Interstitial Burn-Boy Blues

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Stuart watched the kid shake and mutter to himself in the seat across the aisle. His skin looked waxy in the dingy interior bus lights, and Stuart was sure that if he reached across and caressed the kid’s forehead with the back of his hand that skin would be near to scalding. He ran his tongue along the back of his teeth and watched the kid carefully. No one else in the general vicinity seemed to be concerned. Stuart noticed an old man dozing in the seat behind the kid, and a young couple murmuring to each other beneath a blanket in the seat ahead of him.

“Scourge of the panhandle,” the kid muttered, and Stuart looked away. He stared out of the window into the emptiness of the night. There was absolutely nothing to see; there was no moon in the sky and nothing to illuminate beyond the arid brush and gravel that lay on either side of the road to Flagstaff. Blackness rushed by like a hurricane wind and only the occasional light shining wanly from far off allowed for the recognition of motion.

When the bus passed the exit to Twin Arrows the kid moved violently in his seat, thrashing like a person trying to get comfortable when assailed by pains in every joint. By the time the exit sign for Winona passed the bus window, wreathed in shadows, the kid began moaning in a low animal tone. Stuart watched the others to see if they would notice and take action but the old man continued to snore softly and the couple in front of him continued to murmur and giggle lightly. The man in that seat had begun to breathe in quick, short bursts, and Stuart didn’t have to think very hard to figure out what was going on. Grimacing, he leaned slowly across the aisle and gingerly put the back of his hand against the kid’s forehead.

As he suspected, his flesh was burning to the touch and uncomfortably dry. The kid’s moaning grew louder, and Stuart drew his hand back with a hiss. He retreated back into his seat and ran his shaking fingers through his thinning hair.

“Faster,” the boy in the seat in front of him whispered loudly, and Stuart leapt out of his seat and strode up the narrow aisle. He approached the driver, a heavyset man with a fuzzed-out crewcut and a hypertensive tinge to his complexion.

“Do you have any aspirin?” Stuart asked. The driver kept his eyes on the road.

“Sorry, I drive the bus. You want a pharmacy, we should be stopping and getting off for a minute in Flagstaff.”

“There’s a kid back there who’s burning up,” Stuart confessed. “I think he might need a doctor.”

“We’ll be stopping in Flagstaff before long. You can take him to a doctor there.”

“You’ll wait?”

“Lord, no. The stopover in Flagstaff is only for an hour. After that we’re heading out again. I have a schedule to meet.”

“Is there another bus behind this one?”

The bus driver said nothing for a moment. The cracked and weathered visage of the old Route 66 slid by under the hard glare of the headlights.

“Word on the radio is that no, there won’t be, at least for a while. The governor is extending martial law out to the Okie border. He wants to stem the tide of ’em coming over and making trouble on their way to California.”

The driver stole a glance at Stuart, and Stuart shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

“I’m from New York,” he said, the words falling flat as they left his tongue.

“Don’t really care,” the driver replied. “Just letting you know that it’ll be a while before the next bus comes along. Long enough that you’ll have to either settle or move on some other way.”

Stuart returned to his seat without saying anything further to the driver. The kid was breathing and seemed to finally be deep asleep, but it was hard to tell. Stuart quickly checked the kid’s temperature and found that, while it hadn’t abated, it hadn’t gotten any worse in the meantime. He shrank back into his seat and pulled out his phone. There was still some room in his data allowance, so he searched for pharmacies in Flagstaff and found one that was near to the bus station, nestled in a Wal-Mart. He slid the phone back into his pocket and waited, watching the kid out of the corner of his eye.

When old Route 66 separated from the I-40, the bus followed Route 66 into Flagstaff. Like the highway before, there was little to see out of Stuart’s window once in town. What buildings there were crouched close to the ground, well back from the road, creeping like rats in the distance. Eventually a shopping mall ran past the window, but in the dead of night it looked patched and forlorn. When the bus eventually slowed and came to a stop, Stuart was confused as to where they were.

After the driver called out their stopover in Flagstaff, Stuart rushed out the door and into the cold Arizona night. He was shocked to see his breath in the glare of the bus lights and rubbed at his shirtsleeves. His phone reported that the Wal-Mart was on the other side of the road, set on the far side of a sprawling black parking lot. There was no traffic although the parking lot was populated with cars. Inside the store, a few midnight shoppers ambled down the aisles, their ruddy, wrinkled faces kept firmly towards the floor.

There was no pharmacist on duty, so Stuart picked up aspirin so he could at least bring the kid’s fever down. It was more expensive than he’d initially thought, and he mentioned it to the cashier, who shrugged and said that the cost had gone up around the time the army had been called to the border. Stuart weighed his options and put the charge on his sole remaining credit card.

