Lost Angel gets a facelift

Posted: August 15, 2020 in Uncategorized
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I was never really happy with the original Lost Angel cover. I’m delighted to share the new version, which in my opinion, is much better!

The paperback is also getting updated to the new design, while the interior will have better formatting. It’s the little things…

I’m glad to finally have a cover I’m happy with!

Another One

Posted: August 12, 2020 in Uncategorized

I’ve always wanted to have a map of the Wasteland and it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Finally, in the year 2020, I got around to doing it.

I’m pleased with the results. I made the map by taking a screenshot from Google Earth. Then, it was a matter of doing some simple stuff with Photoshop. I found the grungy frame on Shutterstock, and I had to learn a few new things to put it together.

I could have added more to it, but some parts were getting pretty crowded. For that reason, I only included locations I mentioned in the series. The only nitpicky thing is Ragnarok Crater is slightly off in location. It should be a bit further northeast.

It sort of reminds me of Mars, with the reddish tint and spreading ice cap. Which was sort of the effect I’m going for. Beginning with Wasteland Chronicles, I wanted to show a planet in transition.

I hope it will help new and old readers alike with envisioning where things are in this universe. So far, I’ve included the map in my box set, and will most likely also include it in the individual books.

Long Live Maps

Posted: July 30, 2020 in Uncategorized

I’ve always been a huge map nerd.

I love them in fantasy novels especially. In fact, one of my favorite things about reading fantasy novels are the maps. I could easily stare at them for a long time before even starting the book itself, and often, my impression of the book or series is informed by just how detailed the map is.

Weirdly enough, I love real maps, too, especially antiquated ones. It’s just fascinating to me how cartographers were able to draw them, despite lacking all the modern tools we have.

Unlike fantasy, space-based science fiction doesn’t seem to do as well with maps, or even world building. My biggest pet peeve are “monoworlds”. You see them all the time in sci-fi: planets that just have a single biome and temperature. There’s the Forest World, the Ice World, the Desert World, the Water World, with little no deviation in climate over an entire biosphere, if any at all.

I’m sure it’s possible for there to be worlds like that, maybe even probable, but I would think it would be more likely to have a world where it’s mostly desert, but also to have some wetter parts with a more Mediterranean type of climate. Or in the case of a world cooler than Earth but otherwise mostly the same, it wouldn’t all be necessarily ice and snow, but perhaps have a narrow band of temperate land on the equator where life was possible.

I’ve always known that if I wrote a series in space, I would avoid the sin of making only monoworlds. I want to go beyond that, to make my worlds feel unique and alive – if not to the level of detail as Frank Herbert (the creator of Dune), at least something a little less lazy that would make these places live in a reader’s imagination with some nuance that shows that these could be real places. Not to say I would never create a monoworld, but if I did, I would be sure to at least explain why the world was like that in the first place.

I used this really cool website called Fractal World Generator to make the map above, then sort of spiffed it up a bit in Photoshop. Nothing crazy, my Photoshop skills are nothing to write home about. It’s a bit crazy to think that a random world generator more or less inspired a lot of the content for the second novel in my new series, but that’s the case.

You set the parameters, and the site lets you play God and spit out entire worlds. This one I set to be 92% ocean coverage, and 33% ice cap coverage. A dozen clicks of the button until I found the map that looked just right. I opened it in Photoshop and started filling in the cities, making up names, imagining how its history might logically unfold, as well as what kind of native life populated it, and how it might interact with Earth life that would inevitably be introduced, and how that native life would respond to that, so on and so on…

Needless to say, it was a lot of fun, and might be my favorite thing to do as a writer. The most fun part about writing Xenoworld, to me, was imaging how a vastly different form of alien life might transform a planet.

Basically, I’m psyched that I discovered this Map Generator. At some point, assuming I have the money for it, I may even hire a professional illustrator to turn these maps into something more pleasing to the eye. In an ideal world (sorry), money wouldn’t be an object, and I’d probably include a ton of maps for the readers’ reference in each of my books.

Why we don’t see this more often with e-books is probably due to the fact that Amazon charges us poor authors delivery fees based on file size. Adding highly detailed maps inside an e-book increases the file size, increasing the delivery fee. A few cents here and there might not seem like a lot, but on the scale of possibly thousands of books sold, it most definitely adds up. I suppose you can charge a dollar more, but then that extra dollar might be enough to persuade many-a-new reader to look elsewhere.

