The Way of the Word

1. June 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

It’s funny how some things develop sometimes. How the real world needs of the writer can influence a story, and actually make it better.

Case in point: Die Young. I’m writing without an outline. I know the crime, I know who did it, and I know why they did it. As I write it, I uncover the story just as the investigator, Shaw, does. And sometimes it surprises me.

Case in point: I recently had a scene where I needed someone to leave a building. If I’d ended the scene with that character leaving, it would have been glaringly obvious, a couple of pages later, why he left. At least to me, but I’m writing this assuming that the readers are at least as astute as I am. So I needed to extend the scene beyond that, but without forcing it, or at least making it seemed forced.

What happened was that the scene ended on a completely different major development, a development that I hadn’t planned, that I hadn’t foreseen, but that made complete and total sense.

Another thing was that I didn’t feel good yesterday. I was tired, distracted, preoccupied all day long. I decided to put that into the story: by giving Shaw some sleep-withdrawal, then have something happen, and let him wonder if he missed anything because he was too tired. The obvious answer is yes. 🙂

I also realized that I have accidentally created an extra viable suspect. I’ll have to nurture that character, just to see where it will take me.

Lastly, I realized that I overlooked something obvious. Because the case originally ties into the adult entertainment industry, I had Shaw begin his search for the endangered Amy Mason there. He hasn’t found her yet, nobody knows her. The obvious thing I overlooked: just because the bad guys work in the adult entertainment industry doesn’t mean that Amy has to work there. However, I’m not sure that this logic error is something that needs fixing. For one thing, the case is only two days old, story time. Shaw spent the first day looking for Diana Young’s killer, and the second day looking for Amy Mason. In the story, he has just woken up to day 3. Now, I could go back and add a line or two where he considers the possibility that Amy Mason might not be connected to the adult entertainment industry, or I could have him realize that over breakfast on the third day. I’m not sure yet which is better, but I’ll need to decide before continuing.

Frankly, I lean towards the latter, having him realize it. Shaw’s human, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t overlook the obvious. “I missed the obvious, but at least I only wasted a day looking in all the wrong places — places that I probably would have searched anyway, even if I had thought of it.” Something like that.

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24. May 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

I was rewatching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service yesterday evening, and I wonder: in both the novels and the movies, Marc-Ange Draco never shows up again. But he should. For those who don’t know the story: in OHMSS, Bond marries a woman named Tracy. Tracy is the daughter of Draco, who happens to be a major figure in international organized crime. At the end of the story, Bond marries Tracy, who is just afterwards murdered by Bond’s arch enemy Blofeld.

Yet neither in the novels or in the movies does Draco become involved in hunting down Blofeld to avenge the death of his beloved daughter. Sure, it’s Bond’s stories and Bond’s enemies, but I find it very much out of character of this kind of person (who earlier in the story staged a major assault on Blofeld’s fortress to rescue his captured daughter) that he just, well, seems to shrug it off.

Right now, you probably wonder why I talk about that instead of my progress on Die Young, which is what the NiP posts are about. Oh, it’s simply: it made me realize that I need to kill Amy Mason.

What, huh? Or rather, what, who? Isn’t this novel about who killed Diana Young, Teh SexKitteh?

Yeah, sure. The problem was that I needed a stronger hook for Shaw to remain involved after the first 20 pages, so I added a missing person quest.

Now, some pages later, I’m stuck. I didn’t know how to advance the story. Which is why I started to watch movies instead of working on Die Young. Distract myself, let my subconscious work on the problem. I was getting so desperate that I was considering doing a Hammett. You see, there is something that Dashiell Hammett does in his stories that I don’t like: he relies too much on coincidence to move the story forward. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie The Maltese Falcon, with Humphrey Bogart. One thing that happens over and over again in the story (the novel too) is that Sam Spade’s investigation gets stuck, and then someone comes in out of nowhere, drops a clue and vanishes again. Without Spade having to do anything for it. I hate that. But I was starting to think that perhaps I needed to do something like it as well.

Then I remembered that I had already set up a solution to it. Shaw had already talked with a contact at the NYPD’s vice squad. That one could come up with something, which meant that the information wouldn’t come out of nowhere.

But that raised another problem: once Shaw has Amy, he doesn’t have to continue to work the case. Problem solved, case close. I’d be back to square one.

That’s the problem with a MacGuffin: once the hero has acquired it, end of story.

