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theferrett - Dreamwidth Studios

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    I wrote this story because I do not know how to play with children.

    I was, however, spending time with my um-daughter Carolyn, so named because her parents are Jewish and don’t have a tradition of Godchildren, but we’re pretty much her Godparents.  And she was playing “Teacher” with me.

    Carolyn is creative at the best of times, but at this stage in her life she was very big on broken bones and operations.  Every time we played, someone shattered a femur or was in a cast.  And Carolyn, like all children, gets a bit tyrannical when handed the power of teachers, and was barking orders at me of what I was to do, and the awful injuries that might occur if I didn’t obey.  And I wondered: is her school like this at all?  Is she making all of this up, or is this some weird reflection of a hideously overprotective class? 

    Then: what would it be like if her school really was full of terror? 

    And so I wrote Shadow Transit, a story devoted to how impenetrable the inner lives of children are… especially when they’re special children, tasked with saving the world from otherworldly forces.  Here’s your obligatory sample:

    Last night’s blizzard had choked the roads, leaving the cabinet factory short-handed for the Friday shift. So Michelle’s boss had called to give her a choice: she could come in for an emergency shift today and keep her job, or she could keep the day off she’d requested to visit her daughter at Shadow Transit, in which case she’d get her ass fired.

    “Thank you,” Michelle whispered, glad beyond belief. “I’ll come in. Just…call them for me? Please? I’ll give you the number; they won’t listen to me. Make sure they tell Elizabeth that Mommy’s sorry.”

    Jackson made his apologies, saying how he was sure Lizzie was needed wherever she was, but he had quotas to meet. Michelle barely heard him. She felt the giddy relief of a kid hearing that school was cancelled. Her boss had made the choice for her; she didn’t have to play with Lizzie this month and pretend that everything was okay. No three-hour drive out to the Colander. No watching teenaged guards struggling to remember how to pronounce English words. No worrying about what Lizzie had meant for days afterwards. She was free for another month and hated herself only a little for it….

    But I should warn you: this is one of those stories that builds.  It’s one of my best finishes, I think.  I’d get all the way to the end if I were you, and make sure your children aren’t too close when you’re done.

    Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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    The Drabblecast is a very well thought-of podcast, so when they commissioned me to write a story for Lovecraft week, I was all like, “Whoah, that’s an honor.”  And so, over the next five weeks in the Clarion Echo, I wrote a story from start to finish – first called “Minecraft,” then “Stonehewn,” then “Run Deeper,” then (and finally) “Hollow as the World.”  (If you paid your $5 to be a part of the Clarion Echo, you’ll see just how damned messy my process is.)  The story was about a kid exploring an alternate world on his computer, and the costs thereof – not strict Lovecraft per se (that’d be “Riding Atlas,” which unfortunately I’d already sold), but definitely Dreamlands territory.

    It took four drafts, and quicker than I’ve ever written a story with that many drafts before, but I finally got to where I was happy with it – and thankfully, Norm accepted it. And three days later, it’s up at the Drabblecast, with some stellar artwork to go with it, and one hell of a gritty narration.

    Here’s your obligatory excerpt:

    One of the reasons Joshua loved Lydia as much as he did was all the secret rituals they’d devised.  Some days, the way Lydia sent Joshua into high titters with a raise of her pierced eyebrow was the only thing that kept Joshua from slitting his wrists.

    And of the many traditions that bound them as friends, the most sacred was the second videogame bet.

    You couldn’t have the second videogame bet without Lydia winning the first bet, of course.  That bet was, “Would Lydia beat this latest game before Joshua did?”  And she invariably beat it before Joshua, before everybody; Lydia mowed through the toughest levels without dying.  Sometimes, she completed the game on release day, then sold it back to Gamestop for nearly full credit.

    Joshua’s online buddies private messaged him, angling for the secret to Lydia’s talent.  He never told them, though of course he did know.  He’d asked her, once, after she’d finished Portal 3 a full three hours before anyone else.  She’d squinted at him over candy-red glasses, deciding whether she could trust him.  Then she’d shrugged.

    “I think like a designer,” she said.  “Every time I’m not sure what to do, I think: ‘If I’d designed this level, where would I want me to look next?’  It’s made the games… predictable.  Most days, I only beat them to see the end credits.”

    “Really?  You watch the end credits?”  It was a slowball pitch.  She grinned, glad at the opportunity to razz him.

    “I’d think end credits would bring you nothing but relief, Joshua.  They prove games are designed by people.  You do remember that, right?”

    His groan was old, well-used.  “Now, Lydia, it’s been years since I’ve been afraid — ”

    “ — but you were afraid, weren’t you?”  She leaned in, hazel eyes sparkling.  Joshua fantasized, for the ten billionth time, about calling in his marker and kissing her.

    “Yes, I was afraid,” he recited.  “I thought the characters inside the videogame had lives when the machine was turned off, the television a window to another dimension, and I was afraid to play because they knew I was there.  I was six when that happened, Lydia.”

    “I was six, too,” she replied loftily.  “Yet bizarrely, I never worried about that.  Nor did Ibuild a whole videogame-playing technique around proving myself wrong.”

    “You just wait for the second bet.”

    “That day,” she proclaimed, hiding her smile behind a sip of Red Bull, “Will never come….”

    If you liked this, remember: a $5 donation to the Clarion Write-A-Thon will get you entry to see the four drafts, along with about 10k in writers’ commentary (and three other completed stories). This tale mutated quite a bit, as it was very tricky to get a handle on, so I think it’s worthwhile if you’re struggling to fix your own drafts.

    Otherwise?  Enjoy.


    Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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