Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Catching Up

My last post was just as 2014 was ending and 2015 breaking into being - a year full of endless possibilities for a burgeoning writer such as myself. As midnight rolled around, in-between wine, games, and laughter with my friends and family, questions rolled through my brain. 

How to make more sales? How to market effectively? When to have time to finish putting my books on Audible? When to have time to finish the 4 books I wanted to publish in 2015? Will the comic be finished on time? Which book festivals should I try and enter? Which events? Why isn't there an indie author event in my town? And my show - at long last, performing and writing at the same time, all while keeping my day job(s). How will that work?

I've been absent the past two months as I've grappled with all of those questions, right up front at the beginning of the year. In that time, I've learned more about online marketing than I did the entirety of last year, including how to promote with free books and garner more reviews. There's so much more to learn, but my sales have gradually begun to increase - who knew free promos would boost my sales??!? I also created a calendar of events that I want to attend for the year, with a focus on literary and indie events. Something important I learned from the flurry of events I attended is that general genre events (like Superhero Day) or even comic cons don't always garner sales in the form of people looking for books. In my town's biggest comic con event, I only sold 14 books over 4 days, something I've done in a single night at other venues. Which taught me quite a bit about what different people value and how I can open myself to those who want books (in the genres I write in). I also started working on getting my first book onto Audible, doing the recording myself (I'm a performer, after all), and found I loved it! And found it is very easy to push back finishing it, as the deadline is so soft it's almost not there. And the burn-out - I'm not pushing myself as hard to finish the next book - mostly because it's been finished and edited and only needs a little work. Instead, I found myself in a random conversation with a local indie comic shop owner, and now I'm one of a small group organizing the first indie book fest in our town. And to my gratitude and surprise, we've had a huge response from authors - far more than I ever envisioned, proving I wasn't the only lonely indie writer dreaming of a venue nearby just for me... And performing AND writing? Exhausting. As I knew. I definitely have learned to plan very carefully for events and shows and finishing books, because doing all three at once (along with my day jobs) is a recipe for burn-out. And then there's the comic - my beautiful, hilarious, goofy-gory story colored in vivid panel after vivid panel, rendered into being by my amazing artist. I've learned there's a huge market for digital comics, and weighed the costs of printing, paperweight, LMZ compression, and the difference between RPG and CYMK.  I was also invited to be on a panel for women comic artists and writers - the invite a first for me in my solo work - and hope to encourage other women writers to tell great stories. Finally, I learned how to request reviews, and have gotten some beautiful responses to my writing from perfect strangers that helped me in some of my darkest, doubt-filled moments.

But the hardest lesson - the one I didn't want to believe - was that my large group of friends and family are NOT the people who I should market to. They're not buying my books, nor should I expect them to. Instead, it is the countless unknown readers out there that should be my true target - the ones that will sustain my career and keep me motivated.

So to catch up, I will say that the last few months have been quite eventful, and I'm looking forward to see what the rest of the year holds. In the meantime, look for my comic ANY DAY NOW and my next book SAND: THE WAY OUT in April (or read an excerpt in A PEEK INSIDE on Amazon). 

And to all my fellow writers - never stop growing and developing your craft.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Single Sentence, Too

Well, my break from writing extended to even blogs this month, so I'm a bit behind on updates and observations from promoting my books and going to events - though let me say, PROMOTING is one of my biggest goals for 2015.

In the meantime, here it is:

C.M. Bratton's 2014 In Review

I published 5 books and wrote 3 full-length screenplays.

The end.

As with last year, I wanted to begin my year review by noting that everything I've done can be condensed into a single sentence even shorter than the one I wrote last year. Likewise, those 10 words represent thousands of hours I've spent focused on building and sustaining my writer career. I no longer have dreams to be a writer - I am one. Like every other worthwhile dream in life, the above sentence represents a long series of tiny steps that built into a tangible reality. To say "5 books and 3 screenplays" is not to understate the work I've done, but rather, to highlight why I spent so much time working. It's proof that dreams don't need to live in my head along with my as-yet unwritten stories.