The solution came over breakfast this morning. I was re-reading Maison Ikkoku and thinking about how I haven’t killed anyone in far too long. Which tells you far too much about how my mind works. (Although, to be fair, I mostly thought about how nobody has tried to kill Shaw yet in this novel, and realized that so far, noboy had any reason to.)  Anyway, it was then that I realized how to solve all my problems at once:

I have to kill Amy Mason. That would fix the dead end I’m currently staring at, it would provide a nice break in the story’s current lull, and it would give Shaw added incentive to get his ass in gear.

It’s like with comics. In comics, if you’re stuck, you blow something up. (Come to think of it, that’s also how they handle it in blockbuster movies.) Here, I’m stuck, so I’ll kill Amy Mason in order to move the plot forward.

22. May 2011

Vampires Don’t Sparkle!

If you like vampires (the scary kind that doesn’t sparkle in the daylight), you might want to consider spending 99 cents on Streets of Blood, my vampire novel. Only available for the Kindle.

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/jeNxaE

Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/j1e19E

Amazon Germany: http://amzn.to/jMhUdp

21. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

Yes, I admit it. I haven’t talked about the progress of Die Young for a while, because there hadn’t been any. I had written one page in February, and then nothing.

On Sunday evening, I booted the notebook again and continued work. I’m not going very fast — I’m a slow writer anyway — but I’ve completed the first three chapters now.

As the plan goes, the first couple of chapters will chronicle the first day in the investigation, which will end with Shaw confronting the person who pulled the (metaphorical) trigger. That is going to open a completely different can of worms, and will keep Shaw busy (and in danger) for the rest of the novel.

The funny thing is that I got back to it because I was bored. I had one free hour. In such cases, I usually either watch a TV series episode on DVD or read. I didn’t feel like watching anything, and because I planned to get a certain book from the library the next day I didn’t want to start on any books. (I’m a one book at a time person.)

So instead, I did a bit of work on Die Young.

I’ve recently noticed that there is one piece of advice that’s frequently given: don’t stop the flow. When you’re writing, don’t go back to edit, just hack it out and leave all the edits/corrections for revision. I have  a friend who works that way, and he’s fast. Even I admit that the advice makes sense. Unfortunately, I can’t make myself work that way.

When I have a scene that contradicts an earlier scene, I feel compelled to go back and fix that. If I think of a better phrase for something I wrote earlier, it’s the same. I edit and revise constantly. Which, yes, is why I’m a slow writer.

I have also considered that I could post the chapters of Die Young here on the blog as I finish them.  That idea came, in part, from wrapping up a chapter evey night (so far). The main obstacle is that it’s not a pace I’m sure I can maintain. And unless I can maintain a regular update schedule, I wouldn’t want to start. On the plus side, it would be the whip I’d need to keep me going if I get another block. I put Die Young aside after one page because I’m not required to continue working on it. I have no deadline, and there isn’t anyone in the world who is actually waiting for this novel. There is no pressure to finish this. Turning it into a blog novel would provide that pressure. And yes, that would be a good thing.

What ultimately decided me against it, other than my worries about meeting a schedule, is the above-mentioned fact that I revise constantly. If I post chapter 1 today, next week’s version might be completely different after the story has progressed in a way that might have required many changes to chapter 1. Or simply after revising individual sentences as I thought of better ways of saying them. A good example is a running gag that I decided to add to the story, so I added it to chapter 1.

The running joke is that when Shaw tells his friends about knowing Diana Young, aka the porn starlet Teh SexKitteh, they all reply, “I didn’t figure you for the type.” When he clarifies that he knew her because she actually lived in his neighborhood, they make an unbelieving comment.

By the way: if you want to encourage me to finish Die Young and/or present the chapters on my blog, you can do so by leaving comments to my Novel in Progress posts and by buying The Coldest Blood, which is the first Shaw novel. For the latter, just follow the link on (your) right-hand side of the screen. It’s only 99 cents per download, and it’s DRM free.

9. February 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

A little appetizer.

 

1

 

„The Sex Kitty’s dead.“

„The what?“

„Not what. Who.“

I laid the iPad on the counter and turned it around for Lucio to have a look. He looked at it without touching it.

„Porn actress Diana Young, 23, died yesterday during a breast enlargement procedure,“ he muttered. „Her fans knew her as Teh SexKitteh, which is the name of the website through which she sold her movies.“

Lucio looked up and shrugged.

„I knew her, Horatio,“ I said, turning the iPad back towards myself.

„I didn’t figure you for the type,“ he replied. I glared at him, but not much.

„It’s her online handle,“ I told him. „Teh SexKitteh. She lived two or three doors away from me.“ I looked at the picture that accompanied the article. „I think I might have seen her at the supermarket once or twice.“

30. November 2010

Cowboys and Barbarians

I had wanted to mention this yesterday, but there were too many other shocks to digest, so I didn’t get around to it.

