495. Adam’s Story: The Point of View

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

Up to this point, I have spent the Adam’s Story series discussing elements of my story project. Today’s post, the last of the series, is a little different. It discusses not a planned element, but a possible one: a shift in the story’s point of view.

The Lance Eliot saga is framed by another story. A frame story is a narrative that sets the stage for another narrative. It’s a story within a story. (Cue the “BWAH” sound effect from Inception.) The Lance Eliot saga is presented as a manuscript written by Lance himself shortly before his death, and published posthumously. His fantastical adventures are framed by the story of Lance trying feverishly to finish his account of them.

Lance shall remain the author of his own story. What may change—I haven’t quite yet made up my mind—is not who tells the story, but when he tells it.

Shall Lance’s story remain a memoir, or become a journal?

Journals can be a great storytelling device.

In previous versions, Lance’s story was a memoir written entirely during his last days. It occurred to me recently that I might make it a journal kept during his adventures. Instead of writing three novel-length narratives at the end of his life, Lance could spend those final weeks compiling, editing, and organizing notes and journals that he had previously kept throughout his travels.

Changing the point of view offers potential benefits. It might make the story more immediate and immersive. It would no longer be the reminiscences of a man safe in his own home—it would be the writings of a man on a perilous adventure. The reader would be right there with Lance… in theory, anyway.

This change would also explain how Lance remembers word-for-word conversations and other details so perfectly: when he writes them down, the memories are days, not years, old.

On a more pragmatic note, I think it would be easier for me to write Lance’s story as a series of journal entries. It would help keep me immersed in his travels. Besides, keeping a journal, even a journal of fictional events, isn’t that different from blogging. I have a little experience blogging.

I’m attached to the old point of view for the Lance Eliot saga, but intrigued by the possibility of a new one. What do you think?

How do you think Lance should tell his story? Let us know in the comments!

492. About Storytelling: Representation Really Matters

This post is a long one, but I believe it’s much more important than most of this blog’s nonsense, so please bear with me patiently. (This post is also extremely geeky, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone.)

A friend and I recently watched Doctor Strange, the latest in a long line of superhero movies based on Marvel comics. It starred Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor from Sherlock who looks like an otter. Along with some psychedelic visuals—watching certain scenes was like taking drugs without actually, y’know, taking drugs—Mr. Cumberbatch’s performance elevated an otherwise predictable Marvel movie.

Yes, Marvel movies are pretty formulaic at this point. The dialogue is peppered with quips, the villains are generally unimpressive, and the starring heroes are white dudes.

It’s tradition.

Every headlining star in a Marvel movie has been a white man. There are female characters and characters of color, of course, but nearly always in supporting roles. Black Widow (a woman) and Nick Fury (a black man) don’t get their own movies. War Machine and Falcon, both black heroes, are sidekicks to Iron Man and Captain America, both white heroes. Movies starring a black man (Black Panther) and a woman (Captain Marvel) are in development, but after eight years, only white men have starred so far in the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place for diverse representation. Maybe I should look at, say, video games.

I’m pretty sure that each of these famous video game characters is actually the same guy in a different wig.

Maybe not.

I have absolutely nothing against white guys. I am a white guy. Many of my friends are white guys. There is nothing wrong with white guys. However, when white guys become a default template for fictional characters, well, that just ain’t fair.

People like to see themselves represented well in fiction. For example, I’m a Christian, and it really bugs me that Christians are often underrepresented, or represented badly, in popular culture. Joining Christians in that category are… well, lots of people. Women, people of color, various minority groups, and people with certain body types, among others, are often not represented well.

It ain’t fair.

I could yell and shake my fists, but won’t. (I find it doesn’t help.)

Instead, I’ll give a shout out to Marvel Entertainment, whose films I criticized earlier for lacking diversity, because its story doesn’t end there.

Marvel makes TV shows with fairly diverse representation. Luke Cage stars a black man, features a mostly black cast, and offers thoughtful takes on black culture and identity. I didn’t like Jessica Jones, but its depiction of a woman recovering from (maybe literal and definitely metaphorical) rape trauma deserves consideration and respect.

In the meantime, Marvel’s comics are becoming steadily more diverse. I hardly read superhero comics. However, I do occasionally read articles from Evan Narcisse, a journalist who offers brief but fascinating glimpses into contemporary comics.

Well, this is different. I like it.

Mr. Narcisse’s articles inform me that a woman carries Thor’s title at the moment. The current Spider-Man, Miles Morales, is a half-black, half-Hispanic teenager. Iron Man’s successor is a young black woman. Bruce Banner has passed on his Hulk condition to a young Asian-American man.

Marvel is embracing diverse representation, and so are many video games. I can think of at least two games—not indie games, mind you, but triple-A titles—that star Native Americans. More games are getting people of color, and fewer babes in chain-mail bikinis, as playable characters. The latest Tomb Raider games reinvent Lara Croft, perhaps the most egregious sex symbol in the game industry, as a smart, tough woman who actually wears clothes.

Then there’s Overwatch. God bless Overwatch. It’s a multiplayer video game in which colorful characters shoot each other with guns. It also boasts some truly amazing (read: Pixar-level) animations. I’ll never play Overwatch—I don’t care for multiplayer games about shooting people with guns—but I’m glad it exists.

Overwatch has an amazing cast of characters.

The characters in Overwatch represent quite a number of races, nationalities, and body types. As you might expect from a video game, there are a couple of tough-looking white guys and a few slim, curvy white ladies. There’s also a chubby Asian woman, a black Hispanic man, an old Middle Eastern woman, and a brawny Slavic woman, to name a few. (There’s also a gorilla from the moon. How’s that for diversity?)

I will remember the characters in Overwatch long after I’ve forgotten most of the generic white dudes from other video games—and that’s one reason representation really matters. Far from getting in the way of storytelling, representation can actually improve it. Diverse characters bring backgrounds, languages, cultures, and points of view to a story that might otherwise be generic or forgettable.

By the way, I know this is a longer post than usual, so please accept, as a reward for reading this far, this animation of a character from Overwatch booping someone’s nose. It’s barely relevant, but it makes me happy. Here you go.


What was I saying? I was distracted by the boop. Ah, yes, I was making the case that diverse representation can actually benefit storytelling.

A lot of people grumble that diverse representation is just “political correctness,” and that it causes harm. Does it?

Believe it or not, there can be harm in diverse representation. It can be done badly. Diversity for its own sake, lacking respectfulness and understanding, is a huge mistake. Not doing can cause less damage than doing badly. It’s wrong to leave a starving man hungry, but it’s worse to feed him poison.

Diverse representation isn’t easy. Like everything else in a good story, it must seem real. It must convince. A storyteller must understand and respect whatever he represents, which is especially hard if it doesn’t represent him.

This brings me to a personal note. It’s easy for me to preach diversity in storytelling without actually practicing it. Up to this point, I haven’t practiced it.

I want to practice it. Instead of merely ranting that contemporary stories aren’t diverse enough, I should tell a story with diversity. Conveniently enough, there’s a story I want to tell.

