same time complete something. To me the deadline of 750 words is doable and fits my work life balance for now.

If you’re like most people, myself included, you enjoy the thrill of finishing something as much as you enjoy starting something anew. Each leads into the other, a continuum of past goals met and future goals set. That rush you feel when you wrap up something you’ve been working on is both sad and rewarding on many levels.

It’s sad because you put so much energy into the writing. You worked hard to ensure it’s perfect (within reason) and that it’ll stand on its own. You’ll miss the comfort of it, the flow of it. Even though it’s only 750 words it’s still your creation, your spark, your idea that flowed into those words. Those words that created a new world, a new future, a conspiracy to unravel and now it’s done. I guess it’s called a “short story” for a reason.

It’s rewarding because the draw of that clean slate spurs the creative juices. Anything is possible starting fresh and you long to just put it all out there in its raw glory. The polish isn’t yet necessary, just lay down the foundation and build up from there. The skies the limit!

So what’s a writer to do? Well first and foremost I’m going to write because without that I’m just spamming nonsense. I am however going to take a few of the stories I’ve already started, and some I haven’t yet, and expand on them over the coming months. I’ll fill in some of blanks and attempt to build on the story lines.

I’m doing this for multiple reasons. First and foremost because I’ve enjoyed the characters I developed and I found myself wanting to write about them again the next day. I forced myself not to however because I wanted get comfortable redirecting the mental juices into new places. I don’t want to get stuck in a mental rut beating an already dead narrative.

The second reason I want to continue these stories is because while I do enjoy writing short form fiction I’d also like to learn how to write more long form. It’s a different creative process that requires you to keep more pieces moving together. A balancing act of building the characters, moving the storyline forward, and keeping it interesting.

I’ll be honest and tell you that I’ve never written anything long form in my life. College term papers for literature class don’t count as long form sorry. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but as I mentioned in my opening posting it’s not something I ever thought was practical let alone possible. After writing these last few weeks I now know that it’s not just possible, it’s definitely something I can do.

I’m not making any leaps here, I know that I have much to learn and that I’m just starting to get my footing here. I’m just excited and felt like pouring some of my energy into a writing to explain why you might see some faces and story lines a little more often. I’ll try to link back to other parts of the story when appropriate. I’m also planning on adding each of the story lines to categories for quick access.

My challenge going forward is how to continue hitting my daily goal of at least 750 words while at the same time moving a story line forward without butchering it. Remember, I’m not spending as much time editing my daily writing because the goal with this site is to just write however imperfectly.

Word Count: 763

Upside

Shane had never seen the sun so bright and clear. It’s disk cast a crisp circle in the morning sky highlighting the reds and yellows of the horizon. As he sat on that bench taking in the beauty for the first time he couldn’t help but think back on the events leading him to that morning.

It had only been a month since he’d learned about the Upside. As he turned to look at his wife next to him calmly grasping her cup of tea, the steam rising to join the morning air, he knew he had made the right choice, the only choice. While dangerous at times and filled with deceit and pain he now stood on the cusp of something truly amazing, a new world. He didn’t know if he’d survive another day or week in this foreign place but to see things like the sun rising over the horizon made him think that for the first time in a long time anything was possible.

“I love you,” he paused and smiled at her. “I will always love you. But just promise me one thing.”

“Anything,” she said as she placed her head onto his shoulder.

“Promise me that you’ll never shoot at me or hold a gun to my head again,” he said. She leaned back smiling and gently punched him on the shoulder. Looking into his eyes she leaned in and kissed him. “I promise,” she said as she leaned into him looking again at the sun as it rose through the morning mist.

“How did they keep the Upside from us for so long?” she whispered. “How were we so blind to the world around us that we didn’t realize there was something more? Something beyond the ceiling of those blasted caverns.”

