Thursday, May 29, 2014

Labs of Creation

Okay, I decided for a bit of an...irreverent take on some stuff for this short story.  While writing it, I wondered if I was breaking one of my rules, but I decided that people secure in what they believe will know this is just a silly little story.  Those offended would never want any of my stronger stuff anyway.
           "Keep it on your side, Yahweh!"
            Yahweh looked at the flask of plague he'd opened and saw that it was running over to Elohim's tray.  He gently cupped the nasty liquid and pushed it back towards his box.
            "What do you use that stuff for anyway?" Elohim asked.  "You build all that stuff just to leave it abandoned when your pets can't fight off your plagues?"
            The adolescent pursed his lips and gave a look of haughty indifference to his lab partner(a look he was well practiced in).  "You can't make everything rosy and nice.  If your critters aren't strong enough to overcome small things like this, how do you ever expect them to reach their potential?"
            "I think my 'critters' can reach their potential without my needing to kill half of them in the process," Yahweh said without looking over.
            "That's why your creation won't amount to much compared to mine."
            Yahweh just shook his head.  He and Elohim had been having this argument since school began.  Elohim treated his lab project with something resembling disdain and cruelty, while Yahweh nurtured and cared for his creatures with compassion.  He knew that the things he was making would reach their full potential if unencumbered by such petty distractions.
            Jehovah looked over from his own table.  "You boys gonna keep squabbling?  Can't y'all just shut the hell up and do your project?  We'll see in a few weeks who's got the best."
            "Easy for you to say, J," Elohim grumbled.  "You screwed up your first project and the teacher let you flood it out and start over."
            "My guys were messed up in the head," Jehovah retorted.  "I gave 'em too much gratification urge at the beginning and it all went to shit.  Stuff is coming along just fine now."
            "Only because you make them afraid of you," said Yahweh.  "I wonder if you're really going to follow through on that big finale you have planned once the school year is done."
            Jehovah grinned as he mixed up another vial of technological advancement.  "You never know."
            Elohim and Yahweh finally glanced at each other as they shared a look of disdain for Jehovah.  Out of the corner of his mouth, Yahweh said, "Zeus got to him too much.  Worst lab partner ever."
            "Yeah," Elohim replied.  "Always a big show off, what with his lightning bolts and massive creature battles.  He doesn't get how to grow these things."
            Yahweh just harrumphed.  This project was the culmination of deity class, and they couldn't graduate without it, but he thought Professor Elyon gave too much latitude to his pupils.  Yes, there wasn't any scientific evidence these little creatures and their worlds understood what was going on, but that didn't mean they should be treated with contempt, which some of the students took pleasure in.
            As if on cue, Jehovah shouted out, "Behold, I am coming like a thief in the night!"
            "Not again," groaned Waheguru.
            But Jehovah just smkiled as his project turned orange and then bright red.  Sparks started to fly from the open container before finally dying down to a dull blue and then going out all together.
            "You ever get tired of scaring the shit out of them?" Yahweh asked.
            "Not a bit," Jehovah replied.
            Huwa walked over to Jehovah and said, "You know, sooner or later your guys are going to stop believing you're about to trash their world.  What do you do then?"
            "Depends on my mood," Jehovah shrugged.  "I still don't know if I'm gonna use my apocalypse when the year ends, or if I'm just gonna set the project on the windowsill and let it rot."
            Yahweh recoiled in horror.  "But you raised them.  Don't you care if they love you?  Don't you want them to grow strong?"
            "You just worry about your own creation and leave mine alone.  I just need a C out of this to graduate."
            "Well, I plan on keeping mine," said Elohim.
            "Why?  It's just a throw-away project.  Who cares if it dies?"
            "Well, I want mine to grow strong."
            "But you can't watch over them forever.  Besides, if Professor Elyon's stories are correct, most of them will abandon us anyway.  Why do you think I put so much into keeping them under control."
            "You're a real piece of work," Huwa said.
            "Thank you," Jehovah replied, a touch of condescension in his voice.  "I know my critters would agree."
            "If only we could introduce these groups," Elohim intoned.  "Then we'd see whose was strongest.  Mine will overcome so much they'll outshine any of you guys'."
            "I guess we'll never know," said Zeus as he threw in several more lightning bolts into his jar.  "Just the luck of the draw for who ends up in which project."
            They all nodded.  After all, in the end, these were just school projects anyway.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Limiting Perspectives

Over the last couple of years, I've grown more and more fond of telling stories in a first person limited point of view.  I've done two novels this way - Wrongful Death and Homecoming - and I've enjoyed the way they were written.  A first person perspective allows me to feel as if I'm in the story, so that makes it more fun to do.  However, that doesn't mean that such things are without drawbacks.

First, telling the story from a first person point of view eliminates some of the suspense.  There's never any real danger in the storyteller dying since the only way that could happen is if the story were to suddenly end without resolution, a result that the audience would never tolerate(few writers would tolerate it either - we're as interested in knowing what happens as the reader).  While few main characters may ever be in real danger, writing from something like third person omniscient at least keeps the possibility open, thus keep people wondering.