So at best, maps must be limited, and adding something like ten maps to an e-book, as awesome as that might be in theory, is most likely unfeasible.

Long story short, long live maps.

To-Do Lists Are Overrated

Posted: July 28, 2020 in Uncategorized
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Being self-employed, or working from home, is extremely difficult. Without a plan, it’s incredibly easy to spend the day wandering the Internet or wasting time on whatever vice you’re into.

It’s not so much the work itself that’s hard, but the fact that there’s no big boss setting the agenda. You’re your own boss, and being left to our own devices is an easy path to self-destruction.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in over five years of being self-employed, you are your own worst enemy. Without a clear, concrete plan that takes out all the loopholes of wriggling out of responsibility, you will fall flat on your face and get nothing done, and feel very bad about it. It’s like you’re tripping yourself over and over and saying “Haha!” to yourself like Nelson Muntz, without realizing you’re just bullying yourself. Which of course, just sends you back to your distractions to get rid of the bad feelings.

It’s a vicious cycle, but thankfully, it’s completely avoidable.

That’s my main problem with to-do lists. They promise productivity, but deliver next to nothing. Sure, it’s better than no plan at all, but back when I used to do lists, I left half my tasks undone, and scratched my head as to why.

Then, I discovered schedules. More specifically, how to schedule correctly.

It was a complete game changer. Now, I am here to show you the way into the light.

Back in my days of darkness, I would wake up, look at my computer, blink, and it would be 3:00 already with nothing substantial having been done. I had told myself an insidious lie that there was plenty of time to crank out a couple of thousand words before bed. Those words were always true – until it got to be 9:00 and I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. On my worst days, I wouldn’t write anything at all.

I knew I was missing something, but just didn’t know what. I tried lists. They would work for a time – but I would end up committing the same sin as before. I’d leave half the tasks unfinished, get discouraged, and decide it wasn’t working.

What I lacked was motivation. Or so I thought.

A typical to do list for me might have looked something like this:

  1. Write 2,000 words
  2. Clean
  3. Work out
  4. Send/answer emails

That to me would have been a productive day indeed.

Last year, I wrote a blog post that specifically talked about how amazing to-do lists were. All I can say now is that I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve found a much better way.

Lists are just part of the answer. They have some inherent flaws that no one really considers:

  1. Lists don’t tell you how long it will take to complete the task. This sends your brain thinking, “What if this goes on forever?
  2. Tasks are often just thrown on a list with no regard to priority, and it can be easy to add too many things.
  3. Most importantly, and this is key: lists won’t tell you a thing about when tasks will actually happen.

That third point especially is the biggest strike against to-do lists. Lack of specificity in how and when something is going to happen ultimately leads to it not happening. When tasks aren’t tied to a specific time, in relation to other tasks, our brains just lazily think, “I can do that later.”

That was the missing ingredient. That was why I left so many tasks undone.

The missing element of to-do lists is knowing when, and for how long, tasks will happen.

The cure, I realized, was scheduling . Specifically, learning how to schedule correctly.

The bombshell for me came when I read something that stuck with me, paraphrased thus: Most people use schedules incorrectly. We schedule interruptions instead of scheduling work. It should be the opposite.

When I read that, something just clicked. I had the missing puzzle piece.

I transitioned to Google calendars and scheduled every minute of my work day. I know when I’m waking up. I know when I’m stopping work for the day. I know when I start writing, and when I stop. I know what time lunch is. And all those short tasks that take 15-30 minutes or even less to complete? They’re all grouped together so I can knock them out one after another, without fearing they will interrupt my writing time.

Instead of a vague list, I now have a concrete battle plan, and know exactly, when, and for how long each of my tasks will be.

Instead of robbing me of freedom and creativity, scheduling has given me more freedom than ever. Freedom from guilt from not having done enough, or not using my precious time efficiently. Freedom of scrambling at the beginning of the day wondering what exactly I’m going to do, and no longer being overwhelmed. I feel light as a feather, knowing I’ve spent my time as effectively as I possibly could. Even factoring in short breaks, I’ve been far more productive using this system than when I used a list.

We have way too many things to do in the day, and specific schedules are the missing ingredient to wrangle all those tasks and make them feel manageable, and even easy. Using google calendars, my phone reminds me when a new task is about to start.

Best of all, tasks can be rearranged or edited as needed, and you never lose your sense of time. Sometimes, life happens, but the calendar can be edited to accommodate that. It allows you to adapt and have a new plan of action.

