This story began as a ponderance. I thought of it from time to time. It sat in my brain like a seed. Will it sprout or will it just lay there? It sprouted a little, but I doubted enough to make a story out of it. My wife then asked me what I was talking about and gave the seed enough water to sprout. She demanded I write the story, you see. And I tend to try and write stories when they are asked for. I've always been that way and I'm not sure why it is.

This story also makes me think of a comment Hannah Mosk said on Twitter. She felt the phase should not be "Write what you know" but "Write what you've read." She felt that reading on a subject was just as good as experiencing something firsthand. This is a complicated argument to respond to because she's right and wrong at the same time.

"Write what you know" is not "Write what you've experienced" or we wouldn't have a lot of books written in a year. It means to know your subject. Know it, don't just wing it or half-ass it. Reading enough books, like she suggests, will give you the information you need to write on the subject. At the same time, a first-hand experience will always trump whatever you've read. Mork from Ork describes it best in "Good Will Hunting." You can read a book on the Sistine Chapel, but it won't compare to the experience of standing there and smelling the air. You can write about your experience at the Sistine Chapel or you can about how someone else wrote about his experience at the Sistine Chapel. It has a generational dilution effect. At some point, it will become a stereotype or a cliche and not an experience at all.

The reason why I went on that rather long tangent is because WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? is a fairy tale noir set in Brooklyn. I've never been to Brooklyn. And while I can try to translate what I've seen from other media (movies, TV, books), it will not be the same as if I went to Brooklyn (to which I'll have to arrange a trip next year). Seeing things first hand will make it a thousand times more real than if I just try to paint what I've seen in other people's paintings.

And with that, an excerpt from WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? Same caveats as before (caveats I make with every excerpt--I post first drafts. I like comments, but don't freak out on the quality of the writing).


I went to a bar; I sat at the bar,
I met a woman named violet.
I bought us drinks; we drank our drinks,
Then we had sex most violent

I said farewell; I did not fare well,
I had no idea what else was in store.
I stumbled out; I passed right out,
Then awoke at the crooked door.


“Knock it off, Tommy.” I waved my hand back and forth, trying to smack the four-year-old away. I should never have given my sister a key. More importantly, I should ever have showed my nephew where I kept all my Nerf weapons.

“Tommy!” My voice cracked. I couldn't remember the last time I had that much to drink. Well, yes I could, now that I thought about it. My first year after college. I fell down the stairs and met that Greek girl. God that had been a good time.

Violet's passionate screams slapped me harder than Tommy and my makeshift Nerf broadsword. Slapped me right in the crotch. The audio came with blessed video, and I saw her clear as day. Rich brown skin, long black hair, curves to die for, breasts to kill with. She sat on top of me and rocked as hard as she could.

“Tommy, go to mommy,” I said. Better get the kid out of here before he got an impromptu lesson on anatomy. Yes, it's supposed to get hard like that. Yes, that's as big as it gets.

I was wet. Wet all over. Not an, 'I got so drunk I pissed myself,' which I have thankfully avoided to date. More a 'You're lying in the gutter and a crazy homeless guy is peeing on you.'

My eyes shot open. This wasn't my bedroom. This wasn't my apartment. This was an alley. This was the gutter. I really was lying in the gutter.

“Oh motherfucker!” I shooed the dog away. Too late. My pants were soaked. I could already smell it. I gagged on the overwhelming scent of urine. I breathed through my mouth until I was certain I wouldn't vomit.

Not that there was any guarantee. My head still pounded. I'm not what one calls a big drinker. I'm a social drinker to be sure, two-fingered Scotch on the rocks or a pomegranate martini.

Hey, don't judge. That shit is delicious.

I'm thirty-five years old, and this is my first hangover. If I could, I'd pull off my head and leave it on a shelf until this passed. How do people do this kind of thing every weekend? Why do people do this kind of thing every weekend? I didn't understand it in college, and I don't understand it now.

