What the Hell Happened: March 2020 to Now

Chances are good that if you read this blog, you know me. I’m not famous or influential. So, maybe you know this whole story. Maybe you know parts. Maybe we’re old high school or college buddies and you saw the smallest of snippets of my life during the Pandemic and clicked it for the lulz (spoiler: not a lot of lulz in this story). So, why retread a story you knew? My wife asked me this and it bears asking. Here’s the answer:

Because I have to.

I couldn’t fully engage with my creativity for over two years of my life. The Muse is fickle on the best of days for most creatives, but the emergence of Covid was something devastating to the part of me that makes things. It was different in devastating ways.

To process all of this Covid craziness, I felt the need to put it down on figurative paper. To let it out. Because, if I don’t, I may not be able to get past the block while my mind, hands, and willpower all have a moment of clarity to work in tandem.

So, this is the story of what the hell happened since astrangesignal.com stopped posting and I couldn’t seem to write any longer.

So, this is it. I’d say enjoy… but it’s not all enjoyable.

But, it happened.

The Lockdown

So, as mentioned earlier, I’m not dead. And, if you’re on my site, you probably remember that this happened and then I went more or less AWOL here. We’re unlikely to forget the Lockdown of 2020, regardless of which side of the fence we fell on regarding the Coronavirus. That there were even sides to take up versus a potentially fatal disease still staggers my mind. There was a virus out there that spread like wildfire and people were actually against doing the things that might have stopped it so that they could go to goddamned Applebees.

libertarians are weird

In the rare instances that my wife and I found ourselves outside the apartment, we either encountered empty spaces as quiet as graveyards or mobs of people looking to hoard toilet paper and bottled water. Going to Shop Rite was fucking bonkers. They had people checking how many people came into and out of the store, blocking entrances and exits to enforce chokepoints, marking the directions shoppers had to take in the aisles, and rationing several key items people were looking to hoard. These measures were there for the community as a whole and we never wanted for any of these items as a result. So, we buckled down and accepted it. But, it felt at many points as if the theme from The Walking Dead should have been playing during the whole thing. It certainly did in my head.

shoprite walking dead
When the walkers come, this ain’t gonna keep ’em out.

So, the day they closed down my work (March 23, 2020), the Lockdown began. My state took things very seriously, like most other Blue States. The store shut down to the public while the GM worked by himself in the store. After about a week of that he told corporate that he wasn’t comfortable being the only one in there.

The co-manager came in after that and fought to bring me on because he wasn’t comfortable flying solo either. He ultimately took a pay cut to do it, and – I shit you not – we went back to work April 1, 2001. I learned how to do just about everything needed in the store that I wasn’t already doing while we got everything started again. With only one other employee working with me in the whole of our giant space, I needed to be ready to do it all for when the store re-opened in the indeterminate future.

During this time, I think everyone could tell you their days blurred. The only way for me to really differentiate weeks in that time was by what show we were binge watching: Parks and Recreation, Bojack Horseman (maybe too heavy for the time), Rick and Morty, Fargo, The Mandalorian.

Then, after a curbside pick-up only soft opening on May 1, 2020, we re-opened the store to the general public on June 1, 2020.

Hostility, Madness, and Other Acts of Economics

Being a retail worker in that time was staggeringly stressful. It was as if no one had learned anything about personal space or transmission vectors during the two months of lockdown. Or decency. Masks, too. Oh: and how to fucking wear one.

van gogh gets a pass
This guy alone gets a pass.

It seemed to me that the world had gone mad. I had to fight at a panic attack within the first hour on that first re-opened day on account of anxiety. If the day-to-day interactions of our former retail lives weren’t enough, people got fucking worse. Every day, the stress was on par with working retail during the Christmas season. Otherwise responsible people cooped up for, bare minimum, six weeks; and the assholes who were denying the dangers of a global pandemic were even worse than the cringiest of Christmas Karens. The shit I heard yelled at me and the rest of the staff in those opening weeks would wither your soul.

Asking even the nicest seeming people to respect your boundaries in an uncertain world drew down the kind of scorn you’d expect a grieving victim’s family might level at the perpetrator of their relative’s murder. Employees at my store experienced beratement, mockery, insults, and general abuse for the want of safety. It caused a lot of folks (the ones who came back after lockdown) to quit, and many more new employees to suddenly leave after a few days of experiencing the ‘new normal.’ And that’s just what we got from customers. What came from the top wasn’t often good news either, including having to fight to keep safety precautions that forced distance between cashiers and customers because ‘they didn’t look good.’

I wasn’t even in an ‘essential’ retail environment. Going through a pharmacy or a grocery store was surreal. People were awful to one another in places like that. One of my friends with a son working at a supermarket said that it wasn’t uncommon to witness three fights a day at his store between shoppers; shoppers and staff; or even between employees. New people came in and left just as fast, regardless of ‘hero pay.’

Add to all of this that the company I worked for had figured something out: with a bare-bones staff and reduced hours they could still make an unconscionable amount of money. Even more than previous years. As a result, we never got back to a ‘normal’ level of staffing after that. Even when every indicator, especially turnover, said that we desperately needed more help. I went home every day exhausted.

My creativity, which had been on the rocks for months once the pandemic reached us, finally gave up and died. I had stopped making Signals by that point but had desperately kept trying to write. The Starfinder campaign I was writing and running evaporated. There was little joy, just a lot of fear. Through it all, I saw some people running around outside caree-free, like it was all over; not caring about the people for whom it did matter. People who were immuno-compromised like my wife and I. At the time, I still counted myself lucky. I had a job. I hadn’t caught Covid. My wife was healthy, my extended family was healthy. I kept my head down and pushed through.

Thin Silver Linings and Changes

There were a few good things that happened. I experienced a field promotion in June, 2020, and a few months after that, an actual promotion in Dec, 2020. After about four-and-a-half years of funderemployment or outright unemployment, poor fits, and some truly terrible corporate experiences, I had a growing belief that there was no place in the job market for a forty-year-old man with a degree from an art school whose former campus now has an Old Navy in it.

But, at this job, I finally was starting to feel like there might be a place where a Maurice might have a decent job, if not a career. That my job was working with stuff I loved helped – as did the employee discount. I could buy things for my wife and I that could provide the occasional hit of serotonin and take our minds off of how things were outside the walls of our home.

There were also many other changes in that time. My wife and I took on a roommate for a little over a year in August 2020; a friend and co-worker who would have been out on the street during the pandemic if we hadn’t. I rigorously maintained six-feet of distance from people and often lost my usual disposition to give hugs to friends and family.

How we handled food and dining was another big change. My wife and I no longer dined in at restaurants as often in favor of cooking at home more frequently. Our roommate introduced us to the finer points of DoorDash (the good and the bad, tipping 25% minimum regardless of service to the staff who were taking risks to get people food). We opted for takeout as well, making occasional use of curbside pick-ups.