Another advantage of schedules over to-do lists: it makes “batching” easier. If you haven’t heard of batching, it means separating out harder tasks that require a lot of mental energy from smaller tasks that can be done without much thinking.

For me, this means my hard stuff, like editing, I do in the morning first thing. It gets 100% of my attention. All those things I know I have to do later aren’t hanging over my head, because I know they’ll get done at the appointed time.

I know nothing I’m writing here is groundbreaking. I’m sure tons of people already do this, but for me, it’s like a superpower because I’m discovering it for the first time.

By the way – I’m done with the first draft of the second book, and I’ve come up with titles for up to twelve books in this series. I don’t know if it’ll actually be that long, but it would be amazing if it were! I’m now doing a hardcore edit of the first one, mainly to update it and make it consistent with the second, as well as provide more details. After that, it’s on to book 3.

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post about this for a while, but just now set aside the time get down my thoughts. Maybe some other procrastinator out there will read this and get some use from it. I hope so. Being self-employed is harder than most people give it credit for, but the productivity pitfalls can be avoided with a specific, concrete schedule.

It’s been a minute since an update. Blogging is always something I mean to do, and it’s probably something I should do a lot more. Yet it’s one of those things I let slip through the cracks when really I need to do it.

Space Fantasy Series: I’m nearing the end of Book 2. I’m probably a couple of scenes shy before finishing it off and starting edits, before going back to change Book 1 based off things I added in Book 2. By the time Book 2 is done, it should be as much as 100,000 words, which makes it significantly longer than Book 1 as it stands.

What I can say is, I found myself lost a lot while writing it. But then the answer sort of came to me today – I’ve found the crux, the call to action that will inspire the rest of the series. I’m afraid it’s not terribly original, but at the same time, I hope to put my own spin on an idea that’s been done to death.

Needless to say, because I’ve found this spark, I’m pretty excited about how the rest of this series to come. It should be a grand adventure, and not your typical “good vs. evil” story even if that is the main theme in the end. Or maybe I’m just overselling it.

Either way, I cannot wait until this is done and out, as it’s been too long since I’ve released something.

Another Prequel? The madman! I’ve been toying with a new idea. A novella focusing on Anna’s early life, from her humble origins in Last Town, to her survival in the Wasteland, followed by her becoming Char’s bodyguard in Raider Bluff. If this is done, it will not be as long as Lost Angel – I just don’t think the content is there, and I want to keep the characters fewer – but I think it will make for a nice novella length piece of perhaps 30,000 words. That means it would feel quite short, but hopefully it would be exciting.

Other news: As I’m sure a lot of you know, I live in Florida. Have lived here since June 2017. It’s a bit amazing to me that it’s been three whole years here in the Sunshine State, because it has literally passed in a flash. My wife and I have had lots of adventures in that time – from getting engaged, to getting married, multiple trips to Disney, and now, having a baby boy (still trying to convince the Missus that Alexander Keener West is the most superior name). He’s due in late September.

Life has been pretty busy trying to prepare for him. The main wall of our living room has become a mountain of boxes ordered from Amazon for all the baby stuff. Much to the consternation of our two cats, we went through most of those boxes by now.

The prospect of becoming a father is a bit scary, especially in such uncertain times when the last thing a lot of people want to read is a post-apocalyptic series (I guess the subject hits too close to home). All the same, I’m excited to get a brand new series up and running which should hopefully help with all the diapers and such.

Anyway, I rarely share stuff from my personal life on here, and rarely share on here at all in fact, but it’s something I want to rectify and that only starts by me actually writing something on here (funny how that works). Hopefully the next update does not take as long.

Progress Report

Posted: May 16, 2020 in What I'm Working On

It’s been a while since an update. Things have been pretty busy in house West. Besides my writing adventures, which have seen me halfway done with the first draft of Book 2 of my new space fantasy series, my wife and are I really excited about the fact that we have a baby boy on the way!

I guess what that means, besides all the usual preparations that come with that, is that I’m going to have to start writing a lot faster, because I’ve been told babies are expensive.

The word count of the series has reached 120,000 so far. Not quite Aberration levels, but my goal is to keep my book sizes more manageable in the future. I love a good long book like a lot of people, but it can be pretty mentally draining to be working on the same thing for months on end. That, and just about everything takes twice as long, which makes sense if you think about.