My roommates used to compete to see who had gotten the more drunk that particular weekend. My roommates were fucking stupid. This was nothing short of masochism. Might as well wear a studded leather thong and put a ball gag in my mouth.

“Good god,” I muttered as I stood up. I had to admit that was the best sex I had had in—ever. If getting drunk and waking up in the gutter while a dog peed on you was the price, it was a price happily paid. I would never have agreed to that beforehand, but hindsight was 20/20...

Well, right now, more like 20/80. Where the hell was I?

The alley was dark, just before dawn dark. There were no street lamps and nothing came from the end of the alley or from the windows above. There must have been a blackout. I looked around for sparks shooting from a transformer. Why the fuck I thought I'd find the transformer in that alley, I had no idea, and it wasn't like I could have fixed the thing even if it was there. I just wanted a definite explanation as to why everything was dark. When you can't remember how you got somewhere, even the most basic hard fact is reassuring.

A cloud passed away, and the full moon came out. It was huge. I don't think I had ever seen the moon that big. After making sure no one was around to see, I reached up and tried to grab it. Nope, still out of reach.

There was a door in front of me. I stood maybe three feet away from the side of a nondescript building. It could be any New York building. There wasn't a lot of diversity in this part of Brooklyn.


I'm not keen on giving up on a manuscript, but sometimes a thing is broke so bad it can't be fixed1. THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE was a manuscript I abandoned because it was all wrong. There were a few chapters I enjoyed (the introductions of the tinkers), but it boiled down to Cheshire getting off his wagon and then getting back on. 27,000 words of a whole lot of nothing. AND, where I wanted to take the story was near impossible because of where I started the story.

So, when JEHOVAH'S HITLIST is finished, I'll take another crack at it. It seemed like a good story to use as a wind sprint.

Now aside from my own rules, there are some fundamental rules to writing. You know when people say, "All writing is subjective." That's crap. Don't listen to those people. They don't know what they're talking about. Your enjoyment of writing is subjective, but there is a craft to what we do and any craft has rules.

But rules were made to be broken! Yes they are, but you have to know them to break them, which is why we study our craft the way we do. You have to know what the rule is and you have to determine how you can break it well. Just breaking it to break it won't get you anything but a broken rule and you'll look like an amateur. [/tirade]

So, one of these rules is not to start your manuscript with a fight. Why? Because the reader isn't invested. Fights are usually detailed things. You don't just say "they fought." You choreograph. You build tension. There's a winner and there's a loser. But if it's your first chapter, who the hell cares? The reader is not invested in any of the characters and their life or death is irrelevant to the course of the story so far because there hasn't been a story so far.

With THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE, I set out to break that rule. Mostly because I didn't want to dwell on the combat (which I failed at since speeding it up wrecked the pacing of the chapter). More over, I wanted to portray the good guy as a bad guy (which I succeeded at, but possibly succeeded at too well). I also better incorporated the song as a feature of the story. The song appears frequently throughout the book and is pivotal to the ending (which I wrote in the first draft and we're keeping it because that thing is solid gold!). Originally, the first chapter just started with the word "Singing:" a la John Cleese in the Eric the Half a Bee sketch. That didn't work, so I finagled something new.

Now this is a first draft. Really, as a wind sprint, I think it counts more as a zeroeth draft2. It'll get a full pass again later once I take up the manuscript in earnest. Still, your comments, criticisms, and questions are always welcome. The excerpt comes after the footnotes so those of you that want to read the footnotes but not the excerpt don't have to go to the bottom. I'm nice like that.

1 Bonus points if you can name the show and episode I took that line from. It's one of the greatest episodes of television EVAR! So if you haven't seen it, you should go watch it.

2 For the life of me, I can't find my post or Liz's post on this concept. Someone help me out!




Cheshire couldn't remember much of his father. Given enough time and enough distance, memories blended together. Things like eyes and hair became meaningless. Things like a smile for one's son after a hard day's work became priceless.

Cheshire's strongest memory of his father wasn't of his father at all. It was Netty, their plow horse. And not even of the mare herself, but the song his father used to sing about her. When the sun was high, the clouds absent, and the furrows rocky, Cheshire's father sang about the old gray mare.