Anyone who has followed this blog for more than five minutes knows of the Lance Eliot saga, the story I’ve tried for more than a decade to write. Its hero was always a white dude because, y’know, I’m always a white dude.

This time, Lance Eliot isn’t white. He’s Hispanic—Ecuadorian American, to be exact.


The premise of the Lance Eliot saga is that Lance saves another world from destruction. I had always planned for a few other characters to represent other races, but imagined Lance as a white man.

In so doing, I became unintentionally guilty of upholding the white savior narrative, in which a white person rescues a community of non-white people. On the surface, it’s a bit racist. Look a little deeper, and… well, it’s still racist. The narrative is common, however—just look at James Cameron’s Avatar, whose white hero saves an entire society of people of color. (That color is blue, but the narrative is the same.)

I didn’t want Lance Eliot to be another white savior. The world has enough white saviors; Lance can be a coffee-colored one.

I chose to make Lance an Ecuadorian American specifically because of all non-white ethnic groups, I believe it’s the one I can represent most faithfully, respectfully, and convincingly. I grew up in Ecuador; I live in America. Beside, I’m well acquainted with an Ecuadorian American: my aunt, a wonderful lady who not only makes delicious Ecuadorian food, but also watches American football with greater enthusiasm than any of the white people in my family. (My white relatives prefer Latin American soccer, ironically enough.)

Has Lance’s change of ethnicity gotten in the way of the story? Not at all! In fact, I believe it will enrich the story… whenever I get around to writing it. As a character suspended between cultures, Lance now has better reasons for feeling insecure and out of place, and for hiding those feelings behind sharp sarcasm. He can adapt quickly to the fantasy world I will create, because he’ll already have learned to adapt to other cultures. I can relate to Lance more than ever before. My attempt at diverse representation will (probably) help me to write a better story.

People like to see themselves represented well in fiction, but even as a white guy, I’m tired of seeing white guys. I want to see other experiences, cultures, and points of view. There’s a big world out there, and I want to see more of it.

On a related note, Disney’s Moana just hit theaters. It looks rad.

Well, I’m hooked. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.)

I know this post was a long one, and probably not much fun to read. Thanks for reading it anyway. Adam out. Boop!

486. Adam’s Story: The Themes

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

Every story means something. Patterns of meaning are called themes, and give stories greater depth and significance. The meaning of a story can be obvious, ambiguous, or deviously difficult to pin down. Heck, some people devote their entire lives to figuring out what stories mean; their profession is known as literary criticism, and it’s often a strange one.

Themes have a way of creeping into stories, insidious and ninja-like, sometimes without the author noticing. As I worked on previous versions of the Lance Eliot saga, I began to see motifs and patterns that I hadn’t planned. I was able to develop only a couple of them. It was too late to explore the rest.

I’m planning to rewrite the Lance Eliot saga from the beginning, which will allow me to explore its ideas more deliberately.

Here are four themes I plan to develop as I rewrite The Trials of Lance Eliot, the first part of my story.


Lance Eliot’s journey to the fantastical kingdom of Guardia is apparently a pointless mix-up. He was summoned instead of Lancelot, the legendary knight of Camelot, due to a careless mistake. Now he’s stranded in Guardia, torn between amazement and annoyance, and convinced his journey is meaningless.

Is it?

I preceded an earlier version of the Lance Eliot story with these words from Geoffrey Chaucer: “Alas, why is it common to complain of God or Fortune, who so often deign, hiding their foresight under many a guise, to give us better than we could devise?”

Is there a greater purpose behind Lance’s adventure, or is he struggling against the aimless workings of a blind universe?

Anything out there?

I believe every story means something, but Lance isn’t so sure.

Before his journey to Guardia, Lance studies literary criticism for one of his college courses. He doesn’t take it seriously. Literary criticism appears to invent meaning where there is none. Like the dishonest tailors in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” it points out things that aren’t really there.

Is anything there? Is there any meaning or purpose in the universe? Lance doesn’t know, and his unexpected adventure sure isn’t helping.

Overcoming self-destructive tendencies

At first, Lance Eliot is not brave, selfless, or virtuous. As a matter of fact, he is cowardly, selfish, and pessimistic. He also has a drinking problem. Lance is a far cry from Lancelot, the pure-hearted hero.

Lance Eliot, our… hero?

Tsurugi is broken. Once a legendary soldier, he is now a war criminal, working for a rogue general as an alternative to execution. Tsurugi seems to have given up on everything: his nation, his future, and his soul.

Paz gave up a quiet life to wander the kingdom as a professional gambler. Her miraculous luck has brought her a lot of money, but luxuries as friends and family are more than she can afford. Paz travels alone, homeless, always on the defensive… and her luck is bound to run out someday.

In their own ways, these unlikely traveling companions have given up on their lives, and given in to self-destructive tendencies. Guardia faces annihilation. If our heroes want to prevent the kingdom’s destruction, they’ll have to start by preventing their own.


Guardia is a kingdom of glass. It exists in a delicate balance, suspended between two warlike empires, keeping a fragile peace. Its strong navy and military, along with its defensible borders, are all that prevent Guardia from becoming a battleground for its powerful neighbors: a kingdom reduced to blood and ashes.

Paz was named for this peace. She has spent years traveling across Guardia, and doesn’t want to see it trampled by armies. Peace can’t last forever. What will happen when it fails?

Yeah, probably.

Three of the story’s main characters, mentioned above, are searching for a different kind of peace. Lance wants to find meaning or purpose in life. Tsurugi lives in a haze of grief. Paz is restless and unfulfilled. Other characters, whom I won’t mention yet, look for peace in darker places.

If I finish the Lance Eliot saga, perhaps I’ll find a little peace of my own. Here’s hoping.

The Divine Comedy

Around the time I began working on the Lance Eliot saga in earnest, I read Dante’s Divine Comedy for the first time. I couldn’t help but notice some similarities, and decided to make them deliberate.

The first part of my story, The Trials of Lance Eliot, shall roughly parallel Inferno, which chronicles Dante’s journey through hell.

Y’know, Dante doesn’t look very heroic, either.

I hope to hit a lot of the same beats: the dark wood, Beatrice’s early influence, Virgil’s guidance, the final encounter with the Devil, and the escape to safety beneath starry skies. As its title suggests, The Trials of Lance Eliot will put its hapless protagonist through hell.

National Novel Writing Month just started, and while I’m not participating this year, it reminds me of a painful truth: The Lance Eliot saga is going to take a lot of work. Lance won’t be the only one struggling! As long as I’m on the subjects of hell and writing, I’ll conclude with a quote I’ve seen floating around the Internet:


Pretty much.

480. Adam’s Story: The Politics

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

I’m tired of real-life politics at the moment, so why don’t we talk about fictional politics instead?

If we have to discuss a bad political situation, let’s at least look at a fictional one.

In previous versions of the Lance Eliot saga, the politics of my imaginary kingdom were simplistic. This time around, I want to craft a more complex political situation for Lance and his companions to navigate.