“Religion and years of lies are powerful, they can blind anyone to the truth,” he replied. “If we hadn’t stumbled upon the book we wouldn’t be standing here today.” He looked down at the book he was grasping so tightly in his hands. He slowly turned it over in his hands, gently brushing his fingers over its surface. The cover was torn and weathered so much that the title was barely legible. The lettering was distinct and beautiful, written with a precision and craftsmanship that was beyond that of his people.

Shane thought back to when he’d discovered the book …

Climbing upward was always forbidden. You’ll get too close to the gods the priests told them. You’ll be burned by the liquid fire the ancients sent to remind us where not to tread. He never really intended to cross the river of fire, he used to come here as a kid to see what it looked like. Now he just came here to clear his head, to ground himself after a long day of smarg hunting or plowing in the fields.

As he made his way along his usual route he was thinking of new ways he could outsmart those bloody smarg when he spotted it. He hadn’t ever seen it before, it was something new, something unusual. There on the other side of the river of fire was a container. Just inside a small cavern he’d never noticed he could see it. It’s surface was reflecting the light from above. As he looked up he noticed there were more Lichen above here than usual. Perhaps Fungi, the God of the Lichen was testing his dedication.

Or perhaps the Gods were showing him this to aid him in battling the smarg? He had to know what was in it. It obviously was put there for a reason. The gods wouldn’t have lightened this spot on this day had they not wanted him to see it. It was a sign he could not ignore.

Over the years Shane had thought of many ways to cross the river of fire but had never once tried, he knew better. Today was his chance to put his best idea to the test. He didn’t waste any time sprinting to the largest boulder he could find. Then he began to use his walking stick as a lever to roll it. It was a delicate operation and took many hours to navigate the boulder to the right position.

His idea was a simple one. Roll the boulder into the river and then use it as a platform of sorts to leapfrog to the other side of the river. He didn’t need much space but he knew he only had seconds to get to the other side and back before the fire from the river overtook the boulder. He only had one chance to perfectly roll and place that boulder.

He exhaled and quickly said a prayer to the God of the Lichen thanking him for this challenge and hoping he was worthy of the gift. He leaned into his walking stick and pushed with all of his might to start the boulder tumbling down the small incline. He needed enough force to roll it part of the way in but not so far that he couldn’t reach the boulder.

His timing and pressure was perfect as the boulder stopped precisely where he wanted. With little thought he was sprinting down the hill as the boulder was just coming to a rest and beginning to slowly sink. He skillfully leapt onto the boulder and with all of his strength and momentum he threw himself up and forward toward the bank on the other side of the river.

He landed hard wincing in pain as the stone tore at the flesh on his side. He didn’t have time to feel the pain however because the clock was ticking. He sprinted toward the cavern slightly staggering from the effects of the harsh landing. As he approached the cavern his heart was pounding and his hands were shaking. He reached for the container hoping to grab and go, sprinting back for the return leap. But what he didn’t plan on was what happened next.

As he grabbed at the shiny satchel resting there just inside the cavern entrance something fell from it. Stumbling to a stop and losing all momentum he reached down to quickly grab whatever had fallen. As his hands touched the surface he knew this was something special, an ancient book.

It’s surface was weathered and torn and it was made of a precisely cut and amazingly thin parchment. On its cover in the most beautiful script he’d ever seen read were the numbers … 1984.

Word Count: 1085

A Simple Choice Of Life Or Death

She never knew what it truly felt like to agonize over a decision until now. Life or death? It seemed like the simplest of questions but at its core a twisted quandary. Life for her meant the death of others, people dear to her. There was the also grim alternative which was equally daunting.

“Why can’t you we pretend this didn’t happen?” Avril said to the man standing ominously in front of her. “I promise I won’t tell anyone. I didn’t see anything. Please don’t make me choose,” she begged as she nervously balled her hands into fists.