We learned the difference between Covid-19 and seasonal allergies, often in terrifying, anxiety-amplifying ways.

But, the biggest thing to change was being inside most of the time. If it was’t essential: food, work, medicine, dog duty… we didn’t go outside (beginning a Vitamin D deficiency continuing to this day).

Eventually, over that summer, we just hunkered down and waited for news of a vaccine.

Holidays With Needles

Christmas was very different in 2020. My parents were in Arizona in their winter home when the lockdown came. The CDC was strongly recommending that seniors should not fly unless the need was dire, so the family swallowed tradition. Quality Chinese food was ordered and it was a quiet Christmas in with my wife and our roommate. Family members were met later on Zoom, where we learned virtual gatherings were like in-person ones: loud, distracted, and largely spent talking over one another. The only thing missing was jockeying for personal space at my Parent’s home on the East Coast. Still, it was lonely with just the three of us in person. We lived in this insular bubble with little exposure to the outside that was not work, grocery, or pharmacy-based through those cold months.

We did receive one, much-needed early Christmas present over the pre-holiday season: word of a vaccine around October 2020. I was glued to the NPR website to learn more every day and listening to the news podcasts I loved (NPR: Up First, as well as the lefty-leaning Daily Zeitgeist).

While the first pilot vaccine programs went out in October, these were limited to persons 60-years-old or over and were incredibly hard to come by given a myriad of obstacles. With nursing home facilities experiencing Coronavirus deaths in droves they got the lion’s share in those first weeks. The new vaccines also didn’t have the massive cooling infrastructure needed to be warehoused in a lot of places anyhow. Plus, it would take some time to start mass-producing the vaccine. Without a way to get a vaccine that winter, we waited for what our state called Phase 1a: Anyone between 18-60 with immuno-compromised complications. My wife and I both qualified for 1a.

It was a long, intense wait. Five months of working in a crowded retail store for up to ten hours a day depending on the store’s need. Five months of being surrounded by people on all sides who would not respect us or care one whit for our safety or our mental well-being. It was about that time that I had to stop listening to the podcasts and news reports so closely; too anxiety-inducing. It was too much on top of the constant fear that I would catch Corona, go into the hospital, and die. All because I wasn’t old enough to get the vaccination and diabetics have a hard time fighting the virus.

It got pretty dark for me, given my high levels of just my baseline anxiety. Everything amplified through a prism of worry and fear. I eventually relented and went to my doctors and admitted the dosage from pre-Coronavirus days was not cutting it any longer. They increased my dosage by half. It helped absorb some of the difficulties, but the only bit of true relief from this time was when my parents called sometime in early winter to tell me it had happened: Arizona had opened vaccination centers and that they received their jabs.

My parents, at least, were something I wasn’t going to have to worry about now.

When Phase 1a finally came in the late winter of 2021, it was an intensive process of trying to get my first jab. I hustled for a week before finally getting disheartened and giving up, waiting to be notified through our local health system. Despite my home being served by one of the tenth-largest healthcare systems in North America, it was still massively unprepared for the demand.

I figured if I’d been safe this long I could go just a little longer. In the beginning of April, through happenstance, a friend who worked at the local hospital saw my woes on Facebook and let me know to get my shit together right then and there; they had vaccination openings due to no-show reservations and didn’t want to waste their vaccine supplies. I tried to get my wife in on that same day but couldn’t. Work was full-tilt for her (and would be so for months after as well) and there was no escaping for her despite being closer to the hospital than I was at that moment.

When I got there, I could see the line from the access road running through the medical complex from 200 feet away. It started at the Cardiovascular wing and wrapped all the way down along its side, turned a corner, then kept going.

covid vaccine line
This represented about 1/4 of the line ahead of me, and at the time I took it, it was still growing.

I waited outside in the chill for about an hour in the queue. Once I got inside, more lines waited as each person being brought in was broken down into four new lines where we had to supply our driver’s licenses. We then stood in another long line that wrapped around the indoor inoculation center, which in turn broke down into about twenty vaccination stations. The wait inside took probably another half hour. Everything was surprisingly civil. The people who weren’t being very civil at the time (and largely continue to be) didn’t want vaccinations, so no big surprises there.

Then, at around 11 in the morning, about two hours after I got the call from my friend, I was vaccinated.

vaxxed bitches
This is what relief looks like.

Spring 2021

When the second vaccination happened three weeks later, I went down hard. I had a good idea that it would happen though, so I was prepared. I ended up out of the store for three days while my immune system made adjustments. The worst I suffered from was fatigue – but the fatigue was all-encompassing. On day two, I slept for almost twenty hours out of that entire day while the vaccine worked its way through my body. I came out on the other side okay though. For a while, the weight came off my metaphorical shoulders.

Delta was around by then, had been for months, but it hadn’t been named. I had about ten days of relief before it hit the news. And by June, there were questions of whether or not the vaccine would even be effective against it. My mental health took a hit again, but I managed to fight through this time.

Despite all of this, a few good things happened while Delta was winding up to hit America hard.

First, in April 2021, my parents finally came home. We’d been separated for about fifteen months. During that time, I managed to kill half of my mother’s houseplants, and our family dog had passed in Arizona due to complications from a collapsed trachea. I’d had to manage several house disasters while they were gone, mostly centered around flooding, but when they got home, they were happy to simply be home and to know that my wife and I were okay. I was simply glad to have them back. Even at forty-four years old, I still feel lost sometimes when they’re not here.

Retail continued to be an adversarial environment when it came to basic safety matters from both the customers and corporate sides, but I managed to perform well. I wasn’t the perfect manager. But, I did okay, I think. I largely liked the people I worked with and I felt bonded to many of them in the same way people in high-stress environments often do. I learned a lot and I had a job. Lots of people were still feeling the crunch of the Coronacoaster (my favorite euphemism for living through this particular historical event) and I felt very fortunate. With the help of my new prescription regimen, I was somewhat more resilient, able to tackle the stressors of home, isolation, and work.

Sometime in June, I began using a new sort of blood sugar monitor to take my readings while managing the store, I often met with frustration in getting them to go the distance, though. I’m a big, fat dude (for now). And, when I work, I sweat. I mean unreasonably. On many occasions, I’d apply the sensor only to find at some point in my day that it had come loose (and sometimes bled all over the place as a result depending on how recently the sensor was applied).

It was an imperfect solution, but once I started using it, there was no way I was going back to pricking my finger two or more times a day, not knowing if I was on the upswing of the downswing. That ship had sailed. I mostly had my sugars under control though, especially given that I was moving about seventeen thousand steps a day on average (you read that right).

