I’m back! Back on Neptune’s Forge. Here’s a little smidgen of it for you:

The thought you cannot speak is also the one you should not think.
Therefore, post a sentinel at the portal of your innermost sanctum
where intentions are borne,
and make him to keep his sword sharpened
that no unworthy thing be permitted to pass to or from it.
—The Secret Lamentations

Hastily-scratched entry from the journal of Jonathan Rath:
My friend is dead, and I’m not sure what today is. He was stabbed through his ear and deep into his brain. I don’t know who has done this or why, but this expedition is ended. I must find Peter now, first, and get him where we can talk alone, before we let that madman Gleese know what has happened, although I am almost certain that he is somehow behind this abortion of humanity. Peter Bornik and I will get to the bottom of it. Someone is going to have to pay for killing Parker Dunlevy.

It was on the first day of spring that Jonathan Rath planted the tree, a cherry, outside his kitchen window. He was five years back from the war, still unemployed and seemingly unemployable, due to his irascible nature. He had left as a quiet, unassuming country bumpkin in the first round of Lincoln’s enlistments following the fall of Fort Sumter, hardly more than a boy, and had returned after the South’s defeat an angry, rude, and unforgiving man. Sometimes he awoke in the night, screaming.

During the day he shaped furniture out in his barn, working, sweating, toiling without break in order to keep his attention focused and his thoughts quiet. Often he forgot to eat.

The tree had been left by a neighbor who needed one of his yokes repaired and had no money to pay for the service. Jonathan was known far and wide for his fine furniture, particularly his rocking chairs, bed steads, bookcases, tables and dining chairs, but he was not above taking on other work simply to keep himself busy. The cherry showed up the morning after the neighbor had come to see about the yoke for his ox, and had been both happy and surprised at the repair work. Before the man could apologize for having no money, and began a stumbling proposition for repayment at a later time, Jonathan ceased chewing his tongue and stated, “Pay for it if, when and however you can. It matters not.”

Jonathan Rath sat at his dining room table that evening after receiving his payment—the tree—and stared at the little green thing. Hours, it must have been, that he looked at it, probed it, wondered at it. He started in the complete darkness the instant after the lamp burned itself out. Where had the time gone? What sort of trick was this?

And that night he did not dream.

The next morning he planted the tree ten paces from his kitchen window where it would receive the full sun of the day.

And the years passed. Another trick, of sorts.

For some reason Jonathan Rath thought about the cherry tree as he left his tent in search of Bornik.

Find Bornik first, then together they could handle Gleese, and possible Kroones as well—this was the marching order in his mind. If Bornik wouldn’t throw in his hand to help him kill Gleese, well then, he’d do it himself. And if Kroones stood in his way, then Kroones had to fall as well. If Tomaroff likewise posed a barrier, then Tomaroff himself had to die. Rath’s blood was up, this he knew, and there would be no stopping him.

Rath had once slain what had remained of a company of Rebs in this fashion. This was in the Wilderness, May of ‘64, not far from Spotsylvania. After his major had been shot through the eye at a distance of eighty yards as he was mounting his Morgan on the main road through the woods, Jonathan turned, pulled his saber from its scabbard and strode toward the cowards shooting at him from among the trees. His chest had become a hollow tube through which a cool wind blew. When he was ten feet from them, a bullet passed through the sleeve of his left arm and left a narrow furrow there, the only scar he would bring home with him from the war. But at that moment, he didn’t even feel it. He stepped in among them, his saber slashing and singing in the morning sun. Arms, fingers and heads tumbled to the ground, blood ran in freshets, rivulets, and a steam arose. And still he killed. After he killed them, he hacked them, noting how soft the tissue seemed—it felt more like hacking feather pillows than human flesh. When his wits returned and he realized he was covered in blood from head to foot, he turned, replaced his saber in its scabbard and strode back to camp. The men had stared at him as he walked by, but no one said so much as a single word. He walked up to his Captain and said, “Sir, the Major is dead. You’re now in complete command of this outfit.”

It was this single-mindedness of purpose, this intensity of focus that drove him; as if, in the final analysis, his essential fuel was nothing more complicated than mere decision.

There in the makeshift tent two continents and nearly two and-a-half decades from the carnage outside Spotsylvania, Jonathan left Parker Dunlevy’s body where he’d had found it, with his life’s blood pooled and frozen into the ice beneath the sled, and went in search of Peter Bornik. In his left hand he had his hunting knife—the same knife he had once used to carve the filigree on his bedstead back home. He stepped out into a blizzard; the first such they had encountered in the Antarctic. The wind hooted and howled and ice crystals stung his face, but like the bullet carving its own filigree into his left arm all those years ago, he felt nothing. The hollow, windy tube inside him had turned itself outward to encompass the whole world.

Outside he ran into one of the Brazilians—he couldn’t tell which, at first, because of his sealskin coat and the woolen scarf covering all but his eyes, but when the man spoke, he knew him instantly.

“My friend,” Gomez stated. “Another is dead.”

“Yes,” Rath stated, then was thrown into momentary confusion. How does Gomez know about Peter? he thought, and then, on the heels of this, as Gomez pulled the scarf down to reveal a face contorted in anxiety, it dawned upon him that he wasn’t referencing Parker Dunlevey.

“Another? Another Brazile?”

“Sim. Sim. It is my cousin, Juan Tomas. He is…dead.” Gomez genuflected.

“Parker Dunlevy, the Irishman, is also dead. I am going to kill Gleese for this.”

“Gleese,” Gomez said. “Yes. Kill him. Go to house. Wait for the ship. No?”

The magnitude of it dawned upon Rath. Yes, they could kill Gleese, possibly Kroones, and take command of the expedition; turn it around and strike for the house. But to get there, to get to where the ship would pick them up in the Antarctic fall, they would need Tomaroff. Only Tomaroff could get them there. Without Tomaroff, without his compass, sextant, astrolabe and theodolite to not only ascertain longitude, but that most important calculation, latitude, they would all be as dead as Parker Dunlevy, and ultimately as frozen as the naked man in the ice caverns.

“If you will lead us,” Gomez stated, “my people will stand behind you, and I will kill Gleese with my own hands.”