“You’ve passed into The Order of the knowing. The Order requires that its members remain controlled and in check. We don’t prevent anyone from entering but neither do we encourage or even disclose it’s existence,” said the man. “Knowledge of The Order cannot be unlearned and as such it’s members must sacrifice to retain the knowledge. You must choose,” he said, the words echoing in the hall. “You must choose!”

Hoping for a loophole or any kind of alternative she continued to beg him, “Is there anything I can do, anything at all? I can’t choose. I won’t choose. I didn’t realize the consequences of learning.” She squatted down to the ground, put her arms around her legs, and began to sob all the while shaking her head no.

The man slowly walked to the other side of the dimly lit room and gently touched something on the wall. The entire wall flashed to life, it was actually a huge screen and it brightened the entire space. On it was her life spelled out in excruciating detail. Photos, videos, emails, tweets, private writings … everything was there. “How did they get all of this,” she thought to herself. It didn’t seem practical or even possible. It didn’t seem legal or moral.

She nearly leapt off the floor and screamed at him “Where did you get all of this? What right do you have with this information? These are my private moments and thoughts, you have no right …”

He cut her off, “No right? No right? We never asked you to save your information online. We never forced you to share everything you were doing.” He was now walking toward her pointing his finger at her his voice getting louder. “Privacy isn’t a right when it comes to electronic media. What we have is nothing more than what you’ve chosen to save electronically, everything you’ve ever chosen to save. Your privacy is only as real as your ability to defend and protect it.”

He was now standing directly in front of her. His presence was foreboding and she could now feel the heat of his breath on her face. The room suddenly felt cold or perhaps it was just Avril entering shock. How could she have not seen this coming? Why had she exposed everything she had ever thought and felt? Every relationship she had ever had, every idea or nugget of indiscretion. Why?

“But this doesn’t really show anything,” she said. “All you have is a bunch of random electronic noise stolen from me.”

He chuckled and turned away from her. Suddenly he made a small wave like gesture into the air with his hand. On the screen a majority of the information faded and to the front came the truth. She knew it was there she just didn’t know how they captured it or how they weeded through all of the other noise to find it.

“Do you think we’d collect the information without having a means to use it?” he said as he turned again slowly. Now grinning at her he continued, “Do you think we don’t know the path required to discover The Order? While not all paths begin the same their journey has much in common. Your path while longer than most has brought you here. You must now choose.”

“Why?” she stammered. “Why must I really decide?”

“If you didn’t choose then how would we control the information? How would we prevent you from telling people about The Order? The only reason that society has existed as long as it has is because of The Order. The Order ensures there is the haves and have nots. The Order ensures there is a ladder to climb, a bottom to hit, a middle to become comfortable within. Without The Order society would recede into chaos, uncontrolled entropy that would throw us into the Stone Age again.”

He was now smiling at her as he said “You do understand the why, I know you do. You must now decide. You choose to die and they all live, everyone you know and love, no one the wiser. Or …” he paused. “Or you choose to live. Your silence about The Order protects them but even the smallest blip,” he waved back at the wall and the path glowed brighter still. “Even the slightest hint that you’re sharing information about The Order or the path and they all die, everyone.”

He sighed and then glared at her. “I will ask you one more time,” he said. ”Avril what is your choice, Life or Death?”

“You’re asking me to choose between freedom of life OR the freedom of speech?” she said. “That hardly seems like what our forefathers had in mind does it? One or the other but not both?”

He responded quickly and concisely, “You’re free to speak to anyone else within The Order about it or anything else. What you’re not free to do however is destroy those rights you hold dear by speaking of The Order to others. Doing so puts at risk that Constitution we all hold so sacred.”

She knew then that she had only one option. “I choose Life,” she said as she swiftly turned and walked out of the room. She could hear the man talking to her as she left but it was fading into the background. Already she was devising a plan to expose the truth behind The Order, information needs to be free.

They knew she’d try, everyone does on their path within The Order. What they didn’t know was the depths she’d go to destroy them. Their over emphasis and dependance on modern electronic communications to monitor people meant they had lost touch more traditional means of misdirection and subversion.

