Friday, November 30, 2012

[NEW BLOG!]

Hey, folks. So I know it's been over a year since I've posted anything on this blog. 2012 was a REALLY bad year for me creatively. Honestly, I've got no excuse except that I haven't been able to manage my time well since transferring stores for my job and taking on full-time employment - which thankfully will end in a little under two months!

2013 should theoretically be a good year for me since I'll have a lot of time to work on projects and also get some great life experience overseas since I'll be in Taiwan from mid-February until early June. And then... well, I'll cross that bridge when I get there. I've also got some new tools/toys to play with while I'm (f)unemployed, which I'm excited about.

Major projects for 2013 include:
- Finish a draft of "Will Chang is Dead" (as always!).
- Look to self-publish a book of Verdant Heights shorts.
- Continue working on - and hopefully finish - some other major project, whether it be part of my science fiction series ("Project: Omni") or my western trilogy.
- Try to make a short web series about living in Taiwan.

Until then, I've decided to launch a new fiction blog over at Tumblr. It's a sort of "second coming" of Verdant Heights, which I'm dubbing PHASE 2. You can check it out over HERE.

Thanks again to everyone who's even given this blog even a passing glance. I'll strive to keep writing in hopes that you'll keep reading.

~ W.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

PREVIEW: "It Isn't Easy Being Green"

Hey, guys. November is here, meaning it's the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). One year ago I started a serious draft of my novel, Will Chang is Dead, and even though I didn't hit the 50k word mark I still managed to roll out 42k before the start of this year's project. However, I'm bucking the rules: instead of working on a brand new novel I'm going to try and add 50k (or as much as I can) to my current project in hopes of bringing it that much closer to completion. So far I've managed to get about 1700 words in the first day and a half, and with a nice wilderness sabbatical to Santa Cruz coming up I think I can put a lot more effort into it.

Here's a preview of one of the chapters I've come to love working on

* * * * *

She is hauntingly beautiful, like the ghost of an angel preserved for a millennium. Encapsulated in this strange device her face shows nothing but a peaceful serenity, eyelids twittering only slightly as she continues to dream her dreams which are known only to her. Through the thick window he traces over her delicate features with his eyes until he feels a strange sense of familiarity with this stranger woman.

The name on the side of the machine reads PANDORA, engraved on a thin metal plate attached with rusted screws. A second plate once hung below this, but has long been lost to time and decay, as has much of this section of the City. He caresses the plate, whispering the name aloud as his fingers run along the canyons and crevices of the ancient letters. The machine’s purpose alludes him; it stands higher than three men combined, a monstrous house of iron and steel with the woman suspended in the machine’s gullet, floating naked in some kind of pale green liquid that gives off a faint light. She’s alive, of course, that much is certain, so the machine must still be functioning correctly, but it gives no sign of life, no sound indicating that its gears are in motion or its electrical wiring is intact. It is as cold and dead as the rest of this place.

The crumbled walls and various chunks of debris give no clue as to what this room was once used for, and the hallways have long been stripped of anything of use or value. Cobwebs and mold are commonplace. Just another old, abandoned building from the days of yore as far as anyone’s concerned. But this machine is here, and has been here for a very long time. As has she, apparently.

He spends days searching, glossing over every inch of the room and the building for some sort of hint or clue – about the girl or the machine or this place. Anything will do at this point. Many an hour he simply sits in front of the machine, watching her dream. She stirs occasionally, a twitch of the finger or a slight kick of the leg, but never more than that. Sometimes her lips open and close as if she’s talking to someone, and he leans his ear against the glass hoping – no matter how pointless it may seem – to catch even the tiniest bit of her silent conversation. She becomes his focus, his inspiration, his reason for existing.

After a time he no longer ventures far from the building, never stepping foot outside the industrial ghost town. A small room one floor below the machine provides a sufficient place to sleep, eat, and even wash. Strangely enough water still flows through the rusty pipes, cold yet clear. And the electricity evidently continues to reach this place, as the multitude of flickering, dusty bulbs can attest to. He has nowhere else to go, his memories of the past already beginning to fade as he continues to devour pill after pill, running harder and faster from all the mistakes and the regrets and the pain that his memories bring. The pills are full of Memory Eaters, the addictive substance that can cause permanent amnesia if untreated for a long enough period of time. And that’s what he’s going for.

He is happy enough with this arrangement. It is simple and clean (in a way), completely uncomplicated and unproblematic.