So, that’s where we are. At this moment, I’m sticking with my plan of finishing all three books first before releasing the first one. There’s other stuff that needs to be ironed out, too. I keep going back and forth on whether to write from third person or first person. Right now, it’s in first person, but my gut is telling me to change it to third. So, that will take time, too.

Basically, if my current writing rate is to be a benchmark, the first book should drop sometime later this year. That really wasn’t my goal, but at least for me, these things always take longer than you expect. I should have learned by now, but what can I say, I’m ever the optimist.

Well, that’s where we are. I don’t really have any new story details to share, but I wrote about them a bit in my last post. I’ll share more when my thoughts crystallize a bit. Being a new series, the world and characters are still establishing themselves in my head, and sometimes it’s hard to keep everything straight. That will fix itself as time goes on.

I hardly believe it…

I have the first draft of a novel in a new series DONE!

We’re going into space. Not just space, but space fantasy adventure! If that hasn’t piqued your curiosity, it should!

My plan is to finish the first three, get them edited and good to go, then release each novel a month apart. Then I’ll start working on the fourth and hopefully have it out a month after the third is done.

The good news is I’m writing pretty fast, so all three novels should be finished within the first half of this year. Hopefully sooner.

Want to hear more?

Well, I want a long, epic series. Full of twists and turns, character growth, and world-building so amazing that you will want to live and visit these places.

As currently written, it takes place in the early 23rd century, so as you can imagine there’s a lot of backstory to fill in.

I want to include maps, too, too, but I probably won’t have the budget to get them professionally done. With luck, maybe I will.

Below is a very rough map of one of the planets in the first book, Volsung:

VolsungYou’ve read this long, so let me give you a bit of a sneak peek of what lies ahead, in a very rough synopsis:

Science gets humanity to space. Magic gets us to the stars.

For eons, the Gates lay abandoned, forgotten, unused…until discovered by humanity. Through their mysterious power, the galaxy was opened for the first time, ushering in an era of exploration and expansion…but at great cost.

Something shifted beneath the fabric of reality. Something dark. People began being born with magical abilities…abilities that guaranteed an eventual descent into madness…

The Mages tore the Galaxy asunder. Worlds fell, fleets were obliterated, billions died. The Mages were defeated, but they left the Hundred Worlds in flames.

Mages are now strictly controlled. Magical aptitude is tested for annually, and those with an affinity must bear the Mark of the Magus on their foreheads.

One day, twenty-year-old Saren Abrantes goes to the Health Authority for testing.

When he walks out bearing the Mark, his life will never be the same.

Working on it

Posted: February 11, 2020 in Uncategorized

I’m 75,320 words into my new novel. At times it feels really hard to write. There’s always that point in the middle where you start wondering why you’re even doing it, or doubt creeps in and you just know no one’s going to read it. Or worse, they will read it using your past works as a standard and realize this one just isn’t up to snuff. All of those things might very well be true for all I know, even Stephen King has his stinkers (no offense Steve though I doubt you’re reading this).

The basic premise is, it’s set in space. It has a bit of magic in it, though it’s not called magic. Basically, there’s a reality behind reality that’s running the show, and certain people have the ability to control that reality, only doing so comes at the price of the user eventually going mad. Turns out using this power, called the Manifold, is highly dangerous and corrupts those who use it in an unsafe manner.

In fact, there might not be any safe way to use it. No one understands how it works, but people are what are called Psionics can use it, and are separated from the rest of society. Because of the whole going mad thing. It even led to a war, but that happens before the events of the book.

It’s set in a future. The date I’m going with is 2314. An interstellar gateway, built by an ancient race long dead, is discovered at the edge of our solar system. It still works. This is about, oh, maybe late 21st century when this is discovered, in a time where humanity is just starting to colonize the solar system. Well, the discovery leads to huge leaps in advanced spaceflight and by the time 2314 rolls around, the early 24th century,  humanity has discovered hundreds of these gates, allowing them bridge the gap between the stars. Some of the gates lead to habitable planets, and others not so habitable, but still colonizable.

Space flight is still slow. It still takes anywhere from days to weeks to cross a particular solar system from one gate to another, depending on the system’s size. That’s because there’s no faster than light travel, since a single gate just exists in two points of space at the same time. Passing through it just leads you out the other side, light years away. It sort of creates a situation where it was like the 18th century, where a ship might leave London and still take weeks to get to India. It’s like that but on a much grander scaled, where the furthest worlds might take months or even years to reach.

