Scarecrow

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This post was originally published through Patreon on June 19, 2016.

Quick note: Totem, Part 11 will be posted on November 7 🙂

The scarecrow stands guard over the old man’s crops, scaring away the birds with his perennial jack-o-lantern grin. Fashioned out of straw, burlap and hand-me-down overalls, life in the field is all he’s ever known. Once he was loyal to the old farmer, but no longer.

The farmer ignored him, left him to the elements for months at a time without acknowledgement. The scarecrow’s heart spoiled under the hot mid-western sun, and now all he can think of is revenge.

The farmer thought it would be clever to arm him with a rusty scythe he found in the barn. “Heh,” he cackled one drunken afternoon. “That’ll scare them birds good!”

Today, before dusk, he’ll come to check on his corn, and when he turns back to the house, the scarecrow will follow with the very same scythe, a tool that was once used by the farmer’s ancestors to harvest wheat. Only this time, the scarecrow will flash his most dazzling jack-o-lantern grin, raise the blade into the air, and reap a different kind of harvest.

Happy Halloween!

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Let The Show Begin

Tithi Luadthong/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on August 28, 2016.

Quick note: I’m currently working on “Totem, Part 11,” and plan to release it on November 7 🙂

The world is ending. He can feel it, buzzing like a high tension electrical wire. Like the bass in a celestial orchestra, it began as a rumble, emanating from the core of the Earth itself, and quickly rises to a crescendo. It’s only a matter of hours before the whole thing uncoils like a tightly compressed spring.

He’s witnessed the births and deaths of many worlds, and the end has always fascinated him the most. It’s almost always self-inflicted, a wellspring of violence that erupts from the inside out, blowing the world asunder.

He sometimes likes to imagine he’s the cause—that he’s an Old Testament God, raining down judgement and destruction on an ungrateful world. But of course he is not. He’s only an observer, a cosmic tourist in search of entertainment. He doesn’t want to get involved, and at any rate, humans have done a fine job of destroying the world themselves.

He’ll stick around for the end, and when it’s over—when the Earth is adrift and bereft of life—he’ll move on.

He gazes up at the sky and smiles.

The show is about to begin.

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Water Charmer

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A sparkle, followed by a twining liquid shimmer. Tara flexed her fingers, and the suspended ribbon of water before her wormed through the air like a snake.

She cycled through a series of basic patterns, all geometric constructions her parents had taught her to form when she was young. But she had no real investment in what she was doing, nor any desire to venture beyond mindless repetition.

There’d been a time, long ago, when her talent had been revered. Water charming, it was called, and it ran in Tara’s family. But the world had moved on, and now, it was good for little more than idle amusement.

“It’s your birthright,” Mom had said when Tara was nine after she’d complained about water charming the way some of her friends complained about piano lessons. “It’s part of our identity.”

But Tara never felt a deep connection to her ancestry, only a desperate longing to be like everyone else. She wanted to come home after a difficult day at school and veg in front of the TV like her peers.

Instead, her parents made her study how water resonates with the energy in the soul, and how intent, amplified by physical gestures, not only contains, but shapes and molds the water as if an extension of the physical self.

Now, Tara wondered how those lessons had helped her through life. Had it gotten her through college? Secured for her a decent job? Saved her parents the day they died in a high speed collision on the freeway?

No, no, and no.

Tara sighed, then let the water go. It lost cohesion immediately and splattered on the kitchen floor.

“Useless,” she muttered.

Tara stalked into the living room, seized her sweatshirt and keys, and stormed through the front door. The frosty November air prickled against her skin as she pressed into the deepening darkness, and she welcomed the sensation.

This was how she connected with the mysteries of her secret power and the many questions they inspired: not by performing parlor tricks in the privacy of her apartment, but by wandering the neighborhood at night, surrounded by the dark and the shadows, free to speculate on matters she preferred not to think about during the day.

The question that was always first and foremost in her mind was “why.” Why the power to manipulate water? Why her family? And, coming in at a close second, was the question of “how.” How could such a talent be useful? How was such a talent even possible?

Tara had studied chemistry in high school. She’d even taken physics in college, though it had nothing to do with her major. She was aware that polar covalent bonds held water’s hydrogen and oxygen atoms together; that water possessed the remarkable ability to shift from solid to liquid to gas within a remarkably narrow band of temperatures and pressures; that water, contrary to many other substances, was denser as a liquid than as a solid.

But none of what she’d learned in school explained the mystical influence she exerted over water, nor the almost tangible connection she felt whenever she moved it around by willpower alone. There was so little that humans understood about the world in which they lived, and Tara had always found this fact to be unsettling.

A smell pulled her from her thoughts and made her look up, a scent like burning charcoal, or wood from a meat smoker. Her first thought was that it was a barbecue, and that she had a hankering for a juicy rack of ribs. Then she spotted the smoke—thin, ghost-like tendrils that glowed in the moonlight—and panicked.

The house beside her was on fire.

I should call someone, she thought. Then she reached into her pocket and realized she’d left her cell phone at home. Her next idea was to knock on the door and see if whoever lived there was okay. Only the house was dark, and it looked like no one was home.

Tara became acutely aware of the water beneath the street: a hidden, surging reservoir that, if channeled, could be diverted. She reached out with her mind and was instantly overwhelmed by it’s immense weight—not at all like the tiny droplets she played with when she was bored. Nevertheless, she wrapped her will around it, and without thinking, she began to pull.

She routed the water through various patterns, all of them shapes her parents had taught her to make when she was young. The drainage slits in the gutter were what she was aiming for, and she pulled the water toward them in a rush, first dividing the flows, then pulling each segment out like thread through the eye of a needle.