First person also limits the feel of the story.  Yes, it can put the reader in the character's shoes, but it keeps them from trying on anyone else's shoes.  You get to see how the storyteller affects others, but not that effect from the other person's point of view.  It's one thing for my main character to break up with the love of his life and watch her skulk away; it's quite another to see the breakup from her perspective and really feel the agony in her heart.

It also limits foreshadowing.  Sharing salacious info helps set the mood, but a first person perspective means I can only tell you what the main character sees.  The questions about what is happening are limited to how the storyteller perceives them, but with a broader perspective, I can move outside that box.

These things are what have kept me from doing more first person stories.  As the writer, I might know where the story is headed, but I sometimes want to take the audience along, and sharing certain insights feels almost like a dirty secret between the reader and I.  With first person, only I get to know that secret until the main character discovers it.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm sure I'll do more first person stories, but I'm beginning to become more selective in when.  Such things need to really take the story from ho-hum to OH MY GOD.  Otherwise, it's nothing but pretension, and we writers have enough of that as it is.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Hatchet Job

If you've kept up at all in recent days on writing blogs, then you've probably caught wind of a spat between two of the industry's giants, Amazon and HachetteSeveral articles help break down the argument, but it boils down to a major disagreement over splitting the revenue that technological change has brought on, namely e-books.

Writers in the indie market like to set our prices in accordance with what we think the market will support.  Most of us are also low-ball operations with very little overhead or expense.  We understand that it costs next to nothing to create an e-book, which is one of the appeals.  We also understand that although people may be willing to shell out $15-$25 for a hardback novel, few are willing to do so for a download.  It's the perception of value and what the consumer thinks it gets for that price, and something you read on the screen doesn't compare to that which you can hold in your hand.  That's not to say that our stories aren't appreciated in e-book form, but rather that people want something tangible if they're going to fork over major cash.  The public knows that there are no printing presses or glossy covers in an e-book to justify exorbitant expense.

Traditional publishers, on the other hand, continue to believe they can charge for e-books what they charge for hardcovers.  While some get that traditional publishers are still paying for editors, in-house lawyers, physical publishing facilities, etc, almost no one cares.  The value just isn't there to fork over $15 for a download when so many others are available.

For that reason, Amazon chooses to discount the e-books that it gets the contract to distribute.  Such things push books, but they also hold down Amazon's profit margins since the publishers still insist on a relatively high percentage of revenue from the e-books.  After lots of hurt feelings on both sides, Amazon has had enough, so they've decided to cut off one of the Big 6 - Hachette.  What Amazon is doing will delay or even cut off the writers of Hachette from using Amazon as a distribution medium.  Given that Amazon is one of the largest book distributors on the planet, their curtailing of Hachette novels puts a serious crimp in the revenue that company and its writers take in.

I'm not gong to sit here and pretend that either side is altruistic here.  In the end, it boils down to money.  That's why both companies exist - to make money.  No, it's not to make sure you get your favorite author as soon as his or her next work hits shelves, or to distribute literary masterpieces so writers can pay the light bill with their earnings - it's to make a profit for the company.

Most traditional writers are coming down on the side of Hachette and complaining that Amazon is choking the market.  I get that.  However, where they lose me is in the groveling way they are sucking up to their publishers to do so, as if Hachette is interested only in getting books to market so they can entertain the masses.  Sorry, but Hachette shares some blame here by not recognizing the changing market conditions that e-books have created.  Hachette appears to not even be considering reducing its e-book prices, which is a reason why traditional sales have gone down while indie sales have skyrocketed.  I do find a certain amusement in the fact that folks like Hachette are contributing to their own demise by stubbornly refusing to get that pricing has to change if they want to maintain market share.

Further, I believe that Hachette's writers are being kind of narrow minded here.  If people want the latest from Nicholas Sparks or JK Rowling, there are outlets besides Amazon.  This could give rise to new distribution channels, or publishers could find a way to distribute it themselves.  However, they won't lower prices at their organic sites the way Amazon does, which, coincidentally, is exactly why they can move so much volume through that distributor.

Amazon isn't a paragon of virtue here either.  They're the big kid on the block, and after the way traditional publishers and Apple tried to fix e-book prices, Amazon isn't feeling generous enough to back down since they think they now have the upper hand to force change in things like revenue sharing.  They know they can make publishers change, or those publishers will have to find new distribution channels(something not easy to do).  So they're flexing some muscle, and a few people don't like it.

(On a side note, I find the irony especially delicious about how folks like James Patterson and others are crying that Amazon is killing independent bookstores after embracing Barnes & Noble and Borders...which were the giant bookstores that initially killed off small independent bookstores.  There was even a movie about that - maybe you've heard of it.)

