Then Conquer We Must: from the Chronicles Of Purgatory Station (Part 8)

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Then Conquer We Must

:from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station

(Part 8)

by

Scott William Foley

 

Sunday

“Shh.  Don’t make a sound,” Tien Phung whispered to the terrified group.  Though she fought to keep a neutral face, her quivering voice betrayed her own trepidation.  Few in the huddled mass actually spoke English, so that voice told them all they needed to know.

Those she protected clustered more closely together.

The woman peeked up through a crack as she heard the heavy footsteps slowly search the house.  Despite the chill, sweat seeped from her forehead and made her hair stick to her skin.

She thanked the Mother Goddess she hid them away in time.  Had the message arrived any later … Her rationale told her no one could have her number—a ghost left more of a trail—but her faith accepted the anonymous warning and so she heeded it.  Once the threat absconded, she would relocate those she defended; she would take them somewhere even more remote; she would discover her benefactor.

The man above could hunt all he wanted.  The only access to their hideaway lay within the forest a quarter mile north of the house.  The most able of the men led them to the ground level hatch—they previously drilled this very scenario at least a dozen times—and she followed while erasing their trail.  Half of the twenty souls she sheltered remained nearer the entry.  Some insisted on coming with her to view he who would defile them.

The man would find no one.  None in rural Wyoming possessed the technology necessary to detect them beneath the house.  They were safe.

At that moment, an explosion erupted so great its concussive force knocked all off their feet.  She sprang up amidst the dust and debris to find most of those closest to her bleeding or dead.

A heavy thump befell as a man dropped into the subterranean hideout.  Before turning around, she bellowed down the corridor, “Run!  Get out through the hatch!”

After next facing the interloper, her eyes widened, for she presumed their enemy to be some backwoods, backwards, misguided patriot. She never imagined …

He dressed head to toe in black, military-grade armor.  He wore small arms strapped to his legs, a powerful rifle rested against his back, and two barrels protruded from the gauntlets encircling his forearms.

When she saw the man’s belt with the red, glowing circle, she ascertained his identity.

“Anthem,” she said.

The man replied through his helmet’s speaker, “You are aiding a group tied to terrorist cells originating from Ulrakistan.”

“They are refugees,” she replied.  “They are not a threat.  They just want to be safe.”

“You don’t look middle-eastern,” the man responded.

The woman furrowed her brows, perplexed, then said, “I’m Vietnamese, not that it matters.”  She wanted to keep the man talking—the more she distracted him, the greater chance her survivors had to escape.

“Ah,” he replied.  “Not a real American.  I’m not surprised.”

“I’m American.  From Chicago,” she said.  “Born and raised.  My parents were immigrants, like these people.”

“Chicago? They don’t come any dirtier.”

Helping illegal aliens provided plenty of conflict and danger.  During the least ten years, the woman learned to both talk and fight her way out of seemingly impossible predicaments.  Knowing she didn’t have a prayer against the man’s weaponry, she settled on talk.

“You’re a Colossal,” she reminded.  “You’re a hero to the people.”

Though he wore a faceplate, the woman could swear she detected a smirk as the man said, “Anthem wears a big red “A” on his chest and a cape, lady.  I’m not Anthem, and I’m no hero.”

“Let them go,” she said.  “They deserve basic human rights.  They deserve a life of freedom without atrocity or hardship—”

The woman slumped to the ground with a smoking hole through the center of her head.

The screams at the end of the tunnel intensified.

The man lifted his other arm so that both barrels pointed forward.

He moved toward his prey.

 

Monday

Commander Otto Janus facilitated the debriefing.  He customarily sat at the head of the granite conference table, wearing his usual suit of the finest cut with the ever-present flag pin.  The Meta-Agent Program’s finest operatives accompanied.

The agents wore the standard black fatigues.  Only Hell Hound elected to ignore policy and wear a simple white V-neck instead of the black button-down.  Employing something between a grunt and a growl, he said, “Agent 0104 left the target alive, as dictated, and terminated the rest.  Our extraction team confiscated the target.  The clean-up crew disposed of the bodies to a predetermined remote lake typically unfrequented.  One of our operatives will pose as Phung for eight months before selling the house.  If any buyers ask about the tunnel, they will be told it was a bomb shelter.”

“Perfect,” Janus said.  “0091?”