Also around June 2021, I found out I wasn’t going to have a career with the store. They had certain assumptions in place for people who wanted to go into the assistant general manager or general manager roles that I simply wasn’t going to give in to. That, and the fact that what they offered for those assumptions was… lopsided. Something must have been looking out for me though, because as I sweat in the back of the store, cramming product onto shelves, I got a call from a friend and former co-worker that he had a job opening. It would take some time. But, over a couple of months, things came together.

The New Gig and Sudden Changes

After a brief vacation in Rehoboth Beach, I got news of the new gig’s availability and I put in my two week notice mid-October, 2021. Our roommate had moved out and the spare room transformed into a home office so that I could I work from home.

For the first time in years I found myself in a position to regain control of my own health, particularly when it came to my untreated ADHD and Diabetes. I started getting my shit together. It took a long time. There was a lot of poverty induced personal neglect on my part, and slowly but surely, I started fixing things. Not enough as it turned out. But, it was a beginning. I made appointments with my psychiatric office, which had changed hands, started filling prescriptions. For reasons beyond my ken, I kept doing a lot of dumb shit though. My diet didn’t change, and rationing kept happening. Being poor for a while will make you do crazy stuff I guess. It felt like progress though.

It was around this time of relative stability that life would throw my wife and I a curveball in the form of Avascular Necrosis (AVN).

Spoiler alert: no one died. But parts of my wife’s bones did.

To make a long story short, the blood flow in the ball joints of each of her hips stopped providing enough blood to the bone. As a result, those parts of her femurs both degenerated irreversibly. We don’t know exactly when the time of death for the ball joints of the bones were, but they were diagnosed in October of 2021 after months of increasing pain. In November one of the joints finally collapsed and took my wife out of work. My new job couldn’t have come at a more fortunate time. I took on the job of shouldering the bills for two months while we worked out her temporary disability. After all the time she supported me while I was unemployed and running around in circles to figure out how to repair my life, it still doesn’t feel like I’ve done enough.

With hospitals still backed up and Covid protocols making things difficult, it took months (and emotional pain and suffering on both of our parts) to arrange the surgeries she needed as the Omicron Variant of Covid-19 began its rampage across America. If you’ve never had a joint collapse due to something like AVN, you only need to know one thing: it is brutal. I didn’t even experience the pain directly, but secondhand exposure was enough. My wife eats pain for breakfast and has the highest tolerance for it than anyone I have ever known (case in point: she broke her kneecap on the way to a funeral once; she got up, attended the service and the reception afterwards, stood through the whole thing, and never once complained until arriving home).

The first total hip replacement was in early March of 2022. The surgeon had said that comparatively, the pain of the surgery would feel like instant relief compared to the actual condition of AVN. I had my doubts (frankly, I thought he was full of shit).

He and my wife proved me wrong.

The difference was night and day. She suddenly could do more. Even with intensive PT, things got better and better until the second joint experienced total collapse. There was a long period of secondhand pain via basic human empathy on my part. Watching someone get lit up with pain for simply sitting still sucks. We waited another forty-some days and finally got the second total hip replacement surgery in late May of 2022.


Things have gotten better. My wife and I have been vaccinated and boosted (second boosters to follow in August of 2022 if we both qualify for a second round). She’ll be back to work in September of 2022 with any luck, and I’m happy in my new job. For the first time in a while, the lights in my brain have been slowly coming back on. Creativity is something that I can feel flowing again, albeit slowly and irregularly. There’s something about living through historically significant events that diverts all of that energy into basic survival and just watching to make sure nothing is going to come out and take you out at the knees (or the hips). Hypervigilance and fear are starting to back off enough for me to hope that maybe something better comes out of the times that seemed so dark and hopeless.

The world isn’t right – never has been. But it’s less wrong in some ways. There’s still a long way to go. Especially with SCOTUS looking to take America back to the Fifties and telling us all that bodily autonomy isn’t a right. But, we live to carry on. I live to carry on.

Here’s to more posts and more work and more future to write.

Apocalypse Arcade

Like many in my country, I’m being encouraged to stay inside right now while CoVid-19 is burning through our cities. I’m spending time with my wife, FaceTiming with relatives and friends, and building a shelf to manage a lot of my older game consoles. I call the last bit Project Retro.

While I was putting the shelf together, I remembered an old gem from the 2014 Writing Challenge I tasked myself with to increase my writing output. Since it makes a good tie-in with Project Retro (more on that in further posts) I thought I’d repost it here. Perhaps it will entertain others who are similarly housebound while we wait for whatever comes next. It’s been edited and polished a little since then, and I feel like it’s good enough to share.

So, welcome to Apocalypse Arcade. I hope you enjoy it.

Pez could see the Market would be slower than usual today. Life had grown languorous in the wasteland’s summer heat. It had not rained for eight days, meaning that all that remained in the bottom of the Market’s water barrels was a rancid and foul sludge. The sour stew that came out of them was oily and dark. Few but the most desperate would drink from such tainted waters.

Growing up in the shadow of Nuñez, the Junk Dealer, meant Pez was comfortable with his thirst. It was the least of the indignities Nuñez had to offer and kept him from the rain barrels. His mother had long since disappeared, and he was unsure of whether or not his mother had even known who his father was. So it was with many of the children of the market whose mothers were whores. It was a common enough origin. Nuñez told him there was nothing to be ashamed of in that. Some of the older residents of the area used the word ‘bastard’ to label him in Pez’s presence, but the small ecology of unwanted human byproduct spawned in the red light district of Market had a purpose. Some wayward children were adopted and taken in to learn a trade such as Pez had been. Many others ended up as slaves or concubines, raised from birth to be molded into the ancient, barbaric roles long known by man. Nuñez had told Pez that in his youth children went to schools to learn without such dark destinies. Pez did not believe him. His own reality was such that he could picture no other life. A place where children were expected to simply sit and listen was a fantasy. Everyone worked in the Market. Everyone pulled their weight. Dullards starved. Abandoned children learned only as much as their profession could provide and their master could teach.

If a child couldn’t hack their master’s trade it was either the gladiatorial pit or starving to death. There were no other alternatives. Not if they wanted to stay anywhere near Market.

Outside of Market a child would not last long on their own.

A wind blew through the dusty concourse of his stall’s corner of the Market. Pez readjusted the bandana covering his lower face to keep out the grit. It was red with white dots and swirls, what Nuñez had called paisley. So long as it covered his mouth Pez didn’t much care for what it looked like or what the style’s name was. It kept the grey grit of the stalls out of his teeth and the ash off of his tongue. It could be called whatever Nuñez liked.

Nuñez’s meager table of dross bore drill bits, toasters, cast-iron skillets, and a few dull knives. The rest was just junk; gewgaws that had no discernible purpose, at least not in Pez’s young eyes. The prized items, at least according to Nuñez, were the old books that Pez couldn’t even read. Nuñez held great stock in books and read frequently. Pez had no need of them. He just wanted to work, to stay out of the pits. He didn’t need to be able to read to do that. He’d learned his numbers at Nuñez’s insistence, at least up to a hundred. As far as he was concerned, he’d never see more than a hundred of anything all at once. Why bother with more?