Word Count: 1056

750 Word Update

I’ve made it to my ninth writing on this journey. With a mixture of stories, opinions, and introductions I feel like it’s been a success thus far. I’ve easily hit my 750 daily word count with yesterday’s piece going over 1,000 words. The key is that I’m writing which if I’m not makes it impossible to improve.

Yesterday I wrote my first story where I included character dialog. My first few stories were more point of view story telling pieces and weren’t about dialog. While I’ve read dialog thousands of times from a variety of authors it’s been years since I’ve written it myself. It was far smoother for me to write background story lines rather than dialog but once I got into the flow it went fairly well.

I know it was a bit rough around the edges but this blog isn’t about taking the time to perfect each and every piece. It’s about writing every day and improving each and every time. It may small improvement that aren’t obvious at first but the more I write and the more I read about writing the more fluid my writing should become.

Because I haven’t had the opportunity to read as much since I’m not writing more I haven’t studied as much as I’d like. I have a few books on my short list though that if you have opinions or better options I’d love to hear about them.

  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
  • The Elements of Style
  • How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One
  • Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose
  • On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft

I’m still on the lookout for a good reference and practical book on grammar and sentence structure. Ideally it’d be in electronic form if possible which limits most textbooks. If you can recommend anything please drop me a comment.

My process thus far has been to write in the evenings after the kids are down. I haven’t yet been back on the train so I haven’t had the opportunity to test my writing there. In the evening I often start around 8 pm and don’t finish until 10 or 11 pm. This is usually a mixture of random conversations with my wife and writing so it’s not exactly uninterrupted time. I’m hoping the dedicated time on the train will open some free evening time to read and study more.

Finally I thought I’d write a bit about the stories and other random topics I’ve chosen. I don’t have any long running story lines planned yet. At some point I think it would be fun to have one or two moving story lines but I don’t want to put that pressure on myself yet. I’d rather write what comes to mind each time I pull up iA Writer and just let the words flow.

As you’ve likely already noticed I’m a huge fan of science fiction and most of my stories will likely come from that or a fantasy angle. I went through a period where I read some modern day survival fiction and I’ve recently been reading WOOL which is a futuristic post apocalyptic series of books, similar but different. I find it easier to write about modern survival topics but enjoy futuristic ones more. I think the future fiction requires much more planning and character development to pull the reader in and make them feel like part of the story. The modern fiction stories can be build from more relevant and relatable everyday topics and locations which while easier to write about can also be a bit tedious.

Since this is my first writing blog I don’t really know what to expect in terms of readership. My prior blogs had several hundred regular readers but the topics were quite different. A number of my readers come from a tight knit group of fellow bloggers linking to or commenting on my blog. I also have a lot of twitter and Facebook followers as well. On this blog I’m starting from ground zero but my goal isn’t to get a huge number of readers. I would however like a few readers who can give feedback on my writing or share ideas with me. Because of this I recently joined the Goodreads forums and have shared a few links to my blog there. If anyone can recommend any other good literary forums to join I’d appreciate it.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Word Count: 750

Feeling The Squeeze

“But I’ve already tried debugging the interconnect” said Isaac. “It just doesn’t seem to fail the same way twice.” The tension in the room was palpable since they’d dropped out of the singularity. No one knew why exactly but if anyone could get them back on course it was Isaac.

“Did you try checking the latency on the sensor relay? Perhaps it’s causing the drive to drop into a fail safe mode?” said Janet. She was fairly new to this spacial thread crew and had recently started shadowing Isaac.

“Shart! You’re probably right” said Isaac. I should have thought of that he mumbled to himself. “Nice thinking, can you grab a nano probe and drop it into the aft spatial junction so we can sync up the clocks? I bet they’re out of sync.”