Cyber Spy informed, “Agent 0104’s x-infrared optics worked perfectly.  We have video from Anthem’s feed of the targets’ though the actual floor.  The face recognition software also worked as expected.  Every one of the enemies’ identities were certified before termination.”

“They were those we suspected?” Janus asked.

“Affirmative,” Cyber Spy replied.  “Since none were actual combatants, we verified through archived sources including social media, security video from commercial sites, and various government databases.”

“That should send a message to our friends in Ulrakistian,” Janus quipped.  “We can play just as rough.”

“I do have one concern, sir,” Cyber Spy added.

“Proceed,” Janus ordered.

“The woman aiding them, Phung, she mentioned someone warning her.  My division intercepted no incoming or outgoing transmissions of any sort.  No one could know MAP intended to engage her.”

“Except MAP itself,” Hall Hound snarled.

“You’re suggesting a traitor?” Janus questioned.

“I believe so, sir,” Cyber Spy said.

Agent 0104—Anthem—almost grinned.

0073, Agent Shootdown, intervened, “We know Turf funded Phung.  I advise we level his tower.  It would serve as a deterrent to those sympathetic and likely eliminate the threat.”

Janus chuckled a little before replying, “If only that were possible, Agent Shootdown.  No, Turf is too well connected, too much of a public figure.  Even with our ample means, destroying a charitable facility on American soil would create too much trouble.  No, I think we’ll arrange a face-to-face with Turf.  We’ll let him know his efforts have not gone unnoticed and there will be repercussions if he continues opposing our endeavors.”

“Who should I prep?” Hell Hound asked.

“We’ll send Agent 0104.  You enjoy this sort of thing, right?”

Anthem spoke for the first time, saying, “I enjoy orders, sir.”

“Very good,” Janus said in return.  “Wear the cape this time.  We’ll make it ‘Colossal’ business.”

“Understood, sir.”

 

Tuesday     

The back of the personnel plane spread open as Anthem moved toward it.  Without pause or even so much as a glance back at the loadmaster, he stepped out and dove through the night sky.  The wind ripped at his cape while freefalling.  When the island of Purgatory Station came into view, he activated the G-Repulser positioned around his waist.  Anthem angled toward the west side of the island.

Floating downward feet first, he descended parallel to Turpheana Tower.  He glared through the windows as he witnessed the living quarters, the technology wings, the community education floors, the family assistance level, the shelter, the soup kitchen—they all turned his stomach.

Anthem touched down in the middle of the street, abruptly forcing vehicles to stop.  They blared their horns until Anthem stared each driver down.  He enjoyed the silence a full minute until he left the street and approached the lobby doors.  Refusing to enter a building that encompassed everything he hated about his great nation, Anthem instead chose to pound against the glass until someone came out.

That someone turned out to be an elderly black gentleman with a “volunteer” tag pinned to the pocket of his dress shirt.  The older man’s eyes protruded when he saw who awaited.  Words fought to escape his mouth, but he could say nothing.

“I’m here for Turf,” Anthem said.

When it became obvious the man could not find the power to respond, Anthem leaned down so that his star-shaped visor nearly touched the tip of the volunteer’s nose.  He roughly patted the man’s cheek before grumbling, “Turf—is he here?”

“He’s, uh, he’s changing clothes,” the man stuttered.  “He just got back.  Had a run in, I guess, with some guys trying to rob Warren’s Corner Store.”

“Yeah, he’s a real hero,” Anthem seethed.  “Let him know I’m flying up.  I’ll meet him on the roof.”

“Oh,” the man replied.  “He doesn’t live at the top.  He lives in the, uh, basement, actually.”

Anthem grimaced, then said, “Just get him the message.  I’ll be up top.  Tell him I don’t like to wait.”

Twenty minutes later, Samuel Turpheana exited a stairwell.  He wore an immaculate black suit with a red tie.  As always, a small “T” adorned his lapel.  It looked as though a child made it … because that was the case exactly.

Beneath his headgear, Anthem’s temples throbbed with anger.  “I explicitly told your man not to keep me waiting.”

“First of all, he’s a volunteer—a local school teacher, actually—not my man.  Secondly, a fifth grader living in our shelter needed help with her algebra before turning in for bed.  She’s got a test tomorrow and I’m not going to have her fail on my watch.  Finally, nobody in the building beneath our feet takes orders from you … especially me.”