My guess is that some accommodation will be reached, with Amazon getting most of what it wants.  I grant that I could be wrong, but I can't see Hachette giving up its main distribution channel to its customers.  Yes, they'll bitch and scream for a while, but I think they'll have little impact in the end.  Ironic that Hachette is screaming about a thing - discounting e-books - that could, in fact, save it from indie.  However, I don't think they'll recognize their contribution to their own downfall until after they've gone past the point of no return.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Out Of Time

We've all seen movies about the Middle Ages.  Renaissance fairs around the country play off of our desire to act like King Arthur.  Therefore, I started wondering what would happen if someone who had no knowledge of the past except for what they'd seen at such events actually took a trip to that time period.  My guess is that it wouldn't go as planned.

            Clinton stepped out of the time machine and coughed.  Smoke from the currents of history overloaded the circuits and nearly caused them to flame out.
            "Dude, that was totally awesome!" he declared.
            Steve pushed his way out of the machine and stared into the sun as more smoke cleared.  "Yeah, except for almost incinerating.  Other than that, totally awesome."
            "Stop being such a downer," Clinton rebuked.  "We made it!"
            They looked around at the field they'd made it to.  It was brown and green, with small piles of hay littering every 50 feet.  The other thing that littered the ground was manure...a lot of it.
            Steve straightened out his tunic and checked on the sword in his belt.  "I hope we blend in."
            "You kidding?  We wear this stuff every year to the Renaissance Fair.  It'll get us by until we can find more period-appropriate clothes.  If nothing else, this trip will help us get better for next year."
            Steve nodded and grinned.  He and Clinton were graduate physics prodigies.  The time machine was the culmination of their work, and it would show those stuffy professors who laughed at them a thing or two.  Dr. Morris had called the pair brilliant...and flaky.  It wasn't a label either took kindly to.
            "Well," Clinton ventured, "shall we head into town?"
            "Are we in the right year?  You're sure we're near York?"
            "Of course I'm sure.  The temporal coordinates were spot on.  It's 998 and the city should be about three miles that way."  He pointed to a series of hills to their east.
            "Then away we go."
            Being the middle of July, the sun beat into them.  Steve was thin as a rail, and Clinton was portly, but neither was in very good shape.  It wasn't too long before sweat darkened the armpits of their tunics and the bold red colors turned to maroon.  After a mile or so through thin woods and more fields of hay, they found a couple of ruts in the ground that indicated a road.
            Panting, Clinton said, "We should follow this.  I think it'll take us straight into York."
            "Not much of a road," Steve observed.
            "Yeah, but the main roads are probably south towards London.  We can go there after we grab something to eat."
            As they traipsed down the road, a small figure approached from the other direction.  The man was hunched and carrying a bundle of something on his back.  The man's clothes were brown and gray.  As he got closer, dirt along his face was easily visible.  He stared at the pair from out of time, his eyes moving from their faces to their belts and back again.
            "Swence drotohb ou nied guosweord?  Sy dael guocearu?"
            The young men stared at each other, baffled expressions on their faces.  Steve finally shrugged before turning to the man and saying, "Kind sir, can thou tellest us wherest the nearest town be?"
            Now it was the other man's turn to appear baffled.  He squinted at Steve and said, "Hweat beon ou segen?"
            Out of the corner of his mouth, Steve said, "You have any idea what this guy is saying?"
            "Not a clue," Clinton muttered.  "I thought they spoke English here."
            "This doesn't sound like anything we use at the fair."  To the man, he pointed and simply asked, "York?"
            "Gese," the man said while nodding.
            The boys exchanged glances again and moved away from the peasant.  Dodging the occasional patch of green and black manure, they moved closer to their destination.  A stench rose from the air that clogged their nostrils, and each looked at the other as if he was trying to hold a bug with his upper lip.
            After a while, they traipsed into the city of York.  Or what they thought would be a city but turned out more to be a series of huts and wooden buildings that belched acrid smoke into the air.
            "This is...small," Steve ventured.
            "Yeah," Clinton muttered.  "Where are the city walls?"
            "I dunno.  They ain't gonna keep out William Wallace with this kind of open space."
            They crept down the dirt path that ran through the center of the city, their eyes darting back and forth to the locals who were eyeing them with a growing mix of curiosity and what can only be describde as incredulity.
            "They don't seem very friendly," Clinton said out of the side of his mouth.
            "We're outsiders.  It's on us to engage them if we want to make friends."  He sashayed over to a dirty older man tending a horse and said, "Forsooth good man.  Wherest canst thy find sustenance in this fine village?"
            The man's lip curlde and he stared at Steven for a second or three before replying with, "Vat dos eoel cidan ou stefan?"
            Clinton wadlled over and whispered, "It's that same gobbeldy gook  that dude on the road was jabbering at us."
            "If you can figure out a way to talk to them, I'm all ears."