If this sounds boring, don’t worry! The Lance Eliot saga shan’t be a political thriller, but an adventure story with a sprinkling of political drama. I’m still planning dragons, swordfights, and Other Cool Stuff that I won’t discuss yet; it shan’t all be politics! I just want to create a setting for Lance’s adventures that’s more believable than a generic fairy-tale kingdom.

The Lance Eliot saga takes place mostly on Fyrel, an hourglass-shaped continent in the world of Gea. The northern and southern landmasses are joined at the equator by an isthmus. This strip of land, bordered by ocean on the east and west, is the kingdom of Guardia: a gateway between the northern and southern lands.

I’m working on an updated map for Guardia. For now, here’s the map I used for previous versions of the Lance Eliot story.

Guardia is bordered by two vast empires: Tyria to the north, and Sanguin to the south. These world powers expanded over centuries to completely conquer the northern and southern landmasses. Only the ocean and the little kingdom of Guardia separate them.

For such a small nation, Guardia is remarkably defensible. Its northern border is largely blocked by mountains and dense jungles; the southern border consists mostly of mountains, deserts, and dangerous marshes. The south is also bordered by a narrow strip of territory known as the Noman’s Land: a lawless neutral zone.

Thanks to its place between two empires, Guardia regulates trade and traffic between North and South. Money, goods, merchants, and travelers—all carefully supervised—flow through the kingdom like sand through the neck of an hourglass. Guardia’s economy, built painstakingly over centuries, depends almost entirely on trade.

The healthy economy funds a strong navy and military to protect the kingdom. Guardia exists in a delicate balance, suspended between two warlike empires, trusting neither, but depending on both.

Tyria and Sanguin are both eager to expand, but conquest is earned by war, and Guardia is the only avenue through which war can be fought. As long as it remains free, shielded by its hostile terrain and strong military, Tyria and Sanguin can’t attack each other.* These empires are locked in a cold war. If either declares war on Guardia itself as a prelude to further conquests, the other empire will immediately fight to defend it.

It’s sort of like the Cold War, but without the nukes.

Guardia’s status as a merchant nation, protected by its military and impenetrable borders, are all that prevents a world war.

None of this has anything to do with Lance Eliot. He doesn’t really care—he’s just a college student in a little Indiana town. Guardia’s politics are not his problem. Gea isn’t even his world. His journey to Gea was a mistake: a supernatural screw-up by someone who tried to invoke Lancelot, the hero of Camelot, but got Lance instead.

Lance Eliot was summoned to Guardia on the order of Eisen, a military leader forced into early retirement by Demas, the King. Eisen retreated to the city of Faurum and founded the Guardian Peace Committee. The purpose of this secret society is to maintain Guardia’s independence, preventing war between the North and South.

King Demas has reigned for decades, keeping the peace with both empires, but rumors have reached Eisen that the King is considering a secret deal to surrender Guardia to Tyria in exchange for personal favors. If Tyria annexes Guardia, Sanguin will retaliate, and war will erupt.

If the King is not stopped, Guardia will become a battleground: a land of blood and ashes trampled by armies.

Eisen doesn’t have a lot of resources. The Guardian Peace Committee has only a small military force of its own. (This includes Tsurugi, a disgraced soldier in Eisen’s service.) With few options, Eisen employs the supernatural gifts of a young woman, Maia, to search beyond Gea for someone—anyone—who can help.

Lancelot can help, right? Right?!

Enter Lancelot of Camelot. By all accounts, this legendary knight of Earth possessed both martial prowess and political savvy. If Maia can use her powers to summon Lancelot and break the language barrier, perhaps he can offer Eisen support, or at least some advice.

Of course, Maia makes the mistake of summoning Lance Eliot instead of Lancelot, and the rest is history… or shall be history once I get around to writing it.

*Neither Tyria nor Sanguin can wage war with the other entirely by sea: it’s far too costly to transport entire armies, with provisions and war machines, hundreds of miles in boats. Apart from the dangers of sea travel, any force small enough to travel in ships would be quickly outnumbered in enemy territory, unable to retreat. The only viable strategy for waging war is through Guardia.

474. Adam’s Story: The Lore

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

Today we take a look at the lore and mythos underlying my story project. Let’s start at the beginning—the very beginning. There’s a lot of fictional history and made-up legends here, so brace yourself!

Lance Eliot finds himself stranded in the kingdom of Guardia, which lies upon the equator of a world called Gea. The origins of this fantastical place are shrouded in uncertainty. Only legends and fragments of history have survived, preserved in folktales and the sacred writings of the Vigil, Guardia’s predominant religion.

Over time, Lance learns more about the lore and history of Gea. (That’s pronounced “HEY-uh,” by the way.) Its recorded history goes back only centuries; beyond that, only myths and religious accounts remain.

According to the scriptures of the Vigilant religion, there exists a being of infinite wisdom and power known as El. (The Vigil ascribes further titles to him, such as El Enthroned and He Who Is.) El created many worlds in many universes, and Gea was one of these worlds. It doesn’t exist in the same universe as our Earth, but in one connected to it—a sister universe, so to speak.

Looking good, sis!

Gea follows our laws of physics, with the addition of a metaphysical force known as aer. This natural energy pervades everything. (It’s similar to our own concept of qi, and to a lesser extent of magic; Lance speculates these may represent a distorted understanding of aer.) Gifted individuals known as aerists can channel aer to perform supernatural feats. These include sending or summoning objects—or people, as Lance learns the hard way—from one universe to another.

The people of Gea are not indigenous to it, or even to its universe! An ancient event known as the World-storm transported thousands of people to Gea from past ages of Earth. (This might accounts for some of the missing people across our own history.) These interplanetary castaways were the ancestors of Gea’s people, and gleams of our own cultures and languages can still be seen in theirs.

The cause of the World-storm is not known. The Vigil claims it was a miracle by which El brought new life to Gea. Secular scholars theorize irregular movements of aer or cosmic rifts between universes. Whatever its cause, the World-storm left Gea with a faint connection to Earth, to which we, here on Earth, remain mostly oblivious. However, some of Gea’s realities are echoed in the mythologies of Earth, such as dragons and other monsters.

Here there be dragons.

The writings of the Vigilant religion, known collectively as the Book of El, yield no further insight on the creation of Gea or the cause of the World-storm; after these early chapters, its history leaps forward centuries to the founding of the kingdom of Guardia, whose history is mostly corroborated by other texts. The only clues about the intervening dark ages come from myths and legends of dubious historical accuracy.

An ancient myth claims Gea, among all other worlds, was created for a unique purpose: Gea is a divinely-appointed vessel, a cosmic container for… something.

Over centuries, many questioned the nature of that which is allegedly hidden deep within Gea. Poets, prophets, and philosophers speculated, but to no avail. Some claimed Gea contains a treasure of immeasurable worth, or a cache of heavenly wisdom. Others, less optimistic, believed Gea is not a vessel for treasure, but a prison for some powerful demon or devastating catastrophe. Theories abound, but there are no answers.