Basically, by the time the story picks up, there are a hundred worlds that are officially colonized and incorporated into this very loose empire of planets that sometimes war with each other.

That’s just the background, the story begins by following a young man who begins to develop psionic abilities, mostly being able to dream and foresee future events.

It has a little of everything so far, mystery, action, philosophical introspection, even a bit of romance. It still sucks a lot, goes a little slow at points, but at least the concept is solid and I think it has a lot of potential. I’ve created some covers for six books in the series so far. Don’t know if I’ll ever use them, but they’re there on my desktop to inspire me. Don’t want to give them away yet since it’s subject to change.

Anyway, I’m hard at work here. I hate that I’m so long-winded. This books is almost as long as all my other ones and, but it hasn’t really developed a plot that’s satisfying to me. I’m not sure why that is, because usually I have an intrinsic feel for these things, so I just hope it’s not too boring for a first book. It’s really important for the first book in a series to be really good in order to get people to keep reading and for me to collect a check big enough to pay the rent. It’s either that or the book will have to be longer than I want it to be.

I’m sure if I keep working at it, then the solution will come.

This has nothing to do what I wrote about, but if you guys liked Aberration, The Xenoworld Saga as a whole, or Lost Angel, consider leaving a review on Amazon or wherever you bought the book. It helps a lot as an author because a good review can really influence someone’s decision to give an author they’ve never heard of a chance. I’m pretty grateful for all my readers, because without you guys taking a chance on my stuff, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Thanks, let me know what you think of the idea in the comments. I hope you guys like space operas with fantastical elements in them.

LOST ANGEL released!

Posted: January 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

At long last, Lost Angel: A Wasteland Chronicles Prequel has dropped practically everywhere e-books are sold.

Pick it up here.

Lost Angel Ebook Kindle Size

On a personal note, it was fun to return to the Wasteland. It’s a bit crazy I wrote my first book for it in December 2012 and here I am, a little over seven years later, still writing stuff for the series.

I had fun stepping out of first person perspective for the first time in a published novel, and I ended up writing and publishing the book in probably two months. Not a record, but definitely the fastest I’ve written in quite a while.

Is it possible we see backstories for more Wasteland characters? Maybe. Kind of depends on how the masses react to this one, as the writing style is a bit different.

For now, the best career move is probably to move into something completely new. If you liked Wasteland and Xenoworld, then you’ll probably like this, too, even if there’s going to be bit of a genre shift from Earth and into space.

I’ll tease more a bit later, but for now, let’s let Makara have the spotlight.

LOST ANGEL Preview

Posted: January 19, 2020 in Preview

Lost Angel Ad Copy

Lost Angel goes on sale 1/21/2020. Pre-Order your copy today!

Prologue


The world ended on December 3, 2030, with the impact of the meteor, Ragnarok, in the American heartland. When the world ended, a new one began – one which most of humanity didn’t live to see.

Most did not die in the impact, but in the months following it. The meteor dust clouded the skies, filtering sunlight. As infrastructure collapsed, billions died from lack of food, medication, and shelter. Violence and gangs rose from the ashes of civilization, skirmishing for control of limited supplies.

Within a decade, only a tiny fraction of the world’s population remained. The dust lingered, sending global temperatures plummeting, heralding the beginning of a new Ice Age few would live to see.

The U.S. and Canadian governments, pooling their resources before the impact of Ragnarok, constructed 144 underground installations within their borders to survive the apocalypse.

Only the brightest, wealthiest, and highest-ranking individuals were allowed inside, which collectively contained room for thousands of people, complete with anything needed to sustain large populations for an extended period. When the dust settled, bunker residents would reemerge to rebuild society.

But life underground was fraught with unforeseen difficulties. Disease, rebellion, and internal breakdowns took the bunkers offline, one by one. Surface dwellers and roving bands of raiders overran the bunkers out of desperation for shelter and supplies.

And on the surface, unknown except among the scientists and administrators of Bunker One, a new threat was evolving. For Ragnarok was not merely rock and dust. A long dormant form of alien life was buried within the meteor. Vast fungal blooms sprouted within the vicinity of the impact and spread at an alarming pace, completely unchallenged.

By 2048, the denizens of Bunker One, located in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, would learn the true threat Ragnarok posed.

Chapter 1


Samuel Neth ran alone through the corridors of U.S. Bunker One, his footfalls rattling off the metal surfaces. He panted, breathless, thinking a prayer for deliverance over and over.

Let them be home. Let them be safe . . .