“Should I be impressed?  Are you trying to inspire me?  Helping the poor, the weak, the uneducated … They are a sickness killing our nation; they represent everything dragging us down.”

“What do you want?” Turf asked.

“I’m seeking information about Tien Phung.”

“Why?”

Anthem sneered, then said, “National security risk.  We believe she’s aiding terrorist cells originating in Ulrakistian.”

“Impossible,” Turf replied.

“Even so.  Information?”

“I haven’t seen her in ten years. She worked as an intern here.  Such a big heart; she only wanted to help people, to make a difference.”

“So you’ve had no contact with her in a decade.”

Turf answered, “That’s right.”

“But you know her.”

“Knew her,” Turf corrected.

“Good enough,” Anthem mumbled.  “Before I go, one more question.  We have a traitor in MAP.  I know who it is.  I know he’s feeding you.  Will you commit his name to record?”

Turf set his jaw and glowered at the man wasting his time.

“Fine,” Anthem said.  “Word of advice—stop taking the traitor’s help.  Stop affiliating with the so-called Colossals.  Those freaks will ruin everything you’ve achieved in this cesspool of a city.  You’re fiasco with the Shadow Serpent proved it.”

“We finally agree on something.  You won’t catch me with Knight or his band of lunatics again.  They aren’t the Absolutes—not like in the old days with Solar Flare and Dr. Density.  They’re a bunch of amateurs.”

Anthem replied, “Obviously.  I like the suit, by the way.  Leave the costumes to guys like me—the real Colossal.”

“You’re no Colossal,” Turf countered.  “And neither am I.  Not anymore.  I gave the tights up a long time ago.  They were asinine.”

“Yeah, I think so, too, but you know, the sheep love them.”

Turf huffed before saying, “People are hardly sheep.”

“If you say so,” Anthem said before shooting up into the darkness.

 

Wednesday

He stood outside the small cottage erected amidst a sea of rock and sand.  Only the moon cast any light at all, for in this part of Ulrakistan, electricity proved a luxury most did not enjoy.

Speaking into the communications link affixed to this side of his head gear, Anthem said, “Confirm correct location.”

From the other side of the planet, Cyber Spy replied, “GPS confirms location.  Our drone has a line of sight on you and verifies.”

Commander Janus broke in, “Are there any potential witnesses?”

“Negative, sir,” Anthem answered.  “Mark resides in an isolated site.”

“Damn,” Janus muttered into this link.  “We wanted the local scum to see the suit.”

Anthem looked down through his star-shaped visor.  Due to the oppressive darkness, he utilized his night-vision and saw the two stars pinning his cape to his collarbones and the giant “A” covering all of his chest and most of his abdomen.  He held up his arms and stared at the barrels extending from his gauntlets.  They were primed and ready.

“Sir, permission to engage?” Anthem requested.

“Granted.”

“Stay sharp,” Cyber Spy added.

Jumping into the air, Anthem’s G-Repulser activated and held him aloft. He used both legs to kick in the front door, then touched down again and stormed the small home.  His orders were to take no chances, so he immediately opened fire even though he had no visual targets.  Even with his sound nullifiers activated to protect his hearing, he still detected terrified screaming from the back of the dwelling—the bedroom.

He burst in and opened fire upon the figure sitting up in the bed.

Finally, he stopped shooting.

A woman lay upon the sheets, ripped asunder.  Blood splattered the walls, the ceiling, the headboard …

Anthem searched the bathroom, the kitchen, the main room.  In the only closet, he found her bags.

Cyber Spy broke in, “Agent’s condition?”

“Optimal,” Anthem said.

“Target?”

“Terminated.”

“Well done,” Commander Janus praised.

“There is an inconsistency, sir,” Anthem alerted.

“Go on,” Janus ordered.

“The deceased is a woman.”

Cyber Spy said, “Intelligence stated the target is male.”

Anthem muttered, “There are no males at this location.”

“We’ve got the right house,” Cyber Spy substantiated.  “Our coordinates are good.”

Anthem walked through the house.  When he reached the exit’s threshold, he catapulted into the air to rendezvous with his transport.  “We may have the right house,” he gnarled.  “But we sure as hell had the wrong target.”

Janus grinned as he said, “We’ll discuss this matter upon your return.  Our intelligence has much to explain.”