For an instant, there in the bitter, stinging wind, Jonathan Rath was back aboard the launch after Gomez had harpooned the narwhal. Gleese’s rebuke of Gomez for killing the whale during childbirth in front of the men came into his mind. The look on Gomez’s face then had been a mixture of several elements at once: shame and regret, shock and disbelief, rejection for the rebuke, and something else. And in an instant, Rath had it—blame. He blamed Gleese for the whole fiasco, and for the hours following in which he’d spent with his nose figuratively rubbed in it while gutting and cleaning the narwhal and salting and packing its meat and blubber. Rath had come to hate Gleese since then and by degrees, and had likewise come to sympathize with the Gomez by the same factor. He could see how Gomez was the perfect man to dispatch Gleese, if indeed he himself could not.

“I will lead you,” Rath stated. “But first we must speak with Tomaroff. He must take us back to the house, as only he can. In this wilderness, all places are like every other place. But the Russian knows how to navigate celestially—with the stars. I do not. Without him, we are lost.”

“You very smart man, Senor Rath.”

“I don’t feel very smart.”

“Come. We find Russian.” And then his face sagged. “What about…Homem dos cães.?”

“What?”

Gomez spoke carefully. “Man of dogs?”

“Kroones?”

“Ah! Sim. Kroo-nez.”

“I will deal with Kroones,” Rath stated.

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Advice to the young writer

She was busily writing away longhand on the couch, while everyone else babbled away incessantly nearby. Her writing was frenetic and fast and I could practically hear the gears smoothly cranking along, smell the oil burning, and I innocently asked, “What are you writing?” She went on to explain that it was just thoughts, stories, whatever came into her mind. After finding out that I, too, was a writer—from her mom, no less, who was hanging out nearby—and a writer who has had some small success in the field, she asked me if it might be all right for me to have a look at her work sometime, possibly give her some helpful pointers. And then, thankfully, she went back to her writing. Afterward, I damned myself for intruding.

Well, without looking at any of her work but simply admiring how it poured out onto the page, I offer the following:

Don’t ask for advice, from me or anyone else, as to whether or not your writing is any good. You see, you already know everything you need to know, even at such a young age. It’s your language. You can speak it better than many another adult I’ve met. If you can speak it and you can read it, then you can write it as well. On top of that, I would assert that you can pick up a book by anyone else, read the first few sentences, paragraphs, or perhaps pages, and know instantly whether it is any good. You can make a snap judgment about it, and that judgment will be found to be unfailing. It will be one hundred percent correct, as far as you are concerned, every single time. All you have to do is apply that selfsame objective ability to judge to your own work. It’s easy, but it may require a little practice at first.

Next, don’t stop what you’re doing. Keep writing just as you are, and if possible, as fast as you can. Most people believe that the purpose of writing is to produce a book or a short story, a paper, a pamphlet, an article—something that someone else is going to read. This is downright wrong. No, the purpose of writing is to write. I know that’s going to sound overly simple, but truth is always startling simple. It is the journey, not the destination, that is important. And that is success. Success isn’t at the end. It’s right there—a young woman writing furiously away, practicing her craft, learning from herself how to turn a phrase—how to make it just right. It’s the exploration of your own inner world and the expansion of that world toward the end of all horizons. It’s the expression and the inflection of being. So don’t stop. Don’t even hesitate. Let it flow until you fill the world with oceans of your words. And make them good ones, while you’re at it.

And here we are at the end and the sum total of everything I can say on the subject. That is all of it in these few paragraphs. You see, I had to come full circle to the young fellow I once was, sitting on a lounge chair writing furiously away. It’s taken me all this long to figure out that the innermost secrets of the whole craft was something I was already doing.

Along the way in life you’re going to get advice on the subject of writing from practically everyone you meet, because like me, you really enjoy the subject itself, and want to hear everything there is to hear about it, and from practically any person, whether they’re a reader, a famous author, or even—God forbid!—an editor. So the best thing you can do is listen to them and smile and thank them, and then disregard everything they’ve told you. And then go somewhere, find a quiet place—or perhaps a noisy one; sometimes that helps too—and just write.

So there. That’s it.

Have a wonderful journey, creative young lady. I wish you words. And plenty of them.

George Wier

Here’s a little snippet from Jem of Skye for you good folks:

That night, Jem lay awake and listened to Kaetu breathe. No more than a foot of space separated them, but it may as well have been the distance between Janus and Cirrus, for all the good it did him. He could smell her wonderful hair, but he couldn’t touch her. So, with a small sigh he turned away from her in the darkness and let his mind wander.

Unbidden, images came to him. They were all images of writing, some from the old tab-books that his mother kept. There would be a pictures of her and father when they were young, and behind them would be a sign. He had never before associated the signs with any meaning, but there, on the edge of sleep, he could suddenly read them.

Jem read the words and sounded them aloud in mere whispers, and instantly their meaning came to him: “No admittance.” “Café Crepe.” “Telescope Open to Public.” “No Public Restroom.”

Jem sat up in bed.

He could read!

He dashed out of his bed, thumbed on his slippers and ran across the room, dodging beds from their location in his memory.

He ran through the chow hall and into the front hall, sprinted down the long first floor hallway and to the stairs. From there he ran the width of the second floor and to the other stairs and onto the third. After that it was down the half-mile long hallway to the rear of the complex and up the stairs to the library.

The door was open, so he flashed inside. He ran to the closest rack, grabbed a book from the shelf and riffled it open. He began reading.

The exact time and place of Plato’s birth are unknown, but it is certain that he belonged to an aristocratic and influential family.

He understood it! Jem flipped further.

The role of Apollo as god of plague is evident in the invocation of Apollo Smintheus (“mouse Apollo”) by Chryses, the Trojan priest of Apollo, with the purpose of sending a plague against the Greeks (the reasoning behind a god of the plague becoming a god of healing is of course apotropaic, meaning that the god responsible for bringing the plague must be appeased in order to remove the plague).

“Master Jem!” Goat’s voice shouted. “The library is closed. It is after hours.”

“I have to read something, Goat! I have to read right now!”