Until the doomsday clock strikes midnight. And then it is time for a change. Because, as he keeps recalling no matter how many memories he continues to lose, time changes everything.

Everything happens without warning. He wakes to an ear-piercing screech, the sound of a siren wailing from hidden speakers scattered throughout the entirety of the abandoned building, waxing and waning at intervals without ever completely going silent. The ancient emergency lights explode, sending glass shards in all directions. Clutching his head with hands dirty from scouring the rubble for ceaseless weeks his eyes begin to water with the throbbing pain that emanates from his temples.

What’s going on…?

From the room above he can feel a tremor, slight at first but increasing in intensity. It’s coming from the machine.

He breaks into a mad dash for the metal staircase down the hall, alarms blaring in every direction while the rumbling starts to shake the entire building, bringing pieces of the walls and ceiling crumbling down around him. All he can think about is getting to her, to make sure she’s still safe in the depths of that infernal metal womb.

The stairs begin to buckle and fall beneath him as he takes them two and three at a time, practically leaping to avoid falling into the darkness. A foot slips, sending him face-first into the hard steel. Crimson blood splatters in all directions, salty and warm as it trickles across his brow. But he does not feel the pain, only the adrenaline that pumps through his veins in the face of possible destruction, another gift that evolution has left for humanity. As the vibrations begin to reach their pinnacle, shattering the very infrastructure of the entire complex, he gets to his feet and climbs the rubble to the upper floor and runs down the hall to where the machine is. Behind him he can hear the staircase give way and come crushing down.

His vision is red and blurry, hands trembling violently as he clutches the door frame for balance. As he gazes up at the machine all of a sudden the rumbling ceases, leaving a slight echo through the corridors as the building groans and readjusts to its altered state. The entire room is blanketed in darkness, all of the lights shattered as a result of the disturbance. Even the glowing green liquid that provided some form of luminescence has been darkened, and its absence suddenly registers in his brain.

Taking a step forward, he calls out her name: “Pandora…?”

There is a foul odor in the air that was not there before, a smell that rises above the stench of mold and dust. It reeks of living matter, of decayed and rotted flesh, and strangely of blood. It is incredibly strong, nearly overpowering as he takes a second wobbly step forward.

I smell blood. Everywhere.

He brings a hand to his throbbing head, holding back the stream that oozes from the gash along his hairline. The adrenaline is wearing off, and he feels nothing but pain course through his body, from the top of his head down through the overworked muscles to his aching feet. And that smell, that horrible smell that attacks the senses. It’s all he can manage to keep from vomiting all over the place.

A third step forward, another mountain to climb. He can feel the presence of the machine before him, its massive frame hidden in the black maw standing before him, its outline just ever so faintly visible (though he may only be imagining this part due to familiarity). Again, he calls her name, though she lurks behind that thick glass. “Pandora…?”

He reaches one hand out towards the machine, and as he moves to take a fourth step forward his legs crumple beneath him and he falls painfully to his knees. The throbbing is so intense, it is everywhere, and the stench is so much stronger now that it is making him faint.

I’m sorry…

He does not notice that his vision fades because all he can see is blackness of the darkened room. Nor does he notice his outstretched hand grasped in the hand of another, coated in dark green liquid.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

[JUNE]

I am going to be taking yet another hiatus from my fiction blog.

Yeah, making it official. I know I didn't finish the last three stories of the "Take Care" series, but right now I feel a little drained from it. Probably it's because I felt a bit too rushed and had trouble coming up with six different ideas for what is essentially a single setting. Kind of pigeon-holed myself into that one... Thanks for taking the time to check out the stories though. I really do appreciate the numerous views I've gotten in the last month.

As of this moment I'm going to resume work on my novel, Will Chang is Dead, which I put on hold back in December after failing to hit NaNoWriMo's 50,000 word goal (managed to get to about 26,000 but I lost steam after that). Currently it's sitting at 42 pages - single-spaced with 11" font and 1.25" margins ... pretty good!) and I'm aiming for 150-200 for a first draft. I spent a good few hours tonight going over the initial chapters and doing some light editing with some additions. Surprisingly, I still like the material I have, which is usually the opposite reaction when I come back to a story I haven't touched in a lengthy period of time. That's a good sign.

I can't say how long it's going to take me to finish it, but I truly hope I can get a complete draft before the end of this year. There are still so many other projects I have piling up, and with my hours at work constantly sucking up my time - alongside my hobbies like video games and movies - I find that I rarely have time to sit down and sink in a few hours of solid writing, let alone feel like doing it. It's getting to a point where I'm going to have to decide if I seriously want to go down this road ... and that scares me a bit, as it's the first time I've ever seriously thought about NOT writing for a living.