These many decades later, when Cheshire couldn't have picked his father out of a crowd at a tavern, he still remembered that song. He sang it himself, from time to time. Whenever things got difficult, he sang until they weren't difficult any longer.

“These old legs
They're not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
These old legs
They're not what they used to be
Soon they won't dance no more.”

Morningtide at Field House was the preeminent ball of Grafton County. Lilian Enright was the weakest of the Pretenders which meant she had to throw the most extravagant parties, remind the other nobles of the county who was in charge. Remind them who was queen now.

Cheshire loved to dance and Morningtide hosted the best musicians. Add to that the most exquisite delicacies and the most beautiful women, and the affair was the grandest in the entire Kingdom. He had a special set of dancing shoes made special just for the event. He polished every piece himself: the black leather, the square silver buckles, even the wooden soles. That was his secret, one he did not share with the younger fellows. When they stared and tried to figure how this man thirty years their senior flowed about the floor so smoothly, Cheshire took advantage of their pause to introduce himself to their dancing partners.

That secret was was about to kill him. Cheshire's foot slipped off another rock. He caught himself, abrading his hand, saving himself from a more severe break. He needed to get off these rocks before it was too late.

“These old eyes
They're not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
These old eyes
They're not what they used to be
Soon they won't see no more.”

He had seen her there, at Field House. She said her name was Elisabeth. He said his was Edward He had danced with half a dozen other women, but when he took her hand in the middle of a wheel, he had known she was the one. He took her card away and ripped it up. She would dance with no other than he.

Let her other hopeful suitors complain, and complain they had. He a week before his fifty-ninth birthday, she a week after her sixteenth, it was the scandal of the ball, and her eyes sparkled for it. A dark blue-gray like the ocean in the midst of a storm, she smiled and she laughed with those eyes.

They had danced together until the midnight bells rang. And while other young women bid their partners farewell and returned to their chaperons, neither Elisabeth nor Cheshire would leave each other's side.

He whispered in her ear, and she laughed. He told her there was a full moon, and they should walk on the beach together. Her eyes sparkled like stars and they escaped out the servant's entrance.

Her parents would search the crowd for her, but on the beach, no one would hear her scream.

“These old ears
They're not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
These old ears
They're not what they used to be
Soon they won't hear no more.”

The beach was beautiful, he knew. If only he could get to it. A rill of stones separated the Field House with its manicured lawns from the ocean with its unending waves. It was impossible to walk across with waxed shoes, even harder to do so with haste. The roar of the ocean told him it would be faster to press on than to try and return the way they had come.

The ocean seemed nothing more than a painting from within the Field House. The crash of the waves was turned away by the rocks. What little made its way up the hill was overcome by the orchestra. Here, alone on the beach, he could not even hear himself breath, the waves were so loud. He most certainly could not hear her.

Cheshire climbed atop a boulder the size of a mastiff. It crowned the rill and gave him a clear view of everything. The rocks continued on almost to the waterline, but the tide was leaving and the sand reappeared. In a little while, the beach would be three times as large. That did him little good now, of course.

He should not have let her get away from him..

“These old hands
They're not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
These old hands
They're not what they used to be
Soon they won't fight no more.”

The full moon lit the beach in its entirety, but the clouds raced across the sky, and shadows danced everywhere. Cheshire turned every which way, trying to find Elisabeth. He could not let her get away. He would not get another chance at this if she made it back inside. The house was still full of boys with swords playing at being men. If she sicked them on him, he'd be a fox to the hounds.

The waves lulled, and he heard the crunching of rocks from the other side of the rill. He turned about, pulling a knife from his sleeve. Elisabeth ran atop the rill and vaulted into the air. Steel glinted in the moonlight, a blade twice the length of his knife.

Cheshire lifted his knife above his head. Metal clashed against metal as he turned the blow away. His waxed shoes slipped out from beneath him, and he fell off the boulder. Elisabeth wasted no time in striking a second time. The dagger slid just past Cheshire's neck and tore off his favorite earring.