The grey, ashen haze of mid-afternoon was reaching its brightest. Few stragglers had come to pick through the garbage for sale, but Pez was still keeping his eyes sharp for thieves when a tall traveler appeared in one of the greatcoats from Before.

The traveler said nothing, picking up items and appraising them from behind the cool, reflective gaze of shaded goggles. Gloved hands methodically went over several items. Amongst the pieces handled were the remote for a device that no longer functioned, a radio control with no batteries, and a strange wedge of plastic with another smaller wedge inside, laced with metal. When the stranger’s hands neared several books, Nuñez took interest and came away from his bespoke office. It was a junked van with no wheels, gutted then fitted with a mattress and a desk. A battered solar array along the roof powered its few remaining electrical systems.

Hola, señor,” Nuñez opened. He tried not to sound too enthusiastic, but with the slow day, Pez could hear the old man ratchet his usual greeting up a notch. Pez looked silently at their new customer, looking over the details of the traveler’s clothes and gear. “Bienvenidos! Welcome to Market! InglesEspañol?

The traveler spoke. The voice was a dry dusty thing and older than his appearance betrayed. “English.”

“You are new to Market, eh? I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”

Pez tried to assess the newcomer’s gear while Nuñez chatted up his mark. Most of it looked fastidiously kept, if eclectic. Were he of a mind to, Pez had no doubt he could sell the man out to some of the less reputable inhabitants Market for a cut of the harvested bounty. He knew that Nuñez would frown upon this. At least before the sale of any goods the man wanted. Pez felt it was always best to keep his options open, though.

“Just passing through,” said the traveler.

“From where?”


“Ah, the city? Bad territory for the lone hombre to travel.” Nuñez shifted his voice to a hopeful tone, “You come with a caravan? Bring supplies from another settlement?”


Nuñez shrugged, “I suppose not. None of the caravans seem to think much of this place. Always was a small place next to the metro, even Before.”  

Before was a time both men knew even if Pez didn’t. Nuñez always sighed when he thought of it. Pez thought it was a waste of breath. 

“You look old enough to remember before the war,” Nuñez said with a dry cough as he looked at the man’s collected kit. “You soldado?”

The traveler didn’t respond verbally but nodded ever so slightly. Pez tried to read the traveler’s expression, but could not pierce the flat affect of the stranger’s goggles and ragged filter mask.

“I thought you might say that,” Nuñez said with a grin. “You had the look. Soldado especial? Engineered? They gave you the treatments?”

The stranger did not react to this in any way Pez could see. He figured Nuñez must not see the wisdom of going down that path because he stopped trying to prise out personal information and went back to hawking what was on his table. From what little Pez knew, the soldiers from the war were different somehow. Not to be trifled with.

“You looking for something particular, amigo? I may be able to put you on the right track even if I don’t have anything for you. A little compensation is always appreciated though for a nod to another vendor.”

“Not yet,” said the stranger. “Just passing through and seeing what you might have.” The stranger paused, but the reason was obscured by his goggles. The man gave an audibly dry swallow.

“Well, let me know if there’s something that catches your eye.”

Nuñez was an expert at uncovering the needs of a mark. He could tell what was desired usually by what they carried visibly, how they spoke, and what they wore. He’d been a hawker even before the war, at least that’s what Nuñez boasted when he was drunk on the shine that came out of one of the neighboring stalls. In this instance, Nuñez was backing off.

Pez, however, had a hunch about what the man was interested in and kept an eye on him closely.

The stranger passed the junk table at the front and made his way inward through the stall. Nuñez moved deftly out of his way, keeping his hand near his own pistol. Pez watched the stranger as closely as he could without making himself obvious. His intuition and the stranger’s body language was telling him that the traveler was feigning disinterest. Perhaps Nuñez was starting to lose his sight like most of the old-timers. Pez watched Nuñez retreat back into his van to take in the cool shade.

Pez found himself anxious watching this strange, well-armed newcomer. Through his nervousness, he simply waited for the traveler to pause in front of something so he could get a better look at what had caught the stranger’s eye.

Pez picked out the item almost immediately once the stranger had stopped at an inner table. It was a tangle of junk: a worthless plastic and wood thing, squarish, connected by a lead to a black, plastic box with beveled edges. A rubberized stick popped out from the center of the smaller plastic box on its top side, and a once red but now bleached ochre plastic button was its only other adornment. The larger, wood-panel and plastic box had two long cords coming out of it – one for power and one for something else he had no knowledge of. Pez knew it was electronic, but it didn’t take batteries as far as Pez could tell and it wouldn’t plug into the solar array of Nuñez’s office. So, it had to be junk. Like so much of the rest of the junk that Nuñez typically sold for scrap it held no value Pez could see.

Pez tried again to look into the stranger’s eyes – most buyers gave away tells with their eyes according to Nuñez. The old man would often go on about the eyes being some kind of gateway to the soul. Then again, Nuñez also seemed to believe the rotgut wine he took every Sunday at the Fishers tent was actually blood. Some of the crazy old-timers mumbled over crosses and drank the pretend blood with him, but more often than not, Nuñez wasn’t crazy and he was rarely wrong. 

In this case, Pez didn’t need Nuñez’s wisdom or training to see see the stranger’s raw need for the thing. The sheer attachment to the item was playing itself out in the gesture itself. The way the stranger touched it lightly and ran his hand along its surface. In this case, the hands were the giveaway. The stranger touched is as if it was some religious icon or relic.

Pez watched the stranger grab the stick portion of the smaller box with his right hand, then cradle the box in his left placing his left thumb over the disc. He pressed it down to no visible effect, then moved the stick in a circular motion. There was no reaction from the device, but for the briefest moment it looked like the stranger might be smiling beneath his respirator. Pez smiled to match. The stranger was taken by the useless thing. He was sure of it.

Pez reminded himself that for some of the junk, use didn’t always matter. The heart wanted what it wanted. Nuñez had told him that a million times.

Señor,” said Pez. “You want to buy?”

The traveler considered this and let a silence pass between himself and Pez. Typical buyer behavior. The battle of wills had begun. 

Nuñez watched silently from the shade, appraising Pez’s gambit. 

Pez knew one of two things would come of this. Either Nuñez would have his hide for speaking out of turn or he’d get a share of the shine next time the adjacent brewmaster had some to spare.

“I don’t have chit or gold. You have currency here?” said the stranger.

“That’s for city trade, señor. We barter here like everyone else.”

“What are you asking?”

Pez heard Nuñez come to the van’s door and lean on its frame to observe his pitch.

The stranger had opened with a question and not an offer. It was typical buyer bullshit, meant to make the seller make the first gesture. The boy turned it around.