Thus, 2014:

Finished editing my zom-com sequel, PSYCH 101: ZOMBIE.
Published it in February.
Finished editing my memoir, VIBRANTLY COLORED.
Published it in February a week after P1Z.
Was contacted by a production company in L.A. Entered into a contract to write the screenplays for a trilogy of movies. In less than two months.
Updated my webpage design.
Conceived of, wrote, and edited HEART: a visceral fantasy, my unexpected homage to Lewis Carroll and fairy tales.
Published HEART in September.
Attended my first big cons.
Participated in a SANITARIUM panel at Alamo City Comic Con with Lou Diamond Phillips and Robert Englund, two of the actors in our movie.
Participated in a Comic Book Signing for the Sanitarium comics.
Was a vendor/artist at over a dozen events.
Finally finished writing EVRISKON.
Realized it was too long so cut it into two books.
Edited and published EVRISKON: FUTURE LOST in November.
A week later, published EPILOGUE TO SURVIVAL, a book of apocalyptic short stories related to EVRISKON and DEPTHS OF PERCEPTION.
Started recording my reading of HEART: a visceral fantasy for Audible. 
Returned to theatre to begin rehearsal for a musical.
Published a FREE SAMPLER of all my books in December, which includes a preview of my next book, SAND: THE WAY OUT, Book I of the Dragonlady Trilogy.

Whew. I think that's it.


Last year, my plan was to publish 3 books and write a play. Though I haven't finished that play yet, I'm pretty excited to think that I accomplished nearly all of the goals I set for myself. 

All of which brings me to 2015.

I plan to publish another four books, finish my play, and put all of my current books on Audible. In addition, my own comic - based on PLAN B: ZOMBIE - will be published in February. It is the first of what I hope will be a 24-comic series. And of course, I'm back on stage, my other great passion. I hope to continue to balance between the two.

As for anything else - I'm open to it all.

More than all that, though, I've faced my fears. My anxieties. My disappointments. My near-occasional burnout and high levels of stress. My flares of temper and over-efficiency.

Then I think about you. My fans. Fellow writers. Emails and conversations and new friends. All the incredibly supportive people in my life.

And I know I'm nowhere near ready to give up on this writing thing.

So when I consider 2015, I must first begin by thanking all of YOU. As I've written before, without YOU, there is no ME. Thank you for making every moment worthwhile.

I published 5 books and wrote 3 full-length screenplays.

Yup. That single sentence is all that's needed to carry me into 2015.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Short Pause

So, here I am! At long last, ready to take a short break from writing for the last month of the year and work on promoting and marketing. To say my brain is exhausted would be putting it lightly, but I am confident that 2015 is going to bring some wonderful things. I will blog soon about my year goals and how much of them I actually achieved, what I'm planning to do in the following year, and how I'm feeling after publishing five books this year... not to mention the other writing projects. But for now, I'm taking a short pause to breathe and walk through my neighborhood and see my family and just read a good book or three.

OH! And of course, to leave you with this excerpt from my most recent book, EPILOGUE TO SURVIVAL.

Enjoy!