If you’ve looked at the “available works” list on the right, you’ve surely noticed a new entry: Cowboys and Barbarians Kindle Edition.  What that means is simple: I’ve made my crossworlds fantasy novel Cowboys and Barbarians available for the Kindle US and the Kindle UK.

Cowboys and Barbarians is the story of the barbarian warrior Dhargan. During a battle against an evil sorcerer, he is thrown through a dimensional portal into another world. A strange world where people act incomprehensively, wear strange clothes and carry thunderhammers that kill. All Dhargan wants is to get out of there and back to his own world. Unfortunately, along the way he ends up oweing someone a debt of honor, a debt that he needs to discharge before he can leave. If he ever can, because the strange world in which he is trapped has no magic, and the solutions he knows from back home don’t work here.

It is also the story of Justin McBride, a gunfighter in the American west of the 1880s. Running from a posse, McBride escapes through a glowing hole in the air — and ends up in a strange world full of monsters and magic. Joined by Cymra and Tauri, who are friends of a warrior named Dhargan, McBride quests to find the one sorcerer who might know where Dhargan is, and who just might put McBride back where he belongs.

25. November 2010

DRM – What it it Good For? (Absolutely Nothing)

As some of you have already noticed, I released my hardboiled mystery novel The Coldest Blood as an e-book for the Kindle (US-Version) (UK-Version). When you set it up, Amazon’s DTO program offers you the choice of putting DRM on the file.

DRM translates as Digital Rights Management, and it’s a copy protection scheme. Depending on the program, it restricts user rights in regards to how many copies they can make/use/keep, how long they can keep them, and it makes sure they can’t make any copies by themselves.

There is also another side to DRM, one that Amazon has been known to exploit. Does anyone else remember the event that became known as Amazon Fail 2? Basically, Amazon pulled supposedly pirated copies of George Orwell’s works Animal Farm and 1984 from the Kindles of people who had bought those copies. Without so much as an explanation (at least not until the brown mass hit the air circulation device).

I was not the only one to appreciate the irony that they did this with the works of George Orwell. If you don’t know why, I suggest you read 1984.

Anyway. DRM is one of the two buzzkill reasons why I don’t own an e-book reader. I’m used to owning what I buy (or at least not pay very much for borrowing – yes, I do have a library card). When I buy a book (as in, not explicitly borrowing), I do so with the expectation of getting to keep it, and not being at the mercy of whoever sold it to me. However, DRM turns the supposed purchase into a lending fee. Don’t believe me? Try transferring your Kindle book to another device after having used up your allocation.

If I want to borrow a book, I’ll use the aforementioned library card.

The major reason for DRM is the fear of piracy. If your work isn’t copy-protected, someone will make an illegal copy and make it available for illegal download, robbing the creator of their income.

Now, mind you this: I’ll come down on anyone who pirates my work. Yes. Because I’d rather get those royalties to pay my bills. Times are hard for me too.

But.

DRM isn’t the way. Seriously, any would-be pirate who knows what they’re doing will crack your DRM in one minute flat. Or possibly less. DRM is just a minor irritant for copy pirates. It doesn’t stop them at all.

I suppose you see what I mean now. Why I believe that DRM is not only worth absolutely nothing, it has only one practical use: to annoy the consumer.

Now, as someone who considers DRM a deal-breaker in buying an e-book reader, I was faced with the choice of putting DRM on The Coldest Blood. It was no choice at all: of course I didn’t. And as long as I get any say about how my work is uploaded, it will not have any DRM ever. I believe that if you buy something you should own it.

Plus, a pledge: If, despite everything, Amazon ever deletes my work from your Kindle, drop me a line. Prove that you actually did buy a copy (receipt or whatever). And I’ll provide you a new one, DRM free, at no extra charge, in a file format of your choice, that Amazon can never take away from you.

21. November 2010

A Book By Its Cover

Sometime ago, I wrote a hardboiled mystery novel, to which I attached all my hopes and dreams. It had the title The Coldest Blood, and should appeal to people who like traditional hardboiled and pulpy stuff, like Mickey Spillane’s work. I had expected this would launch my career and an entire series of Shaw mysteries.

Too many rejections later, I had to face it: instead of launching my career, it had served to bury it.

Almost a year after that realization, I decided that I, at least, consider the novel too good not to share. The emerging e-book market made it possible to publish it myself at a cover price that wouldn’t scare off too many potential readers.

I mean, really, $20 for a paperback novel? I don’t know how anyone would be willing to pay that much. But, $3.49 for the same novel as a DRM-free ebook? If I had an ebook reader, I’d look at the price, I’d see that it’s about half the cover price of a paperback novel, it costs less than a standard comic book (at least those published by Marvel Comics) while providing far more story than any comic book… I just might give it a chance.