            Clinton cleared his throat and said, "We seek a hearty meal good peasant.  Kindly make way for our rumbling bellies, if thou wouldest be of such nature."
            "Ou ar sott," the man replied.
            Turning back to Steve, Clinton said, "Man, I ain't leaving here until I get to chow down on a turkey leg or mutton shank."  He turned back to the man and started motioning to his mouth with his hands.  Although he still regarding the pair with wary eyes, the old man finally pointed across the way to a rickety wooden building with a horse post out front.
            "That's gotta be where the grub is," Clinton said.
            "Sure as heck hope so."
            The pair sauntered across the road as the eyes of everyone in the street followed them.  As they reached the tavern, Steve pulled hard on the door, which creaked as he yanked on it.  Inside sunlight flooded the room, along with a stifling heat and rancid stench that hit the pair.
            "Wow, you think they'd open a window," Clinton said.
            "Or throw out whatever died," Steve said as he swiped at the air.  The flies were everywhere.
            There were only a few people in the tavern.  Three looked up at Steve and Clinton as they came in, while two others stayed hunched over their bowls.  The pair from out of time selected a long wooden table and sat down.  Before long, a small boy of seven or eight came over.
            "Ou fadung, leof?"
            Steve had given up by this point in trying out his renaissance fair speech and instead pointed to one of the bowls close by.  Clinton, on the other hand, made a motion like he was eating a turkey leg and ripping the flesh from the bone.  The little boy furrowed his tiny brow at the portly man before heading off.
            "See, they finally get it," Clinton said.
            However, he didn't act very pleasant when the bowls arrived.  Both he and Steve got small wooden bowls of a milky white paste with a few bean sprouts sticking from it.  On the side were a pair of wooden mugs containing water that looked like it had been fished from a porta-pottie.
            "Oh my god!" Clinton exclaimed.  "It smells like a toilet.  Where's my mutton?"  He glared at the boy and made the same gesture as before.
            The boy, however, just stared back at him before declaring, "Dael sy naut aet."  The boy then stormed off.
            "I think you should eat it.  They might be insulted."
            "I want my genuine medieval mutton shank or turkey leg!"
            "I get the feeling they may not have it.  Look around - you see anyone eating meat?"
            Sure enough, when the pair looked around the tiny room, no one had anything but the bowl of paste and a mug of liquid.  Steve grabbed at the tiny spoon and scooped up some of the porridge.  "Bottoms up!"
            No sooner had it touched his tongue than he gagged.  After another effort, he finally managed to get some down his throat.  "It tastes like wallpaper paste," he declared.
            "I don't normally drink, but I could use a beer over this toilet water."  No sooner had Clinton made the statement than the boy reappeared with another mug.  The smell was still strong, but it was much more palatable than the water he had before.
            Clinton picked up the mug and hesitated before finally slamming down a couple of gulps.  The bitter taste nearly forced his eyes from his sockets, and he coughed loudly, much to the delight of the boy.
            "Glad to see we're entertaining," Clinton said.
            Steve was nearly finished with his porridge by this time, even though his stomach was clenching.  The boy appeared again at tableside and said, "Seofon scillingrin."
            "I think he's asking for money," Steve said.
            "Probably.  Good thing we came prepared."  Clinton pulled out a tiny gold bar they'd saved up for this occasion.  He knew everyone here would love the gold.
            The boy, on the other hand, just stared at it.  "Bes nawiht!  Faeder!"
            Another second ewnt by and a man with a scruffy beard and tan shirt appeared.  "Baecern sy min feoh?"
            "Uh, I don't think they like the gold," Steve said, his voice clenching with both nervousness and something in his gut."
            "Don't be absurd.  Gold is universal."
            But the man turned to his son and said, "Sib feccan se staeller."  And the boy disappeared again.
            Steve's stomach rumbled loudly enough to be heard across the bar, and he soon doubled over.  Clinton rushed to his side when the tavern door opened and a rugged looking man wearing a helmet walked in.  He looked at the pair and asked, "Forhwy ou inca guosweord?"
            When Clinton just stared at him, the man soon grabbed Clinton by the scruff of the neck and picked him up.  He did the same to Steve, but when he did, Steve let loose with a fart that Clinton thought could be heard in London, a sound that greatly amused the man.
            "Oferlad carcern," the man chuckled.
            Neither Steve nor Clinton had any idea what was happening, but the catcalls of the patrons at the tavern told them they weren't welcome.  Steve continued to fart the whole way out, and Clinton followed out of nothing but instinct.  His heart fell when he saw the iron bars of the local jail.
            Tossed inside a dirt floor cell with straw in the corner, Steve continued to stay doubled over and began to groan.  Just as the cell door shut, Clinton said, "I guess we shouldn't have gotten our history from the renaissance fair.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Torn Between Worlds

A while back, I began writing a new novel tentatively named Onyx.  After struggling through a good portion of it, I decided to change to a new novel.  This novel has no name as of yet, but it was an idea I'd been playing with for a while, and it represented a return to my roots as a lover of science fiction.  This was the prequel to Homecoming, and I knew where it was headed, so it made more sense to get this one out first.