Other myths tell stories of the dark ages of Gea, filling its blank pages with legends and fairy tales. One such myth claims that a race of celestial creatures ruled Gea long before the World-storm brought human beings to the planet. Ruins dot the landscape of Guardia, predating the World-storm, but nobody is sure of their origin.

Who built these? I didn’t build these. Did you build these?

The Vigil emphasizes the importance of guarding Gea, especially Guardia, from harm, hence the religion’s name. According to the Vigil, El entrusted the kingdom to the gods or archangels known as the Twelve Seraphs. These divine servants are honored in Guardia with shrines and festivals; each Seraph is considered the patron of specific groups, in the manner of patron saints here on Earth.

Guardian folk tales often represent the Twelve Seraphs and their dealings with mortals. Of particular interest to Lance are the stories of Dove Thistle-head, a folk hero who supposedly planted gardens and groves all over Guardia, and outsmarted even the Seraphs in her quest to help Guardia’s people.

Lance is skeptical of Guardia’s myths and religious writings, but remains interested in them. Who knows? There might be some truth in them somewhere. In the end, it hardly matters—Lance has bigger things to worry about!

460. Adam’s Story: The Premise

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

We begin with the basics today. The finer points of story planning really ought to wait until I’ve said a thing or two about my story’s fundamental premise.

Here we go.


Death! What a cheerful way to start a story.

Lance Eliot is dying, and he’s not terribly happy about it. Death is unexpectedly complicated. (Seriously, have you ever tried it? The legal paperwork is horrendous.) As he resignedly puts his affairs in order, Lance sits down to write a memoir of his adventures. He doesn’t expect anyone to believe it, but his story deserves to be told, and he’ll tell it if it’s the last thing he does… which it probably will be. Man, death is a nuisance.

This is his story.

Long before his death, Lance Eliot is a college student in the little town of Crossroads, Indiana. He’s eager to go home for Christmas break, but one thing stands in his way. He must confront a professor nicknamed the Skeleton—a gaunt, ill-tempered instructor of literary criticism—and plead for a passing grade in his class.

After a torturous discussion of Dante’s Inferno, Lance escapes the Skeleton, staggers to the nearest coffee shop, and buys a drink. Then, with no warning whatsoever, he disappears from Crossroads and reappears in a strange new world. Lance is lost and alone. Worst of all, when he vanished, he left behind his drink.

Spiritual coffee

Never mind Lance dying. Losing his coffee is the real tragedy here.

Lance eventually learns that he was transported to this unfamiliar world by an arcane power called aer… or as he puts it, “basically magic.” He’s now stranded in the kingdom of Guardia, a tropical nation tucked between two vast empires. Its society is antiquated, but not primitive; Lance later compares it to the Renaissance.

In some ways, Guadia seems too fantastical to be true. Aer, that mystical power, is channeled by a gifted few known as aerists. Stories abound of El Enthroned, the Greater God, and of his servants, the Twelve Seraphs. Dragons exist, apparently. Lance is skeptical, and not exactly pleased. “I’m stranded in a fantasy novel,” he grumbles. “Great.”

His mood only worsens when he learns why he was brought to Guardia. The kingdom stands upon the brink of annihilation. A young aerist, eager to help, tried to summon Lancelot, the legendary knight of Camelot… but got Lance Eliot instead. It’s hard to say who’s more upset: Lance Eliot, or the people who got him instead of the hero they wanted.

Now trapped in Guardia, Lance must face many trials to find a way home, and he’ll have to do it all without coffee. Even if he manages to get back to Crossroads, he’ll still have to face the Skeleton. Lance would frankly rather face the dragons.

Thus begins begins the story of Lance Eliot, which is also kind of my story. I did name this series of blog posts Adam’s Story for a reason, y’know. The next post in the series will probably focus on the setting or characters. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!

451. The Sordid Story of My Typewriter Monkeys

For nearly five years, I have run this blog with the reluctant help of a dozen typewriter monkeys. What exactly, you ask, is a typewriter monkey? It’s a monkey with a typewriter, of course. They aren’t the best assistants, but my monkeys were cheaper than hiring a secretary, so here we are.

Some time ago, one of my readers expressed interest in learning more about my monkeys. His comment made me realize how little I knew about them. In fact, all I knew for sure was that they liked setting stuff on fire. I was a bit nervous to dig any deeper.

Typewriter monkeys (1 of 2)

The monkey on the right looks a bit like Hunter S. Thompson, which is completely appropriate: “fear and loathing” is a phrase often used in describing my monkeys.

All the same, I feel I owe my readers some answers, so I recently did some research into my monkeys’ sordid past. What I found was… not surprising, actually. I found not solid facts, but a patchwork of dark hints and sinister rumors. How many are true? I don’t know, and I would rather not. I can sleep at night not knowing.

Here at last, dear reader, is the story of my typewriter monkeys. Here is the shameful tale of Sophia, Socrates, Plato, Hera, Penelope, Aristotle, Apollo, Euripides, Icarus, Athena, Phoebe, and Aquila. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Typewriter monkeys (2 of 2)

Here my monkeys are “fixing” a typewriter. May it rest in peace.

(In case anyone is interested, here’s the true story behind my typewriter monkeys. It isn’t nearly as interesting as the made-up one.)

I bought my typewriter monkeys on Amazon.com back in 2011 from a company called Press Paws, Inc. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.) It didn’t take me long to realize my mistake, but when I tried to contact the seller, it remained mysteriously out of reach. I didn’t pursue the matter any further at the time; I was too busy putting out fires and mopping up puddles of typewriter ink.

More recent attempts to locate Press Paws led me nowhere. However, after digging around some of the darker corners of the Internet, I stumbled upon a man who claimed to have known my monkeys before Press Paws acquired them.

This man requested anonymity, so I’ll call him Socrates. He claimed to have worked as a janitor for Tough Nut, a high-security wildlife refuge “somewhere in the Amazon.” (I assume he meant the geographical area, not the online store.) According to Socrates, Tough Nut is where conservationists send the wildlife too, um, wild to be kept anywhere else.

Of all the animals living in Tough Nut, none were tougher (or nuttier) than the twelve monkeys known as the Dirty Dozen. They came from all corners of the world. None of the staff at Tough Nut knew much about them, but there were plenty of rumors.

One of the monkeys was rumored to be el Bandido Peludo de Sonora, a legendary outlaw who terrorized tourists to Mexico’s Sonora state. He was notorious for never actually holstering his weapon, keeping a banana in the holster instead.

Another member of the Dirty Dozen had once belonged to Somali pirates. Another was once a pickpocket in Mumbai, and yet another had been the mascot of a dive bar in the Bronx. I wasn’t even slightly surprised to hear that one of them had been sentenced to Tough Nut for blowing up a deserted firework warehouse.

Boom, baby.

Of all these shameful reputations, the worst belonged to a monkey who had once worked for TMZ.