“What do you have?”

The traveler turned to leave. Pez and Nuñez shared a sentiment for this kind of thing: they both hated it.

“Señor,” Nuñez intervened, “Are you sure you want to do that? I don’t think you’ll find another one of those elsewhere.”

The traveler turned, “It’s junk. The waste is full of junk.”

Nuñez gave a disapproving look to the stranger.

“How many of those have you come across in the waste?” Pez countered with a little too much eagerness.

The traveler considered this and walked back toward the table. “Then answer me, kid. What do you want for it?”

“MREs,” Pez said. “Bullets, caseless 9mm if you got ‘em. Water is always appreciated.”

“Forget it, kid,” said the traveler. “Isn’t worth that much.” The traveler turned to go.

“I think it is,” Pez pushed. “MREs, okay, maybe that’s too much to ask. Bullets, though, we take other kinds. Most of the zip guns around here are 9 mil, but .22 is just as good, or long rifle .32.” Pez was young, but he knew the ammo market values. You had to or you could find yourself making some spectacularly lopsided trades. “That rifle you got there. That’s a .32, right?”

The traveler popped his rifle off his shoulder and Nuñez took a reflexive step back. Violence was not uncommon in Market, particularly from outsiders who didn’t know the score. Pez stood firm though as the rifle went on the counter and the stranger popped the clip. Three .32 rounds were shelled out onto the table.

“Three caseless.”

Pez looked back quickly at Nuñez for a little guidance. Nuñez looked at him as if to say ‘ask for more,’ so Pez did.

“Five.” Pez knew the stranger wanted the plastic gewgaw badly. The stranger stiffened and looked at him from behind the goggles.

“Four,” he countered.

Pez didn’t look back this time. “Okay, four. Deal.”

It had been much harder to slip away from Nuñez than it was to follow the stranger. Slipping away before it was time was against the rules, upsetting the delicate balance of Nuñez’s life in Market. Even when his smaller expeditions brought something back in, the old man worried. Sometimes that worry turned to anger. Pez had done this before on slim months, the times when Nuñez simply couldn’t pull in enough in trade to keep the stall open.  More often than not it brought a beating. Nuñez on occasion called them an ‘object lesson,’ not that Pez knew what that meant.

During slim months when trade was bad, Pez found ways to make profits with deft hands in the market throngs. Nuñez, not without the vice of pride, typically found this kind of thing distasteful. On slim months he did not question the profit Pez brought in on his riskier outings, but this was different. He’d gone on his own initiative, an action that usually resulted in Nuñez taking it out of Pez’s hide. The stranger had something about him worth the risk of tailing him, though. If not, he’d made his peace with the thrashing he would earn.

Pez’s plan was a loose one. He wasn’t here to just steal. The traveler could – likely would – kill him if he was caught. Nuñez had thought the man was soldado especial. While Pez’s own base human greed was probably somewhere in the morass of his motivations, Pez was simply curious. He might never get another chance to see one of the Before soldiers again.

Pez knew he was onto something. He wasn’t sure what yet, so he aimed to find out.

The stranger was tall and that made it easier for Pez to follow him. Pez was small and could weave through the throng of buyers and stalls without notice. Growing up in the shadows of the market had taught Pez the virtue of being dwarfed by adults.

The tall stranger stopped at a few other stalls: a water vendor, then an ammunition seller. The stranger then spent some time at a meat stand, eating skewers of god knew what and slices of the weak peppers that would still grow in the wastes. He hit another junk stall, much like Nuñez’s own. Pez waited for him outside of it for a bit and almost missed the stranger leaving after closing his eyes for a moment. He quickly picked up the stranger’s trail again, locking in on the broad-brimmed hat rising above most of the other market buyers.

Pez pursued the traveler further into Market, toward the higher rent area. Most of the Market was an open-aired sprawl, with vendors forming crude barriers between themselves and other hawkers with corrugated scrap metal sheets, worn linens, or battered planks of wood good for little else than as a line of demarcation. Inside of the rings and crooked avenues of the smaller merchant stalls was Old Market; a large, squat building that seemed impossibly large to Pez. Its exterior had begun to show serious wear and it was obvious that it had not been properly cared for even before the war. Stubborn white paint still clung in spots, but most of it had flaked off in the highly acidic rains and the hard, gritty winds that blew through the plain the market was situated on. Letters Pez couldn’t read were marked in faded green and red and yellow at the building’s front which faced the Long Road that bore most travelers to Market. It was there in Old Market that the stranger headed.

Pez weighed his options. If he was to follow further he’d have to be much more careful. People like Nuñez and the outer Market sellers were suffered at the hands of the people inside the derelict building. People who had stalls inside of the Market proper were pillars of what passed for community. There were more guards here. Pickpockets and thieves were everywhere in the Market, but the class of rogue in Old Market was of a different caliber. Pez would stick out here, even if he wasn’t looking to cutpurses. Vendors of Old Market could afford their own muscle and their own swift and brutal law. He’d been tossed out of Old Market his first week with Nuñez. The guards told him he was bringing down property value, whatever that meant. It was to be his only warning they said, and Pez knew they meant it. Old Market guards had long memories paired with sadistic streaks encouraged by years of watching pit fights.

Pez made up his mind quickly. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as Nuñez liked to say. It wasn’t a crime to look in the Market – he even had four .32 bullets in his pocket that could possibly convince vendors he was a buyer – provided he was stupid enough to wave that kind of wealth around. He had no designs on starting anything, he was smarter than that.

He darted in.

The crowds were looser here and the stranger stood out even more, but so would Pez. He passed several booths and vendors, many of whom were selling shine, companionship, and food. Pez kept his gaze down and made sure not to look like he was loitering when the stranger would stop. Unattended children were frequently abducted and put on the meat markets or sold for gladiatorial sport. 

Pez was careful as he followed the stranger through a gambling den, a tattoo stall, a guide station, then to the Slathouse: a place that passed for lodging for passers-through if they had barter to spare.

Pez knew that this would be the end of the line. There’d be no way he could get beyond the Slathouse door without something to pay with. Pez resigned the trip as a wash as the stranger made an offer to the keeper at the threshold of the Slathouse. The offer was taken, and in the stranger went.

Pez went home, disappointed, thinking that he would never see the stranger again.

Pez did, in fact, get a dressing down when he returned. It would not be his first and would be far from his last. He’d certainly had worse at the hands of the pimps who ran the brothels in his earliest years, which was his reason for escaping the brothel in the first place. Nuñez at least had the decency to rarely hit him, and when he did he took care not to strike his face and had never broken a bone. Pez supposed it was the little things. In a few more years he guessed that we would be Nuñez’s size. Then the game’s rules might change.

The next morning dragged by, and Nuñez watched Pez like a hawk, making sure he didn’t get any more funny ideas in his head while he worked. It seemed another boring day was to come and go in the outer rings of the market.