Part XI:
LESSER DARK


The plan was flawless. As flawless as the mind of a human.
Stop the source, the opposition, at any cost. Better to lose a few in the beginning
than billions in the end. People can recover – the land can recover. Life will go on.
Never doubt. Believe. Trust. Know.
The rhetoric sounded so fierce, so believable, so worth any sacrifice, sitting in
that air-conditioned, insulated conference room deep under the sands of a desert. It
made his heart swell with fervor and patriotism, made him proud to be a part of the
great minds that conceived of the plan to stop the advance of that other, far colder
intelligence. No matter the cost, there was no price too high to pay for the safety of
their children and the world’s future. So he believed. So he had acted in accordance
with his conscious. He pressed the first of many buttons. He watched and hoped. He
believed.
He was wrong.
The plan was simple. Destroy the opposition before it finished destroying us.
Intelligence showed where it was located and what might be the necessary amount of
force to destroy it.
And they could. They had the power and their systems were completely closed.
There was no way any foreign programming could go undetected. Orders could not be
changed or reinterpreted at the last moment. Nothing could take control and
reprogram the missiles. Nothing from the outside. Their facility and machinery were
completely insulated. They were safe from any attacks it might send.
Which is why he never saw the attack from within coming. One of his own. Many
of his own. Men and women he trusted – spies, captains, lieutenants, intelligence
officers... from all ranks they came, following every order he’d ever given. Perfectly.
Obediently. The best of the best. His colleagues. His friends.
Until the moment he said, “Initiate.”
And they did. Oh they did. But it wasn’t just one button – it was all of them. Every
single one. Commands to other missile control centers. Initiate permissions for bomb
sites he didn’t even know existed, buried deep within the ground. All protected in their
perfect, insulated, enclosed system, only able to be activated from within.
But the enemy was within.
When the men and women – the traitors, all – finished initiating destruction for
the entire human race, they turned on the others in the control room and began
shooting before anyone had time to react.
The General had been one of the first ones hit, shot from multiple guns both in
front of and behind him. It was only because he’d been wearing a bullet-proof vest that
he was still breathing.
But the marksmen knew their job well. He wasn’t dead yet, but if he didn’t get
medical help soon, he was likely to bleed out. Yet where in the world would he find a
medic or doctor, when he’d locked the command center and closed off the outside
Arrogance. It’s what they always said. What the good doctor accused me of. But
even she could have predicted this.
He dragged himself across the floor and under a desk for cover as bodies flew
around him. He’d heard the traitors methodically stomp across the room and silence
screaming men and women. From his spot against the floor, he watched bodies thud
to the ground. Worse, many of those bodies still harbored life – fluttering eyes and
gasping throats.
One such man was one of his two most trusted assistants. An Assistant
Commander. One of the finest he’d ever known. But as he fell to the floor a few feet in
front of the General, none of that mattered. The Assistant Commander thrashed his
head wildly, looking for help to escape, even as his body started to fail.
As their eyes met, both men saw the extent of the other’s wounds. They
understood then that their hope to survive was futile. No one was coming.
The General attempted a soothing, conciliatory smile at the Assistant
Commander, but he quickly stopped himself. His colleague – his friend – deserved the
truth. Instead, he shook his head and watched the light in his Assistant Commander’s
eyes fade. The General witnessed his horror, his confusion, his pain. The final question
lingering in his eyes.
Why?
After the Assistant Commander died, the General closed his eyes, unwilling to
see anymore. Instead, he concentrated on blocking out the noise and trying to figure
out why a man might turn against his own kind.
Is it because he has deemed the behavior of his peers unacceptable? Is it a cry
for recognition, a warped belief that any attention is better than none at all? Is it an
attempt to seize power, to feel more in control? Or is it bitter vengeance against
perceived injustices that refuses to die until he takes out as many people as he can?

But then... why kill people you called friends? Or even family? Why them? They
trusted you, held you close, invited you for holidays and birthdays to celebrate your
relationship, one built on years of shared hoped and realized dreams.
I believed in these people, and thought they believed in me. Where did we go
wrong? Should I have listened more closely to Dr. Lehrmann?