She bounded away just as quick, melting into the shadow of a passing cloud.

“Tell me your name, girl.” His voice cracked. As did the rest of him. Near on sixty years, only the Pretenders could say they were older. Cheshire wondered if their bodies were falling apart too.

“But Edward, you know my name. I am Elisabeth.” She raced by and struck a glancing blow. Again he turned it away. She was gone before you could counter. She was faster and stronger than her size suggested. He could not hope to best her on these rocks.

Cheshire kicked off his shoes and pulled himself up. The rocks were cold through his silk stockings. He stepped aside, putting the boulder between them.

She came again. He waited to see if she went left or right. She leap, ball gown and all, onto the boulder. He took one step back, but gave her no more room to dive atop him. He thrust from the elbow, striking for her ankles. Her leap thrown off balance, she pushed herself back off the rock and slid to a stop amidst the stones. She skipped back out of his reach. Cheshire found the largest rocks he could nearby and began weaving a path toward the sandy beach.

“Is this how you get your jollies, Edward? You wander the counties in search of balls where you can seduce young women?” She made a zigzag of her own, keeping the beach always parallel to them. “Has your manhood finally whithered and now you think to take it out on me?”

Elisabeth held out her off-hand, palm downward, two fingers up. She lifted her right knee and raised her dagger above her head. Cheshire couldn't help but smile. She knew Quintal's Offensive. The master swordsman's Fivefold Strategy had been revolutionary in its day. It had fallen from popularity three decades past. If there had been any doubts whether this girl was the one he sought, that satisfied them.

Cheshire put his left foot out, touching the rocks only with his toe. He twisted to the side, keeping his blade-hand parallel to his leg, Quintal's Defensive. It was a humble swordsman that designed the counter to his own maneuver. Cheshire had always admired that about Quintal. The girl approached. He turned, countered, turned, and riposted. The girl slapped his blade away at its last breadth. It sliced open the side of her dress.

“Want me naked too? Dirty old man,” the girl spat.

Cheshire laughed and smiled at her despite himself. The last one had been younger, scared. It had been quick and easy. Easier than any of the ones before. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed the challenge. Something beside his bladder stirred inside him. Purpose—

“Ow, damn!” Elisabeth's blade slid across his elbow, and opened the flesh to the bone. Cheshire dropped his knife. His left hand shot out and caught it by the hilt before it fell to the rocks. His back popped a staccato beat as he whipped himself sideways.

He held the blade up less confidently than a moment before. He looked between his exposed elbow and Elisabeth who smiled at him viciously.

“This old elbow, it's not what it used to be, not what it used to be, not what it used to be.” Blood was coming on faster than it should. He'd had too much to drink at the party. He'd need to finish this quickly. “This old elbow, it's not what it used to be—”

He leaped forward from large rock to large rock, bringing his knife down like an ice pick. It wasn't graceful, but his size and power finally tipped her balance. She stumbled on the rocks.

Cheshire seized the opportunity to find a path to the sandy beach, making a wide arc across the largest rocks.

“Soon it won't... what? Bend? Soon it won't bend no more? That's a bit boring, don't you think, dear?”

Elisabeth raced toward him, Quintal's Charge. He needed his right arm for Quintal's Shield, but there were other methods to counter Quintal's Fivefold Strategy. As she closed, he kicked. The sand exploded in a cloud. She jerked back, and he put his bare foot to her face. His hip popped.

Her nose cracked and blood spurted down her face. She fell back and dropped her dagger. Cheshire dug his foot into the sand beneath it and flung the weapon into the water. He moved in behind her while she rubbed her eyes clean. He wrapped an arm around her neck like a snake around a country mouse.

“Tell me your name, girl,” he growled. “Or this old arm will snap your fucking neck.” He gave her a hard jerk just so she knew he was serious.