Surrounded by ominous rumors, the Dirty Dozen gained a fearsome reputation among the other animals in Tough Nut. Even the bears and tigers feared them. The Dirty Dozen committed such dreadful crimes as starting fires, inciting riots, and talking too loudly during movies.

In the end, the monkeys were so unmanageable that Tough Nut sold them to Press Paws for the equivalent of seventeen United States cents. Press Paws managed to sell the Dirty Dozen (for quite a bit more than seventeen cents) to an unsuspecting college student, before shutting down and apparently erasing all traces of its existence.

I was that college student, of course. I renamed my gang of monkeys the Typewriter Monkey Task Force, finished putting out the fires, and started a blogthis blog, in fact, which I named after my typewriter monkeys in an optimistic attempt to earn their respect. (It obviously didn’t work.)

This comic still makes me chuckle. Thanks, JK.

My typewriter monkeys have spent nearly half a decade working for me, and these years have been bright. I mean that literally—I can’t count how many times my monkeys have set stuff on fire. Fortunately, my monkeys set fires only when they’re sober, so I don’t have to worry on weekends and holidays. (Thanks to its fireworks, July Fourth is the exception to this rule. Wait, that’s in two weeks, isn’t it? Flipping heck.)

There you have it, dear reader: the sordid story of my typewriter monkeys. I hope to finish this blog before the year ends, and to send my monkeys packing. Where will they go? I don’t care, so long as it’s far from here.

I smell something burning. I had better end here.

445. How Much Should I Talk about My Book?

All right, guys. Serious question.

How much should I talk about my book project, the Lance Eliot saga, on this blog?

As TMTF staggers ponderously toward its imminent demise, I’m wondering how to fill its final fifty-something posts. I’m also thinking a lot about the changes I plan to make to Lance Eliot’s story. Should these musings intersect? Should I start sharing some of my plans for the Lance Eliot saga—no major spoilers, mind you, just basic stuff—on this blog?

I’m excited about my book project, and eager to share some of my early ideas. I would appreciate feedback, too. As Neil Gaiman observed, “writing is, like death, a lonely business.” Community is important for creativity. I could use the suggestions, ideas, and enthusiasm of my readers.

Writing is hard

A writer needs all the help he can get.

Another potential benefit of writing about the Lance Eliot saga is the possibility of raising interest in, and awareness for, the project. It would also give me a smoother segue from writing a blog about nothing in particular to writing a book.

However—and this is an important “However,” spoken in a deep voice and with a concerned expression—I don’t want to annoy or alienate any of my readers by talking too much about my writing plans. People read this blog, I assume, for… whatever it is that happens here. (Heck if I know.) Most readers don’t come here to read about unrelated projects.

I don’t want readers who enjoy TMTF for what it is to be disappointed by repeated discussions of a completely separate project. I don’t want anyone to feel that TMTF has become a blog “just for that book project,” especially since there is only a limited number of posts left.

If I wrote about my plans for the Lance Eliot saga, new posts might offer character profiles, an updated geopolitical situation for my imaginary world, stories from its lore, thematic elements, and maybe more.

I’m not sure what to do, so I’m leaving this one to you. What are your thoughts? What would you like to see from this blog? Should I share early ideas from the Lance Eliot saga? Should I stick to… um… whatever this blog is already? At this point, TMTF exists largely because of its readers. (I care about you, believe it or not.)

Should I write occasional posts about my book project, or stick to this blog’s usual topics? Let us know in the comments, or send me a note on social media!

The Field Where No Flowers Grow

A Short Story

On an island not far from my village there is a field where no flowers grow. It has neither grass nor trees. It’s a dead place, like a scar, covered in mud and studded with wooden crosses. Someone started a graveyard there long before I was born.

The island, which we call the Cache, is one of several, which huddle together in the dark sea as though trying to stay warm. I visit them almost every day. It takes about two hours’ hard rowing from my village to the islands, assuming the boat doesn’t leak. (It does. A lot.) Merlin and I have spent our lives exploring the islands and the waters around them.

Merlin is my… guardian? I would call him my dad, but my dad either ran away or died at sea when I was little. He sailed away on a Union ship and never came back. When my mum died, Merlin took me in. I was about eight: a gangly girl with dark eyes and freckles.

Merlin was a tough old guy with salt-and-pepper hair, huge arms, and a bit of a belly. Although he looked surly, he was a kind man. The only time I ever saw him angry was when someone made fun of his name. Merlin has always been a bit sore about it. He told me his parents meant to name him Marlin, after the fish, but mixed up the names.

These days, Merlin has a little more gray in his beard, yet rows out to the islands with me as often as the weather allows. We’re relic hunters. Believe me when I tell you the job is a lot less exciting than it sounds.

The Cache and its neighboring islands are littered with ruins and relics of the Age of Lights. Most of the really valuable stuff was carried off by other hunters decades ago, but there are still crumbling buildings with mountains of rubbish for us to sift. On a good day, we find an unbroken dish or trinket. The stuff is hundreds of years old. We have no use for it, but rich people inland apparently like collecting old junk, so we sell it.

When the weather is too stormy for us to visit the islands, we take care of chores around the home. We’re fortunate enough to have a two-room house: a sturdy shelter of sandy boards and shingles, eternally damp from the salty sea air. We even have the luxury of a glass window. Like every other building in our village, our house is built on stilts and reached by a ladder. Floods are common in the stormy seasons. Only idiots build on ground level.

Our most important chore is cleaning and restoring the stuff we find on the islands. Most of it is filthy. We’ve even had to pry barnacles off relics before. Twice a month, when the weather is fair, Merlin puts on his best clothes, rents a horse and wagon, and takes our latest batch of relics twenty miles inland to the city of Safehold. There, in the market square, he sets up a stall and sells our stuff.

Most of his buyers are merchants and Union officials. I suppose the merchants resell the relics at higher prices in bigger cities. The officials must like the allure of antiquities from Age of Lights, or else they just enjoy spending cash. Heaven knows they’ve got lots to spend. The Union treats its officials well, which must be its excuse for ignoring the rest of us.

When Merlin goes to Safehold, I stay in the village. I went with him a few times, but it was infuriating to deal with overfed city people, and Safehold was no place for a girl to go exploring on her own. I prefer to stay in the village. The local preacher is teaching me to read from his two tattered books, and one of the barmaids at the tavern gives me stale sweets.

Our village is not a nice place, but I’m fond of it. When the Union discovered our little settlement, it declared us part of its domain and named our village Silver Sands. It’s a stupid name. The beaches around here look more like ash.

My name is Pearl. Not that it matters. I was born in the village. I’ll spend my life in the village. I’ll die in the village… if I’m lucky. Otherwise, I’ll die at sea, unless the Union decides to execute me as a spy or criminal. The Union has a habit of executing people on vague charges. I suppose it feels insecure, and has to boost its own confidence by killing off public enemies on a regular basis. If it can’t find any, it improvises.