“It is not allowed.” The mec floated beside him, deftly removed the book from Jem’s hand and replaced it on the shelf without even glancing to see whether or not it was put back in the correct place. From this Jem inferred that Goat knew the location of every book in the library.

“I have to!” Jem cried.

“Aha! So, you admit it now.”

Jem’s shoulders sagged. “Yes. You were right all along. I must read.”

“Then there is only one thing to do. I have a book you can take back with you. It is the Book of Subjects. It is an index of the entire library.” The mec turned and floated across to the table next to the open doorway.

“I can take it?” Jem asked.

“Certainly. We have over a thousand copies of the Index in a closet. This one is yours.” Goat removed a large book and held out his arm to Jem.

Jem ran to Goat and took the book.

“Thanks, Goat! I’ll bring it back. I promise.”

“No need, Master Jem. No need at all. But I daresay that you will have difficulty reading it after lights out.”

“Oh, I’m not going to read it tonight,” Jem said. “I’m going to sleep with it.”

“Hmph.” Goat stated, and Jem was gone back out the door, disappearing into the darkness as if he’d never come. “Kids.”

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ONE

And then there was only Jem.

Of the others, Oldpa had gone first, then Oldma, followed by Ma and then Pa. Of them all, losing Ma had been the worst. Afterward the ceremony, and after Ma had made the drop, Jem’s father, who came home seldom, had heaped on Jem all of his frustrations, as if Jem were the cause of all of the death that surrounded him. Those six weeks of his father’s leave from service to mourn his wife had been the worst days of Jem’s twelve years of life.

When Jem had heard through the Chan that his father had gone down from the sky alongside the rest of his crew during an engagement with the navies of Horn, he had cried his eyes out for a few hours, but this was less from his loss than from the fact that he was all alone in the sky, even though in Cirrus he was surrounded by tens of thousands of Cirrans, though few of whom he actually knew.

Jem had turned thirteen shortly before his father, Olwen, died in a firefight with the murderous Horn. This he knew even though his birthday had come and gone uncelebrated the way Ma used to, with a small party and a special present. He knew his birthday had passed because the Bright Star had come directly above Cirrus in the night sky. The Bright Star, as his mother had always told him, was Jem’s star.

From school, Jem had learned that Cirrus was exactly fifty-two thousand feet above Land, no more and no less. It had always been that distance, and would forever remain so.

Jem waited at the entryway to his home near the southern, poorer edge of Cirrus for the wardens to come and take him away. He was never going back to school because with the death of Olwen the family had no money. It was a rather stupid fact that he was now a family of one, and that one—himself, Jem—was to be taken and integrated in with the Janus: the orphans of Cirrus. But his father had been a Janus, and so it all made sense to him now as he waited, his small pack of clothing beside him in a buoy rig: everything is always the same. Nothing changes.

He had expected a phalanx of wardens to come for him, but instead a lone warden drifted out from between two nearby dwellings, stopped, turned his head left and right, his polished helmet flashing in the fading sunlight, then focused in on Jem in the only open doorway along the street. The warden floated slowly toward him. Everything floated in Cirrus: the buildings, the people, the few scattered outside light sources, and with the exception of the trader ships coming in beneath the city or to the edge, everything in Cirrus floated slowly.

“Hey, kid,” the warden said. His visor was up, and the face was less young than Jem had expected. They warden, in fact, looked familiar. “Are you 355721? Are you Jem? Olwen’s son?”

Jem nodded to the man.

“Hmph. You probably don’t remember me. Your dad, Ollie, used to be in my outfit in Janus together. He ever tell you stories about him and Vic and some of the stunts we used to pull?”

Jem shook his head.

“That’s me. Vic.”

Jem nodded.

“Don’t say much, do you?”

Jem shook his head again.

“Just like your old man. Come on. Get your rig. I’m to take you to Janus and make sure your billeted in. The least I can do for Ollie.”

Jem reached over and tapped the tow button on the rig that contained all of his worldly possession, tapped the stud at the juncture of his breast bone, and floated out the door, the rig in tow behind him.

When he got even with Vic, the man put out his hand and stopped him.

“Look, it’s not so bad. There’s lots of kids where you’re going. And just think—no more school. Not a lot of rules like there are outside Janus. The only thing is you’ll have to learn to fight, to stick up for yourself, or they’ll kill you. You understand that, right? I mean, surely you’ve heard all about Janus.”

Jem looked up at the man. His face was broad and his cheeks were nearly outside of his helmet.

“I understand.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

Jem had only ever twice before been to Centro, the Cirrus city central district. He and Vic moved along the Strofe, the main open thoroughfare, and passed hundreds of small shops and dozens of gargantuan, towering buildings. There were more people than Jem had ever seen before, and they all seemed to be going someplace.

There were parents with their children as well, but a glance told the tale. There were few poor children along the Strofe, if any—their clothes were stylish and clean, their float rigs were of the latest style. None of these kids had ever risked taking the drop because their rigs weren’t right. The drop, of course, being the end. The final and early death. A one-way ticket to the Land, fifty-two thousand feet below.

After maybe twenty minutes, Vic turned off the Strofe to the left and they passed through the industrial district.

The last vestige of day had retreated and night had fallen.

Jem looked up and the Bright Star was there, far off center. The factory walls, in fact, blotted out most of the star-filled night sky.

Another warden passed them by, his rig outlined in light, and Vic and the man exchanged nods.

One day, Jem knew, he would become a warden, and when he did, he would never push people around nor kill them the way he had witnessed so many times in the past. A warden had the power of life and death. He or she could shut off a float rig if they happened to have a Key, and there was nothing for it but to take the drop.

Upon thinking of the drop, Jem looked down and saw a massive trader moving beneath them, several hundred yards distant. If Jem flicked off his rig, he would likely fall down directly on it, and the ship might take his broken body off to one of the other Major Cities he had learned about it school. Perhaps Cloisteros, or Metros, or maybe even Garden or Citadel. Or possibly even Horn. Naval vessels, his father had once told him, never attacked a trader, unless the trader had turned pirate. Then, if a trader had done so, it was their duty to blast them out of the sky and send them down to the Land far below, where the savage demi-humans lived. It was thought that anyone surviving the drop was doomed anyway, because no one could live among the demi-humans. It just wasn’t possible.