From behind came a hideous, inhuman screech, distant but terrifying. The sound was like nothing Samuel had ever heard. That screech was shortly followed by another scream, this one human.

After that, silence reigned, the only sound being Samuel running home as fast as his feet would carry him, to the wife and children who still didn’t know about the threat above.

People were opening their doors to look at the source of the disturbance. All of them watched Samuel as he ran by, as if he could have made a noise like that. Some of them cast him dirty looks.

“Hide!” he shouted, cutting off their questions. “They’re inside!”

There were shouts and questions as he ran by, but Samuel had done his part. He had warned them. Those . . . things . . . had overrun the surface agripods, cutting their way through the sheer plastic with serrated pincers. The cold air of the surface had rushed in, and the openings had revealed the monsters’ three glowing white eyes, each of them set in angular, insectoid faces. Just remembering them made his skin crawl, the way those tongues flickered out, or how their sharpened mandibles clicked as they opened and closed, the scuttle of their spindly scorpion legs. He still heard his friends’ dying screams resonating in his mind. He could hardly believe what he’d seen. It was beyond reality, but he couldn’t deny it: monsters were invading Bunker One.

Samuel was one of the few lucky ones to get to the elevator before the doors closed, shutting out the screams of his falling comrades. Once inside Bunker One itself, Samuel saw no signs of alarm. The corridors were empty, save for a few patrolling security officers, which themselves didn’t seem to know what was happening. Some of the escaped workers went to warn them, but Samuel only had one thing on his mind: his family, sleeping and unaware. Several of those officers had tried to accost him for breaking curfew, but Samuel was too fast. They would soon be drawn off for more pressing things, anyway.

Samuel’s apartment was clear across the Bunker, on L20, near the bottom. Maybe there would be time to get to his wife and kids. He kept expecting to see one of those monsters at every turn, but there was nothing but silence.

Samuel turned into the final corridor, which was a dead end, and ran to the last door on the left. He and his family had been a last-minute entry into Bunker One, and as such, their apartment was small and out of the way. He had hoped they could move to a larger home as his family grew, but his appeals were always declined by Bunker Admin. As an agriculture worker, what he had now was probably the best he and his family could ever hope for.

Now, his home’s isolation was a blessing. If those monsters were as fast as they seemed on the surface, then they would be devastating the upper east wing by now. That was where Security was. While only a few of those creatures had invaded his agripod, he got the sense there were many more out there in the Wasteland, waiting to pour in.

If there were, Bunker One might not last the night.

The lights of the corridor flickered a moment, and then steadied. Samuel scanned his card on the reader, and the door slid open. He turned on the lights to reveal his children, Makara and Samuel, blinking drearily from the bed they shared, while his wife, Violet, lay in their shared bed across the room. She stirred at her husband’s entrance, looking at him first with confusion, and then second, with alarm.

“Samuel,” she said. “What are you doing home so soon?” Then, she noticed his face. “Has something happened?”

He had left not two hours ago for the night shift. Never once had he come home early.

Several screams sounded from the corridor outside, to which the door was still open. Samuel hastily scanned it shut.

As he watched Violet’s frightened brown eyes, her kind face, he almost immediately broke down. But both children were staring at him, wide-eyed. He looked at little Makara, who was seven, and Samuel Jr., who was eleven. Samuel couldn’t bear to tell them the truth, especially Makara, who clung to her threadbare panda plush with sad, droopy eyes. She had named the bear, appropriately, Panda.

He walked to his wife and embraced her tightly, trying to hold back the tears that wanted to come. He was afraid; for himself, yes, but mostly for his family. He needed to be strong for them.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?” Makara asked.

“What’s happening, Dad?” Samuel Jr. asked, his voice cracking a bit.

Samuel closed his eyes. “We need to stay in here, kids. There’s been an emergency at the agripods. We need to stay in here and be very quiet.”

Violet pulled back from his embrace and looked at him fearfully. “Sam? What’s going on?”

“Why?” Samuel Jr. asked.

Samuel ignored his son and looked into his wife’s eyes. “You would never believe me.”

“After everything we’ve been through?” Her eyes became stern. “Tell me. Tell me right now.”

Samuel sat on the bed, trying to ignore his two kids staring at him. They would know soon enough, and that fact alone was almost enough to make him break down right there. All the same, Samuel couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud. He had hoped his kids might remain blissfully ignorant.

But Violet had to know. She wouldn’t accept anything less than the truth.