Unfortunately, I've found myself writing neither at this point.  Some of this is the hectic pace of a life that involves a great job and a busy family with two kids.  Some of this, however, is a conflict inside myself that has taken me by surprise, and, quite frankly, frustrated the hell out of me.

I find myself thinking of the other book whenever I try to focus on one.  I'll get into the flight of the main character in the Homecoming prequel, only to find I'm thinking of how much in detail I should go regarding the time machine on Onyx.  I'll be outlining Onyx, and my mind will wander to the tragic outcome of the main character's story in the Homecoming prequel and how it transforms him from the scrawny kid who barely understands the world into a man who saves the entire human race.


I've got to find a way to block out one book from another while writing.  This is the main issue I spoke of a while back when I mentioned intentionally trying to not think of new ideas.  So, how do I do this?

Well, I've got a few plane trips coming up.  I don't know how many of you have been to Hawaii, but even getting to the west coast is a five hour ordeal, and I've got two of these trips within two weeks of each other.  Further, once my daytime business is done, it's not like I'll be out partying(I'm kind of a dork and don't party much), so that'll give me even more time to write at night since there won't be any kids who need attention, and I don't want to die of boredom.  I'll pick one of the books and focus exclusively on it, hoping that will bring me out of my paralysis.  Done right, I should have around 25,000 to 30,000 words once I reach the end of June.

The only question now is which one to choose...

Sunday, May 18, 2014


I came across this post from Hugh Howey recently.  For those who don't want to follow the link, I'll summarize - Hugh went to an event for writers recently where the writers were segregated into two groups.  One ballroom held those who've gone the traditional publishing route, while the other(described by Hugh as "dinky") held self-published writers.

On the surface, this sounds like a classic case of traditional publishing's pretension.  To me, however, beyond the fact that traditional publishers put on the event - thus making it reasonable they'd push their brand over indie writers - is the fact of indie writers needing to understand that we're never going to be accepted by the traditional world.  They honestly do view themselves as better since their work has been validated by an agent and a "real" publisher, and they won't accept indie folks unless/until that work has been sold to a traditional house and the writer in question has gone over to their side.  I don't think any of that should be the issue.

The real issue should be whether or not we should care.

Ask yourself why you're in the business.  Are you writing books so you can be accepted by agents and editors in New York?  If you are, then you need to find a way to schmooze up to those people.  However, I went into writing in order to tell my stories to the public, and, hopefully, make a little money.  I wanted the freedom to say what I had to and sink or swim on my own.  If I make it, that's great, but my definition of making it doesn't include getting the approval of the traditional world.

We have to be okay with the fact that the traditional publishing world sees us as its dimwitted younger cousin, the one they're embarrassed to be seen with in public, so they pretend we don't exist.  Just know that they live in a dying industry that is being overwhelmed by technology and new blood, the same way you looked at that wrinkled old patronizing relative you had as a kid and knew they'd be decomposing soon enough.

Until we accept that we can't care about what the so-called elites think of us, we'll never succeed in anyone's eyes, even our own.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Schism - Chapter 1

I've decided tonight to post the first chapter from my novel SchismSchism is about a second American Civil War, and this is where it all begins...