We’ll see if others think that way. If all goes well, The Coldest Blood will be approved by Amazon within 24 hours or so.

Until then, have a look at the cover:

Not having a cover, and not being able to afford one, had been one of the biggest stumbling blocks. Then I happened on a website called Dreamstime. They sell royalty free stock photos. And they are actually affordable! The picture I chose as the cover for The Coldest Blood cost me a pittance. Two downloads, and it will be paid for! I played with the image in MS Paint, adding the title and the credit, and it was done!

The other thing is that those of you who read this blog regularly probably wonder if I have changed my mind about self-publishing. No. I haven’t. Self-publishing The Coldest Blood is simply admitting that I have failed at my ambition, and am therefore reduced to a hobbyist. And for hobbyists, self-publishing is all right.

29. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 40

Looking down at the bubbling lava in Wakano’s Throne, Ghenni still hadn’t entirely gotten over recent events. First, Habbassin had stopped the volcano. Oh, sure, the other two had helped, but Ghenni had been there. She knew exactly what had happened. After they had stopped the eruption, the magic-users had evacuated every living thing from the island. Returning, they had reerupted the volcano, letting it run its course.

“What we did was only a stopgap measure,” Habbassin had told her. “If we left it at that, it could blow up again any time. If we erupt it now, while we’re still around to control it, you’ll be safe. For a while, anyway.”

“What do you mean, we, blue-face?” Bolwyn had said. The portly wizard had been in earshot throughout, not contributing anything. Habbassin had countered his complaint with that special smile he reserved for the gatherers of artifacts. The smile Ghenni was glad he didn’t smile at her.

“Guess who’ll never leave here if they don’t help me,” the djinn had said.

The wizards had decided to cooperate.

The difficult part had come after the second eruption. Ghenni knew how hard it was because Habbassin had recruited not only the two wizards but all the villagers as well. For some reason, the djinn had considered restoring the island essential. While the villagers would have been perfectly happy to settle on the island they had been evacuated to, Habbassin had insisted. He had proven very persuasive.

It had taken several weeks, but finally the island looked more or less as it had before the catastrophe. The cooled lava had been removed. The huts had been rebuilt, better even than before because the villagers had taken some of the advice of the three visitors on how to improve their homes. The volcano had been repaired. Although there were now vents below the waterline, where cold water entered the volcano, cooling it down, while lava would flow out of the vents first, reducing the pressure if there were a new eruption. That at least had been Habbassin’s explanation. The children had been the first to discover the spot of warm water as a playground. Some of the adults had followed the children to play with them, and word had gotten around that a visit to the hot water could be beneficial. Now the adults also enjoyed the hot baths. Together, the people had replanted trees and bushes and flowers, provided by the wizards. It would take some time for everything to grow back as tall as it had been, but grow back it would, now. Habbassin had even brought animals from other islands, to replenish the animal population as he had put it.

It had taken weeks, but now they were done. The island was good as new, better even. Ghenni, her two friends, Elomei, Jamao, Habbassin and the two wizards had gathered on top of Wakano’s Throne.

“We did our part,” Terek said. “You cannot claim otherwise.”

“That’s true,” Habbassin said. “You’re free to go. I release my spell.”

“I still don’t get it,” Bolwyn said. “I mean, you’ve won. We’re beaten, and we’re leaving. You can tell us how come you didn’t obey when I had your lamp. I mean, you’re supposed to grant three wishes to whoever holds that lamp, aren’t you?”

“I am obliged to grant three wishes to whoever is the proprietor of my prison,” Habbassin confirmed. “It doesn’t have to be a lamp. Although, in this case, it was, yes.”

“So?”

“What makes you think I’m dumb enough to give you my lamp?” Habbassin said. He help out his hand, palm up. The lamp materialized on his palm. “Here, take it,” Habbassin said. “As a souvenir.”

Bolwyn took the lamp from the djinn’s outstretched hand and tucked it into his tunic.

“Don’t look so glum, Terek,” Habbassin said. “You can have one too.” Another lamp, identical to the first, materialized. Terek took it.

“A duplicate,” he said, studying the item in his hand. “Clever. You also never told us your name.”

“Names are powerful,” Elomei said.

“Anything to make sure you’ve no power over me,” Habbassin agreed. “The real lamp is hidden somewhere on this island. You’ll never find it.”

“If it hasn’t been destroyed,” Ghenni said. Habbassin shrugged.