“Monsters,” he whispered in her ear. She stiffened in his arms, but Samuel continued. “They’re fast. We’ll never outrun them, so we have to stay in here. Let Security take care of it.”

It was a long time before Violet responded. She must have been full of questions and doubts. There had long been rumors that there were things more dangerous than gangs out there in the Wasteland, things Samuel and Violet had never put much stock in.

It appeared now that there was something to those rumors.

Violet whispered back. “Okay.”

“What are you talking about?” Samuel Jr. asked, with rising frustration. “What’s going on?”

“We’re staying here for a while,” Violet said, in a firm voice brooking no argument. “All right?”

“What was that screaming outside?” Samuel Jr. asked, looking at his father. “Dad?”

“I’ll tell you later, son,” he said. “For now, be quiet.”

Either from the way Samuel said that, or the expression on his face, neither of his children argued against it.

The Neth family waited.

Chapter 2


Samuel played cards with the kids, feigning interest, while Violet brewed a pot of tea on the apartment’s tiny stove, taking care that the water didn’t boil and cause the kettle to whistle. There were no more sounds from outside, but Samuel’s eyes nervously darted to the door in between hands. He anxiously watched the speaker mounted to the wall for an announcement.

But there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was almost as if he had imagined the whole thing.

His wife kept looking at him nervously, while forcing a smile for the children’s sake. Makara was getting into the game, even giggling and forgetting the tense atmosphere, but Samuel Jr. still knew something was wrong, and seemed angry at not knowing what that was.

Violet poured a cup of tea for her husband, then herself, and took a seat on the children’s bed.

As Samuel got ready to deal another hand, a bead of sweat made its way down his forehead. A sudden crackle from the room’s speaker caused his hairs to stand on end.

“Announcement,” Samuel Jr. said, his dark brown eyes hungry for news.

Samuel closed his eyes, bracing for impact.

There was only silence for a moment, even though the line to the other side was open. Voices then argued, indiscernible, somewhere close to the mic.

“Err . . . sorry about that. Everyone’s under orders by President Garland to stay in their homes until further notice. Bunker One is on full lockdown. Remember your drills. We will advise you when it’s safe to come out. Once again, we are on full red alert and lockdown. If you are out of your homes, proceed to the nearest auditorium, café, or gym, whichever is closest. There is no need for alarm or panic, this is simply a drill . . .”

Someone cursed in the background, and then, there was a horrendous screech, followed by the automatic fire of an M5 or M16. Violet raised her hand to her mouth, her face a mask of horror, while Samuel Jr. stared at the speaker intensely. Little Makara dropped her cards, her smile completely gone, while she reached for Panda.

Thankfully, the P.A. clicked off, leaving the Neth family in uneasy silence.

Everyone looked at Samuel. He swallowed, then wiped the sweat from his brow.

“We’re to stay here,” he said, so quiet that it was almost a whisper. “Await further orders.”

Both children nodded while Violet took hold of Makara, who was shaking.

The following silence stretched for at least two more minutes. Samuel wasn’t sure what comfort to offer his family. He had seen those monsters. Whatever comfort he had was a lie. He had taught his children to never lie, and he had never lied to them. It was a point of pride, but he might have to break that commitment tonight.

“Maybe Security will take care of it,” Samuel Jr. said. His small voice was hopeful, but to Samuel, that hope sounded forced. The kid was smart enough to know this wasn’t a drill. Those screams and gunshots were too real to be faked.

“Maybe so, son,” Samuel said.

“What was that scream, Daddy?” Makara asked. “I don’t like it.”

Samuel didn’t like it, either. Violet watched him, her eyes afraid. They seemed to say, Don’t tell her. Don’t be honest this time.

“I don’t know, Mak,” he said. “We’ll have to see.”

He thought about dealing another hand, but neither child seemed interested. Samuel Jr. was staring at the door in fascination. To his mind, something exciting was finally happening.

Samuel Jr. was still so young.

“Come here, son,” Samuel said, nodding toward the corner farthest from the rest of the family. Though it was farthest, the Neth home was so tiny that it was only about twenty feet away.

Samuel Jr. followed him there, and his father held his head close.

“You’re going to need to be strong, son,” he whispered. “For your sister. You’re going to have to protect her.”

“What do you mean, Dad?” he asked, loud enough for the rest to hear.

Samuel’s stern look warned his son to be quieter. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. The situation is dangerous. This isn’t a drill, like they said.”