            All five were dressed in black as they crept through the woods.  The moon peeked intermittently through the trees, but it provided enough light so they could make their way.  The target was ahead, and they wouldn't allow it to tarnish this landscape.
            Melanie Santos led this motley crew.  She was 23 with puffy cheeks and brown eyes.  She loved being in the woods and learned long ago that short hair was easier to maintain out here.  Behind her, a twig snapped.
            "Be quiet," she hissed.
            But Dan Nettles would have none of it.  "We're 25 miles from the nearest person," he snapped.  "Ain't no one around here gonna see us.  This shit is heavy, and that means we're not going to be the most graceful folks in the world."
            What he was referring to were the two gallon jugs of gasoline he carried.  His pudgy build added the girth needed to carry supplies, but it didn't lend itself to ease of movement.  Behind him, Heath, Tristen, and Carla carried the rest of what they needed - hoses, spray nozzles, etc. - with similar grace.
            "You never know when some asshole camper or Forest Ranger could be wandering around," Melanie said.  "What do you think they'd do if someone found us with all of this stuff?"
            "We've done this kind of thing two other times and haven't come close to getting caught.  You're so paranoid."
            "I still wish we could've parked closer," Tristen grumbled.  The hoses they needed were wrapped around his lanky frame.
            "We had to," Carla said.  "Once this thing goes up, do you want anyone passing by to place our car at the scene?  Besides, this is our territory, and you should feel at home in it."
            Tristen didn't stop grumbling, but he kept it under his breath.  He enjoyed nature - one of the reasons he'd agreed to go along - but he wasn't as close to Gaia as the rest of the crew.  His experience in the wild was limited mainly to rock climbing and the occasional hike; still, further encroachment into unspoiled areas of the wilderness had to be opposed, so he tagged along more out of principle than love of walking up and down rocky hills.
            The wood line broke and Melanie signaled for them to stop.  She pulled out a pair of binoculars and glared at the enemy.  It stood stoically against the night, unaware that it was about to fall.
            "Ugly fucker," Dan muttered.
            "Yeah," Melanie replied.  "I get why people want to come up here, but they ruin the whole thing by putting abominations like that up instead of allowing the Earth to simply exist around them."
            What they were referring to was a nearly finished structure in the clearing.  It was made of logs and wood shingles, with a towering arch held up by two pillars at the front.  Along the front was a series of large windows with new glass that still had blue tape crisscrossed over them.  A few rows of white paint had been slapped on the walls, but there were enough patches of brown to say there was work left to do, a message accentuated by the tools and lumber that dotted the ground.  A sign in front proclaimed the abomination to be the "HIGH COUNTRY MOUNTAIN RESORT AND SKI LODGE."
            Melanie stepped into the clearing.  "Shouldn't be too tough to bring down, and being so late in the season" - it was already July - "I don't think they'll have enough time to rebuild before the snow comes.  Hopefully the winter will do enough damage that it'll be too costly to put up again."
            "Let's do it," Dan said.
            They gathered their gear and began to make their way across the clearing.  Summer had been cooler than usual, with temperatures hovering around 55 to 60, but the hike was making them sweat.  Shuffling towards the lodge, Heath pulled up short and pointed.
            "What's that?"
            "What's what?" Melanie asked as she continued moving towards the target.
            "That."  He took her shoulder and pointed to one of the windows.
            From that window came a faint glow.  It wasn't terribly bright, but it stood out against the night.  As they stared at it, Carla spoke.
            "You don't think anyone's in there, do you?"
            "Don't be ridiculous.  We've been watching this place for more than a week, and no one ever stays the night.  Didn't we watch the last truck pull away a few hours ago?  Look around - there isn't a car or anything in sight.  How would anybody be up here?"  Melanie was right - the gravel lot was barren except for a couple of sawhorses and a scaffold.
            "It's probably either a security light or a droplight that some construction guy forgot to turn off," Melanie argued.  "You don't want to make that trip back to Weippe without finishing what we came up here to do, do you?  That'd just mean another trip tomorrow night, or the next, or however long it took for us to squash this thing."
            Heath nodded, but he felt uneasy.  Even though they hadn't seen any activity at night, he hadn't counted on someone leaving the lights on.  Still, there were no shadows in the windows that indicated people, and there were no vehicles that could've ferried folks out in the event of an emergency, so if anyone was stupid enough to be up here, they'd be up the creek if something happened.
            They dumped their equipment by the entrance, uncoiling hoses and letting metal nozzles and spray cans clatter to the ground(they were more careful with the plastic jugs of gasoline).  Without preamble, Dan and Tristen began pouring the gasoline into the spray cans.  Once that was done, Heath and Carla started attaching long rubber hoses to the cans.
            Melanie took one of the hoses and shot a fine mist of gasoline into the air.  "Seems to be working," she said with a smile.  She then proceeded to soak the wooden pillars by the lodge's front.
            "Daddy, it's cold."
            Ron Turlman looked at his daughter Hannah and smiled.  She was quickly becoming every bit the princess she admired from those Disney movies - curly blond hair and a gap-toothed smile, as well as a growing aversion to dirt - he knew that one day soon he wouldn't be able to talk her into these little adventures anymore.
            "That's why we have sleeping bags," he replied.  "They'll keep us warm.  Just be thankful it isn't October - we'd be hip deep in snow."
            He was a burly man, with a high forehead and scruffy brown beard.  Loving the outdoors was the reason he was here, and building this lodge was the culmination of a lifelong dream.  He and his wife Susan could be away from civilization and enjoy the mountains while making a few bucks.