They turned again and made their way around a large, drab-looking edifice, and across a yawning space of several hundred yards.

“That’s Janus.” Vic pointed to the large, ugly, multi-storied building set far apart from the rest of Cirrus.

“Don’t like it.”

“Of course you don’t. What’s to like?”

In school there had been pictures of a place called Alcatraz. Janus reminded him of that place. First of all, it was large and blocky, with numbers of seemingly separate buildings attached to the one, grim, main building. Second, there were few windows. Low down in front there was a wide, pillared porch with twin double-doors thrown open. There was, however, not a soul in sight.

“You’ll get along fine in Janus. You just have to watch yourself, Jem. I’ll come around from time to time and check up on you. I made a promise to your dad, you see. He made me swear that if anything ever happened to him, I was to keep watch on you. Make sure you made it to adulthood. I aim to keep that promise.”

Jem felt that the man was looking at him, awaiting a response, but as Jem turned to look at him, Vic, the only friend of his father’s of which he had ever been aware, looked away.

The came to the porch.

“Jem.”

Jem turned around to face the man.

“Your rig.”

“Huh?”

“You can’t have a rig in Janus. It wouldn’t do for anyone to be able to leave whenever they wanted to, now would it?”

“I—”

“I’ll make sure it comes back to you. Go ahead. Take it off now.”

Jem couldn’t recall ever being without a rig. Quite suddenly, he burst into hot tears.

“Now that’s enough of that, my boy-o. You can’t walk in there crying like that. It’d be like walking up to the Horn and turning yourself in for being a sub-Horn, which is the way they think of everybody. What I’m saying is, they’ll tear you to pieces, so it’s best to dry those eyes, square your shoulders and walk in there.”

Jem nodded and wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

“In fact, if I were you, I’d pick the meanest looking kid in the place, walk up to him and punch him right in the face and keep punching him to somebody pulls you off of him. It’s the only way you’ll earn any respect, and for damn sure, it’s the fastest way.”

Jem nodded and Vic touseled his cornsilk blonde hair.

“You look like your dad, Jem, and that’s saying a lot. You’ll do fine.”

Jem unhooked his rig and the harness came free. Before they both could lose it to the sky above, Vic punched the stud and it dropped into his arms.

The tow rig settled down to the steps behind Jem.

Vic floated in space in front of him, and then Jem could see it all quite clearly: the vast space between Janus and the other buildings on the edge of Cirrus made Janus an island unto itself, if one didn’t have a float-rig. Janus, for all intents and purposes, was Alcatraz.

And Jem hadn’t committed any crime, other than losing his parents.

It stung. Jem was trapped. The only direction for him lay through the doorway at his back.

Vic floated off several yards, turned, gave Jem a smile, then floated away across the impassable gulf of sky.

Get your copy here!

Hopping around in the book at the moment, trying to get it polished up and somewhere near finished. Here’s a little teaser scene on the bus (neither guts nor glory here):

“Ms. Althea,” I said, “We have to go back to Umstauzel.”
“Back to—?”
“The first winery.”
“Why do you want to go back there?”
Dickerson Linton, clearly three sheets to the wind, stuck his face in between ours and breathed out alcohol fumes such that it would have been dangerous to strike a match. “If Bill wants to go back to Oompahpah, I shay we…we…we leg him. And Godschpeeeed.”
“Thank you, Linton,” I said.
Ms. Althea looked over at Julie.
“Umstauzel,” she said.
“Mr. and Mrs. Parker chimed in next, in unison, “Oompahpah.”
Somewhat of a chant began at that point, “Oompahpah. Oompahpah. Oompahpah…” with a little more than half of them managing to mangle even the mangulation.
“My God, you are all the worst bunch of…nevermind. I guess it doesn’t matter to me. You all paid for this, and the other wineries are expecting us.”
“Maybe you can call whoever is next on the list and tell them there was a holdup.”
“Yeah, I can tell them the holdup was Bill Travis.”
I nodded. “You might do that.”
“Okay, people. At this point I don’t believe any of you would be able to tell one winery from the other. We’re going back to Oompahpah.”
“Umstauzel,” I corrected her.
“Whatever the hell.” She turned to go back to the front of the bus and called over her shoulder, “Mr. Travis, please give me a head count.”
I turned around to face everyone and began counting silently, stabbing the air with a finger.
Linton Dickerson started throwing random numbers at me to try to break my concentration. “Twenty-one, thirteen, forty-two…”
“Shut up, Linton,” I said.
He laughed. “This reminds me of a song.” He started singing:

Neither a borrower nor lender be
Do not forget, stay out of debt.
Think twice and take this good advice from me.
Keep watch on your sovereignteeee
There is one other thing…you ought to do.
To thine own self be true.

I finished the count, called the total back to Ms. Althea, who grunted an acknowledgment. I said to Linton, “Thank you for that rousing chorus, Mr. Dickerson. You should go on the road with that.”
The bus lurched as Ms. Althea put us in gear.
“Looks like we’re already on the frackin’ road,” he exclaimed.
Elderly Mr. Parker suddenly stood and gave us all a moderately unsober yet poetic rendition of She Walks In Beauty Like The Night, at which not a few clapped and upon which Mr. Jameson remarked “Bo-ring!” Somehow, this prompted Linton Dickerson to stand and boisterously brutalize the theme song to Gilligan’s Island.
And so it went the five miles back to Umstauzel.

635929253515034235-1812155405_journal

Here’s an interesting little article from a private journal from 1962. The author is long dead. But what he foresaw is utterly relevant:

H. Verlan Andersen
Personal Journal, 1962

When the people commence to look to the federal government for their support, and if they don’t receive what they feel they are entitled to, they will strike against the power which is withholding that to which they consider themselves entitled. Just as in times past, men have struck against the companies who gave them jobs and provided them with a livelihood when they felt they were entitled to higher wages or shorter hours.

In both cases the recipients are not grateful for what they are receiving. They are angry because it isn’t more. The difference lies in this: When the strike is against a private company there is an independent unbiased police force to maintain peace and arbitrate the case in court, but where the government is one of the parties to the dispute there is no appeal to anything except force.