The questions circled in his mind, taunting him, offering no easy answers.
His senses came fully alive as he realized absolute silence had fallen. No
screams. No labored breathing. No gunshots. It was finished.
But was he alone?
He let the silence gestate for a while longer, trying to hear if anyone else might
be alive. Or worse, if one of the traitors was still around. But there was nothing.
Finally convinced, he allowed himself to take a deep breath, struggling to ignore
his bullet-riddled body.
A hand suddenly grasped his ankle in a steely grip and yanked him from his hiding
spot. Agony tore through his open wounds as they split further. He groaned, unable to
do little more than feebly kick his legs in response.
A man crouched next to him. He lifted up the General into a leaning position and
cradled his neck in strong arms. Blearily, nearly unconscious, the General opened his eyes.
“You...” he whispered.
It was his assistant. The Commandant. A man he’d known for over thirty years.
He’d been his best man at his wedding, was Godparent to one of his children, had
saved his life on the field decades before. He knew this man.
The Commandant looked down at the General, expressionless. His had been the
first bullet to hit the General.
“You’re... going... to finish it...” the General gasped as he stared into the
Commandant’s eyes. “You knew... it was the... lesser of... two evils... you knew...”
The Commandant’s face remained impassive as he stared down at the General.
After several long seconds, he lifted his hand in front of the General’s face. He flinched,
but the Commandant didn’t move. He merely switched his gaze from the General to his
palm. Bewildered, the General fought to remain conscious as the Commandant stared
at his hand.
The skin rippled suddenly. A grey dot formed in the very center, swelling the skin
like a pustule until it squeezed out through the Commandant’s pores and formed a tiny
ball. The Commandant then pressed his palm to the General’s forehead.
He closed his eyes in relief, thinking maybe his friend had come to his senses and
was giving him a final benediction. The Commandant’s action were unforgivable, but
still, the General would rather die in the arms of someone on his side.
But when the Commandant lifted his hand, the grey ball remained attached to
the skin on the General’s forehead. He felt a sudden pressure that quickly turned into
sharp, biting pain. The ball was burrowing through his scalp and into bone. Through
It was headed to his brain.
“W-why?” he asked a final time.
This time, the Commandant responded.
“You must all die.”
The grey ball entered the General’s brain. A final, fleeting thought floated through
his mind. Why are his eyes red?
The Commandant watched distantly as the bullet completed its job, ricocheting
through the dense tissue until it was torn mush. Then he recalled the grey ball. When it
was once again resting on the General forehead, he pressed his hand against it,
pushing it back into his skin, letting it reabsorb back into his system. Then he let the
General’s body flop on the blood-soaked concrete floor.
“You should’ve asked why the bombs were necessary in the first place. Old
friend.”
The Commandant turned and surveyed the scene. For the moment, his job was done.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Crux

Why do I do it?

Why do I put up with the traffic, the summer heat, the constant packing and unpacking, the change in venues, the need to change my setup, the early mornings, the growing costs to be a vendor/artist, the exhaustion post-events, the feeling of disappointment when people look at my bookmarks but refuse to look at my books, the discomfort when someone tries to talk down my prices, the outrage when I see that same person pull out a fifty for some pre-fab goods? Why put up with all this 

The crux of all this frustration is that I do it because I want to.

I want to write.

The changing landscape in authorship today, particularly for indie authors, is that we do not get the luxury of sitting back and relaxing once our book is finished. In fact, despite the hundreds (if not thousands) of hours spent working on it, get a book published is merely step one. That is partly why, when people ask me how to become a writer, I look at them sternly and say, finish your rough/first draft. Because is step one is 'getting published' then the steps leading up do that are similar to negative numbers. Or perhaps, I think back to my days studying aikido and how my sensei described getting a belt... every color led to black, but getting a first degree black belt was like starting at zero. Only once I had one of those would I be ready to actually start understanding the fighting style. In the same way, only once a person is published is she/he able to begin to understand that his/her work has just begun. 

Getting published is the first step. Getting readers to buy your book is the second. 

That's it. Only two steps. But just as step one is the result of sincere dedication and hard work, step two is a process that doesn't end the day you turn in your finished manuscript. Instead, that's when your grass roots campaign begins and you find yourself at multiple events, packing and unpacking, lugging tables, agonizing over displays, and dressing up in an attempt to become relevant and convince that one reader to buy your masterpiece. All while juggling other jobs, family obligations, friend activities, and that new book you're itching to start.