Janet felt that rush you get when you’re onto solving a really hard problem. She’d felt it a lot throughout here career. Whether it was after spending hours at the terminal finally bringing something new online or when a simulation translated perfectly into the field. She loved the challenge of Spatial Engineering

As Isaac waited for Janet to sprint to the other end of the ship he began preparing for “The Squeeze”. No matter how many times he did it he never really got used to the feeling of entering into the singularity. He imagined it felt a lot like being buried alive without a coffin. That slow build up of pressure as they threw more and more dirt on your body as you used up the oxygen until finally gasping for your final breath only to finally squeeze into the light. Except in this instance the light wasn’t your death but instead the singularity itself.

When Janet reached the aft section of the ship she began calibrating the probe on the main spatial junction. Her communicator let out low pitch tone and then Isaacs voice came through. “Are you almost ready to test this latency theory? The pinch cells are recharged. We’re getting hit by a lot of small debris in this asteroid field, there’s no telling if any larger objects will hit as we haven’t completed our proximity scan yet.”

“It’s ready” she replied really hoping this was the malfunction. As she patched the diagnostics feed into her retinal display she could see there was still something wrong. “That was only part of the problem” she said to Isaac. “Let me check the pinch drive coil to see if there’s an interconnect between here and there that’s malfunctioning.”

Now she was grasping a bit but given that the initial results showed an improvement in the timing it had to be related. As she walked into engineering people were sprinting everywhere and she knew something was wrong. “What’s amiss Norbie? Why’s everyone freaking?”

“We weren’t prepared for any kind of singularity drop. We were caught off guard doing some general maintenance below deck and we didn’t feel the transition. Now we’re rushing to prep the cargo for the squeeze” said Norbie.

That’s something Janet hadn’t even thought of. “Did they start their auto wake procedures?” Janet said. It would be far from ideal having hundreds of cryro pods cracking open.

“No we caught that in time” Norby said. “We just don’t know how they’re going to handle a squeeze while they’re in cryro sleep. Usually when this happens we do a complete cycle forcing everyone awake, do the squeeze, and then put them to sleep again. That’s not an option now that we’re a ticking time bomb in this asteroid field.”

This was a complication Janet had to ignore and trust that the Cryro Engineers would handle this. “Good luck” she said as she sprinted through to head midship toward the coil.

As she entered the Coil Room she slowed to a walk. Every time she entered here she was in awe of the size and complexity of the Coil. It was like a million nautilus coiled around a central rod over 100 meters in length that was itself perfectly cylindrical to a picometer. Down the center of the cylinder was a single hollow nanotube that was used to control the singularity thread they traveled along.

“I’m at the Coil” she told Isaac over her communicator. “Give me a second to align the probe. Remind me to talk to the genius who didn’t build in auto calibration into this thing when we get back to port.”

As she removed the access panel she aligned the probe while at the same time adjusted her retinal display to bring up the diagnostics. As she made some small adjustments to the Coil she was thrown to the ground completely unprepared for the squeeze.

This was the one thing about her job she loathed, the squeeze. That feeling like a boa constrictor was squeezing you to the edge of your life … and then the light.

After she recovered from the effects of the squeeze she stood up and made sure she hadn’t broken anything. “Everything ok back there” burst Isaac over the communicator. “Sorry about that, we had a rock on a precarious trajectory so I had to squeeze as soon as we were calibrated.”

“No biggie” replied Janet. “I was just taking a nap on the floor next to the Coil. Everything go ok with the squeeze? The diagnostics still look to be within guidelines.”

“Textbook squeeze” he said. “All systems are clear. Nice work under pressure Janet, that was a close one”. That rush was back, it never gets old being a Spatial Engineer.

Back in cryro after they recovered from the squeeze they weren’t sure what was going on. All of the pods were green for power and life support but the diagnostic EKG’s weren’t reading anything.