 

Thursday

Senator Otto Janus resided before a group of reporters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  Anthem, garbed in full costume, stood a few feet away to his left.   Senator Laura Jasinski, Janus’ running mate, spoke to the media at a podium positioned between the two men.

“Thanks to the diligent efforts of Senator Otto Janus and our favorite Colossal, Anthem, Governor Rick Thornton’s killer has been brought to justice.”

The reporters instantly barraged Senator Jasinski with questions.  She held up her palms and said, “I know you want more information.  Though I’ve been fully debriefed, it’s only appropriate Senator Janus provide the details.  Before I hand over the microphone, though, I do want to say that though it’s been nearly a year since my good friend’s murder, I never stopped hoping he would be avenged.  I never stopped hoping … but Senator Janus never stopped working.  As running mates, we spend a great deal of time together, and I can assure you that he appraised me daily of his efforts to track down Rick’s assailants.  When you choose us to lead this great nation into the future, you can be certain such dogged tenacity will continue to be on full display as he works to protect us against those that would harm our loved ones.  I present to you, Senator Otto Janus!”

Janus switched places with Senator Jasinski while noting that not one member of the media applauded.  He took a mental picture of the sixty-seven people.  One day, they would each be paid a visit.

“If the warm reception is any indication, you obviously realize I won’t be taking any questions.”  Janus paused for laughter, but none ensued.  “You may remember nearly three years ago we apprehended the traitorous man code-named Freedom.  As a government agent, he defied a direct order given by the President himself.  Freedom deemed himself too righteous to carry out an order only he could accomplish.  Because of that, the war in Ulrakistan rages on which results in more and more of America’s sons and daughters dying in that wretched land.  In fact, Freedom’s insubordination ultimately caused Rick Thornton’s death.  Thornton, a man who could have led America back to its proper place in the world as both a military and moral powerhouse.

“Unlike Freedom, the Colossal behind me—the only government sanctioned Colossal—follows orders.  Anthem does not consider himself above any other servant of the people.  He understands that soldiers follow orders or innocent people die.

“When our intelligence pinpointed Governor Thornton’s assassin, we knew we had to act fast.  Those snakes slither off under a new rock if you don’t strike immediately, so we decided Anthem was the only operative capable of getting in there, making a visual confirmation, and then terminating the threat.

“Sure, we could have used a drone to bomb the hell out of the cutthroat, but unlike our enemy, we don’t kill indiscriminately.  We make sure only the bad guys get what’s coming to them, because we’re America.  Anthem personally made sure we got it right.  In fact, as the man who brought Governor Thornton’s killer to justice, I think it’s only right that he tell you the name of the monster who stole our favorite son.  Anthem, please do step forward.”

Janus moved aside in order for Anthem to approach the podium.  As always, his face, what little remained exposed, remained stoic.  With no inflection whatsoever, Anthem informed, “We confirmed Governor Thornton’s murderer as Aeat Kareem.  She is eliminated.”

 

Friday

Iago Sol Vicente woke up late in the morning.  He worked all Thursday evening and well past midnight at the concession stand.  The rock group performing at The Arena kept providing encores, and the people kept eating and drinking, and so Iago knew of nothing that occurred the day before as he toiled relentlessly to keep up with the demand.

When he made a bowl of cereal and then turned on the television, he saw an impossible sight—the face of his beautiful wife—Aeat Kareem.  He then heard the words.

The cosmic man known as Solar Flare, a figure the public had not witnessed in decades, crashed through Iago’s window just as the man erupted into an inferno.  Solar Flare grabbed the bellowing Iago with one hand while using the other to absorb the fire spreading throughout Iago’s immediate space.  In doing so, Solar Flare saved countless lives in the apartment building, for it would not have survived the unbridled power of El Fuego.

“Bader Thary Kareem,” Solar Flare droned in a metallic voice.  “You’re coming with me.”

The silver man rocketed back through the window with Iago, or rather Bader, in tow.  They headed for the attic of First Redeemer Church.

 

Saturday

The Nocturnal Knight finished concocting an herbal tea known to calm the mind and replenish the body.  The young Ulrakistanian in his bedroom needed both remedied.

As he prepared to exit his small kitchenette, he heard a loud thump upon his attic’s roof.  Within moments he perceived a familiar figure peering through his skylight.  The Knight disengaged security and remotely opened the window.