The employees can come to hate the government and its officers just as they come to hate the company and its officers when the law is not based upon moral principle. When the law can no longer appeal to either reason or justice, and where it is nothing more than a power which takes what is available and dispenses it with an arbitrary hand, with no fundamental principle to guide it in saying how much is to be given to which group, people lose respect for such a law and the police power which enforces it. No appeal to justice, reason, or compassion will prove effective. The people who are the backbone of civilized nations—the thrifty, hardworking self-respecting independent honest class—cannot respect such a law.

Where the right of private property is protected man is encouraged to look to himself to supply his wants. He is even forced to this just as nature and nature’s God decreed: Thou shalt eat thy bread by the sweat of the face. But when government announces that it will now see to it that his wants are supplied, he no longer feels the need to rely upon his own brains and body. That man loses respect for the rights of others. He looks to the use of force to provide for his needs. He looks to force which takes from others what they have created, and the more he is pampered the more he demands. He comes to believe what the government tells him: That there are no property rights which may not be invaded to provide for his wants. He no longer regards it as necessary to conserve and limit his desires or to save and provide for the future. In our complex economy this is the worst possible attitude, for when it breaks down the suffering will be most intense.

When a government encourages and advocates the belief that force may be used by groups, acting together through government to despoil others of their property, the reliance upon force becomes accepted. As the reliance upon force becomes accepted and as the numbers increase who depend upon government largesse, the greater becomes the problem of restraining this group when government can no longer supply their demands. The government must resort to force to keep them in place when their demands reach that point (which they soon will), where it is impossible to give them what they ask. Civil war will occur just as it did in Rome.

There are always large numbers in any society who are industrious and thrifty and who respect the rights of others to own and control property. These people know within themselves that it is morally wrong for the government to take from them the fruits of their own labors and saving practices and give to those who won’t work and won’t save. As the immoral practice of government grows, disrespect for law also grows. They no longer can be counted on to uphold and obey a law they know is immoral and is at variance with their conscience. The foundation of any stable government is respect and voluntary obedience by the masses of the people. When this is destroyed, free government is no longer possible and dictatorship becomes the only answer. Such a form of government must resort to a policy of foreign war to keep the people united in any respect. They must conduct a war against some real or imagined foreign government and cry danger in order to get any support.

In such a government only the corrupt will accept positions of responsibility, or those who are so blind that they are unable to see the perversion of government. Such a group will not scruple to stay in power. The love of power becomes the dominant aim in their lives. No means is too devious or too reprehensible. They will use force, lies, bribery, murder, and imprisonment to hold their opponents in check.

The loss of political and economic freedom is an inevitable consequence of socialism. Self-government becomes impossible because centralized planning displaces all local planning. As immorality grows apace, the people are unable to act in concert in sufficient numbers to put respectable and moral men in office. Each group is striving to protect its own selfish and government protected interests. Any man who stands up and says this is all wrong is vilified, maligned, and literally torn to pieces by the mobs who want government to continue to protect their labor monopoly, business monopoly, subsidy, welfare check, etc.

The moral element, seeing that it is impossible to restore government to its proper function, begins to plot its violent overthrow. This is the only recourse they have. Appeal to the ballot box is futile. Death is preferable to slavery to them. If there are no moral reference points, then government becomes nothing more than an instrument of force which treats man as if he were just another beast of burden. Not only does the government presume to own and control all land and natural resources, but it arrogates unto itself the power to treat each citizen’s labor as its own, to dispose of as it pleases, and even to direct what labor shall be performed.

—H. Verlan Andersen (1914 – 1992)

Woke up this morning from a dream and started writing. It’s been a long time since I wrote pure horror. I suppose this will be a short story or a novella. It’s temporarily entitled The Navigator. Here’s a taste: (and please forgive any errors–it’s hot off the old press)

In a small desert town along Interstate-40 between Barstow, California and Kingman, Arizona, a woman is brutally raped and left for dead behind a row of dented and sandblasted garbage cans that someone long ago had forgotten to continue filling. But this was forty years ago, and her son, the bastard who was conceived that horrific night, is midst his election campaign for United States Representative. Maybe he will win. Who knows; possibly someday he will become President.

Between St. Louis and Kansas City, up along I-70, a young woman of sixteen is certain that Christ has not only risen, but has returned. She knows this to be so because He came to her as a child and spoke things to her—things that no other living human being has ever heard.

In Harrisburg, Virginia, along the I-81 corridor, an almost ancient city councilman goes through the ritual of committing suicide. He has done this every night for the past thirty years, but has never been capable of summoning the nerve to put an end to his existence. Instead, he puts his grandfather’s Navy Colt pistol back into the holster in the closet where it has hung for his entire life. And then he cries himself to sleep.

Along the long, lonely stretch from Clovis, New Mexico to Lubbock, Texas, there exists a town named for a long dead Major in the Civil War. In this town each night a man awakens from a lurid, disturbing nightmare. What awakens him is the sound of his own voice, screaming. It is the same dream, the dream in which the gleaming bus comes to a stop, there is the brief, piercing, teakettle scream of pneumatic brakes being released, the doorway trundles open, and then he emerges.

***

Some believe that interwoven into the cosmic fabric of the universe are fine, spider’s silk threads that form a certain pattern. While it could be so that this pattern is set and held unbreakably in place by the stars and galaxies, there are a few who postulate that it is not the light at all that determines the woof and warp of these myriad skeins of thread, but instead this pattern is set by the night; the hidden and unseen. For them it is the black holes, the dark neutron stars, the postulated dark matter itself and other cosmic censures, unnamed and unnameable, that constitute the influences that marshals fate. To them, it is the cold night that is prevalent in the universe at large. It is the night that reigns supreme over the faint, hot little cinders of light.

For all that he has visited, this is most assuredly so.