“You bwoke my node.” The girl pawed at her face over Cheshire's arm. He would pin her hands, but his right arm couldn't stand the pressure. It would need stitches when he was done here. He certainly wouldn't be able to bury the body in this state. He was glad he was taking this one with him.

“I'll break a lot more than that if you don't tell me. I won't stab you in the appendix, not this time. I'll cut your arms and legs off and bury you back in those rocks. I'll leave you trapped in that husk of a body until I have the rest. Then I'll know one way or the other.”

Cheshire bent her sideways until her arm was pinned agianst the beach. He pressed against her elbow with his knee and leaned forward. She breathed hard and blood showered across his sleeve. The shirt was already ruined. She panted and grunted but didn't speak. He jerked forward and felt the arm snap. The girl screamed, thrashed about, but he kept his grip firm. She clawed at his face with her good arm, but he bit down hard on her fingers.

“Tell me.” She only screamed louder. He broke her other arm. He let go his choke hold and stood. Her feet dug into the sand as she tried to push herself to her feet. Without her arms to lever her up, she just dragged her face across the sand until blood mixed with the grit and turned into a thick gristle.

Cheshire cut into her leg. The knife point stuck into her bone.

“Helb!” she howled. “Domeone helb me!”

“Scream all you want.” Cheshire circled her but she rolled in the sand, hiding her one good leg from him. “No one can hear you over the rocks.”

“Helb! Helb!”

“Tell me your name!” He kicked her in the side, rolled her over, and cut into her last good appendage. She lost use for speech then. She began a caterwaul louder than a mountain lion with its tail caught in a trap. That was the answer he needed.


The sand beneath the girl was wet and mucky, not only from the tide but from the blood that spilled out of her. There was but a trickle left, squirting out in pathetic bursts, but still she howled. She thrashed and screamed and kicked. Life leaked out of her but still she moved.

Cheshire wiped his knife clean with a rag. He had no idea why. He was not done yet. It felt like this last act deserved something extra. He walked up behind her and grabbed her hair with his bad arm. His elbow burned hot and fierce, and he felt a little light headed, but he was strong enough to manage this. He stretched her neck to the side, then opened the bottom of her throat with the dagger.

Her howling disappeared. She tried to scream, but the air only gurgled out of the hole in her throat.

“That's better,” he said. He wiped the knife clean a second time, then slid it back into his sleeve. He took the cloth and wrapped it around his wounded elbow. With left hand and teeth, he managed a knot.

“Stand yourself up,” Cheshire said. She gave him an incredulous look. “Drop the act, Howler. If you were still Elisabeth, you would be long dead.” She did not move. “You can walk to the wagon and lie down, or I can lash you to the back and drag you to Four Corners. The choice is yours.”

Howler mouthed a litany of what Cheshire assumed were curses, but her throat only gurgled.

“Forty-nine years,” he said. “I've hunted demons for forty-nine years. It will all be over soon.”

When still she did not move, he found a large rock nearby and struck her over the head. He hoisted her up onto his shoulder and carried her down the beach away from Field House.

A wagon was parked where no one would see it. He threw her into the back. Cheshire hopped up onto the buckboard, took the reins in his good hand, kicked the break free, and gave his horse a snap. The wagon pulled onto the road and headed inland, away from the peacefulness of the ocean.


Part of the webinar I posted about earlier is a query critique. I've already queried out BM&BBQ and WCO, so it's time to bite the bullet on TTS. Below is a first draft query letter. Your constructive feedback is greatly appreciated.

Otwald d'Kilrachen intervenes when Torvald d'Bluefire's dissolution of an affair turns violent. Otwald delivers Torvald to the authorities and sends the injured woman to the hospital. But when she never arrives, Torvald accuses him of kidnapping her, the Princess Annelie. On the run, Otwald searches a city fractured into rival societies. He must find Princess Annelie and exonerate his name, but in so doing, may spark a revolution.

THE TRIAD SOCIETY is a 95,000-word light-steampunk/fantasy. This will be my first novel publication.