Across the street, the bus had been driven beyond the gate that allowed entrance to the station. A pair of guards loitered on either side of the gate and came to attention as Stuart approached. They demanded his ticket and, when presented with it, continued to eye Stuart suspiciously even as the gate opened behind them. The space between his shoulder blades crawled as he walked up the laneway toward the bus. The driver was scrolling through something on his phone and the other passengers were either sleeping or engaged in the same activity.

The kid was breathing evenly through his mouth. His face was turned up toward the overhead light, and his eyes were closed. Stuart retrieved a plastic bottle of water from his carry-on bag and moved across the aisle. After a bit of shaking, he managed to wake the kid up enough to acknowledge his presence.

“Sal?” the kid asked. “Sal, you’ve lost weight.”

The kid’s eyes were unfocused, like he’d taken too many hits to the head. Stuart popped a couple of aspirin into his palm and unscrewed the lid from the bottle of water. He motioned to the kid to take them.

“It’s poison, Sal,” the kid raved. He looked away and shook his head. “I’m the last one; I won’t take it. I’ve seen them all take it already.”

“No,” Stuart said firmly, “it’s medicine. You’re burning up, you need to take it.”

The kid looked at him, his expression uncomprehending. “I’m on the bus,” he said, blinking rapidly. “Who are you?”

“Introductions later,” Stuart said. “Just take this and relax. Don’t worry, it’s just aspirin.”

The kid stared at Stuart and then took the tablets from his hand.

 

[Interstitial Burn-Boy Blues is available on Amazon in ebook and paperback, as well as from the Across The Margin site directly]

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50 Days Of Soundcloud #13

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“The Long, Bloody Road To Hell”

This was back during a time when I was dealing with frenetic hand-drumming married to near-chaotic thumb piano lines. Early 2004, I think. A collection of increasingly ominous historical quotes from a variety of figures that ends with Rodney King’s sobbing plea to stop making it horrible for the old folks, and the kids.

Don’t forget to stop by the books page here to check out some fiction which you can use to subsidize my existence.

50 Days Of Soundcloud #12

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“Formula Modernia”

BUY SELL BUY SLEEP

Feel free to check out some books:  today’s featured titles include Disappearance, only 99 cents, which if you enjoy the action bits in books and you like apocalypse fiction you’ll enjoy; What You See Is What You Get, which manages to combine the specter of ag-gag laws with criminal trials that look more like reality TV than anything else; and 9th Street Blues, about a kid delivering cobbled-together drugs in the near future ruins of Woodward, OK (and is also the jumping-off point for my new serial novel, coming soon from ATM Publishing).

Enter The Apocalypse: Russell Hemmel

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Enter The Apocalypse is a new anthology of short fiction from TANSTAAFL Press that I have the good fortune to be included in.  It will be the first in a planned trilogy of apocalyptic-themed anthologies from TANSTAAFL.  Enter The Apocalypse examines the apocalypse at the point of impact.  In celebration of it’s impending release, I have a guest blogger today!  This has literally never happened before, so I’m going to get out of the way and turn the proceedings over to Mr. Russell Hemmel.

(“Russell Hemmell is a statistician and social scientist from the U.K, passionate about astrophysics and speculative fiction. Recent publications in Not One of Us, Perihelion SF, SQ Mag, and others.”)

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“You can’t but admire this virus’s purity. It’s elemental, uncomplicated, deadly powerful. We’re lucky not to be his target.”

“Virus are ten times more numerous than bacteria, did you know that?”

10 to 1.

In the last six months I have, as a fiction writer, contributed stories to a few anthologies, all dealing, in a way or another, with visions of a dystopian future. While not all of them featured an apocalypse, they were all bleak enough to made readers think that one was indeed on the way, or had just happened.

As a (social) scientist and astrophysics passionate, I have to say that what scares me the most is not the possibility of destructive cosmic events – such an asteroid impact of the kind that’s considered responsible for the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction (and the death of the dinosaurs), even though books like Stephenson’s Seveneves are frightening enough. 

[In case you haven’t read Seveneves, I do recommend it – no matter if you’re not a SF fan. There’s a lot to enjoy in this novel that has nothing to do with SF. What’s about? It deals with the aftermath of an unexplained – and utterly disastrous – disintegration of the Moon, and the world efforts to preserve human society in whatever possible ways. The first one is to build arklets in lower orbit using the ISS as starting point.

I especially liked this quote, that I think represents well the book’s spirit. “We’re not hunter-gatherers anymore. We’re all living like patients in the intensive care unit of a hospital, and what keeps us alive isn’t bravery, or athleticism, or any of those other skills that were valuable in a caveman society; It’s our ability to master complex technological skills – it is our ability to be nerds.” ]

No matter how convincing Stephenson’s scenarios and frightening the dinosaurs’ destiny, as a professional statistician, I think it’s far more probable that the next global catastrophe is going to be man-made. Here the possibilities are endless – from climate change to a highly infectious plague to a nuclear holocaust.