His name is Christopher Pettibone. He is a diminutive-appearing man with a disarming smile, rumpled clothes, and a seemingly endless supply of cash. And when the bus comes to a stop and he arises, others wait for him to exit first. They don’t know why they do this, but they wouldn’t bother to question since they are not actually aware of him in the waking sense. Instead, they pause and shiver as he passes, and when he is gone, they shake the weariness and dread off of them as if they are shaking off the many miles behind. Just like on every trip Pettibone has taken, there will be one who is unable to bring themselves to climb back onto the bus before its departure. Pettibone knows this. He expects it, and in fact, cares not an iota. Caring is a human thing, a frailty. And he is much farther from human than other creature living on the Earth.

The first Chapter of Reveille In Red, Bill Travis #16, coming soon. I’m such a tease.
CHAPTER ONE 

 

The one good thing about getting older is that there are far many more opportunities to drink wine and relax—for other people. Things are a little too busy for me to attempt such a passtime. Julie, my wife, likes to have a little wine now and again, usually on a Saturday or a Sunday night, and while I have tasted the stuff, I couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a serious wine-drinker. Or a drinker of any kind of alcohol in any appreciable quantity, for that matter. First of all, I have to have my wits about me at all times. Second, I never particularly liked the way it made me feel.
 So when I got invited on a tour of the Fredericksberg, Texas wine country through the Austin Chamber of Commerce—one of those “reciprocity” deals that is really little more than flagrant promotion—I didn’t exactly snap at the chance. But when I did finally give the nod and accept the invitation—and received two tickets for my troubles and for my modest donation—it was with an eye toward treating my wife to the kind of life she’d wanted to live all along, or at least it was in my estimation. Possibly, I couldn’t have been more wrong about everything.
 The worst disasters typically begin that way: good intention gone awry; an effort to kill two overly vociferous song birds with the same sling bullet, which in this instance included Constance Fielder and her pushy public relations methodology, and the realization during our little talk that it was perfectly true—I rarely treated my wife to anything except a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day, taking her car down to have it washed, waxed and detailed some time in the neighborhood of her birthday every year, and the obligatory Christmas and Anniversary presents. 
 “Bill,” Constance said while standing in front of my desk, as if she belonged there and had real business to conduct, “when was the last time you treated Julie to anything? I mean, aside from taking her to dinner?”
 “Well,” I began, and was fully ready to charge forward with the details of our last trip to South Texas, but then I remembered that Julie had spent most of her time in the hotel room while I was out running around trying to figure out who was killing people and turning their bodies into instant mummies. I thought of our most recent trip to the re-opening of a blues bar in Houston, but then, on the heels of that, came the realization that it had all been for my benefit.
 I regarded Constance’s serious face and steady eyes, then sighed and leaned back in my chair.
 “How much, Constance? How much is my conscience going to cost me?”
 “Three hundred dollars. It’s the best deal you’ll ever get for the sale of your thoroughly used and overly abused conscience.”
 I opened my desk drawer, withdrew my personal checkbook, opened it and started writing.
 “You won’t regret it,” Constance said.
 As I wrote, I realized that it was all my fault to begin with. Constance and Jack had divorced a couple of years back, and Constance had been sitting in my office, quietly sobbing while I went over what Jack had done to their portfolio in the months and years leading to their breakup. I did two things for her that day: I recommended one of the best divorce attorneys in Austin to her, and when she asked me, “What am I going to do with my life?” I told her about the opening that I’d heard about with the Chamber of Commerce. All by way of saying that it always comes home to roost. No good deed…and all that.
 I finished writing the check, tore it out of the book and handed it to her.
 She gave me an envelope in return.
 “What’s this?” I asked.
 “It’s your tickets. Two tickets to paradise.”
 “Paradise,” I said. Full blown in front of me a panorama came into view: Julie and me sitting outside under an awning with half-empty wine glasses in front of us, crickets chirping in the scrub brush nearby, a vast field of grape vines stretching out to the horizon and the sun going down behind the farthest hill. 
 Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the stark beauty of South Central Texas with its rolling hills, stubby trees, and its often dry, sun-baked earth. But I do have a problem with the passage of time, or specifically, with time wasted wherein something that could be accomplished is being frittered away like money flowing through the hands of a wastrel.
 Time. My life was all about time.
 And then Constance, a late middle-aged and diminutive woman given to flowery apparel and almost obnoxious optimism, did something funny with her face. She smiled, got a little giddy-looking, and reached across my desk and put her hand on top of mine and squeezed it. “Oh, I so envy you, Bill Travis. You with your beautiful wife and your wonderful family. And now you get to go romance her all over again.”
 “All it takes to romance her, Constance, is eggs for breakfast and banana pudding for dessert.”
 “Oh, poo,” she said. She turned around, sashayed across my office while doing a little happy dance, then turned and said, “This makes me feel young, Bill, so I’m not going to let you ruin anything for me.”
 “Goodbye, Constance,” I said, but she was already gone out the door—with my three hundred bucks.
 I sat in my chair and looked at the envelope in my hand. It was a plain, white envelope, with no address on it, all clean and pristine. It would be all too easy to pull up the address for one of my clients, write their address on the envelope Constance had handed me, slap a stamp on it and put it by the front door with the outgoing mail. But it felt a little more thick than just a couple of tickets.
 I opened the envelope, since it was unsealed.
 Inside, there was a brochure, and sure enough, it had a photo splash of a couple holding hands, looking out across a field of grapes. Inside the brochure there was a wine bottle posing next to a hogshead of cheese that no family of any size could possibly eat in one sitting, and below this was another, smaller photograph showing the wine label:
REVEILLE
 There was a small bugler inked into the background, forever blowing his bugle.
 This jogged a memory.
 It had been in the paper a few days back. I looked around my desk, but no newspaper.
 I got up, went out into the outer office, but Logan didn’t work on Friday afternoon. I poked my head in Penny’s office. “Hey, where’s my newspaper?”
 “What newspaper?” she asked.
 “I had a newspaper on my desk. Where’d it go?”
 “I have no idea. For what day?”
 “I think Tuesday. No, Wednesday.”
 “The housekeeper comes every Wednesday night. She probably threw it away.”
 “Oh.” Lost. So many things, irretrievably lost.
 “I think I have Wednesday,” Penny said.
 “You’re kidding.”
 “I never kid about the newspaper.” She pushed with her feet and her chair rolled backwards. She opened her buffet bureau and I saw a stack of newspapers there.
 She handed it to me.
 I opened it on her desk and turned the page to the Local and State section, and found it.
WINERY DEATH INVESTIGATION ONGOING
 “This is it!” I said.
 “What?” She got up and looked across her desk at the paper.
 “Hmm. Now why would you be interested in that?” she asked.
 “Oh, I don’t know. Two tickets for a tour of the wine country were just dropped in my lap, and the brochure has this!” I pointed at the picture to the side of the article.
 “A bottle of wine,” Penny said. “Very nice.”
 “No. If you look close, it’s the same name, same logo as on the brochure.”
 “So, you get to tour the winery where somebody died. That sounds…about right.”
 I suppose I had made a spectacle of myself, because I suddenly became self-conscious. It had something to do with the way Penny was looking at me, with her head slightly cocked, as if something had been confirmed. Or worse, as if she thought she understood me.
 “Never mind,” I said, and turned to go.
 “Bye,” she said.
*****
I went home.
 I live in a commune, or so it seems. The garage—converted into a spare bedroom several years back—was where my old friend and client lived. Hank’s old Ford pickup was parked out front, so I knew he was home. Inside, I had two little kids chasing each other around in the squashed circle of hallways and doorways that comprised the path through the kitchen, the front hallway, the living room and the dining room and back again to the kitchen. It was Michelle and Claudia. In the living room, Jessica sat on the couch, rocking the baby in her arms—my new youngest, Bill Jr. My oldest natural daughter, Jennifer, sat at the dining room table doing her homework in an effort to get it out of the way so that she could do anything she wanted with her weekend. Julie was in the kitchen, cooking. I came up behind her, put my arms around her, and kissed her on the cheek.
 “What did you do?” she asked.
 “What? Can’t a guy be affectionate to the love of his life?”
 “He can, if he has ulterior motives. Do you want to chop some onions?”
 “I’d rather walk on broken glass,” I said.
 “That can be arranged.”
 Michelle flew past me, followed quickly by a giggling Claudia.
 “In this house, nothing surprises me.”
 “So,” she said, and put the lid back on the pot she’d been stirring. Whatever it was, it smelled good. “What’d you do?”
 “Oh, nothing. Just, I got a couple of tickets for a tour for two of wine country.”
 “Napa Valley?” she asked, incredulous.
 “No. Not that wine country. Our wine country.”
 “What, exactly, is our wine country?”
 “Oh. Fredericksberg, Trantor’s Crossing, Center Point, Luckenbach.”
 “Hmph.”
 I held the envelope out in front of her, between her and the cook pot. She took it from my hands.
 “What’s the catch?”
 I thought about it. She turned around and kissed me, then looked deeply into my eyes.
 “Tell me,” she said.
 “I…there’s this thing.”
 “What thing?”
 “Somebody was killed—possibly it was murder—at one of the wineries we’ll be touring.”
 “And you have to go and poke around.”
 “I don’t have to do anything. I just thought—”
 “You thought you could do several things at once: one, keep me happy, and two, keep yourself happy by stirring up trouble.”
 “Something like that,” I admitted.
 “When do we go?” she asked.
 At that instant, Claudia slammed into the back of my knee head first. I very nearly went down to the floor, but Julie saved me in time.
 Claudia giggled, pulled herself up and resumed the chase.
 “Not soon enough,” I said.