Otwald wants nothing more than to live his life as a count's son should, with honor, duty, and service. He sees the kingdom crumbling under the weight of its own bureaucracy, the capital breaking into rival factions, and wonders if his family is to blame. They control the garrison. His brother lead the soldiers during the massacre at Kester Square. And they murdered him for it.

Mourning the death of his brother, Otwald intervenes when he sees three nobles attacking a young woman. A nobleman should know better. A nobleman should act better. He defeats them all, turns them into the authorities, and sends the woman off to the hospital. The legal bureaucracy is turned against him. He must find the woman to exonerate himself, but she never made it to the hospital. To find her, he may strike the spark that finally ignites revolution.

THE TRIAD SOCIETY is an 85,000-word light-steampunk fantasy with series potential. This would be my first novel publication.

JEHOVAH'S HITLIST (Chapter 1 excerpt)

Since Blogger decided "schedule" meant "post now," MSM part 2 was posted yesterday. Now, this being a journal and not a blog, I could totally go today without posting and that would be okay. But things are about to get busy for me at work. (Granted, it's a new department and from what I can see, their definition of busy isn't the same as my previous department's definition of busy. Time will tell on that one.) Given the pending absence of content as I fill the digital bookshelves with content that isn't mine (alas!), I thought I would do something I used to do much more frequently...AN EXCERPT CHAPTER!

My current WIP is almost a post-apocalpytic sci-fi but given the setting is so self-contained, it's hard to see it as post-apocalpytic or sci-fi. It is, though. Sort of. JEHOVAH'S HITLIST could be a YA novel if not for the guns and violence and drugs and profanity and sex... Like all my excerpts, this is a first draft. Comments and criticisms are still welcome.


Some say it was the industrial revolution. Some say it was the three-car garage. Some say it was this or that rigged election or this or that unsigned treaty. Some say it was the Reciprocity Act. But let me tell you, the day the first Dutchman showed up on the Ivory Coast with a bottle of whiskey was the day the world began to end.

All but for the want of shoes. Jehovah looked at the street ahead of him, trash strewn from either gutter and up the walls to his knees, greasy paper rolling with the wind like tumbleweeds. One broken bottle, one bent needle, and he would have to crawl back to Missouri Avenue before the jackals found him. He looked at his bare feet, the soles stained black from walking barefoot half-way across the Nation, all the way to Wyoming Avenue. He would have skipped this drop all together if someone hadn't stolen his shoes.

He looked up at the sky. The daylight array buzzed, clunked, and moved to third position, full light just after dawn. A permanent enumeration of passage of time, the array showed that it was eight in the morning. The center lamp, the sun lamp, shone so brightly as to color the sky yellow, but if Jehovah squinted just so, he could see the silver glint of the lamps in twenty-sixth position. That was how he knew where to go. That was why his family didn't starve.

The weekly drop always came on Sunday. Charity was a Christian duty, after all. But never at the same time and never in the same place. The boxes dropped at random times and from random locations to avoid territorial buildup of gangs near a designated drop zone.

Most people didn't look up. What was there to look up to? The sun lamp? One could hear it change position and did not actually need to look at it to know the time. The brightness of the sky? It was the same brightness every day of the year, half-brightness on days it rained. To know the weather? It rained six hours a day for three days in intervals of fifteen days. There was no reason to look up.

Which is why no one ever noticed that, if one squinted, one could see the array lamp pulled out of position on Sundays to allow for the drop. It took the drop boxes five minutes from launch to parachute deployment to touchdown. No one could travel across the Nation in that amount of time. Whoever was the closest to the drop got the best pick of the charity, food, clothes, medicine, machine parts. More than he could carry, but today he just wanted shoes.

Jehovah pushed junk to the side as he walked. He'd need a clear path to run through before the jackals made their way here. Paper, rotten food, dirty diapers, warped cans home to swarms of cockroaches. No glass, no syringes, no broken knife points, or hidden bear traps. He would grab the charity, run over to West Virginia Avenue, work his way up to Charleston Park and put on his shoes there. The jackals would head straight for Cheyenne Park where the charity would land. Put on his shoes, lay low, and once they passed, make his way back to Missouri as quick as a rat.