Turf landed gracefully before the Knight.  The two men next stared at one another.  The Knight clearly felt uncomfortable without his helmet or armor, but allowing Turf to see him exposed and vulnerable paved the way to rebuilding their trust.

“Broad daylight?” the Knight asked.

“I wanted to retrieve him last night, remember?”

The Knight shook his head.  “No.  We thought it better if he discover it on his own.  We didn’t want to be the bearers of bad news.  I also couldn’t risk First Redeemer going up in flames.”

Turf countered, “So you endangered everyone in his apartment building instead?”

“Solar Flare had him under surveillance.  He kept it under control.”

Turf turned and wandered the simple attic’s space.  He said, “And you’re sure no one caught Solar Flare whizzing through the air with our ‘El Fuego?’ Like you said, it’s broad daylight.”

The Knight grinned, saying, “Solar Flare is a nut job—aren’t we all, I guess—but he’s got a way with all things electrical.  People may have seen him with their own eyes, but I guarantee you it wasn’t through a screen.”

“How’s he doing?”

“Not well,” the Knight replied.  “He’s resting.  I was about to bring him some tea.”

“How long until he’s got his head on straight?”

The Knight sighed before shrugging his shoulders. “He just found out he lost his wife.  It could be hours … days … it could be never.”

“We need him, Pastor.”

The Knight glanced into a nearby mirror and saw the black shirt and white collar he wore.  He didn’t remember putting them on, which … perplexed him.

“Call me Knight.  Pastor Irons has abandoned me.  I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

“Yeah, you’re right, you’re all nut jobs.”

“Be that as it may,” the Knight said, “you need me; we need El Fuego.”

“We also need the electric kid from your crew—Excitor.”

“He’ll be the easiest to bring back into the fold,” Knight revealed.  “He loves playing the Colossal.”

“Well, he’s the only one, then,” Turf scoffed.

“You know that’s not true.”

“I know.  That’s why I’m here.”

Knight asked, “What’s our time table?”

“My contact in MAP predicts Janus will use his operatives to assassinate Jasinski within four months of their election to office.  At that point, Janus will be sworn in as President and limitless.  We can’t let it happen.”

“We won’t let it happen,” Knight confirmed.

“All right,” Turf said.  “We’re doing this, then.  We’re busting out Freedom.”

 

Sunday

A lone lake rested within an expanse of dense forest, a lake rarely seen by humans.  The sheer effort it took to reach the lake, coupled with its rather mundane appearance, made it easy for hikers to dismiss.  The putrid water offered no respite to wildlife, therefore hunters stayed away.  Few fish could survive the rancidness, so fishermen also found it undesirable.  In fact, other than MAP, no one had much use for the lake at all.  Of course, MAP’s continued use of the lake proved the very reason its waters grew ever more foul.

A woman’s head broke the surface of the water.

Within seconds, her shoulders appeared, then her torso, then hips, legs, and finally feet.

Her long dark hair stuck to the sides of her face while her tattered clothing hung heavily from her frame.

She walked across the top of the lake.  Her feet made a “plop” sound with each step.  When she at last reached the shore she faced a barricade of foliage.

No matter.

Tien Phung now knew no limits.

 

_________________________

Copyright © 2016 by Scott William Foley

All Rights Reserved.

Originally Published at WWW.SCOTTWILLIAMFOLEY.COM

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Also By Scott William Foley …

Short Story Collections

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume I

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II

Novels

Souls Triumphant

Andropia

Dr. Nekros Electronic Serial

Dr. Nekros: The Tragedian (1 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Phantasms and Chicanery (2 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Bloodied Pistons (3 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Unforeseen Calamity (4 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Nightmare Realized (5 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Abhorrent Culmination (6 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Monstrosity’s Dawn (7 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Demons Within (8 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Lineage (9 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Inevitable Demise of Anton Hall (10 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Diatribe and Divulgence (11 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Peripeteia (12 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Realm Within (13 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Depths of Fate (14 of 18)

 Dr. Nekros: A77 (15 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Catastrophic Convergence (16 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Devil’s Ashes (17 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Requiem For the Redeemed (18 of 18)

About the Author

Scott William Foley is a proud husband, father, educator, and writer.  He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in English Secondary Education and his Master’s degree in Reading from Illinois State University.  Foley currently lives in Normal, IL

Looking For a Short Story About Football?