Moments earlier in pod #13 Bailey was dreaming he’d finally entered the Promima Centauri system. His family had been planning this trip for such a long time. He was excited to catch his first glimpse of the systems red dwarf sun in the view portal ahead. The closer he got the more difficult it was to move and then suddenly all noise ended eerily throwing the hallway into absolute silence. He could no longer hear the usual background noise of the ship or even his own breathing. As he finally stumbled to the portal everything around him burst into light.

Word Count: 1061

Snowmageddon Survival

The snow just kept coming down, a never ending stream of icy death. Everyone expected this storm to be bad, that it was going to drop a few inches of snow and lower the temperature to near -40 degrees. What no one anticipated though was that these conditions would persist for weeks.

After the first few days Mike knew something just wasn’t right. The weather people continued to forecast the front to blow through but it just sat over the entire region, somehow immobile and relentless in its snowy devastation. Each day he shoveled another 8″ of snow and was running out of places to stack it.

Day after day the stores were running out of more and more food staples. First to go was the fruits and vegetables. Due to issues shipping in the cold they spoiled or became so frosted they were inedible. That was followed by milk and eggs, frozen during delivery they would eventually thaw but as time went by their shipments ended entirely. Finally the breads and grains stopped, the emergency grain stores used up and an insufficient supply coming in from imports meant massive shortages and regional shipping issues.

During this time period Mike made more and more visits to local food stores buying anything edible that he could get his hands on. With 5 mouths to feed at home it was important that he have enough to keep his family healthy. Fortunately earlier that year he started to prepare for random family emergencies. Everything from a broken down car to a simple natural disaster. The kind of preparedness you can read about on the FEMA or other preparedness websites.

He wasn’t what you’d consider a full fledged prepper, the kind the media had been needlessly lambasting in the media as extremists. While some of them certainly were a bit over the top there isn’t anything wrong with being prepared. Mike had learned that in boy scouts when he was younger, he had just never really acted on it as an adult.

All that changed a few weeks ago as they were entering into the second week of this weather anomaly, that’s what they had been calling it in the news. The jet streams were coming in from multiple directions nullifying each other but bringing with them severe weather conditions that battered the entire midwest region.

Grocery stores were empty, gasoline was no where to be found, and people were getting desperate. Every day move people were losing power and being found dead due to exposure. The power lines covered in ice and snow were snapping and with no repair crews working people were being forced out of their homes. Many people attempted to find refuge in hotels only to find the either booked over capacity or closed due to similar disruptions.

Midway through the second week Mike felt comfortable with his supply of food. He had enough fire wood for maybe a day from some yard clearing he’d done a few summers ago but not enough to heat and cook with if the gas stopped glowing. Living in suburbia meant there wasn’t exactly cords of firewood for sale around town. He had asked around but it either wasn’t to be found or the cost was well out of his price range. His only hope was that the underground natural gas lines would continue to work if power went out.

While his modern fireplace was more for looks then every day use it would function as a simple heater allowing his family hunkered down around it. He wished he’d invested in a space heater sooner but when he was researching them in the spring his wife wasn’t keen on storing kerosine around the house with kids. Something tells me she might change her mind about that after they get through this.

His concerns about the power going out became a reality just into week three of the storm. With no power and The snow now up to his windows his family wasn’t able bodied to move to better accommodations so they decided to hunkered down. Having been prepared for this Mike checked the fireplaces and sure enough there was still gas flowing … for now. Relocating his family around the fireplace was fun at first actually. It brought them really close and given how scared the kids were it was comforting for everyone and took their minds off their other problems. Well everyone except Mike, he couldn’t stop planning contingencies and thinking about next steps.

Mike had devised a short term solution to their heating problem if the SHTF with the gas. Late at night and sometimes under the cover of the heavy snow fronts he snuck into nearby abandoned homes. He wasn’t there to steal anything of traditional value. He was instead there with a sledge hammer and hand saw looking for some combustible material.