Since I was a little girl, the flowerless field on the Cache fascinated me. I asked Merlin about it a few months ago as we rowed to the island. “Merlin,” I said, speaking a few words at a time between strokes, “I have a question—about that field—on the Cache. The field—with the graveyard.”

Merlin stopped rowing, and I followed suit. We sat for a minute under the gray sky, breathing deeply as our boat bobbed up and down in the water.

“It’s an evil place,” he said at last, frowning.

“There are sometimes new graves,” I said. “I’ve noticed. When we split up on the island, I sometimes visit the field, and I see crosses that weren’t there before.”

“You visit the field? Well, stop. You should be hunting for junk, anyhow, not exploring.”

“I know nobody from the village has died lately,” I persisted. “Who’s buried in the new graves?”

“Nobody,” spat Merlin. For once, his tone matched his looks.

“It’s a graveyard! What do you mean, nobody is buried there?”

“It is a graveyard, Pearly, but not for the dead.”

I couldn’t let it go. “Then who’s it for, Merlin? Who’s buried there?”

“Death is buried there. Stay away from it. Do you understand, Pearl? Don’t go there. That field is a dangerous place. Some things are best left buried.”

I didn’t go back to the graveyard. Something in Merlin’s tone scared me. Whatever lay beneath the field of no flowers, I wanted no part of it.

Then, a little more than a month ago, a team of Union officials arrived in our village. It was almost comical to see them, dressed in their tri-color uniforms, surrounded by servants and guards, standing awkwardly outside our house.

“Stay away from the window,” growled Merlin, pulling me back. “Listen, Pearl. Listen to me! Whatever happens, give short answers and leave the rest of the talking to me. If they ask about the Cache—listen carefully, Pearl—if they ask about the graveyard on Cache, tell them the dead of our village are buried there.”

Someone outside shouted, “Hello! Open up in the name of the Union!”

Merlin gave me one last look and then opened the door, squinting down at our visitor with a strained smile. “Ah, yes. Welcome! What can I do for you?”

“May we come up?” The voice was of a young man.

“Of course,” said Merlin. “Do you need a hand up the ladder?”

“I’ll manage,” replied the voice. Within moments, a slender man appeared in the doorway. He wore the uniform of the Union, white with a sash of red and blue, and a pair of glasses. “What a fine home,” he said, dusting his hands and looking around with a smile. “I suppose the stilts keep it high and dry? Splendid, splendid.”

Our visitor was joined by two guards, whose swords bumped against each rung of the ladder as they climbed up into the house.

“To what do we owe this honor?” asked Merlin.

A member of our guest’s entourage tossed up some cushions to one of the guards, who set them on our floor. They looked so odd against the sandy boards. Our visitor sat cross-legged on one of the out-of-place cushions and motioned toward the others. “Please, sit.”

Merlin and I sat and waited.

“I’ll get straight to business,” said our guest pleasantly. “I don’t mean to waste your—” He coughed politely. “—valuable time. My name is Simon, and I am a scholar of history. I’m particularly interested in the Age of Lights, of whose relics and artifacts you have—” He gave another cough. “—extensive knowledge.”

Merlin shrugged. “You’re too kind, Mr. Simon, but we’re not educated. We find the stuff, clean it, and sell it. We leave the history to the historians.”

Simon laughed. “Ah, but hands-on education is the best kind, Mr.…?”


“Mr. Merlin. And what is your name, young Miss?”

It took me a moment to realize he was speaking to me. “Pearl,” I blurted.

“Your, ahem, father is very modest, Ms. Pearl, but I’m sure you both know quite a lot about the Age of Lights from its artifacts. What can you tell me?”

Simon had apparently decided that of the two of us, I was more likely than Merlin to let slip sensitive information. I was determined to prove him wrong.

“It had beautiful dishes and figurines and pictures,” I said, trying to sound childish. “The people in the Age of Lights were lucky to have such pretty things.”

“Indeed, Ms. Pearl, but their luck didn’t stop there. They had better things yet. Here, for example.” Simon held out a piece of paper. It had a drawing of what looked like a bulbous metal barrel with tapered ends and fins on one end like a fish.

“What is this?” I asked.

“A barrel containing great treasure,” said Simon, and held up another picture. It was of a metal canister with words painted on its side. He apparently didn’t know I can read a bit, because he asked, “Do you want to know the meaning of those letters?”

I played along. “Yes, please.”

“They spell ‘Contains diamonds: Handle with care.’ These are ancient jewel containers.”

I nodded, but it was a lie.

The letters on the canister spelled Sulphur mustard: Toxic chemical hazard. I didn’t know what these words meant, but they gave me reason not to trust our visitor.

“The Union is interested in finding and preserving the greatest treasures of the Age of Lights,” continued Simon, taking back the pictures and showing them to Merlin. “We believe these valuable relics can be found on the islands off the coast of Silver Sands, where you do your hunting. Have you seen any such treasures?”

Merlin shook his head.

“Ms. Pearl?”

“No,” I said.

Simon sighed. Behind him, one of the guards shifted on his feet and put a hand on the hilt of his sword.

“We are quite sure these artifacts, and others, are somewhere on the islands,” said Simon. “We don’t, ahem, disbelieve you, but we need to see for ourselves. I place you both under house arrest.

“Relax,” he added, grinning. “You’re not in any trouble… yet. The Union sent scholars to Silver Sands with me. We’re going to spend a month searching the islands. If you’ve told the truth and we don’t find anything, we’ll let you carry on with your business. If you’ve lied and we do find something—” Simon coughed yet again. “—it won’t end well for you, I’m afraid.

“Let me ask you both one last time: Have you found any relics that match these pictures, or any that you have not reported?”

“No,” said Merlin and I together.

Simon crossed his arms. “We shall see.”

In the month that followed, Simon and his entourage lived in luxurious tents outside Silver Sands, entering town only at night to drink at the tavern.

A watch of two guards kept watch on me and Merlin. We weren’t allowed to leave the house. The guards gave us meager rations of food and water, but Merlin’s friends in the village—that is, nearly everyone in the village—brought us meals regularly. Some supported us to protest the Union’s intrusion into our village; others simply wanted to help. Nobody could afford to give much, but everyone gave a little, so we were never hungry.

One night, my friend from the tavern brought us some cake and this bit of gossip: “The Union scholars haven’t found anything on the islands, and they’re losing patience.” The village preacher dropped by every Sunday with words of encouragement, and even loaned me one of his books.

Our guards were sulky young men, unhappy at spending a month in such a desolate corner of the Union. They rejected all attempts at conversation, and spent their days in sullen silence. I spent my time reading, napping, and staring out our window. I saw Simon’s scholars set out in boats every morning for the islands, and return emptyhanded at twilight.

Our arrest ended a few days ago. Instead of leaving for the islands as usual, Simon came to our house in the morning and offered us seats upon his cushions, smiling as though our arrest had never happened.

“Well, I guess you were telling the truth after all,” he said. “We didn’t find any of the relics we wanted, and we looked everywhere… almost everywhere, I should say. There is an area of interest on the largest island—I believe you call it the Cache?”