“It’s still there,” he said. “I’d know if it were gone, believe me.” He flashed the smile at the wizards. “If I were you, I’d get outta here. I might change my mind about letting you go, you know.”

Terek and Bolwyn exchanged a look.

“Until next time,” Terek said, reaching into his pouch.

“Until next time,” Bolwyn repeated, doing likewise.

The wizards each cast their spell ingredients into the air. The fine powders hung in the air for a moment, then they began to twist, expanding as they did until they completely enveloped the wizards. Suddenly, the twisters were gone. The wizards were gone with them.

“That’s that,” Habbassin muttered.

“What was that about three wishes?” Ghenni said.

“Will they be back?” Jamao said, ignoring Ghenni. Habbassin shrugged.

“These two?” the djinn said. “I don’t think so. They’ve learned their lesson.” He contemplated the question for a moment. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be others, though,” he admitted. “So long as I am here, there is always the chance that there will be others. They might even be worse than those two clowns. Or worse yet, they might be better. If you know what I mean.”

“Then leave,” Jamao said, gesturing imperiously. Habbassin laughed.

“I would if I could,” the djinn said. “Believe me, I’d like nothing better than to get off this godsforsaken rock. If I could. Ghenni, do you want to tell him, or should I?”

“What was that Bolwyn said about three wishes?” Ghenni said. Habbassin ignored her.

“That lamp the wizards mentioned,” he told Jamao, “I’m bound to it. There’s nothing I can do about it. So long as the lamp’s on this island, I’m stuck here.”

“What if we take the lamp away from here?” Jamao said.

“I’d go too. I go anywhere the lamp goes. That’s my curse.”

“Where is the lamp?” Elomei said. Habbassin laughed.

“Oh no, you don’t. I wouldn’t give them two the lamp, what makes you think you can have it?” He shrugged. “On the other hand, you can’t get it anyway. We — Ghenni, her buddies and I — hid it in a cave. It caved in when the volcano shook everything up. I don’t think anyone can get that lamp now.” He winked at the witch-woman. “Except me, and I’m not buying.”

“Then what can we do?”

“I could do something,” Ghenni said. “I’m still the, what did you call it, proprietor of the lamp.”

“Nice try, kid, but you’d have to make a wish to make me get it, and there aren’t enough left to make me do anything afterwards.” Habbassin frowned. “Provided you’ve any wishes left. Haven’t I trick– Haven’t you used them all up already?”

“I don’t think so,” Miki said. “I think there’s still the third wish left.”

“Yeah,” Ankhoro agreed. “You still gotta grant her one more wish.”

“Whatever it will be, we should discuss it someplace more hospitable,” Jamao said. Spreading his arms wide, he herded the others off the mountain. Ghenni kept her smile to herself. She could understand why the chief was uncomfortable so near Wakano. She would have been uncomfortable as well, a couple of days before. A part of her still marveled at how blasé she had become about all this. Seeing, experiencing rather, so very many strange things first hand probably did that to you, another part of her figured. She did as Jamao said anyway. There was no reason not to; besides, it was unpleasantly warm.

As if by mutual agreement, nobody spoke on the way back to the village. Even Habbassin kept quiet. Ghenni wondered what was the matter with him. Perhaps it was that his secret was out now, that everybody knew that thing about the wishes. Especially about the wish that apparently was left over. Being honest with herself, Ghenni admitted that she was wondering about that too. There were grownups involved now. Knowing them, Ghenni was sure they would want to take over the situation, the lamp, and the last wish.

It wasn’t fair.

On the other hand, Habbassin had obviously always considered her the proprietor of the lamp. Whatever else happened, that final wish was hers.

Not that she had any idea what to do with it.

Back in the village, Jamao shooed everybody into his hut, which was much more luxurious now than it had any right to be. He had been quite creative about adapting the visitors’s cultural differences to his own uses. Among the new inventions they had introduced which he had put into his home were chairs and tables. Jamao sat down on a very pretentious-looking chair. The others settled into utilitarian variants.

“The question is what to do with that last wish,” Jamao began without preamble. “I’m sure we have all contemplated that on the way back.”

“I’d rather say the question is what to do with Habbassin,” Opona replied. “So long as he is here, we won’t be safe from people like Terek and Bolwyn. Those two were enough for me, thank you, I don’t need to meet more of their kind.”

Jamao nodded.

“I know it was bad for you and your daughter,” he said with a fake-looking smile. “However, it was your other daughter’s fault that all this happened. If she had brought the lamp to us right away …”

“Perhaps we would have been rid of you,” Elomei said. Jamao looked at her, blinking.

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. You can’t blame a child for acting like a child. Nor can you play ‘what if’ games in this case. None of us would have known what to do with that lamp. None of us would have even known it was a lamp, or even an enchanted one.”