Word Count: 811

A Chance Encounter

Looking down at his hands they were covered in grease, bleeding at the knuckles, and straining to hold the large steel lever, Luke wondered how he’d gotten himself into this mess. The room was filled with massive dust covered industrial equipment from a bygone era that were now resting silently. Luke had no idea what purpose they had served but could imagine that when running this complex was extremely loud, something he could use right now to take his mind off the pain his muscles were feeling.

The silence of that large room seemed to act as a amplifier to his pounding heart. His ears were trying to listen to the other side of the heavy steel door while his body was straining to hold whatever was there at bay. Earlier that day while he sat at his computer debugging a data feed the last thing he would imagine he’d be doing right then was leaning into a lever thinking about everything he wished he’d done with his life.

Why did he listened his boss anyway? Go for a walk he said. Get out and see the sky, the clouds,the birds he said. Now he just wished he was still in the controlled secure confines of his pod in front of his clean bright 60″ 8K display. Instead he was standing in an abandoned complex of building, who knows how many mile from the city, covered in grease and sweat and regretting the entire day.

If only he hadn’t met her that afternoon. She was so rude to him cutting him off like that. Who just cuts someone off like that and doesn’t apologize? He sat there on the ground for about 10 seconds waiting for a hand up and an apology only to realize that she was already 50 feet ahead and oblivious to the entire incident. By the time he caught up to her to give her a piece of his mind he was too winded to say anything and instead he tripped into her and they both went tumbling down. Moments later they were both laughing about the whole thing on the wet cement curb. His knuckles were gouged and bloody from the two falls but he was happy to be laughing next to a beautiful woman.

After they exchanged some flirtatious words they decided to grab a coffee and just like that his day was beginning to looking up. What he didn’t realize was that there was a reason she was riding at that obscene pace in the first place, she was running from someone. He never did find out why they were after her but when she collapsed into his arms moments later he didn’t care. As she looked up at him he could see the sorrow and regret in her eyes.

Just like that she was gone in the blink of an eye. She wasn’t bleeding out but by the extreme heat of her back he sensed that someone had done something to her. He had thought about waiting for the authorities and maybe he should have but what would he tell them? Some strange woman bumped into him, they exchanged some choice words and then she died. Ya, that wouldn’t seem suspicious or anything. At least if he had waited maybe then he wouldn’t be in the predicament he was now.

His muscles were giving out from holding the greasy lever and his teeth were starting to chatter from the cold wet clothes he’d been wearing. Even with his heart pumping and adrenalin coursing through his veins he still managed to feel bitter cold. Was this what it was like to die? A chill spreading throughout your entire body despite the desire to be alive?

The desire to be alive, that’s it, he truly didn’t want to die today. He may not have lived the most exciting life but that didn’t mean he was expendable. There was no way he was going to just sit there any longer and die in this god for shaken warehouse. He was tired of running, and needed to do something to turn the tables and take them by surprise … and quickly.

Without completely thinking it through he relaxed his muscles and removed the heavy lever from the door jam. He picked it up and and felt the weight in his hand. Yes, he could certainly use this as a weapon. Assuming he was able to get in close enough to use it of course.

Just as he was about to find a more tactical position he was thrown back by the force of the door exploding outward toward him. He didn’t take the entire brunt of the explosive force but he did take enough to blast him back about 8 feet onto his back and to have his wind knocked out. As he was gasping for air he rolled under a nearby mechanical press of some sort and was now covered in even more grime and dust that before.

Fortunately for him the grime he was covered in and his low position on the floor meant that the people entering through the door didn’t see him. They burst through with amazing speed and seemed to bound through the room with military precision. As they flowed into the room, each covering the next, he realized he was seriously outnumbered. He counted 10 already and they just kept coming.