Looking for a short story about football before the big game?

Check out “Why We Won” by yours truly.  Here’s the synopsis …

“After five years of winning football state championships, a quarterback laces up for his last game. He and his team are brothers, and they know how much rides on each and every game. For them, winning is very much a matter of life or death.”

Click HERE to read!

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – A Book Review

When I heard Steven Spielberg planned to direct a film adaptation of this novel, I knew I had to read it first.

The premise is fascinating.  The year is 2044, and America has gone completely down the tubes.  The recession is in its third decade, there isn’t enough food, there’s not enough housing, there aren’t enough jobs – it’s bleak.

Luckily, there exists an open source virtual reality called Oasis.  In it, you can be anyone, and it’s literally a universe of possibilities.  That is where the majority of people spend their time, spend their money, and spend their lives.  It’s an escape from the every day world, a world with which less and less people care to interact.

Our protagonist, Wade Watts, is a teenager who excels in this video game world.  In the real world, well, he doesn’t have much going for him.  But in the VR world of the Oasis, he’s got great skill, even if not great means.

That is, until the Oasis creator, James Halliday, died.  He had no wife, no family, and no heirs, yet he had more money than virtually anyone on the planet.  As a lover of pop culture from his own childhood, especially the ’80s video games, Halliday left a puzzle within the Oasis, and whomever solves this puzzle first wins his entire wealth.  All of it.

Wade Watts knows he can do it.  He knows he can solve this impossible game embedded within thousands of VR worlds.  He knows he can overcome the thousands of other competitors.  The only question is, can he survive when some of these enemies come after him in the real world?  What happens when he deals with real killers?

If you grew up in the ’80s, you will love all the references in this book.  If you grew up as a gamer in the ’80s, this is probably a dream come true for you.  This is one of those rare books where I think the movie will surpass the novel because of the very visual virtual world it’s based within.  In one scene, you may have an X-Wing Fighter flying alongside the Enterprise with Voltron in the background.  It’s that insane because in this VR world of Halliday’s, there is no limit.  (Although I do have to wonder if copyrights will impede the movie at all …)

That’s not to say the book is perfect.  Even though it develops the plot both entertainingly and intricately, it ultimately falls a little flat at the end.  I won’t spoil anything, but it ends on a rather predictable note – it’s an ending we’ve seen before.  It will be perfect for Hollywood, don’t get me wrong, but for such an imaginative work to end on a bit of a cliche, well, I personally felt disappointed.

That’s not to say I don’t recommend the book – I do!  It offers an interesting glimpse into our potential future and doesn’t shy away from how people would probably use such a thing, which, in turn, is offering commentary about our obsession with technology even in the here and now.  It is generally well written, very descriptive, humorous, exciting, and fast-paced.  However, I think those inclined to ’80s pop culture and those passionate about video games will love it most.

 

 

A Nice Review For The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II

I want to take a moment and thank Joy Tashlik for offering some kind words about my short story collection entitled The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II.

She wrote, “This collection of short stories reads like a series of Twilight Zone episodes, in the most excellent way. The narratives start off plausibly enough, in an old man’s house, a husband bringing his wife to visit his hometown, a burned out intellectual returning home in shame, a bed and breakfast, even the streets of a college campus, but they take the most delicious twisted turns. The book is appropriately titled. The stories within are wonderfully written and spring to life as you read. Each story is self-contained and fairly short in length. Most even lend themselves to great read-alouds. I would recommend this book for anyone who loves a good tale as well as the English teacher looking to inspire their students. Scott William Foley also has some other amazing books. I would recommend his works highly.”

Even though this particular book has been out for nearly ten years, it’s exciting to know it’s still entertaining readers.

Visit Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com if you’d like a copy.

The Revenant by Michael Punke – A Book Review

No doubt you’ve heard quite a bit about the movie entitled The Revenant.  Knowing it was based upon a book, I decided I’d try to read it before seeing the film.  I am very glad I did.

The Revenant is a story of revenge, pure and simple.  It’s also mostly based upon a true story.  Punke is forthcoming that some characters were created for the purpose of narrative, but the tale is largely constructed upon testimony and research.  It’s about Hugh Glass, a man left behind by his fur trading party in 1822 as they traversed the wild frontier.  He’d been attacked by a bear in the wilderness, and no one thought he’d survive, especially the two men tasked with burying him after he finally died.  They didn’t wait for him to die before they left, though, and they took something from him, something he wanted back and would kill them for stealing.