“Cursed,” Habbassin said.

“A curse is only an enchantment with bad effects. The point is, if Ghenni had given you the lamp, our visitors would have concentrated on you. Wakano knows what they would have done to get through to your thick skull.”

“I see what you mean,” Jamao said, making a face. Ghenni doubted he did.

“Whatever we decide,” Opona said, “we can do nothing until we have the lamp. Habbassin, would you please fetch it here?”

“Is that a wish?” Habbassin said with a sly smile.

“It is a good idea,” Elomei said. “Be a good boy. Fetch.”

“I’m not a dog,” the djinn grumbled. He faded from view. Jamao stared, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, at where he had stood only a heartbeat before.

“He does that a lot,” Ghenni said. “Usually, he’s much more spectacular about it. He loves to put on a spectacle.”

“Yeah, but not right now,” Habbassin said, popping back in. He put the lamp on the table. “Here you are.”

“So that’s the lamp,” Jamao said, reaching for the artifact.

“That’s the lamp,” Ghenni confirmed, taking it. She frowned. “It really is, is it? I thought you couldn’t touch it.”

“The one and only,” Habbassin said. “And yes, I can move it if the owner commands me to.”

“So what do we do?” Opona said.

“I’ve been thinking,” Habbassin said, sitting down. “About how kind Ghenni and her friends were.” He smiled at the children. “About the trouble my presence among you has caused you.” He nodded at Elomei and Opona. “Some of you almost died because of me.”

“We noticed,” Jamao huffed.

“And yet Ghenni refused to give me up to the gatherers,” Habbassin continued. “Her loyalty was unbelieveable. I owe her … very much.”

“So what’re you going to do about it?” the chief said.

“As long as the lamp is here, there is a good chance that other fortune hunters will come to seek me. But I can’t leave. I’m bound to the lamp. There’s nothing I can do about it, and you can believe me when I say I tried. Still, I owe you. All that trouble you had because of me… The only chance is to remove the lamp from the island.”

“How?” Elomei said.

“Some of you people could get into your boats, row far out and take the lamp to another island. Or perhaps just throw it into the water. If I’m lucky, it’ll get eaten by a shark and a fisherman’ll catch that shark later on and I’ll be back out again. Or perhaps the shark’ll die and I’ll spend the rest of eternity on the bottom of the sea.”

“What if something happens to the lamp?” Miki said softly. Putting the lamp back on the table, Ghenni turned to look at her friend. As did everybody else. Ghenni realized that as usual, everybody had apparently forgotten the child was present.

“What do you mean?” Elomei said.

“Habbassin keeps telling us how he’s bound to the lamp,” Miki said, making herself even smaller. Ghenni reached out and took her hand. Miki smiled and straightened. A bit. “Now we talk about taking the lamp away from the island. But if he’s bound to the lamp, won’t he be freed if we break the lamp?”

“You know, I never thought of it …” Habbassin said, rubbing his chin. He shook his head. “No. Won’t work. It could only work if the lamp were completely destroyed. I don’t see how…”

“Wakano,” Miki said. “If anyone can destroy the lamp it’s he, isn’t it? After how you helped us, I’m sure he will.”

Habbassin leaned back in his chair. He looked at his hand, looked out of the window at the now quiet volcano.

“Throw the lamp into the volcano,” he said softly. “You know, that just might work …”

“About that last wish,” Jamao said quickly, “I’ve been thinking about that …”

“We could wish Habbassin free of the lamp,” Ghenni said quickly. “That’s it! We wish Habbassin free of the lamp, and when he is we throw it into Wakano’s Throne, where it’ll be completely destroyed.”

“Exactly,” Miki nodded enthusiastically. “That should do it. The lamp will be destroyed, and Habbassin can go wherever he wants to.”

“You would do that for me?” the djinn said.

“Sure,” Miki said. She stood up. “Let’s get on with it.”

“Let’s,” Ghenni cried. Taking the lamp, she rose and headed for the door.

“There’s a faster way,” Habbassin said, twirling his finger.

Ghenni blinked, and they were back on the volcano.

“All right,” Habbassin said, looking into the lava. “Here’s how we do it. You rub the lamp, and while you rub it you make your wish. Speak it out loud.”

Ghenni rubbed the lamp.

“I wish that Habbassin no longer be bound to this lamp,” she intoned. “Or any other lamp, for that matter.”

Habbassin screamed as he turned into blue smoke and was drawn into the lamp, obviously against his will. When he had been completely sucked inside, the lamp shook violently. It was all Ghenni could do not to drop it. The lid sprang off and a dense blue cloud escaped from it. Off to the right, the cloud solidified into Habbassin. The djinn screamed.