Putting his head down in defeat on the cold wet ground he let out a final submissive sigh and he reached into his pocket in an attempt to warm his frozen hands. There down in the bottom he felt something, something foreign, something he certainly hadn’t placed there. Pulling it out and looking at it closely Luke realized that this was exactly what he needed to turn the tables in his favor.

Word Count: 973

New Year In The Outer Ring

Ryder was just starting his shift on the observation deck. Some people thought he drew the short straw since it was New Years Eve but he knew better. Ryder preferred the solitude of doing observations over the crazy party goers on the orbiting platform.

It wasn’t as if they were celebrating the New Year on Europa or Jupiter, their nearest planetoids. It was the Earth Inner Ring New Year in England that they were targeting with their celebrations. Most people thought they had chosen England due to it being GMT +0:00, Ryder knew otherwise. He knew they’d chosen England, Somerset England to be exact as a tribute to Arthur C Clark the author of the 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was a nerd tribute of solar proportions but it felt right to everyone involved. He wasn’t sure how they passed the decision in the ORSA (Outer Ring Space Alliance) but they had unanimously and with little debate.

This was the 20th anniversary since the establishment of this outpost around Europa, Jupiter’s most controversial moon. The opening years were mostly working out the mechanical kinks, transferring supplies, and exploring the surrounding area for minerals suitable for fuel and water. Once established they were now doing serious science and Ryder was the chief Astrobiologist. His mission was the mapping and exploration of Europa’s water ice oceans in search of alien biology.

Ryder never planned on submitting to be a part of this science mission. He’d actually dreamed of being a part of the Epsilon Eridani inaugural voyage but with the operational and engineering delays he knew they were at least 20 years from launch. It’s not that this wasn’t an exciting opportunity but how many people get to say they were on the first human interstellar voyage?

Sitting in that quiet observation deck Ryder couldn’t help but think about his family and what they were doing 390 million miles away in Michigan. It’d been 20 years since he left Earth and every year that passed he wished that his brother was here with him and his family. He knew they weren’t much for exploring but with the state of affairs in the Inner Ring perhaps they’d be better off on this side of the Mars Jupiter Belt. Sometimes millions of miles are all that’s needed to separate politics from science.

After the mineral wars of 2120 the miners and scientists of the Outer Ring decided to create an old school blockade. Stopping the flow of water and minerals necessary to the population of the Inner Ring meant they could make demands with little concern for repercussions. Their demands were altruistic in nature and put in place a flow of goods that tightly controlled the exponential growth of the Inner Ring while leaving the Outer Ring to their own destiny.

The result was a society of scientists, engineers, and miners that were beginning to take humanity on a path toward the stars. Choosing to abandon all forms politics and financial systems they instead treated each person as equal. The potential for the Outer Ring was only just being realized and Ryder was glad to be a part of it.

To him the New Year meant more than most everyone in that Europa station. It meant his freedom and happiness as this was the 20th year since he’d illegally fled Earth, breaking the Ring Pact, and passing through the Main Asteroid Belt to join the Outer Ring. He never dreamed he’d become an illegal immigrant but with his extensive biology education he was able to quickly divert attention from his background and worked his way up the scientific ladder to his current station.

Few people in the Outer Ring questioned Ryder’s background because they believed their education system superior to that of the Inner Ring. Certainly someone from the IR couldn’t know as much or be as skilled as Ryder. What they didn’t plan for was the raw determination and motivation of someone looking to improve their position in life within the IR. With a few million well placed IR credits and thousands of illegally taped hours of Outer Ring courses he received his virtual accreditation under an assumed name. All that remained for him was a 400 million mile voyage between 3 planets, an asteroid belt, and countless military check points to take his exams.

Looking back on it tonight Ryder knew he had much to celebrate this and every New Year. Even if it was an arbitrary celebration of a random point in time on a planet most of the people in the Outer Ring had never set foot … he still embraced its significance. After 20 years of happiness he finally felt like he was a part of something bigger than himself, something bigger than them all.

Word Count: 795