A lot of uncool stuff going on right now. Here’s the solution. Chapters 11, 18 and 19 are particularly important right now in today’s world, but also Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10. Do these things, and problems seem to smooth out. These are brief statements of common sense.

 

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Coming soon! Here’s the Author’s Note:

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

I’m a bit of a tea-todler these days. That is to say, actually, that I am now a tea-todler. There was once a time—way back in the way back—when I was a professional drinker. I was never an alcoholic, I just really liked to drink—and it didn’t matter what it was, so much: beer, whiskey, wine, kahlua…anything alcoholic was my favorite drink. Then, one day in my late thirties, I was done with it, having grown abjectly bored with the whole thing. Since that time, I have learned to appreciate fine drinks in very small quantities, because, like our friend Bill—not the other Bill, not the AA Bill—I prefer to have my wits about me at all times.

I simply wanted to dispense with all that from the get-go—I’m no stranger to strong drink, and in quantity. My friends of very long standing can attest to that fact. That, for “drinking.”

Which brings us now to wine. More books have been written about wines and grapes, about the “wine country” (of various nations), about wine and food, about the history of wine, etc, than perhaps any other subject. I mean, wine has been with us since forever. Ancient Egypt, Chaldea, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Norway, China, and even the Americas all had their wines. All you have do is conduct an online search on the subject and a wealth of information springs forth at your fingertips. But no, I’ve not been interested in any of those things, those elements incidental to the subject of wine and drinking. Instead, I’m fascinated with the culture of wine, or possibly the sub-culture. And no matter your persuasion—pro or con, wine-drinker or not—you have to admit, there is indeed a culture of wine. It’s out there, brothers and sisters. All you have to do is get some books on the subject and litter your coffee table with them, then start appearing at private and semi-public events and bring along a bottle or two (with a cork, as opposed to a twist-off cap) and share it all liberally, and sooner or later you will find yourself in deep in conversation with an adherent. And wine afficionados are adherents, by any definition of the term. I kid you not.

Factually, I was first introduced to wine and wine-drinkers this lifetime at a fairly formative age, when my father took me wild grape-picking with him. My father knew a lot of people in the countryside around our tiny and insular little town, and he would quickly figure out who had wild grapes growing on their place that they couldn’t bother with. Normally he’d strike a deal with them: he would pick a bushel or two of grapes—and I would help him—and give them half or a third of them, whatever the bargain was, or he would take them home and make wine and jelly with them, and give them a portion of the harvest afterwards. What a wonderful trade! Therefore, we had homemade wine at our house, and we had neighbors and “friends” who liked to drink it and get plumb dang sloshed. And that, to these young eyes, was something to behold. Adults, no less, acting like little children. Consequently, I know exactly how to make homemade wine. I don’t have to consult a recipe book. I was rooted to the spot, watching the whole ritual unfold in the deft hands of my father, who while possibly wasn’t a High Priest, he was nonetheless an adherent of a different ilk: he liked to make wine to share with other people. I rarely witnessed him drinking his own vintage.