            "Just think of it as camping without being outdoors," said Ron's 12 year old son Adam.  The boy was his father in miniature - a forehead that showed it would retreat when he hit his mid-20s, and hairy arms that would fill out with muscle as the boy got into football and weightlifting, just like his dad.
            "If this was real camping, we'd be able to build a fire and boil water for a decent cup of coffee," Susan said.
            "Yeah, dad, why don't we have real lights in here?" Hannah asked.
            "The electricity won't be hooked up until August, so we make due with this droplight for now."
            "I still don't know why we have to stay up in this dirty old lodge instead of our hotel," Hannah pouted.
            Ron suppressed a sigh.  Nothing made sense to a nine year old unless she could see an immediate benefit, and waiting for supplies from the contracting company didn't factor in to her comfort level.  "Honey, the men who are going to be bringing up the last bit of wood and paint will be here very early, and we need to be ready when they arrive.  Summer is growing short, and we're going to need every bit of daylight to work if we want to be open for ski season."
            His daughter plopped down on the ground and rested her chin in her hands.  Ron knew she'd rather be in a comfy room somewhere, sitting on the bed and painting her toenails, but she'd get there.  If this lodge became what he wanted it to, one of those comfy rooms might be right here in a few months.
            Adam was already laying back in his sleeping bag and staring at the droplight hung from the ceiling.  Susan sat Indian-style on her sleeping bag and brushed her stiff brown hair.  It was time to go to sleep and he hoped the alarm on his phone would wake him so they'd be standing outside when the first truck pulled up.  It was going to be a long day.
            Outside the window, a faint light grew stronger.
            Melanie dropped the book of matches at the base of the column and took a step back.  That step back became a full leap when a pillar of flame shot up the column and caught the roof.  The fire spread quickly, and she smiled.
            Dan pulled a large piece of plywood away from the building and took out a can of orange spray paint.  He wanted to make sure the wood survived so that the media would get their message.  On it he wrote, "If you build it, we will burn it - ANFPP."
            "We better get out of here," Tristen said.  "That fire looks wild."
            "Relax," Melanie chided.  "I'm pretty sure it's gonna stay confined, but you're right - I don't want to be anywhere near here when folks find this wreckage."
            Flames began to roll around the side of the building.  The gas they'd sprayed along the sides reacted in some way with the paint and sparked an even greater conflagration.  A column by the entrance crashed to the ground, wrapped in fire.  Soon, the night was ablaze.
            He hadn't noticed the orange glow outside until smoke started seeping in through the windows.  The air was soon hazy as smoke clung to the walls.  It was all too obvious to Ron that something was wrong.
            "Everybody up!" he cried, but the command was unnecessary - the entire family was out of the sleeping bags quickly and headed for the door.  By the time they got into the hallway, fire was already lapping at the walls and ceiling.
            "Daddy, what's happening?" Hannah whimpered.
            "The building caught fire.  We need to get out of here."
            Timbers began falling.  Ron put his arm up to his head to protect his face as a piece of wood crashed to the ground in front of him.  Behind him, Adam was virtually dragging his sister towards the entrance, while Susan pushed them from behind.  When they reached the front door, Ron grabbed the knob.
            "Ah!" he yelled.  He shook his hand and grimaced as blisters began to form.  He pulled off his shirt and wrapped it around the doorknob before giving it another try.  It didn't move.  He put his shoulder against it, but again it failed to give way.
            His sweating now had nothing to do with the fire.  With flame-ridden wood collapsing around them, Ron doubted they could make it to the back door.  He backed up, lowered his shoulder, and ran at the door with everything he had, yet it still failed to move - it felt like it was braced from the other side.  The only thing Ron thought he'd broken was his shoulder.
            He sank to the ground in agony as his daughter screamed - the foot of her nightie was on fire and Adam had to smother it with his hands.  Hannah's brother was now shielding her from the fire with his body, and his back was beginning to smoke.
            "We've g-got to go b-b-back," Susan coughed out.
            Ron pulled himself up and tried going towards the back of the lodge, but a wall of fire blocked his path.  He tried pushing through the flames, but the growing inferno stayed his advance as surely as bricks and mortar.  The scream that broke the air was now Ron's as flames lapped at his arm.
            Susan was huddled around Adam and Hannah.  Ron stumbled back to his family and picked up his daughter.
            "We've got to try and break through it."  He looked at Hannah's face, which was now covered in soot and tears.  "Baby, this will hurt, but we don't have any other choice."
            Susan was crying as well, while Adam tried being stoic, but the firelight in his eyes told a different story.  She just nodded at her husband and he dashed into the yellow barrier.  He never reached the other side.
            Somewhere in the ring of fire, the heat took out his legs and he fell, dropping Hannah.  As his skin began to sizzle, he was sure he heard her scream again, but he wasn't conscious long enough to find out for sure.  Within seconds, his body was engulfed.  His last thought was that he didn't see his wife and son race past, and he knew they were consumed as well.
            The woods were cold, but the orange glow on the horizon provided enough light so they could make their way.  They carried out the equipment they'd used so the police couldn't use anything to track the fire back to them.
            As they moved, Tristen said, "I still think I heard something back there that sounded like a scream."
            "That was just pressurized air escaping the wood," Melanie said.  "Stop worrying - there wasn't anybody in there."