Park buildings were always the worst, burnt out shells from the charity riots of '77, piles of brick where the support beams had already given out, or asylums for the marginalized. It was a special sort of crazy that grew marginalized in the Nation. They sat up there and raped small children they stole off the streets or built sniper nests to wound people at the charity boxes and leave them for the jackals.

Jehovah stood at the end of the alley, Cheyenne park opening up in front of him, and looked up. The building on his left still had its roof. The gutters and been ripped off and repurposed by the tinkers long ago. The building on his right was an uneven curve of bricks. The building was falling in on itself.

He stuck his head out, counted out a full second, then pulled it back in. Enough time for any snipers in the area to notice him without the time needed to put a bullet in his head. He popped back out and immediately pulled back in and waited for the gunshot. Nothing. One more time for good measure, out and in. He waited, his back pressed up against the wall but not too firmly. Once he saw an entire building fall on top of someone that pressed too hard against a wall.

Still no gunshot. Jehovah stuck his head out and took a look. The windows were empty. No barrels sticking out. A smart sniper would keep his gun inside the building. Asylum squatters weren't smart, they were crazy. They wanted you to know they were there. They're own little cat and mouse game. Sick fucks.

The park was just as empty. Two square blocks of open concrete, ramps, rounds, benches and foundations for contraptions meant for children to play on. Metal contraptions, so long since picked clean and repurposed along with the metal sculptures of things called trees. Jehovah wasn't sure why anyone would space in a park for trees, but Old Hobbe said all parks had to have trees.

Cheyenne Park went all the way to the outer wall of the Nation. None that Jehovah knew had ever been out that far. He had no fancy to try. He was here for shoes and maybe some quick swag he could trade to the Mississippi Avenue boys. They'd had a hard time of it ever since the deputies strung up their leader, Pap. They'd give generous terms for dehydrated potatoes or Tang.

Jehovah debated whether he should find some place in the park to hide or make a run for it once the box dropped. It would be a longer run if he stayed here. Any Wyoming Avenue boys nearby might beat him to the charity. But if he went out there, every sniper about would know where he hid and wait for him to come back out.

Course, after all that back and forth, any of them paying attention knew where he was already. He should probably go an alley or two down and come on again from a different angle. He could make it to the first round, one of those half-bowl things in the park that Old Hobbe said were made for running. One runs in a circle and that's fun. Jehovah ran plenty in the Nation already, from deputies and jackals and the gangs from Kansas Avenue. He didn't see how running in a hole in the ground could be fun. About as useful as trees, he thought.

An air horn blew so loud as to make the dead crawl out of the crematoriums and come see what all the ruckus was about. Jehovah flinched despite the fact that he had been waiting for that horn. He looked up at the array. No need to squint now. The silver rim of the lamp that had brought him twenty-seven blocks across the Nation to Wyoming Avenue was gone and a big black rectangle made a hole in the sky.

He looked over his shoulder. No one there. Out to the park. No one there either. He fingered the holster on his thigh despite himself. The pistol was loaded, the strap buttoned over the grip so his weapon didn't fall out on the run. Old Hobbe said not to go around with a round chambered, but he hadn't been on the street since before Jehovah was born. He didn't know what it was like nowadays. Keep a round in the chamber or the other guy shoots first.

A second air horn. Jehovah didn't jump this time. That was the “okay, we gave you time to get out of the way; here it comes” horn. Something moved in the black hole in the sky. A gray box, fifteen by thirty, free-fell from the hole.

“One, two, three...” Jehovah knew he should keep quiet, but he lost track when he counted in his head. Counting out loud helped. Count to forty-five. If one didn't see a chute by forty-five, get the hell out of the way.

“Thirty-one, thirty—there you are.” The white parachute flooded open and the box stopped its plummet with a jerk. It floated down toward the park, rocking back and forth as it came.