“Are you all right?” Miki called out.

“Throw it!” Habbassin yelled. “Just throw that damn thing into the damn volcano!”

Reaching back as far as she could, Ghenni swung her arm and hurled the lamp into the volcano. It flashed and vanished even before it hit the lava. Habbassin screamed again and collapsed.

The children rushed to his side. Each girl took hold of one of his arms. Together, they helped him back to his feet.

“Are you all right?” Miki asked.

“I … will be,” Habbassin said, straightening. He squared his shoulders. Shook himself. Smiled. “I am,” he said, sounding surprised. “I suppose I really am.” He hugged the children to his expansive gut. “It worked!” he yelled. He threw back his head and laughed, laughed so hard he cried. “It really, actually worked! I’m free!” He kissed first Miki, then Ghenni on the top of their heads. “Thank you. Thank you, my friends. I’m free. I’m really truly free.”

Releasing the children, Habbassin stepped back a couple of paces.

“I can go now,” he said. “I bless you all, my friends. You don’t know … You can’t know … You have no idea what …” He held out both of his hands. They began to glow, a glow that spread to both girls, enveloped them. “A little parting gift,” he said. “You’ll find out in time what it does.”

“You’re leaving?” Miki said.

“Right away,” Habbassin said, nodding so hard Ghenni feared his head would fall off. “For the first time in I don’t know how long I’m free again.”

“Where will you go?” Ghenni said.

“Home. Not right away, I’m afraid. I’ve no idea where I am, or how long I’ve been stuck in that lamp. Or even where home is and how to get there. It’ll probably a long and difficult journey. But eventually, I’ll get home. Of that, I’m certain.”

“Won’t you stay?” Miki said. Habbassin knelt before the child and put his hands on her shoulders.

“I can’t. You know why I can’t. I’d be a danger to you all if I did. That was why we destroyed the lamp, remember.”

Miki nodded.

“Yes,” she said. “I just thought…”

“I know,” Habbassin said, ruffling her hair. “Thank you for caring, Miki.”

Rising to his feet, Habbassin stepped back.

“Well, I gotta get going,” he said. He spread his arms. Looking at Ghenni, he said, “One thing’s sure. I’ll never forget you, or what you did for me. I’ll be eternally grateful.”

The djinn took a deep breath and released it with a hiss.

“We won’t forget you either,” Ghenni said.

“You can count on that,” Opona said. She wasn’t smiling. Habbassin winked at her.

“I’d be surprised if you did,” he said. He raised his head to look up at the sky. “This has been too long a good-bye for my tastes already,” he said, rising up. “Have a good life.”

Waving at the people on the volcano, he picked up speed as he rose higher and higher. Within seconds, he was gone.

“He could’ve taken us back home,” Jamao grumbled.

“The exercise will do you good,” Elomei said. “Now come.”

Opona put her hand on Ghenni’s shoulder.

“That sounds like a good idea,” she told her daughter. “He’s gone. Let’s get on with our lives.”

Looking up at where she had last seen Habbassin, Ghenni nodded.

“Yes,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye. “Let’s.”

THE END

28. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 39

Ghenni concentrated on Bolwyn. The crystal showed her the wizard on the volcano’s far side. He zipped back and forth, as if to make sure nobody was around. Satisfied with his findings, Bolwyn levitated farther up. He too called forth eldritch energies, shaping them into something he found useful for his plan against Wakano’s rage. In Bolwyn’s case, the energy took the shape of a plow. With a few simple gestures, the plow cut into the volcano’s side, gouging deep until Wakano’s fire flowed out of the wound Bolwyn cut into the mountainside. Bolwyn gestured again. His clothes were wet with sweat, moreso than they should be even if the sweat came only from the lava’s heat. His face reddened with effort, his face twisted with concentration. The plow cut deeper, deeper still, deepening the gouge, lengthening it. The deeper and farther the gouge went, the more lava spilled into it. The more lava flowed from the gouge, the less Terek had to deal with on his side. Instead, it flowed to the side of the island where no people were in danger, where all it could do was form strange shapes until it flowed into the sea.

Which, Ghenni now noticed, seemed more shallow than she had ever seen it before. Had Wakano’s fire evaporated so much water? She couldn’t imagine. No so much that one could notice. There was too much water in the sea for that. Wasn’t there?

So that’s what Habbassin’s up to.

Ghenni saw the djinn hover over the sea, his arms spread wide, concentrating on something on the horizon.

Ghenni let the crystal follow the djinn’s gaze until she discovered where all the water had gone.