            "I hope you're right," Tristen replied.
            It was Dan that had bravado enough to say, "So what if there was?  Greedy Earth fucking pigs would get what they deserved if they got scorched.  Maybe they'll learn to leave nature alone."
            Everyone but Tristen nodded.  They'd done what they had to in order to protect Mother Earth from further desecration, and they would have no sympathy for those who would scar the land just to make money.  Of course, agreeing that those responsible would've gotten what they deserved was a lot easier when they were sure the lodge was empty.
            Firelight from the lodge lit their path for several miles, and by the time the light was useless, they were nearly back.  As they put the gear in the trunk of the beat up Volvo, Melanie smiled and slapped Heath on the back.
            "One more abomination down, a whole lot more to go."
            "This is Morgan Mitchell with a Fox News Alert.  Firefighters and forest rangers near Bald Mountain, Idaho have confirmed the death of a family of four at a ski lodge under construction north of the town of Weippe.  Ron and Susan Turlman, as well as their two children, were overseeing the final stages of construction when arsonists set a fire, trapping the family inside and killing them.  Initial reports are sketchy, but there's evidence the family tried to escape but couldn't due to structural damage.  We go now to Tracy Foreman of KTVB out of Boise.  Tracy?"
            "Thanks Morgan.  The fire at the nearly completed High Country Mountain Resort and Ski Lodge was bright enough to be seen for miles, even from its remote location.  The Turlmans were a local family from Mountain Home, Idaho who loved the outdoors and wanted to find a way to share it with others.  Ron Turlman owned a construction business and decided to build a lodge so his family could enjoy nature and make a little money while they did so.  However, he never imagined it would lead to the death of him and his family.
            "People around here knew the Turlmans pretty well and spoke about how down to Earth they were."
            (Screen reads Rita Kisiah) "They were good people.  Ron was always quick to help out.  When my roof collapsed in the blizzard last year, Ron rebuilt it and didn't press me to pay him - said I could pay him back when I could.  Such a sweet man."
            (Screen reads Jimmy Kelsing, Neighbor) "They wanted to go up into them mountains and retire.  Can't imagine why anyone would wanna kill 'em.  All they was doing was helping make it so that other people could enjoy the mountains too."
            "The High Country Mountain Resort and Ski Lodge was one of many being built in the Bald Mountain area to take advantage of Idaho's booming ski industry.  Investigators are now sifting through the rubble to try and figure out what happened."
            "Any word yet on how the fire might have started?" Morgan asked.
            "Tthe folks I've spoken to believe it was deliberately set, but they won't say anything beyond that.  I've got to tell you, Morgan, there's going to be a lot of anger around here if this turns out to be arson.  Investigators are urging everyone to hold off on jumping to conclusions until more information is uncovered."
            "Thanks Tracy.  Stay tuned to Fox News for more on this developing story."
            Melanie sat on the futon and stared at the TV.  She hated Fox News - or Faux News, as she liked to call them - but they were the only ones who covered the fire in any detail.  She now had little doubt that their adventure had gone terribly wrong.
            Dan plopped down on the futon and kicked off his sandals.  Running his fingers through his hair, he said, "Guess the building wasn't as empty as we thought."
            Melanie turned her head to her fat friend.  "How can you be so glib?  We're about protecting Gaia, not killing innocent people."
            "Do you really think they were innocent?" he sneered.
            She hesitated.  "Okay, maybe not completely innocent, but I still can't believe the fire killed people.  We watched that place for a week.  I knew the routine and the last truck was gone long before we got there."
            "I know, I know - it's tragic."  Dan's voice was flat and showed nothing resembling sympathy.  "Still, if they hadn't done what they'd done, no one would've gotten hurt.  We're at war, Melanie, and sometimes people get hurt.  I wish they didn't, but ain't nothing gonna be completely clean."
            In the corner, Carla wrapped her arms around her knees and had her head buried in the crooks of her arms.  When she looked up, tears were streaming down her pale white face.  "What do we do now?  Are they going to come after us?"
            "No one's going to come get us," Melanie said.  "We took all our stuff, and no one saw us drive away, so the police can't tie it back to us unless one of us goes blabbing.  Just remember that the ANFPP way is to stay anonymous."
            "Speaking of the ANFPP way," Tristen said, "I'm pretty sure that they've found Dan's calling card by now.  Our organization will soon be all over the news.  We have to get out in front of this or we'll lose support."
            "I don't give a shit if we lose support," retorted Dan.  "This is about fighting against those who tarnish our planet.  Direct action is the only way."
            "That may be," Melanie replied, "but Tristen's right.  We always issue a press release so that others will know the consequences of blighting the planet.  We'll need to get something to Seattle as soon as possible so we can shape the story."
            PRESS RELEASE - FROM THE OFFICES OF THE ACTION NETWORK FOR PLANETARY PROTECTION:  ANFPP deplores the loss of any life as an affront to our Mother and Protector.  Life is precious, and this tragic accident shows only the dangers of humanity's continued encroachment into the cradle of Gaia's womb.
            However, further scarring and ecological devastation of our Mother can no longer be tolerated.  For too long we have watched as our natural world is raped by the greed of a few in pursuit of avarice.  It is this crime that must be opposed by all people.  We call upon those who claim devotion to our Mother to say no more to such intrusions.  Only when the people of our planet return the wilderness to its natural state that our fight will cease.  Until then, the struggle goes on.  May the blessings of Mother Gaia shape our hearts in compassion and our minds with respect for all of Her creatures.