As usual though, thanks for taking the time. Thanks for reading. Thanks for caring. Thanks for everything.

~ W.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Trembling Hands

These hands. These fucking, goddamn hands. They don't stop shaking. Holding them up I can see them trembling, the nerves at the tips prickling like they're on fire, like I dipped them in a vat of acid. Swear to God, I'm not just doing this.

The craving is overwhelming at this point. I'm sweating buckets, tasting bitter cotton and jamming my foot on the pedal as hard as I can while making sure I ain't going to skid off the trail and into a damn tree. I'm still in control, still in one piece. Just so long as I get to the safehouse and get the Sweet Stuff in my veins. Just a taste.

Up ahead in the gloom I can see the house, the dusty old cabin covered with years' worth of graffiti and a few decades of decay. Just like me, I used to think. I jam the brakes and hop out as the car skids to a slow stop next to the old well, feeling the cramp in my calves from sitting on my ass for so long. I can't take this shit no more. Hurriedly, I reach for the stone lid covering the well mouth, taking a few quick breaths before shoving it with all the strength I can muster in this sad state.

Normally we have three guys to yank the fucking thing off, but since it's just me I have to make do. Every inch of movement is an agonizing triumph. I feel something in my arms pop, here and there a snap that rings inside my head, but I push through the physical pain, thinking of nothing but this goddamn mental strain that won't go away. Just a little more, just a little more.

The night is oncoming, fast. I have to hurry if I want to make it back before the curfew. Most likely I won't be able to drive myself out of the woods until midnight at the earliest. Whatever. Worse comes to worse I'll sleep in the Ford with the heater on and the seat back.

Finally the lid falls over onto the ground with a thud. The veins in my neck and head are pulsing painfully, and my hands are shaking worse than ever. Never mind that my muscles are screaming bloody murder. There's the rope, coiled just below the rim of the abyss, just barely noticeable beneath the shadows.

Up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up...

Come on, baby. Come to daddy.

And there it is. The sack. The mother lode. Just where I left it. A quick shake confirms what I already know, that the stuff is neatly packed inside and ready for use. Anticipation drips from my thirsty lips.

* * *

Wind howling, swirling, the voices repeat the same things over and over. What they talk about, I have no idea. I laugh at all their jokes, even the unfunny ones, especially the sad ones. Life is a goddamn comedy. The Greeks had it right the first time.

The empty needle drops onto the floor with a clatter, probably breaks among the scattered debris. People leave all kinds of things. Beer cans mostly. And condoms, most of them used. Bunch of broken plastic and glass pieces all over. Candles everywhere. I've lit a few just to brighten up the room. Outside it's dark, a cold and deep darkness that covers the woods like a blanket.

Sometimes there's blood splattered across the floor. Much of it has dried up, hardened, blended in, but sometimes it is fresh, new, warm still. Whose it is, I have no fucking idea, man.

A gust of wind picks up, strong and loud, shaking the ancient roof above my head. Whispers from all around. The door shakes and blows wide open with a bang like a bullet firing from the chamber of a magnum. At first I'm laughing like it's the funniest thing this side of Comedy Central, but then I see a figure outlined in the doorway, cast in dark shadows from the candles not blown out by the wind and the cold.

My hands start to tremble again, eyes and brain rebooting and the recognition sits in. I am fucked. I am royally fucked.

"You have no idea, man. You have no idea just how fucked you are right now." The figure glides across the room with graceful, deliberate strides until he's on top of me. One hand reaching for the collar of my Armani shirt, yanking me up.

"Tony," I plead, my voice faint and distant. Is that what I sound like? "Tony, please."

"Please, what? Please, what, man?" He speaks in a normal voice, but there is something deep down I don't like. "I already told you to stay the fuck away from here. And to quit sampling the merch. And what do I find you doing on a dark and stormy Monday night? Huh?"

It's a question. His favorite thing. I stifle a laugh. Not sure why I find it so funny.

"I find you doing exactly the opposite of what I told you." He sighs and tosses me back down onto the ratty old couch. Something sharp digs into my lower back and I feel the warm blood trickling like a drippy faucet.

"I'm tired, man. So fucking tired. Of all of this." Tony turns his back to me. And I see my opportunity. Quietly I reach behind and grasp the thing sticking into my back - a shard of glass from a broken bottle. I let him do his monologue.