That changed when Pez felt the shadow of the traveler come over him.

His clothes appeared to have been slept in and his outward appearance had not changed a single iota. He only looked briefly, never saying a word. Pez knew better than to engage him. Nuñez’s hands had left their message well. Pez was not looking for another bout of discipline.

The Traveler fixed his goggled eyes on Pez and spoke.

“Televisions. You got Televisions, kid?”

Pez kept his jaw from dropping somehow before he spoke. “Those are rare, mister. And anyway, they’re all just junk. Broken.”

“Then if you got one it’ll be cheap.”

Pez heard Nuñez slip behind him and speak. “Let’s say I did have one.”

“What would you ask for it?”

Pez watched intently as the two men continued.

“It’s not much. But, you ain’t looking to set down roots are you? TV’s big. Liability if you’re just passing through as you said.”

“Last I checked that wasn’t your concern. You got a set or not?”

If Nuñez was taken aback, he didn’t let it show. “Well, step on back. Pez, will you draw the curtain? We’re closed until the man has his say.”

Pez watched the man walk past him and join Nuñez in the back of the stall. In a disused corner, behind a few sheets of plywood, Nuñez had always kept a secure cabinet. The top shelf stuff was in there, and he rarely advertised its existence – only to customers he knew could pay. And even then, he usually sent Pez off while he transacted.

This time though, Pez got a look inside the cabinet. Most of the televisions he saw were old even by Before standards, big boxy things that more often than not were hollowed out and used as a place to light a meager fire or to store things in their shells. This was different. It was on the small side, but its body was flat. It was covered in dust but still held a kind of promise. Of what, Pez had no idea. He knew that they were supposed to show pictures. He’d never seen a functional one and was amazed that one may have been this close all this time.

“Wasn’t plugged in when the EMPs hit or it was out of range,” Nuñez said. “I been holding onto it for twenty years. I guess… I guess I hoped I’d be able to use it again one day. But… I don’t think it’s gonna happen. So… make me an offer, gringo. Before I change my mind.”

The stranger clucked for a bit, looking over the television. “Connections don’t match what you sold me yesterday.”

“Of course they don’t. This was cutting edge when the war started. That old thing you bought yesterday was antique when I was a kid, comprende? Besides, I probably got something here we can use to patch it. Get it going.”

“Let’s say you do. In that case, I’ll give you a full magazine of .38s and three of these.”

The stranger produced from his pack four unopened bottles of purified water, seals intact. It was a ludicrous amount to trade. Clear water with no bugs or grit in it, not muddy or silt-choked. It might not even have to be boiled. The bullets almost seemed like an afterthought by comparison.

“That’s a generous offer. You, ah, don’t mind I check that water?”

“Seals are there, what more do you want?”

Nuñez produced a Geiger counter and ran it over the water. It clicked but not nearly as bad as Pez would have expected it to.

Nuñez didn’t even blink. “I think you got yourself a deal, soldado.”

“I’ll need someone to help me get it over to Old Market.”

Nuñez looked at Pez. “What are you waiting for? Get the cart and help the man.”

Pez carried the surprisingly light television to Old Market where it was revealed that the soldado had purchased a slim stall space, its curtain down. Once past the curtain, it offered only a table, a few battered chairs and a plug installed into the far wall that drew power from a solar array on the roof and a team of enslaved turbine spinners somewhere under the Market. The stranger took the television from Pez without any effort at all and set it on the table.

“You got no idea what it is I’m up to, do you, kid?”

Pez said nothing.

“It’s alright, the guy you’re working for ain’t here. You can speak if you’ve a mind to.”

“I don’t know what any of this is apart from the TV.”

The stranger set his pack down gently onto the table and pulled out the previous day’s purchase. “I had one of these when I was a kid. You read?” he said pointing to the letters on the box’s case.


“Says ‘Atari’. You ever heard of one of those?”


“Guess you ain’t heard of much from Before then, huh?”


“Well, you’re gonna today.”

“Where’d you get the scratch for all of this?” Pez suddenly blurted out. It was a rude question, but he had to ask. This stranger had come from the city to the Northeast and managed to get a stall in the Old Market. Any vendor from Outer Market would have given their eyeteeth for the narrow space.

“Would you believe I used to live here?”

Pez said nothing.

“Well, not here exactly. Maybe two miles to the south. Old development called Wilton Green. Lived with my mom and two sisters. They died during the war. I was fighting in the desert for most of it until the command chain died off.” The stranger looked away from Pez momentarily before adding, “I miss ‘em. I miss the life we used to have.”

“You sound like Nuñez.”

“Lot of old souls do.” The stranger pointed to his duffel. “Hand me those things your owner sold me for the TV.”

“He’s not my owner,” Pez said with unmasked disgust.

“Sorry little man. Didn’t know. I know that people around here take ownership of people who can’t pay debts. I don’t hold with it, but… well, maybe that’ll change someday.”

“Long as there’s a pit master here, there’ll be trade on slaves.”

“I reckon you’re right. But, one thing at a time.”

“You got a name, mister?”

The strange looked at Pez for a moment that seemed too long. Like he’d asked a question that was impossible to answer.

“Mister works for me. That work for you?”

“Sure, I guess.” Pez gave Mister the assorted junk for the television and watched him start making connections. It took a while, but Mister let Pez watch all the same.

“You know, I can’t even remember who showed me one of these the first time. Maybe one of my uncles.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“You happy back there? Selling stuff for that old guy?”

“I guess. It beat what I had before.”

“I guess it might have. But you never really get a moment do you? A moment when you can just relax?”

“You kidding?”


“I work. Everyone works. You don’t work, you go to the pits.”

“Yeah. Sucks doesn’t it?”

They both knew it was a stupid question.

“When I was a kid, before the war, people used to have time. You’d go to school, you maybe did little league, became a scout. But you still might have had time to do whatever. But I remember playing with these.” 

Mister finished whatever he was doing and plugged in a power cord from the power box in the wall to the television. Mister hit a button on the ancient thing’s back and its screen cast a blue light so bright that Pez had trouble looking at it.

“Okay, TV works. Now the moment of truth.” Mister flipped a switch on the plastic and wood-paneled box and suddenly the blue was replaced with chunky blobs of random color with a small triangle in the middle of them. The chunks moved and eventually one hit the triangle. It made a noise that made no sense to Pez – but it transfixed him.

“Ah. Wasted a life. This was one of my favorites. Bought it from another vendor on the outside for a .22. Asteroids. I was always good at it.”

Pez saw the man pick up the smaller box with the stick and manipulate it. As he did, the little triangle on the screen moved. When he hit the disc, the triangle fired a pellet that broke up the blobs into smaller chunks.

They said nothing for another half hour while Mister played and Pez watched.