Thus, my first introduction to the culture. And notice, if you please, the root of that word, culture.

So, wine.

That day, long ago, when I sat down to title out this series, I came up with the title Reveille In Red not having even the vaguest idea that it would be about wine. That’s the confession part of this little author’s note. No sir, it was just the title, the color red (at that time more like an elegant lady’s evening gown red than the color of wine) and a certain amount of tension in my guts.

Here’s another thing: I am probably the world’s “guiltiest” fellow. That is to say that I feel responsible for not only everything I’ve myself done, but everything that goes on around me. Truth be told, I feel somewhat responsible for what’s going on in Southeast Asia, in Washington D.C., and on some random back street in Brooklyn. I mean, after all, if something’s not right, then somebody should have or should be doing something about it. And if somebody else isn’t, then why didn’t I? So while it’s probably easy for the casual reader to pass off statements such as “a certain amount of tension in my guts,” let me tell you that I’ve never known a complete absence of that tension. I’ve never, this lifetime, felt “free and easy.” Oh yes, I’ve had plenty of moments of intense enjoyment, times of laughter, and I do, factually, sleep. But the tension, the irksome stick-poked sore spot in my belly, always returns. I learned to live with it long ago. I suppose it’s a part of me, so don’t worry none for me or my health on that score. The reason that I bring this up is that Bill’s readers are used to seeing the evidence of this in what he thinks, in how he reacts, in what he says and what he doesn’t say. I just wanted you to get the genus of that, straight from the horse’s mouth. It’s not the writer “being literary” and trying to “create tension.” Good God, no. I’d rather write about a peaceful journey through a mountain valley somewhere. No, this is my method of putting the demons at bay. For expiating some of my essential guilt. You see, I’m starting to see that Bill is the guy I should have been had I lived life the way I’ve always known that I “should,” not the way I have or even am. And this is also my way of turning something “bad” into something a little more healthy. On an even more personal level, I try to do that in most situations.

Yes, like Bill I’ve had my share of fist fights. Like Bill, I’ve had people screaming at me, people threatening me, people betraying me, and people running around trying fiercely to do me in one way or another. No matter how I handled each of those situations, I attempted at every turn to learn from them.

What’s the old saying? You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy, or at least act it. Sometimes you have to disappoint people. You have to do the right thing, not the expected thing. I’m by no means a Solomon, to say the least. But there’s that guilty feeling again: why aren’t things going well everywhere around me, not just this minute, but every minute? What did I do that I shouldn’t have? Or worse, what the hell didn’t I do that I should? I think you see what I mean.

Just a little insight into old Bill, there. I hope you didn’t mind.

All right, so we’re coming down to the last of the planned titles, aren’t we? Let’s see, what’s up next? I see only two remaining titles in the original lineup, prior to the prequels. Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook—and hey, if you aren’t, why aren’t you? Huh?—know that I have been slinging new titles around recently. So here’s the tentative lineup going into the future, starting from this one:

#16 Reveille In Red
#17 Bexar County Line
#18 The Long Goodnight
#19 Amarillo Waltz
#20 Double Ought Buck
#21 Murder On the Llano Estacado
#22 Wolf Country (prequel)
#23 Manhunt (prequel)
#24 Borderline (prequel)
#25 Leaving Extreme (short story anthology)

So, for right now, that’s pretty much it. It gives me a little more runway down there for this big, slow, lumbering airfoil to get off the ground. I always told myself that if I could complete this series, why, then I’d know something about writing. Here’s the last confession, then: I’m nowhere close to where I should be. And that, my friends, is all on me. Just like Southeast Asia and D.C. and Brooklyn.

As a final word, I want say something to you, personally. Not anyone else, just you. So you bought my book—either you downloaded it on a kindle or some other device, or you’ve bought a paperback copy somewhere, and now you’ve got it in your hands. That’s a one-way flow. It’s me outflowing to you. My words are going into your universe, like old radio skips coming in a clear night. It’s not a two-way flow (although I’ll never for a minute discount that fact that you’ve spent your hard-earned dough buying my book. No sirree, ma’am!) Apart from your initial downlay to purchase it, there’s little coming back. Now don’t worry, this is not a plea for a review, because frankly, I’ve never asked for those. In fact, I regularly admonish my writer friends when I find them doing so. This is, however, a request that you (you, personally) try, somehow, to balance that flow. My experiences are rich enough to write about for only one reason—I’ve met tens of thousands of people in my lifetime, and I consider almost all of those beneficial experiences. That is to say that what I’m missing in my life is you. So please, email me (email me at texaswier at gmail dot com) or friend me on Facebook (anyone can look at the George Wier–Author page without friending me, but it requires you requesting my friendship directly on my personal FB page. Before you do, message me and say, “Bill sent me.” I’ll understand). At the very least, if you have a membership, follow me on Twitter. And say something. I’m practically begging here. I happen to know for a fact that there are hundreds of you die-hard fans out there, if not thousands. It’s time for you to come in from the rain. The place is warm, the table is set, and there’s a chair, waiting for you.

Continuing this thought, and by way of illustration, in The Lone Star Express there’s this point where a funeral director is called out to open a casket and examine a body. Anybody remember his name? Maybe not, but I do. His name is Bob Thomas. Bob is, in fact, a real person. He’s the Funeral Director at Hammon’s Funeral Home in Littlefield, Texas. He’s a huge Bill Travis fan, and now he’s one of my best friends. He was thrilled that I name him in the book. Point of fact, I do know that most of you won’t want your name in one of my books. But a few of you? Ha ha! I can’t wait to put you here.

All this by way of saying that I do read your emails, I do respond. And I do want to hear from you. Some folks have trouble articulating what they want to say to someone like me, but let me assure you, once you get to know me you’ll find that I’m easy to be around. I’m, in fact, safe. You and I have something in common, and it’s not just Bill. It’s a way of looking at things. And that’s what’s important; important enough for me to remind you.

Okay, that’s pretty much it.

Y’all take care, now.

And all the best to you and yours.

George Wier
August 1, 2017