"You've cost me so much, you know? I took you in, gave you a job and introduced you to all the nice people in town, all the rich-ass kids and fat cats from this side of Pacific Avenue to Frisco, baby, and all you do is stab me in the fucking back, man. I'm just so tired.

"So what do you think I ought to do about it?"

"I wonder," I mutter just as I leap to my feet. "How about fucking die then, asshole?" The shout cracks my voice. I raise the glass shard over my head and bring it down, aimed at the back of his neck. I can see him turning, eyes wide, surprised, off-guard. I've got him. I've actually got him.

But my hands tremble again. The shard crashes onto the floor and shatters into smaller pieces. My bloody fist comes down against his shoulder with subtle force, not even enough to knock him down. Before I can register what's happened I'm flying through the air. Gravity seems to have been deactivated. My head crashes into the ancient wood walls and paints my dark world with a rainbow brightness.

It's then that I hear the click of the gun, feel its muzzle against my forehead as I struggle to contain the shaking, clenching my teeth and fists and muscles and mind. Brace for impact.

"Too bad, homey. You almost had me for a second there. But you remember what I told you the first time we started working together?"

Memory banks are useless. I say nothing.

"Don't sample the merch. Never sample the merch. Gives you the shakes. Gives you the craving. Gives you them trembling hands so bad you ain't got time to shoot no more."

He pauses. Savor the moment, I suppose. Just long enough for the beads of sweat to trickle down my face. Before it can hit the floor he pulls the trigger.

And as the light approaches from the east I feel myself becoming a part of this place, my blood painting the walls with a fresh coat. I wonder, just as I slip into a dreamless sleep, how many people have met the same end here in this cabin in the woods. I guess now I'll be able to find out.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Human Qualities

To a mother who is always there,
She may be tough but never unfair

Patient and calm with everlasting love,
Always supporting with a gentle shove

This day is dedicated to the one
Whose job as mom is never done

Happy Mother's Day
2004

"What about this one, dad?" Kimi holds the card up to her father, her smile filled with confidence at her find. It's the kind of card she always seem to gravitate towards: bright, colorful, with bold lettering and simple pictures. It looks just like the card she picked out for Jan's birthday the year before. Like father like daughter.

"It's perfect, bunny. I'm sure mom'll love it." He flashes her a tired, forced smile and takes the card and envelope. Five dollars? These things are getting more expensive every year, an attempt to capitalize on the never-ending stream of birthdays and holidays and even the changing seasons. He has never been particularly good at picking out cards, and it revealed itself one year when Jan noted - with a cold edge in her voice - that he had gotten Kimi the exact same Christmas card two years in a row. Fortunately Kimi didn't notice, but Jan hadn't let that go for quite some time.

After the quick purchase Kimi and her father stop by Vienna Place for a light lunch of sandwiches and french fries. Kimi has a hot chocolate with extra whip, her favorite. The drinks at the Place are always made perfect, and consistent. Their coffee is something else entirely.

The phone rings audibly, the polyphonic ringtone of Mozart's Concerto No. 21 catching the attention of the nearby tables. Overhead, the soft jazz seems quiet in comparison.

"Yeah?" he sighs, taking a long sip of steaming coffee. Kimi drinks her hot chocolate quietly, looking away but keeping attentive ears directed at her father.

"I'm leaving."

"Jan? What do you mean?" He thinks, then adds, "Are you okay?"

"I'm leaving," she repeats, the tone exactly the same. They both pause, inhale, exhale. She's the first to resume the conversation. "I just can't do this anymore, Nate. I just can't." There is a muffled noise on the other end, and he can feel her gripping the phone hard in her palm, her hand and voice shaking. "So, I'm... I'm leaving."

He turns his head away from the table, glancing over at Kimi through the corner of his eye as he drops his voice to a near whisper. "When will you be back?"

"I don't know, Nate. All I know is that I have to get out of here, I've got to leave this goddamn place before I lose my mind."

"Where are you now?"

She doesn't reply, not immediately. The line's still connected, her breathing tense and heavy over the slight buzz between the two phones. Service up in the Heights isn't what it was back in San Jose.

"I'm leaving." She says it a third time, same as it was the previous two. "Good-bye, Nate. Tell Kimi mommy loves her." And before he has a chance to even stutter out a quick reply the line is cut, ended from her side. Nathan pulls the phone away from his ear and turns it off, his finger jamming the power button down ever so slightly harder than normal.