But you do it anyway, exhaustion and all, but writing is what you live for. It is, quite simply, what you do. However, in today's writer's market, it cannot be all you do. 

That essential fact is the crux of it. If I must write, then I must also be willing to work to sell my writing, as dictated by the current demands of the market.

If that sounds challenging, just remember this: you made it through step one, which means you're halfway there. Don't stop now.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Obsessive Editing


Editing. Oh editing, why must I love and hate you equally? Or perhaps, hate is to strong a word. Abhor? Avoid?
Honestly, I really and truly do enjoy the editing process. It is a necessary and vital part to any writer's process, one that really does tighten and mold a story into its best shape. But somehow, I find it very hard to stay motivated to continuing editing. Part of that is because I'm a very fast editor. And since I know I get through many pages quickly in a day, I often find myself procrastinating instead of getting through my set work for the day and switching to other projects. 
But the other part of editing that distracts me is the research. I'll start looking up, say, different types of guns that might fit a certain section, and then end up several hours later going back to my story because I've been reading all sorts of interesting articles. And then the pressure mounts and I get uber-focused and voila! Editing is done.
Then I collapse on bed and get ready to do it all again the next day.
Another aspect of editing is that I find myself getting obsessive. I won't want to clean or cook or buy gas or groceries. Instead, I slip into every stereotype of a crazy author and refuse to live until the editing is complete...
BUT I cannot let myself turn into a hermit. I cannot let the editing process take over my life until I emerge blinking into the light of day a few seasons from now.
Come to think of it, I'm the same when when I'm getting near the ending of a first draft... 
What I continue to learn about the writing process is that I adore it more and more, but I must also constantly work at fine-tuning it to fit the changing needs of my life. And I need to always remember that free time is more than worth the mental health it returns.
Alas, I must finish this blog. My book is waiting... the editing... the editing!!