Jehovah took a cautious step out. He jumped to the left, but no bullets came, no gunfire echoed across the concrete landscape. The parachute caught a high wind and drifted toward the west side of the park. It spun in a fast circle, tying the parachute into knots so the big white cloth grew smaller and smaller. The box began to fall faster and faster.

Cautious steps turned into a jog turned into a run. With a drop like that, anyone waiting to see where the box landed could guess well enough. He needed to get and get going.

He weaved around ramps covered with bits of dried, shredded leather and metal wheels so warped that not even the tinkers bothered with them. Old Hobbe said they were called bicycles. Jehovah had gotten a spoke through the foot three years back. If he hadn't got some medicine, the lockjaw would have broke his back. He stayed away from bicycles now, medicine or no. That wasn't a memory he was like to forget.

Still no gunshots. He had gotten lucky with the squatters. Lucky with the park, too. Nothing on the other side of Wyoming Avenue. The jackals only had one direction to come from. Not the usual crush when everyone comes from every which way. A ramp to his right was covered with the usual detritus, wrappers and boxes and the like but no bicycles. Jehovah ran up and spared a quick look behind.

His luck didn't last long. A casper ran from the south side of the park. Just one with his head sticking out a hole in a white bed sheet. It bunched up between his legs, making it hard to run, but he had shoes on. Between the two of them, they kept an even pace toward the west side of the park.

Jehovah didn't know caspers to go anywhere alone. If there was one, there were half a dozen more nearby. The Wyoming Avenue Ghosts always traveled in packs. He sprinted off the ramp and continued west. His head bobbed up and down, look at the path ahead, look at the box.

He had crossed most of the park. The outer wall rose up in front of him, the faded blue and brown of a manufactured horizon obviously faded on its brick surface. The wall stood at least a hundred feet with no noticeable means of ascending or passing through it. If the drop box landed on the opposite side, the charity wold be lost to the desolation beyond. It happened sometimes.

The drop box did not fall outside the city, but neither did it fall in. It landed jackknifed on the side of the wall. The doors burst open and the charity spilled down like rain.

Jehovah looked to his left. The casper was still a couple hundred feet away. Jehovah waded into the charity, doing his best to avoid the shrapnel from the damaged box or the remnants of the more fragile charity that broke when it struck the pavement. He grabbed a medicine pack when he saw one. The vials were packed in a secure foam that hopefully cushioned them on the fall. He grabbed a canister of ammunition. No reason to let someone else have that. Then he dove into the clothes.

Spools of thread, needs scattered all about, sheets of cotton, then the few pre-made items included as well. Reusable diapers for babies, wraps for toddlers to wear like a skirt while they grew so rapid as to make pants worthless. Then the shoes, boots mostly, six pair, enough to let him be choosy if he wanted.

Jehovah looked to the south and grabbed the first pair he could. The casper was too close to worry about—well that pair was obviously too small. He wouldn't fit in them even if he curled his toes. He tossed them back on the ground and began to rummage for a more suitable pair. He reached slow with his right hand and unbuttoned his holster.

Jehovah found a better pair. He held them up to his feet to be certain. Better still, they were stuffed full of socks. He couldn't remember the last time he had worn socks. He looked in a couple other pairs and took those socks too. Something share with the family.

“Stop!” The casper closed on him, slowing to a walk until only ten feet separated the two of them. He pointed a double-barrel shotgun right at Jehovah.

“Go on and put all that down,” he said.

“I got what I need. You're welcome to the rest,” Jehovah said. The ammunition sat between his feet with the medicine on top. The boots were in his left hand and he made no sign to set them down.

“Rightly I am. I'm welcome to it all.”

“We're all alone and all your jawjacking just gives the jackals time to get here and spoil your take,” Jehovah said. “First to the claim, first to pick. Nothing here says otherwise.”

“This here shotgun says otherwise.” The ghost turned his gun sideways and pushed it forward to make his point. Jehovah drew and fired. He put three rounds into the casper and the ghost went down. He ran over and put one more in his head. He grabbed the shotgun, tucked it under his arm, picked up the medicine and ammunition and ran.