"Was that mom?" Kimi sets her mug down on the table and picks at a half-eaten fry, swirling it around in a pile of ketchup. Ring around the rosy. Her bright green eyes are downcast, off towards some other corner of the room. Anywhere but here.

"Yeah," her father replies sullenly, taking another quick sip of coffee. "She's going to be home late, bunny. Got some business over in the City to take care of, so she might not be home until tomorrow." He can feel the lie twisting and churning in his stomach, flipping the bits of turkey and jack cheddar violently. It does its damage, simultaneously serving its purpose, as Kimi perks up slightly, a smile returning to her face.

"Oh, good," she says, popping the fry in her mouth. "I was scared she wasn't going to see the card we got her."

* * *

Kimi runs in circles around the cabin, giggling and gasping for air as Teddy chases after her, his constant barking echoing among the trees. The sunlight pours in through cracks in the redwoods and pines, casting warm shadows all throughout the woods.

The Accord is parked some meters away, along an old road that is nearly invisible. Nate sits on the roof of the car, head buried deep in his palms. She wasn't at home. Just like she said. Her clothes were gone, their closet neatly picked clean on her side, the drawers empty save the moth balls. She even took the time to grab all her toiletries, including the spare dental kit they kept for guests. It's like Jan just simply disappeared, her physical existence nothing but a memory.

All this without so much as a note.

Nate looks up and watches as Kimi and Teddy play in the soft green grass. She loves this place, this little cabin in the woods they discovered purely by accident all those months ago. The silence is always peaceful, calming, but strangely unnerving on certain days. No birds ever seem to be around, and as far as Nate knows no one else in town knows about the cabin.

"Can we stay awhile longer, dad?" Kimi shouts. She has her arms wrapped around the German Shepard's neck. Both of their faces are dirty in spots, Teddy's more than Kimi's.

"Sure, bunny." He nods and forces a smile. "Just for awhile," he mutters. "Just for awhile."

* * *

Janet grips the steering wheel with sweaty, clammy hands red with tension, her back arched forward as she stares at the open road before her. The old Ford's pushing ninety and climbing, her bare foot pressing hard on the accelerator as though she were being chased. Faster, faster, faster, faster, faster. She has to keep driving hard, has to keep driving fast, has to keep running. She ignores the furious honking of the cars she passes, ignores the angry faces and rude gestures in the fleeting rear-view mirror. Fuck this place, and fuck these people.

The highway curves to the north around the mountains, widening up from two lanes to four. There are more cars coming down from the north, off to San Francisco and Los Angeles. They will pass by the lonely exit that leads to that godforsaken little town, but they will not see it, not even give it a passing glance. It is a ghost town, just another little dot on a tattered, unused map.

Ninety-three, ninety-four, ninety-five...

Why Nate ever wanted to move up here to the middle of nowhere is something Janet could never figure out. Sure, it's technically closer to the Bay Area and his job, but why this town? Why Verdant Heights of all places? San Rafael, Oakland, Daly City, hell even Richmond would have been more bearable, more sane.

The veins along her temples throb and pulsate. She grimaces, reaching for the bottle of ibuprofen in the glove compartment, popping it open with one hand and tossing back a few. Maybe a few too many actually. The empty bottle drops to the floor with a soft clatter.

Ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine...

Blurry green lines to the right and left, thinning out slowly but surely, giving way to the restaurants and gas stations and - soon enough - the shopping malls and hotel chains. Civilization. It's where she belongs, where all human beings belong. Something about the tall buildings, bright lights, the sound of voices swirling around you, the feel of someone else's skin brushing your own. Those human qualities that separate us from the animals are what make us unique, what make us whole.

At the back of her mind, Janet knows what she is leaving behind. Tears well up in her eyes as Kimi's face smiles at her from the rear-view mirror, seated comfortably in the backseat. Nate leans across from the passenger side and changes stations on the radio, finding one that plays that classical music he likes so much.

"Getting hungry, hon? I think Kimi might be."

Janet says nothing, knowing they're only visions, visions brought on by stress, by tension, possibly by her own madness.

"I'm thirsty, mom. Can we stop and get a soda soon?"

One-hundred and three, one-hundred and four, one-hundred and five...

"Maybe later, bunny. Maybe later."

For now Janet keeps driving, away from the town of Verdant Heights, away from the cold mountains and desolate woods, away from the isolation and loneliness. All she needs is what's around her - the concrete monoliths with their glass doors and windows, the paved streets that tell of the travels of thousands, and the comfort of others of her kind.