It was dark when Pez returned to Nuñez’s stall. The old man wasn’t angry – he’d had some rotgut to go with his water and greeted Pez warmly.

“The gringo didn’t skin you and eat you. That’s good.”

Pez didn’t say anything else, just came up to his usual seat in the stall. After a few minutes of silence, Nuñez spoke again.

“What’s the matter with you. Cat got your tongue?”

Pez shook his head.

“Kids. I suppose when your balls drop in a year or two, you’ll get even more sullen. But you got time to straighten out. I’ll take care of you.” Nuñez waved an arm in a grandiose arc to indicate his collection of junk. “Someday, all this could be yours.”

Pez had thought about taking over the stall many times before. Old-timers like Nuñez tended to get the Lumps the older they got. Or, they went blind. Or, Bloodlung took them. And when that happened, provided he could keep up stall payments, he could keep the place running.

But he wasn’t sure that mattered any longer.

Not after Atari.

That night he snuck out from the shelter of the van and went to Old Market again. He showed a small disc to the guard who let him inside upon seeing the seal of the Old Market Association on the coin Mister had given him after he’d left. He walked through the place for the first place without fear and appeared at the stall Mister had purchased. He called out and was greeted by Mister who let him in.

“Can I play?” he said excitedly.

“Yeah. You helped me get this set up. Even though I paid you… I think it’s time that you kids ought have some time to see what it was like before.”

It was the first night of many that Pez would return to Mister’s stall. After the crowds died down during the day, Pez would come to the stall to play after hours, sleep for a few more, then hawk junk with Nuñez.

The sun never got any brighter, but Pez’s future did just a little bit.

A Story in 200 Words – They Killed Our Parents

I recently listened to an episode of Start With This, a podcast about harnessing creativity by the creators of Welcome To Night Vale. Their most recent episode was on repetition, something which has been the bane of my writing style for some time now. I used to think repetition was emphatic, but it really isn’t. But, I listened to the cast to see if there was something I missed, and perhaps there was. I still don’t like the way I used repetition in the past. But, with some guidelines, I took down their assignment. I’m… strangely pleased. I’m not a very big fan of any work that is short. It ties my hands. This time it seems to have done something that at least feels interesting. The constraints were to take a single phrase and use it five times in a work of no more than two hundred words. I came in with twelve words to spare on the first try.

This is the raw result, using only Grammarly for the first draft:

They killed our parents and shuffled us into the system. She was fourteen. I was nine. They told us it was an accident. We held each other’s hands. We cried. But we knew. They killed our parents.

We started to look in all the wrong places and came up with the right answers. They killed our parents because they knew where the hidden things lay. They knew the names. They knew the lies. So, they killed our parents and thought it was done.

When they killed our parents they got more than they wanted. With no one to stop us, no one to tell us that revenge wasn’t the answer, we learned how to hunt. We sharpened our knives. We learned to see them when they thought they could hide. We found they were monsters and skinned them alive.

When the work was done, we went through their lair, and what did we find there? Two trembling forms, one seven, one five. Barely aware of the change to their lives. We killed their parents, and the books weren’t right. So, two more child creatures died in the night.

The assignment asks for the meaning and change of impact each time the phrase is used, which is what makes the difference. In this case, ‘they killed our parents’ is the phrase. The first time it appears it is simply a statement of fact, followed by an immediate result. The second time it’s mentioned at the end of the same paragraph, it’s accusatory and foreshadowing. The third time provides a reason for the killings, knowledge of things one is not meant to know. The fourth time sets up what the killers thought the narrator’s parents would bring about by their murderous deeds. The final time, it draws out the consequences – if the narrator’s parents hadn’t been killed what came next would never have had to happen.

The final paragraph uses the phrase not at all. Catharsis has come and a new cost is introduced to the narrators who learn a dark and terrible thing about themselves. There’s is then a sixth, unspoken time, that the phrase is no doubt uttered by the monstrous children just before they too are dispatched – they killed our parents.

I felt good enough to come out of my author blog cave to write about the experience and post it. I guess that’s something, huh?

I think I shall turn it over some more in my head, see what I can expand from this. I think an Edward Gorey style poem perhaps could come of it, a burst of new signals at my other site.

A Dream Altered

Being creative seems to come with a lot of baggage, both real and perceived.

When I was a kid I felt art inside of me wanting to burst out. I wasn’t afraid to fail. I kept at it. Every day, there was something new to try or a thing I could experiment with. When I was a young adult in college I had nothing but time to do this. I lived it, I breathed it. I got out into the world at my first job for design and I did well (though not well enough to survive our buyout). I went back to school. Got better at programs and systems I hadn’t used before, got educated a little on things I admittedly should have gotten more out of. I went out to work in the graphics world again. And then… I got poor. I stopped trying to be creative, stopped wanting to be poor. I cashed in chips and started in the technology sector. Because Diabetes Type II sucks, and it costs a lot of money to not die slowly (good luck getting health insurance as a self-employed artist, even with the ACA).

And while I was chasing the money to keep a roof over my head, fix up my staggering college debt, and maybe even get ahead, I just… let it go.

I know this because I found sketchbooks this morning. Old ones. A small stack about seven pads deep, mostly full. Many were from High School when I was struggling to figure out who and what I was. I still had a lot of social chains on me. A lot of peer abuse and stigma – real or perceived, again – but art and music were my solaces. I see it on those pages.

Back then, I pictured myself in the future with bookshelves full of sketchbooks, maybe those cool, big metal boxes with shallow trays big enough to put in canvasses or large format drawing papers and blueprints. An office full of cool design tools, and a black book full of contacts.

It’s not turned out the way I’d hoped. Well, I have the office, but right now it’s not the dream of the nineties. There are two computers in here, a few tools both traditional and otherwise, more pencils and pens than I probably need, and a drafting table given to me by friends back when I was still trying to live the dream. But, that perfect office is missing the years of successes, realized dreams, and profit.

Then again, anyone looking to get into the arts for profit… that part comes after you die (Sallie Mae doesn’t tell you that when you apply for student loans for a predatory for-profit school). A lucky few creatives get the status and wealth they want while still pumping their heart’s blood. I think that while we breathe, creatives are making art to make a difference. To get through to someone. To make others feel. Not even to feel what you feel, but to feel something. And, if we’re gonna be honest, the more the better in most cases. There’s a great shirt that a friend gave me several years back that I love, and it is a two-panel comic that is titled ‘A Brief History of Art.’ It covers it with minimal effort. I won’t post it here because of the artist’s longtime grudge against internet behavior fucking her over, but the jist is simple:

A minimally portrayed person says “Look,” in the first panel. There is no other content, not even in the background. The second panel (with the exact same drawing) this time reads, “Look at me.”