Merlin nodded.

“An unusual name.”

“Relic hunters found a lot of loot there in the old days,” explained Merlin. “I was just a kid then. We called it the Cache because so many relics were discovered there.”

Simon leaned forward. “Does the graveyard on the Cache belong to your village?”


“A funny place to bury your dead.” Simon turned to me. “Isn’t it?”

“I—I never thought about it,” I stammered.

“Ms. Pearl, why do you think someone dug a graveyard on the Cache? Isn’t it a long way to carry the bodies of your dead? It seems, ahem, unlikely.”

It was at that moment, by God’s grace or sheer good luck, that I invented a perfect lie.

“There was a plague,” I said. “It killed a lot of folks before I was born. Merlin told me about it. The bodies were diseased, so they were buried on the Cache, far from the village.”

Simon made a face. “Dear me. I suppose that would explain it. Well, I’ve enjoyed my stay in your—” His cough was almost painfully polite. “—delightful village, but I must move on. I have other corners of the Union to search, and other relics to find. There’s just one more thing. The Union has just made a new law. It’s a bit wordy, so listen carefully.”

Simon took a letter from a pocket of his uniform, unfolded it, and read: “The Union, formally known as the Reunited States of America, does hereby set forth the following as federal law.

“All hunters, buyers, and sellers of relics from the twentieth to the twenty-second centuries—those,” he added, looking up at us, “are the years you call the Age of Lights—must catalogue and report all findings to designated officials of the Union.

“Failure to do so will result in arrest and summary execution. Relics of concern to the Union shall be immediately declared its property, and the former owners of the relics offered due compensation.

“In other words,” concluded Simon, putting the letter back in his pocket, “show your relics to certain Union officials before you sell them, or else die. If you find anything the Union wants, it will buy it from you, and you’ll get to live. All clear?”

“Yes, yes,” said Merlin.

Simon peered at me through his glasses, and I nodded.

“Excellent,” he said. “Good day and good luck.” Turning to the guards, he told them, “We’re done here. Let’s get out of this godforsaken dump.”

The Union team packed up its camp and left. As it passed out of earshot, a cheer rose from all around us. We were not the only ones happy to see Simon and his entourage leave.

Merlin and I sat for a while, saying nothing, looking at everything but each other. At last, he began to chuckle, and then to laugh. “God above, they didn’t find it. They didn’t find it, the idiots! So much for the power and glory of the Reunited States of America.”

“Merlin,” I said. “Merlin, what the hell just happened?”

He stopped laughing and looked out the door at the blue morning sky. “We dodged a bullet, Pearly.”

“We dodged a what?”

“Never mind that. Listen, Pearl, I wasn’t planning on telling you any of this for another few years, but then I wasn’t exactly planning to spend the past month under house arrest. It’s time you know the truth.”

“About the Cache?”

Merlin’s grin returned. “That was a clever lie you told Simon about the graveyard. I suppose you’re ready to know what’s buried there, if you haven’t already guessed it.”

I had.

“The graveyard on the Cache is where the missing relics are buried—the canisters and that funny-looking metal barrel.”

“Among other things,” admitted Merlin. “We live on the ashes of a great civilization. In the Age of Lights, hundreds of years ago, this country was called the United States of America. Its people had lamps that burned not with fire, but with electricity—the stuff lightning is made of. Soldiers fought with weapons that shot bits of metal at blazing speeds. There were even machines that could think. It was an amazing time.”

I looked around our house, with its greasy candles and gritty wooden furniture, and tried to imagine thinking machines and lamps full of lightning.

“What happened to the Age of Lights?” I asked.

“People have always wrecked things, but the Age of Lights made them better at it. They made weapons called bombs that burst into storms of fire. The barrel-looking relic with the fins is what they called an atom bomb. It unleashed a mountain of fire and smoke.”

“And the canisters?”

“They were filled with deadly gas. People invented even more weapons, each worse than the last, and someone finally used the worst ones of all. The Age of Lights ended in dying embers and warm ashes. The lights went out.

“We’re only just rebuilding all these centuries later. The leaders of the Union want to remake the United States of America according to their own twisted notions, and they want weapons from the Age of Lights.”


“Because they’re damned greedy bastards, that’s why! The relic hunters who founded this village knew that, so when they began finding weapons, they buried them on the Cache.”

“The field where no flowers grow.”

“Yes. I think a few of the canisters leaked, and their chemicals killed the grass and trees around the graveyard. The Cache contains all the weapons we ever found on the islands. There are enough, I think, to turn cities to ash.”

“Why are there so many?” I wondered.

“There must have been a navy base on one of the islands.” Merlin walked to our open doorway and looked out on our village. “It doesn’t matter now, does it? It’s long gone. This village and its people have kept it that way since before you were born.”

I joined Merlin in gazing out over the village. The fishermen were piling nets and gear into their canoes on the beach. My friend from the tavern was gossiping with a neighbor hanging clothes to dry in the morning sun. The preacher moseyed along amiably in the direction of his little chapel.

I giggled.

“What’s funny, Pearly?”

“Oh, just the ambitions of the Reunited States of America ruined by one stubborn little village.”

Merlin put a hand on my shoulder. “It’ll be your turn someday, you know.”


“I won’t be around forever. If you turn up any more weapons when I’m gone, it’ll be up to you to decide what to do with them.”

It has been a few days since the Union scholars left our village. Merlin and I went hunting for relics yesterday on the Cache, and I spent a few minutes in the field where no flowers grow. The place no longer scares me. It’s just sad. The weapons of the bloodstained past are covered by mud, sealed away from thieves and tyrants, rusting in their graves.

Today is my birthday, and Merlin gave me a present: his shovel. “This is yours now,” he said. “The future is yours. It’s up to you to bury the past, or to dig it up. From today onward, Pearly, you decide.”

I tapped him playfully with the shovel, and said, “I’ll bury it, thanks.”

Author’s Note:

I wrote this story for a friend, who asked for one “set on an island.” On the rare occasions I’ve written short fiction, I haven’t followed writing prompts, so this one was a pleasant challenge.

My first idea was the tale of a shipwreck survivor who washes up on an island only to find a grouchy hermit already in residence. As much as I liked the “odd couple” concept, I couldn’t think of a good story to build on it, and eventually set it aside.

The story I wound up writing was inspired partly by the new Star Wars movie, in which a character scavenges technology from ruined spaceships. I love the idea of a primitive society built on the ruins of a technologically advanced past. It made me wonder: If our own society went up in flames, what would we leave behind?

A story gradually took shape, informed by my friend’s writing prompt and influenced by Future Boy Conan, an early work by Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.

The protagonist of this story is, of course, named after my cat.

The Smoker’s Pew

A Short Story

The silence of the church was broken by the click-click-click of a cigarette lighter. Late afternoon sunshine streamed through stained-glass windows, lighting up the floor in patches of fiery color, and casting a saintly glow upon the man sitting in the back pew.