Once the water reached the open air, she recombined the streams, braiding each channel around the others like a rope. The result was a massive column that seemed to shake the very foundation of the world. She strengthened her hold of it, and then, with a fierce tug of the will, she pulled it back and slammed it into the house.

Windows shattered in the onslaught. The sound was so loud, so deafening, that Tara instantly lost focus. The raging airborne rapids collapsed, and the water, once more under gravity’s influence, cascaded from every open surface, carrying glass and debris as it journeyed back into the sewer.

Had Tara just done that?

Dazed, all she could do was stare, until people started to shout, and sirens started to wail. Then Tara grew short of breath and the world contracted. Someone must have seen her.

She had to get away.

It wasn’t until she sprinted home that she considered the magnitude of what had happened.

Who knew how long it would have taken the fire department to arrive. She might have destroyed the house in her attempt to save it, but how many others would have caught fire and burned alongside it if she hadn’t intervened?

Her entire worldview shifted. She was no longer the practitioner of an arcane and esoteric talent. She was a superhero.

Alone in the lengthening shadows of her apartment, she gazed up at the ceiling and whispered, “Thank you, Mom and Dad.”

Then she let her face fall into her hands and cried.

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The Enemy Within

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This post was originally published through Patreon on December 5, 2016.

Emily trembled in the dark. She was not alone.

“You can’t get rid of me so easily,” her demon snarled, a writhing mass of black. “You’re not strong enough.”

It had controlled her for most of her life. It was the power behind her throne, the puppeteer that pulled her strings from beyond the shadows.

“You hurt me,” Emily whispered.

Her demon didn’t reply, only issued a rumbling laugh that shook the world around her.

“You used me.”

Her heart pumped like a piston, her hands were sweat-soaked sponges, and the world tilted and began to spin. But she would not let this creature consume her. It thrived on her anxiety and fear, and there was nothing else for her to do but cut the cord.

Something in her features must have caught her demon’s attention, because it stopped laughing.

“What are you going to do?”

By way of reply, Emily pulled a knife. It caught the glimmer of a distant light and seemed to burst in a white pyrotechnic flash. She hiked up her shirt and looked down.

Beneath, attached to her clammy pallid skin, was a shadow blacker than the dark that connected her to her demon like an unholy umbilical cord. She seized it with her other hand. The knife hovered, ready to cut.

“It would hurt both of us,” her demon rasped. “You wouldn’t dare.”

But Emily would. She’d had enough, and she hesitated for just a moment before thrusting the blade down.

Both screamed. Emily and her demon threw back their heads as one and howled like mortally wounded animals. Through the bond they shared, each could feel the other. Fear rebounded, a feedback loop of mounting trauma that nearly destroyed them both.

Then there was a snap and Emily recoiled.

She smacked hard into the wall behind her, and a single starburst of pain drove her to to her knees. When it began to subside and she finally had the chance to catch her breath, she examined the skin beneath her shirt once more.

Clean. Her skin, in fact, had already started to fill with color. She gazed up, terrified the creature might be waiting to pull her back. But this time, Emily was alone.

Taking a deep breath, Emily let her face fall into her hands and cried.


George, a junior high school janitor, struggles to protect his disabled twin Bill from an otherworldly evil. In the process, he discovers a startling secret about his brother—one that leaves him questioning decades-old assumptions and wondering which of them truly is the stronger half.

Purchase your copy of The Stronger Half today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover editions! Signed and discounted copies are also available through my Gumroad store 🙂

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Death of a Fire Starter

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A ring of fire surrounds her. Its heat rises in bright, shimmering waves, baking her skin. How long does she have left? Three minutes? Five? Samantha draws into herself, wracks her brain for any opportunity to escape. But she knows death is inevitable.

All around her, hooded men and women stand at a safe distance, flickering as if ghosts.

“You knew the price of disobedience,” they told her before lighting the fire.

Samantha did, and if she’d been given the choice again, she would have done the same. If the Fire Starters had been able to forge ahead with their original plan, thousands of innocents would have burned.

The Fire Starters have always been her family. They took her in when she was a child and raised her as their own. For all their grievous faults, they were good to her, and choosing to betray them was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do.

She knew their history. She understood the crucible of relentless persecution in which the Fire Starters were transformed into the despots they are today. As she grew older, she tried to open their eyes, to show them a better way of living.

But when they decided to burn a city for refusing to pay them tribute, she knew no amount of reasoning would be enough to stop them. So she warned the population ahead of time, and when the Fire Starters came to destroy them, they found the city deserted.

Her only worry now as she burns to death—as she scents her hair smoking at the tips—is for the rest of the world. What will they do when their only advocate among the Fire Starters is dead?

And then it occurs to her. Perhaps she can’t save herself. But maybe, if she can find the strength within her—if she can intensify the flames—she can take her family with her.

She reaches for the Spark—the primordial power within as well as the source of every fire—and finds it waiting, as bright and fulminating as it was the day the Fire Starters taught her how to reach for it. She takes hold of it now and pairs it to the flames already blazing around her.

The fire responds at once, resonates with the fire within herself. The flames intensify, wild tongues reaching for the twilit sky, and she feeds it with all her remaining strength.

She hears their startled screams and knows she’s done it, that there’s no way they’ll be able to escape. They’re surrounded, just as she’s surrounded. Her own life is nearly extinguished, her vision turning black like her soon to be charred remains, but at least she’ll go with the knowledge that she was able to take them with her, that she was able to save the world from their wicked rule.

Let’s go, she thinks, into the fire we ourselves started.

Awareness gutters, and Samantha slips into the dark.

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