Excerpt from   Evriskon: Future Lost

THEN

When I wake, my chest is tight with an unknown pressure. My entire body aches, and I do not understand why. I try to remember, but there is only blankness.
Who am I? I think silently.
Dena.
Another name occurs to me, but I refuse to let the word form. To distract myself, I open my eyes.
But I do not understand any of what I see.
The pressure on my chest pushes against me as I try to take in a deep breath. I try to see what it is, but there is nothing. It is then that I realize that it is the air itself that is thin, elusive. It is what is oppressing me.
My head throbs in the glare and I close my eyes to seek relief. I roll over and the throbbing goes down a notch. Face down, I open my eyes again. It is as before. Nothing makes sense.
The ground is blue. Blue earth. Blue dirt. Grass appears to grow in spiraling tufts, but it is white.
Maybe it’s dead.
But when I reach to touch it, it is soft. Alive.
Suddenly, understanding who I am is not as important as where I am.
I slowly push myself to my knees, fighting dizziness. My eyes squint as I look around me. Understanding is slow to come. But when I look up, I see why the glare is so harsh.
Two suns…
Then I remember… 
-------------------------------------------------------ŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸ
Running. Flashes of lights. That incessant buzz, throbbing in my skull, burning against my skin.
They are close.
But I know I can escape. I believe it, fiercely, until I run into a wall. A wall built of dead bodies.
I will hide there.
But then I sense movement, a scurrying somewhere around the bodies. Insects? Roaches? Maggots? I try to steel myself to approach closer, but I see a tiny glint.
It is worse than I thought.
Tiny machines waiting within the mound to catch those trying to hide.
Machine logic. Humans trying to play dead would find such a place naturally appealing. A perfect place for a trap. And for a machine, there is a twofold benefit – no need to collect our bodies for later disposal. We’re already in place.
I stop, searching for a way around, but the only spaces for me to run are those from which I just came. I turn around, straining my eyes for some side alley, some open door. Anything.
But my time runs out.
Flashing lights of searching drones and hybrids round the corner. I want to cower down, but know that is a child’s choice. A foolish belief that I will get saved. There is no one else. I can only save myself.
Or if I can’t save myself, then I can at least face my death head on. Not bravely, not fighting. Just simply at peace.
The decision made, all tension leaves me. All fear. I can now see the helmeted figure of a hybrid leading a group towards me. Unwilling to let my last sight be that of a soulless, Nexus-controlled machine, I look up into the sky. To the end, I will choose my path.
The stars catch my gaze. Despite the fires raging in parts of the city and smoke from distant gunfire, the sky is partly clear. The stars beckon. I stare, recognizing the constellation Cygnus. Hadn’t some habitable planet been found, just before the Takeover?
Yes, there. Somewhere by that star near the swan’s head.
I close my eyes.
That will be my last sight.
A new world, one free of our genocide.
The buzz of the machines is closer. My eyes stay closed as I wish. I imagine myself forming a hole, a portal to step through. Energy surges. From within me, from around me – I don’t know. Perhaps I am dying. But I spend that final moment pouring every ounce of energy out into that last desire. A name slips from between my lips.
I am gone…
----------------------------------------------------ŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸŸ
My eyes blink in the glare.
Two suns. My final wish. And somehow… somehow I am here.
A few months before, I shifted myself. I didn’t understand what happened, or how I was suddenly in another place. Was it magic?
No, I can’t believe in that. I don’t want to believe that. It must be some unexplained science, some new ability in my brain based on a physics mankind had yet to understand. Or so I hope.
I’ve been cautiously experimenting with shifting myself from place to place, evading the hybrids and drones of the Nexus. But shifting is exhausting. Which is why, when I was running through the remains of the outskirts of Bristol, my ability to shift had already been drained.
Then I remember the energy surging around me. My own? Or from somewhere - or someone - else.
“How?”
My voice sounds flat in the thin air, and I dismiss my worry for how I shifted and am alive on another planet. Instead, I change my focus on how to stay alive. There is air, though it is thin. But I need water. I still have a few squished protein bars in my pockets, but I know they will soon run out.
To live, I need permanent sources of sustenance.
Then it hits me.
I escaped. I’m free.
But I cannot celebrate, because I am completely alone. When my life ends, so, too, does the last remnant of free humankind.
This is the moment I realize…
I must return.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ah, Sweet Suprise!

As I started to approach my word count goal for the first draft of my next book, I noticed something both exhilarating and worrying. I was exhilarated by the story and the many nuances the characters were showing me, by the way the plot was developing, by how quickly the words were coming.
But I found myself becoming disconcerted as I realized one inescapable fact: I was only close to finishing part one. Well, I told myself, that's just going to become two-thirds of the book. But how could two-thirds of a book equal part one? So I decided I would just find a natural breaking point a little earlier, and break the book into three parts. After all, I'd already done that with two of my other books. Why not with this one? But as I searched page after page, I saw that there was no natural breaking point. Fine. Then I'll write one. But that didn't work. The ideas just kept sealing together. I couldn't even figure out how to add in more POVs to what I already had.
All of which meant one thing: part one really had to be that long. And if part one equaled my estimate of what I thought the entire book would be, then there was only one choice left... write two books.
Though I unintentionally wrote a sequel to my first zombie book, I hadn't actually planned to write any series other than my long-planned trilogy of trilogy (which I plan to start releasing in 2015). After talking it over with a few good friends, the conclusion was obvious. I was on a tight deadline and needed to get the first draft done by a rapidly approaching date. There just wasn't enough time to write the equivalent of part one's length. Sure, I'd have to add some material to the second book to make it longer, but ideas immediately started coming to me for that, signaling that I'd made the right decision.
But what about the title? I whined. I'd picked it forever ago. How could I change it? Or add a totally new one? Would it still apply to the first half of the story? Then it hit me. Subtitles!! Yes, that's the way to go.
Looking back, I realize that the biggest lesson I learned was to be flexible. Okay, I already knew that, but it was a huge surprise to realize I was writing a much longer story that I'd originally planned. So it wasn't just about being flexible with the story or the characters, but with the writing process itself. I didn't (and still don't) want to write a second book - it was SO NOT in the plan for next year. Or the year after. But I owe it to the my readers and myself to write the best story possible. If that means longer, then so be it.
So here is another excerpt from my newly rebranded book,