At the front of the sanctuary there hung a wooden cross. It bore a life-sized image of the crucified Christ, frozen in perpetual agony, its head bowed. Before lighting a cigarette, the man glanced up at the crucifix.

“Mind if I smoke?”

The image of Christ did not reply. The man lit his cigarette.

In the golden light, the smoke shone like a halo around the man’s head. He gave an impression of casual elegance in a suit tailored to his lanky frame. The only untidy touches were his face, which was unshaven, and his tie, which was loosely knotted and askew. He smelled faintly of cologne and strongly of alcohol.

“Nice place you’ve got,” he said. He leaned back, crossed his legs, and stretched out his arms along the back of the pew. “Dazzling and sleepy at the same time, like a sunset. Beautiful and quiet. Very nice.”

The Christ on the cross said nothing.

“The front door’s unlocked,” said the smoker. “Look, I know that’s your thing. You welcome everyone with open arms, I get that, but you still might want to think about putting a lock on your door. There are some awful people out there.”

The man smoked for a few minutes in silence.

“It’s nice to be back,” he said at last. “Nice to see some things never change. I guess it’s—well, hello,” he exclaimed, for another man came padding into the sanctuary to join him and the crucified Christ.

The newcomer, a balding gentleman with glasses and a bushy brown beard, smiled in amiable bewilderment. “May I help you?”

“No, thank you,” said the smoker, rising to throw away the stub of his cigarette. He shook a fresh cigarette from the box as he returned to his pew. “Damn,” he said, clicking his lighter in vain. “Out of juice. Hey buddy, you got a light?”

The bearded gentleman disappeared for a couple of minutes, and returned with a box of matches. The smoker had not moved. He sat in the back pew, legs crossed, gazing at the Christ.

At the sound of a match striking, the smoker held out his cigarette. The bearded man lit it.

“Hey thanks,” said the smoker after a deep puff. “You’re a good man. What brings you here on a Thursday night? You the janitor?”

The bearded man chuckled. “The pastor. May I join you?”

“Knock yourself out, Padre.”

The pastor sat beside the smoker, and they watched the evening light fade. The smoker began a third cigarette.

“Why the back pew?” asked the pastor at last. “If you’re here to talk with God, wouldn’t you rather sit up front?”

The smoker shook his head. “Nah, I like the back. Someone once told me that two kinds of people sit in the back pew of a church: those on their way in, and those on their way out.”

“Which kind are you?”

“Well, when I leave here, I’m going to blow a man’s brains out. That probably puts me in the second category.” The smoker grinned crookedly. “I’m pretty sure the Big Guy frowns on that kind of thing. Ah, well. Don’t mind me.”

With that, he pulled out a handgun and began rummaging in his other pocket for bullets.

If the pastor felt anything, it was hidden by his beard and glasses, and by the gathering gloom. He sat implacable, like a statue, as the smoker fumbled with the handgun. Only the pastor’s hands moved, and they trembled.

“I don’t approve of murder,” said the pastor.

“Didn’t think you would,” muttered the smoker.

“I don’t approve of suicide, either.”

The smoker paused, puffed twice on his cigarette, and put down the gun. “All right, Padre, you got me. How’d you know? I didn’t say anything about suicide.”

“Lucky guess.”

“Not a divine revelation?”

It was the pastor’s turn to smile crookedly. “If that makes you feel better, sure. Divine revelation. Look here, man, why in God’s name do you want to kill yourself?”

The cigarette smoke, which the afternoon sun had transfigured into gold, now hung over the smoker like a storm cloud in the twilight. He no longer seemed saintly. He looked diabolical.

“Have you read Ecclesiastes, Padre? Wait—you’re a goddamn pastor; of course you’ve read it. Do you remember what the Teacher wrote? ‘Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’”

“‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,’” said the pastor gently. “I’m pretty sure that’s also in there somewhere.”

The smoker picked up the gun. “Those aren’t the Teacher’s final words. You know that. ‘Everything is meaningless!’ That’s his conclusion, and I can’t live with it.”

“Do you really believe in it?”

“I grew up in the church. After leaving it, I turned to science and philosophy and social justice. After that mess of contradictions, I tried everything else. Everything, Padre. Nothing makes sense. Nothing even feels good anymore. There’s nothing left.”

The pastor laid a shaking hand on the smoker’s arm. “So what brought you here?”

“I guess I wanted one last moment of peace,” said the smoker. “Besides,” he added, glancing up at the Christ on the cross, “I had to say goodbye to the Big Guy. He walked right into his own death. I like to think he’s got a little sympathy toward suicide.”

The pastor frowned, and held his companion’s arm a little tighter. “Jesus was a martyr and a sacrifice,” he said. “There’s a big difference between martyrdom and suicide.”

“What difference? They’re people killing themselves, for God’s sake.”

“For absolutely different reasons! The suicide kills himself because he thinks nothing matters. The martyr kills himself because he believes in something that matters more than his own life.”

The smoker shook his head. “You know, I never got the whole crucifixion thing. It seems bloodthirsty. I don’t understand why the Big Guy had to die.”

“Nobody gets the crucifixion thing,” replied the pastor. “Nobody truly understands it, but that’s not the point here. Listen to me. Something matters. Somewhere, here in this church, or out there in the dark, something matters enough for you to keep living. I believe it’s right here.” The pastor motioned toward the cross. “I pray that you find it here. Maybe you’ll look elsewhere. Wherever you look, I’m convinced that somewhere, something matters. If you shoot yourself tonight, you’ll never find it.”

The smoker and the pastor sat in silence. Shadows filled the sanctuary as the last gleam of daylight disappeared. At last, the smoker plucked the stub of his cigarette from his lips.

A light flared in the darkness, and the smoker caught a whiff of sulfur. The pastor had lit another match.

“Need a light?” asked the man of God.

The man in the suit shook his head. “Nah, I’m quitting. I just decided. Never liked cigarettes much anyway. Besides,” he added with a tired chuckle, “those things will kill you.”

“They’re not the only things,” said the pastor. His hands had stopped shaking. “You won’t be needing this anymore,” he said, and took the gun.

“I paid good money for that,” said the man in the suit. “Did you just rob me? In your own church?” He looked up at the image of Christ, now a silhouette in the gloom. “Did you see that, Big Guy?”

“Get over it,” said the pastor. “It couldn’t have cost you that much. You’ll live.”

“Yes,” said the man in the suit, rising and dusting flecks of cigarette ash from his coat. “Yes, I suppose I will.” He sidled out of the back pew and strolled to the exit, pausing at the door.

“Hey Padre,” he said. “Thanks for the light.”

Author’s Note:

I wrote this short story on a Sunday afternoon just to get it out of my system. That’s pretty much all I have to say about it.

However, I will make an important clarification. I actually wrote this story in March or April 2017, months after this blog ended its run in December 2016, but labeled this post with a past date in order to keep it from replacing the blog’s final post on the homepage. I must clarify: Typewriter Monkey Task Force is finished. I have no plans whatsoever to revive it. That said, I might occasionally use it as a place to dump creative writing. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!