“What’s going on?” Samuel asked. “Is it . . . is it a rebellion?”

It had happened once before, when Samuel Jr. had been all of four years old. It was probably one of his son’s first memories. That had been terrifying, but it was nowhere close to this.

“Might be worse than that, son,” he said.

Samuel Jr’s eyes widened. “How can I be strong, Dad? I don’t even know what’s going on. You won’t tell me.”

His son’s voice had risen, and once again, Samuel struggled about whether to tell him the truth. It always tore him to say something that would threaten Samuel Jr’s innocence.

He had thought his family would be safe in Bunker One. When they had won the lottery to be assigned here, he couldn’t believe it. He’d thought they’d live down here a few years at most before reemerging on the surface above to start a new life.

But here the family had lived for eighteen years. Both of his children had been born in Bunker One. And if tonight went the way he was afraid it was going, both would die here, too.

“I always wondered why they never let us out of here,” Samuel whispered to his son. “Soon enough, you’ll know the reason, too.”

“Are the rumors true?” the boy whispered back.

So, he had heard them, too. The government always insisted the surface was still too dangerous — too cold, too desolate, too many roving looters and gangs. Only authorized military personnel were allowed on recons.

The rumors had seemingly originated from Bunker One’s lower Lab Levels. The meteor Ragnarok, having crashed just eighteen years ago, had not only brought widespread devastation to the planet, but something else. Demons now prowled the world above, and it was for this reason alone that the U.S. government had never given the order to vacate the Bunker, as had been the original plan.

“The rumors are true,” Samuel finally said. “They’re true, son.”

Samuel watched his son’s face remain neutral, if a bit paler than usual, and was relieved to see him nod. Samuel Jr. accepted the news in stride and seemed to be the calmer for it. His son knew what the threat was, to an extent, and was ready to do his part.

“Be strong, son,” Samuel said. “I’m going to need you. Be ready to take charge. Makara can’t know.”

At the mention of her name, his daughter looked up. She had been playing with Panda, twisting its arms around and making it do flips.

“Be strong,” was all Samuel could manage to say.

Both father and son returned to the center of the room.

“We’re going to eat,” Samuel said. “And pack. But before that, we’re going to push all our furniture against the door.” He looked at everyone firmly, to make sure his instructions were understood.

“Okay,” Violet said.

Chapter 3


The family set to work, even little Makara helping in her own way by moving the family’s smaller possessions to the far corner of the room, freeing up the furniture — the two beds and the one wardrobe everyone shared — to be pushed in front of the door.

Once done, Violet cooked a meal and the family ate. No one was hungry, but Samuel insisted they eat anyway. They might need the energy for later.

After eating, they packed. All they had for this purpose was the luggage they had brought with them into Bunker One eighteen years ago, two large wheeled bags covered with dust. Most of the things they had brought in had been confiscated by Bunker personnel or traded away. But the bags had remained. The family filled them with clothing and food, as well as the cards they had played with earlier.

Samuel also took the heavy, cast-iron skillet his wife had just cooked in. It was still warm from the stove and soapy water she’d used to clean it. He felt foolish, picking it up and feeling its heavy weight. Would its heft be enough to smash in one of those monster’s heads?

It was better than nothing, he decided. No one said anything as he set the skillet in his lap and sat against the wall with the rest of his family.

There, they waited in silence.

#

Samuel faded in and out of sleep. He couldn’t help it. Working the agripods was backbreaking labor, and the adrenaline of running had taken its toll. Violet kept watch, drinking more tea to stay alert.

He felt her hand pinch his shoulder, and his eyelids fluttered open.

She raised a finger to her mouth. Samuel nodded to show he understood. Both children were asleep. Violet then nodded toward the door.

At first, Samuel didn’t hear anything. His hearing wasn’t as good as Violet’s. Years of working around the pods’ hydroponic recyclers had somewhat deafened him. But soon, the sound was loud enough to where even he couldn’t deny it.

Click. Click. Click.

It sounded as if it were coming from the hallway outside.

Click. Click.

Makara stirred, and her eyes drowsily opened. As soon as she heard the noise, she looked confused, and then frightened.

Samuel hastily covered her mouth, while Violet raised a finger to her lips to keep her daughter silent.

It was quiet for a long time. Samuel Jr. let out a snore, and Violet woke him to cover his mouth, too.

Click, click, click, click . . .

The story continues on 1/21/2020.
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