EVRÍSKON: FUTURE LOST


DENA

When I finally awoke, my first thought was that I’d somehow ended up in the same place I’d just been dreaming about. But as I gazed blearily up at the sky, I knew it wasn’t the same one from the memories. The air, too, felt normal, which meant I wasn’t on another planet. Or at least, wasn’t on the only other one I’d ever been to.
With that thought, images began rushing through my head of my final moments before unconsciousness. Getting fired upon… Kean shooting out the lights… reaching the node… a voice… familiar voice…
“No!”
My voice sounded cracked in the still air as my eyes shot wide open. I tried to scramble into a sitting position, but my body had trouble obeying, my limbs weak. It was the worst electrical backlash I’d ever felt. Part of me wondered if I should’ve survived it.
Just then, Amma came into view with Tasoula.
“Mama!”
Tasoula launched herself at me, her round, perfect face alight with joy.
“Baby girl!”
I hugged her tightly, smiling with relief to see her obviously in good health.
“Mama, you were sleeping a long time. You missed our fight.”
Her words jerked me out of the sweetness of enjoying a simple moment with her, returning me immediately to my responsibilities. I pushed her back gently and looked up into her guileless face. Still so pure and innocent despite all she’d been through.
“Fight? Sweet oblivion, how long was I sleeping?”
Amma settled down on the ground next to me.
“You sleep almost three days. We think,” she added belatedly.
“Three days! But… and what do you mean, you think?”
“There’s no sun, Mama. Just clouds.”
Just clouds… were we still on Earth? I glanced around – trees, grass, rocks. Everything looked like it belonged on Earth, though it was brown and sickly-looking.
Where were we?
“Oy thought oy ‘eard ye!”
Kean emerged from around the corner of the boulder at which I was apparently situated, gun held laxly in his hands, a wide smile on his face. I smiled up at him in return, grateful to see him also in apparent good health. He walked up to where we were gathered and squatted next to me.
“Been sleeping on the job, eh?”
We laughed at the old joke, but movement caught my eye as another figure emerged from behind the boulder. I looked over, confused at the extra person. He was dressed in all black, the material in better shape than any I’d seen in a long time. My eyes traveled upwards, noticing the excellent musculature. My gaze settled on the face, on the red glare shining from deep inside the pupil.
“Kill it!” I whispered. Then again, louder. “Kill it!”
Kean glanced behind himself then turned back to me.
“Dena, wait –”
“Kill IT!” I screamed, struggling to move away, get away from the thing approaching us. Why wasn’t anyone else doing anything?
“Run Tasoula! Kean, your gun! Kill it!”
The thing kept walking towards us. Desperate, I tried grabbing the gun out of Kean’s hands.
“Kill –”
“Dena, wait!” Kean gripped the gun, keeping me from drawing it. I tried to stand, but Amma and Kean pushed me down. Frantic, I thrashed against them. Kean wrapped his arms around me. Though not particularly big, he was strong enough to hold me down as the other moved closer.
“Dena, listen, listen –”
“No! No, you don’t… understand…”
The exhausted weakness I’d felt upon waking returned. I started to slip into unconsciousness.
“Dena, it’s okay.”
Amma spoke up.
“This one is safe, child.”
Desperately, I tried to make them understand.
“No, he… it… kill…”
My world went black.