This book is a fast, exciting, action-packed read that flows incredibly well especially considering how much information it seamlessly infuses.  Punke is careful to provide ample backstory for each major character, and he does so both creatively and in a manner that only enhances the overall story.

The book is so much more satisfying than the movie.  Hugh Glass is no hero, certainly not as the movie depicted, and his quest for revenge had little to do with any sense of love, honor, or family.  The film significantly departed from the book in nearly all cases, and I don’t understand why.  Had it stuck word for word to the book, it would have been far less cliched and far more complex.  After all, few of us are heroes, and many of us become obsessed for rather selfish reasons.  Glass is no exception.  His flawed character coupled with his indomitable will to survive makes for a fascinating read.

 

Lost Stars by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

I’ve read the majority of the new books and graphic novels promoted as “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and this one is, by far, my favorite.

Lost Stars accomplished something that doesn’t happen very often – I could not wait to read it.  I looked forward to getting in bed at the end of the day and diving into this one.  I love to read, don’t misunderstand, but I do so more out of habit than a daily burning passion.  Believe me, I felt authentic excitement for Lost Stars.

The story follows a man named Thane Kyrell and a woman called Ciena Ree.  Though from very different cultures upon the same planet, they befriend one another as children due to their shared passion for star ships.  In fact, after the Empire annexes their world, they cannot wait to join the Imperial Academy in order to navigate the stars.  They both believe in the law and order the Empire provides to the galaxy and want to be a part of the greatness.

Once old enough, they attend and graduate from the Imperial Academy.  Both are standouts and on the fast track to success within the Imperial Fleet.  Before long, they begin to realize their friendship may not be as simple as they thought, and each also realizes their impression of the Empire may have been incorrect.

What happens, though, when one of them decides to leave and the other wants to enact change from within?  What happens when one is a traitor and the other is an Imperial Officer?  What happens when these bitter enemies want nothing more than to save each other’s life, even when it puts them at odds with their respective affiliations?

I loved this book first and foremost because the pacing is masterful.  It starts off a little slow as we get to know the characters as youngsters, but as they age, their situations become far more complex, and by the end of the book I couldn’t read fast enough as their story reached a crescendo.  The various levels of conflict between Thane and Ciena is absolutely riveting.

Furthermore, it proved unique because it provided a previously unrealized perspective in that we see the destruction of the Death Star, the battle at Hoth, and even the conflict of Endor primarily from the Empire’s point of view.  Before this book, it never dawned on me that Luke Skywalker killed thousands of people on the Death Star when he blew it up.  I never even considered the loss of Imperial life.  Our two characters make us care about those loss upon the space station, those who they considered friends.  They make me think of the average Imperial as a person rather than a faceless, evil monster.

And that’s really the magic of Lost Stars.  It made me think about familiar things in a new light.  It made me consider duty versus loyalty.  It forced me to reflect upon the murky middle ground between good and evil.

At 551 pages, this is not a short read, but it pulls you in so fast and so deep that you won’t even mind the length.  In fact, if you’re like me, you won’t want it to end.  Thane and Ciana are now two of my favorite Star Wars characters forevermore.

… I’ll say it: I hope they adapt this book to film.  I’ll be the first in line.

Star Wars: The Weapon Of a Jedi by Jason Fry – A Book Review

Set after A New Hope, this Luke Skywalker young adult novel is a fast-paced read that takes no time at all to finish.

Luke becomes distracted during a mission as The Force pushes him to investigate strange ruins.  If you ever wondered what circumstances led Luke to master his lightsaber, this is the book for you!

It’s fun reading a book dedicated solely to Luke, and it offers insight into the noble man behind the myth.  We even encounter a new antagonist called the Scavenger (who has already received his own action figure).

The Weapon of a Jedi is helpful in that is helps explain Luke’s path to becoming an actual Jedi, but it also lays the groundwork to future story lines, particularly in regards to the ruins he discovers.  I have to wonder if there is a direct connection between these ruins and Luke’s personal quest in the graphic novel Shattered Empire which impacts Shara Bey, mother of The Force Awakens’ Poe Dameron …