What keeps me awake at night at times is the sensation we’ve now reached a level of scientific development where we can summon forces that can easily destroy the planet, without the wisdom to handle them and even less the foresight to understand cause-effect mechanism on a longer timescale than the human life. The endless discussions on the responsibilities of climate changes – from people denying global warming to others debating if it is indeed a consequence of human action (Crichton’s State of Fear is a good albeit fictional example) miss the whole point: the agent of changes doesn’t really matter when an epochal change is on the way. The state of the Arctic can’t be denied by anybody that makes his/her own research, as the mass extinction of species we are going to face in the coming decades and that already started. Science is pitiless, folks, it’s not a question of opinion. Evidence speaks louder than our delusional beliefs.

As anyone else, I have my personal vision of apocalypse, the one that would probably freak me out the most, and that I’ve often written about – and it is in the form of a plague we have manufactured ourselves in some sort of experiments gone wrong. Terror apart, I won’t be that astonished to read something like that in the press one day or another. If any, I’d be surprised it has taken so long to happen. Welcome to a dystopian world.

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Time Sinks, Obscure Metal Acts, and Crusader Kings II: I Nab A Guest Spot On Literate Gamer

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http://octopuspark.libsyn.com/crusader-kings-ii-trevor-zaple

Visit the above link.  Such is the path to madness You’ll find an excellent podcast episode of Literate Gamer featuring yours truly.  Crusader Kings II!  Was there ever a more fascinating way to avoid all of your responsibilities?  There most certainly was not.

 

HOLIDAY SALE

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Like the name says, my novel Disappearance is on sale for 99 cents for all of December.  Get it while it’s hot.  Or just get it.

GET IT HERE!!!!

If that doesn’t convince you (it’s less than a medium coffee ferchrissake) then let these carefully curated review snippets do their work:

“Zaple has captured the dichotomy of human nature perfectly, our desire for stability at war with our penchant for chaos.” – Ben Bales

“Great book. I recommend this for anyone that’s willing to hack through a thorny, demon-riddled thicket with a fantastic, raw talent.” – Rachel Litt

“The prose used within this book drips with the loving consideration of a man who delights in the english language.” – Heather Friesen

“”Disappearance” is an uncanny, poly-perspectival combination of bone-curdling psycho-social insights, darkly complex Canadians, scheming politicos, singing prophets, and rugged and flimsy individualists encountering displacement and correlation, vile erotica, and subtle narrative injections of theory. If Walt Whitman had a nemesis, it could have easily been Zaple.” – Sallow Siserary

“I loved this book. I think I went through every possible star rating as I read. Ultimately, it deserves high marks.” – Tiger Grey

“An interesting, fast-paced piece that sucks you in and takes you on one helluva journey” – T.J. Sidebottom

“What the hell?  I bought this thing for five bucks and now it’s on for a dollar?  Asshole.” – Ryan Kinder

 

 

Soon To Be Featured On Dirty Little Bookers!

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A rather excellent artist I know gave me some advice the last time I saw him, and it was to the effect that art announcements should only be done a week or so in advance, so people don’t have time to forget them.  To that end, I’m proud to announce that the November spot on literature blog Dirty Little Booker’s “Calling All Indies” feature was won by yours truly, and I’ll be featured over there starting some time in the next week (as they work a month behind or so).  So, like voting in Chicago elections, visit early and visit often:  www.dirtylittlebookers.com

Haus Keeping

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So I’ve put the completed discographies in a page on the sidebar, right under where you can find links to my wonderful works of fiction that you are strongly encouraged to trade your hard-earned dollars/euros/whatever for.  If you want to check them out, they’ll load much faster through there than through the Discographies category.  Coming soon:  Melvins and the Tragically Hip.

Did I mention that I have books you can purchase?  Well, book, and a novella.  Visit the Books page to find out more.  Purchasing them is just like donating money to a worthy cause, only you get more out of it than just a sense of well-being.  Don’t get me wrong, you get that too, but you also get some nifty reading material.

Also, I’ll be attempting at some point to map this over to a top-level domain.  That should be fun, and will in no way be a frustrating experience filled with madness.

Gone From The Charts But Not From Our Hearts

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Gone From The Charts But Not From Our Hearts

…is how they usually introduce an early rock ‘n’ roll radio show but in this case the line is apt for literature.  Off The Shelf is a new site set up by publishing giant Simon & Schuster to allow business insiders (editors, agents, authors, etc.) the room to reminisce and review books that they’ve loved that are at the very least one year old (my first novel, for example, is a year old now – how time flies).

Let’s face it, even with a downturn in the industry there is a lot of books flowing through the stores on any given day.  The bestseller lists and the review pages in the papers are full of books that you would love to read, but maybe you don’t have the time when they’re out or you’re already committed to another book or series of books.  The ones you notice tend to slip away; you’ll remember them months or years later when you catch a reference to them, or maybe you’ll never think of them again.  Off The Shelf is for those books – books that the insiders feel didn’t get their fair share of attention when they were fresh and new.  It’s a neat idea and I commend S & S for setting it up.