Reductionist? Sure. But, art is more or less meant to be viewed. I believe that creatives want that work out there on some level or they wouldn’t make it (an expensive pursuit, pouring heart and soul through mediums that cost real and emotional resources). I suppose there’s a few that break that mold. I know I myself make personal projects just for me, and even then, I probably show it to my wife after I get past the hurdle of believing what I’ve designed is garbage (this process is a well-known phenomenon for me and a lot of others). I have an artist’s graveyard, and eventually, when I die… someone’s bound to find this room full of stuff (because let’s admit it: anyone who knows me knows I ain’t ever gonna throw this stuff out), even if it’s only to pack it up and put it in a trash can. Might be right after, might be years after. Once it’s here in the world, it’s only a matter of time. It’ll be the same for all of us who leave something around physically, or even for us who keep our work behind passwords and firewalls. The determined will eventually get at it, or the gatekeepers. Something will be witnessed even if it’s just a file name and a preview. I suppose we could destroy our work, but… I don’t. And, when I ask why not, it always comes back to hoping to leave a mark. Something that people will see later. Maybe puzzle over, talk about, or just laugh at.

The art wants to get out.

And it is, for me, finally, just… it’s not the dream of a kid who was still looking to find out what he wanted to become twenty-five odd years ago. I’ve begun to truly dedicate myself to something on the regular. Every Monday and Thursday, I put out a little piece of a larger, bizarre quasi-narrative at A Strange Signal’s website. I promote it on Facebook and Twitter, and I have plans for a store. I write as often as I can, often times with a couple thousand words falling out of my hands at a time. It’s a different representation of the dream, but one I’ve been trying to kindle the fires of. Other friends are meeting with success at Smart Rhino, Oddity Prodigy, or in their NaNoWriMo sprints. I also have one of those Patreon things. I’d love to get more Patrons, so ‘Look At Me,’ sums it up right now.

Keep looking.

Because the art wants to get out.

IT’S HERE – A Strange Signal (and Patreon) Debuts today!

I’m going to make things weird.

Well, I’ve been quiet for a while. And it’s not been because I was incapacitated, kidnapped, or had nothing creative going. I’ve been quiet for many reasons, but chief among them was a brand new thing that has been a long time coming. I’ll let you have a look at what it all means, but in short, it’s a brand new project: A Strange Signal.

In short, it was an art project inspired by a tabletop game plot-creating technique: Go out; take pictures of things that strike you as weird, odd, or out of place; come up with ideas behind them for your game. After a sixteen-hundred-plus picture trip to San Francisco, it soon became apparent to me that this was not going to go into a game. Not because it wouldn’t work, but because there was so much content that I’d never get to use most of it due to the time it takes to get a game up and running, let alone to play it. Soon I had characters, nascent plots, and all manner of great stuff to get out of my skull and onto my computers. The ‘new project’ was born.

It was the kind of thing that just kept building up steam. I remember thinking that maybe this was just a phase. Let it run out. I couldn’t possibly keep this up. I went from making one or two a day to making four or five. They started piling up around me. Even when I hit snags and had to come up with better ways to make each piece – which I individually refer to as a ‘Signal’ – I just came up with faster ways to make better Signals. I’m fast approaching a hundred of them.

And people liked them. I’ve found that most people who viewed my past visual work never really had strong opinions on it. I’ll admit that it stung – I don’t think there was an artist born who didn’t basically want people to look at their work and feel not just something, but something that stirs you from the center of your being. We like that kind of attention. At least to the work if not ourselves (let’s be honest – it’s usually both).  And when I started posting them on my personal Facebook page, I got exactly that.

This was the first project I think I’ve ever done where people started talking about the work. Asking me when the next one would come out. Questioning about what they meant and where it was all going. If it would be collected as a book. How they could buy it.

That last one? That has never happened to me before this. I’ve worked spec for commissions, sure. But this was different. This was something, unasked for, that people seemed to want more of once they saw it.

Between the interest and my own compulsion, I can’t just leave these Signals be. They wake me up in the middle of the night some time to be made. I’ve pulled over to the side of the road to get source images. I tweak each one that comes through until I can find the right way to make it as unique and quaintly unsettling as I can. The crazed idea beast is at work now. And I cannot shut it down.

So, now I’m here. I have started a Patreon for my new endeavor, and soon, I’ll be adding an Etsy store (TBA soon). It’s terrifying. I’ve never put myself out like this before, never felt I had an idea good enough or marketable enough to put my name and a price tag on. But, that was yesterday And this is today. And today is full of Magic. And it’s also got you, here. Reading this.

So, Head on over. See what it’s all about. Dive deep into a weird otherworld where dogs are our masters, you should legitimately fear the ocean (more), and where doors can’t be trusted. I think you’re going to like it.

Just never trust a magician. They’ll only break your heart. Or other things you can’t get back.


Creative Dispatch – Publication and Tabletop Gaming, January 22nd, 2018

The monthly creative dispatch updates continue! While I’ve been working smarter and harder on my day work, the creative stuff continues to roll out.

My novel in progress, Hack Job, is continuing to move along at an acceptable pace. I’m about ten chapters in, and just shy of seventeen thousand words. It appears to be on target for somewhere around seventy to one hundred thousand words with the content I want to fit into it. I feel that John Ferryman, the protagonist of my love letter to cyberpunk science fiction, may even have a couple of stories to tell beyond the main novel, though any full-length follow-up titles are likely to feature new main characters. We’ll see how that goes.

On other creative fronts, gaming is looking to possibly blow up this year. I gave my dad a copy of Cthulhu Confidential for Christmas. While he got the physical copy, I got the PDF. We’ll take turns GM-ing over the internet once he’s gone off to Arizona. It’s a pared down version of the Gumshoe rules meant for one player and one gamemaster. It should solve some of our problems for finding a group provided we both get around to reading the rules soon.

Additionally, the Starfinder module mentioned previously is about seventy-five percent completed. I have all of the encounters outlined, I know all of the supporting cast. My pre-generated characters are all ready. The starships are designed. It’s all written down in a usable format. Some last-minute monster design details remain. I even made a map! I have two potential playtest groups forming, with one ready to start as soon as next week.

I was also asked by a good friend to set up a fantasy game. She knows a group she lovingly refers to as her ‘tabletop virgins’. With that in mind, I suggested Pathfinder in order to DM a module I’ve always wanted to run: The Haunting of Harrowstone. It’s Ravenloft flavored, so naturally, it drew my eye when it was first released. If the players really like it, they can even continue. I have the entire six-part Carrion Crown adventure path that will take them from level one to level twenty!

Finally, I need to make a big announcement: a short story that I submitted last year is earmarked for publication! This happened almost six months ago and I didn’t want to say anything until I had a contract in hand, but I can’t hide this any longer! Things are slow to develop (which I’m told is the norm). I’ll let everyone know which story and what publication it will be in as soon as I hear more from the publisher!

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