It had gone into the giant tsunami that rapidly approached the island.

Ghenni looked up from the crystal. She tried to rise, but the ground shook too hard for a steady stand, so she decided against it. She looked past the mountain, at the horizon. Yes, there it was. Habbassin had really caused a tsunami. It grew rapidly, or seemed to as it neared the island and filled her view. It was eerily silent, not nearly as noisy as Ghenni would have expected. Then again, perhaps the tsunami’s noise was simply drowned out by the volcano’s.

“He must’ve lost his mind,” Ghenni muttered. Wasn’t one doom at a time enough?

Ghenni shook her head to clear it. No use staring at the giant wave. No use trying to get away either. Her reasons for staying had just doubled. There was no way she could get to a safe place in time. Provided there was such a thing as a safe place on this island. Ghenni didn’t think so. Her best chance lay with the trio of magic-users. One of whom had apparently lost his mind.

Ghenni concentrated on the crystal again. She saw Terek and Bolwyn. Both had completed their tasks. Working together, they actually managed to stop some of Wakano’s fire. Ghenni wasn’t sure how they did it. Nor did she care. The only thing that mattered was that they were succeeding. It didn’t look to be enough, though. The volcano still rumbled, still spewed rocks into the sky. Lava still spilled over the rim, although most of it now spilled into where the sea used to be.

Habbassin came into view. The others joined him. Terek and Bolwyn reached into their pouches and threw powders into the smoke-filled air. Habbassin gestured. The smoke gathered, changed its appearance.

Ghenni looked away from the crystal to look directly at the mountain again. She could barely make out the three figures hovering just beneath the darkness. She coughed once before realizing that the air was improving. The darkness above the three figures — it had to be all the smoke and dust Wakano had spewed forth. They were drawing it in, obviously. Through the crystal, Ghenni saw that the dust changed texture, became like a thundercloud. True to its new appearance, lightning flashed from the cloud. Ghenni shuddered. Considering how much dirt Wakano had spat out … She decided not to think about the size of the cloud, which still grew, blotting out the sun. Within moments, the only light was the red glow from the volcano, and the flashes of lightning from the giant cloud.

Then the tsunami arrived.

Silently, it hovered over the island for a moment, dwarfing even the mountain. The wizards threw some powder at it. Blue light arced from their hands at the tsunami as it collapsed … as it shrank … as it hardened … Ghenni could feel the chill even where she sat, as if the tsunami drew all the heat from all over the place. She rubbed her arm with her free hand. Something cold and wet touched it. Looking up, she saw fluffy white flakes tumble from the sky. Ghenni held out her hand and caught a couple of the flakes. They turned into cold water instantly. Ghenni looked at the mountain again, just in time to see the tsunami collapse into itself, the pieces falling into the volcano. Steam rose up where ice, for Ghenni was sure now that the wizards had turned the wave into ice, met lava. The steam rose, high into the air, where it was captured and conscripted into the cloud. The cloud released the water, raining down at the mountain, at the surrounding land, at Wakano’s fire. No, not rain, Ghenni realized. It released the same fluffy flakes that had once already caught her attention.

Slowly, whatever the magickal trio did took effect. Already the ground steadied. Wakano’s rumbling quieted. At first, it was replaced by the hissing of steam, but even that quieted down and seemed to cease.

Soon, everything had quieted down. Ghenni offered a prayer to Wakano, thanking him that he had spared them after all. She had barely finished when Habbassin, Terek and Bolwyn popped up next to her.

“I didn’t think it’d work,” Bolwyn gushed. “When you said you needed a tsunami, I thought you’d gone over the deep end. I really did.”

“But it worked,” Terek said.

“A stopgap, at best,” Habbassin said, raising his hands. “We’ve offered the lava a way of less resistance away from the village. We managed to reduce the pressure, clean up the air and cool it down a bit. That doesn’t mean it won’t blow up again, probably quite soon.” He turned to Ghenni, picked her up and held her high.

“We did it!” he cheered. Setting the girl down, he added, “At least we bought your people some time to find another island to stay on. I’m afraid Wakano’ll be pretty mad at being thwarted this time around.” Looking at the two men, he continued, “I couldn’t have done it alone.”

“Yeah,” Bolwyn said. “Can we go now?”

“Not yet,” Habbassin said. “We still have out work cut out for us.” He swept his arm to encompass all around them. “I’d say you still need to make amends for all this.”

“So what do we do now?” Terek said. He sounded even more tired than he looked. The rings under his eyes nearly frightened Ghenni.

Not as much as Habbassin’s grin did, when she caught a look at it.

“We’re going to make the volano erupt again,” the djinn said.

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