Books To Win Over Your Reluctant Reader

I have the privilege of teaching a reading class primarily aimed at seniors in high school.  It is by and large a free-choice reading class, meaning students choose to read whatever they desire.  If a student doesn’t like a book, they are welcome to put it down and pick up a different one.

Some of the students come in excited with a long list of what they hope to get through during the semester.  Other students are not so excited to read, and those are the students I most enjoy.  I love those students in particular because I get the honor of helping them to rediscover their love of reading.  It all comes down to finding the right kind of book for them.  Once they discover their niche, they are off to the races.   I’ve had so many tell me that they like to read again because of the class, and I tell you what, you haven’t experienced joy until you’ve heard a student say that to you.

Listed below are books that always prove to be winners with my reluctant readers.  I’ve tried to divide them up by very general genres, and I’ve included a very simple summary.  Though this is but a small sample of literally hundreds I could recommend, I hope one of these will win over the reluctant reader in your life!

YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE

Monster – Written from his perspective, Steve is a sixteen-year-old on trial for the murder of a drugstore owner. He says he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and had nothing to do with the killing.  The prosecution refers to him as a “monster,” and the book features Steve struggling to deal with the awful stress of an uncertain future.

Eleanor & Park– Perhaps the most authentic book I’ve ever read about high school romance, this book is funny and heartwarming while still retaining an edge.  It perfectly captures the very adult emotions teenagers experience while still having to abide by their parents’ rules.  Best of all?  It never veers into the dreaded world of “sappy.”

Touching Spirit Bear – Cole, a juvenile delinquent, accepts an offer to follow a Native American practice and live isolated on a deserted island rather than face jail time.  Angry, unreasonable, and bitter, Cole respects nothing until he chances upon the Spirit Bear, a legendary creature that will inspire Cole to change after a violent encounter.

Tears Of a Tiger – When a high school superstar dies in a drunken car accident, his best friend Andy, who drove the vehicle, must deal with the guilt of the horrible tragedy.  It has one of the most shocking endings students will ever read.

The Fault In Our Stars – Though this book deals with very serious subject matter — teenage cancer — John Green somehow blends great humor into his characters.  In order to deal with terminal cancer, the teens make fun of it and riff on it to no end.  A romance ensues, but beware, there can be no happy ending with terminal illness.  Fast, funny, and thought-provoking, this one is always in demand.

Crank –  A brutal book depicting the depravities of meth addiction, this is the story of Kristina, a good girl who becomes addicted and develops a split personality to handle the awful things she does for meth. This book is graphic and pulls no punches, so be aware.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

Batman: Year One – This gritty book depicts Batman during his first year as a crime fighter.  He is raw, inexperienced, and at his most vulnerable.  Fans will love the moody art, quick dialogue, and grim characterization.

American Born Chinese – This book blends Chinese Mythology into a young boy’s life as he must deal with racism we rarely take into account.  Insightful with great swatches of humor, this one very much will make a student look at life a little differently.

Wolverine – Students love this graphic novel because it finally provides Wolverine’s origin story.  They will be shocked to learn Logan’s life is far different, and longer, than anyone expected!

Kingdom Come – Set in the near future, this beautifully painted graphic novel deals with older classic heroes like Batman and Superman coming to terms with new, violent, immoral crime fighters.  Poignant in today’s world, this story delves deeply into the problem of how far one should go to save people from themselves.

The Dark Knight Returns – This graphic novel changed the entire industry.  It imagines a retired Bruce Wayne in his sixties who decides to put on the cape and cowl again.  However, he is not nearly as fast, agile, or reflexive, and so he must learn to become a whole new Batman if he expects to survive.  Dark, violent, and generally unsettling, this story illustrates a side of Batman never before seen.

All-Star Superman – This book will delight even the most casual of Superman fans.  Grant Morrison has taken the best Superman stories since 1938, put a modern twist on them, and connected them into one linear, cohesive story.  The art is exquisite, and this Superman is charismatic, fun, and a true hero.

NOVELS

World War Z – Written as nonfiction, this book will make you forget it’s all make-believe.  Delivered as a series of eye-witness accounts, field reports, and interviews, you will begin to think this book really happened and get more and more unsettled with each page.

Gone Girl – If you’ve seen the movie, the huge surprise is already ruined, but this book is fantastic because it keeps you guessing and virtually none of the characters have any redeeming qualities.  It’s a little bit of a thriller, a little bit of a mystery, and it will keep a student riveted throughout.  Be aware, however, it is written for adults.

The Gunslinger – Part one of Stephen King’s epic series, Roland is a cowboy with a six-shooter forged from Excalibur who must make his way to the Dark Tower in order to restore order to reality.  As the series goes on, it weaves its way into other Stephen King books, and at one point Stephen King becomes a character himself!  This series is amazing because once reluctant readers get into it, the enormous size of the books don’t bother them at all!

The Martian – Set in the near future, Mark Watney is left behind after a manned mission to Mars.  Much of the book is from Watney’s perspective, and it’s fascinating to watch him run though the math and mechanics to keep himself alive on an inhospitable planet.  Though the book is very heavily rooted in science, Watney’s sense of humor as he’s describing it makes it very entertaining to read.  This is definitely a feel good book and a must-read.

American Gods – This novel imagines the gods of the old world covertly battling the gods of the new.  While it can be something of a crash course in world mythology, at its core the book is about Shadow, and ex-convict trying to find peace with his past, his present, and also his future.  Lovers of the fantasy genre will adore the scope and nuance of this masterfully written work.

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Don’t let the title fool you, this is the absolute best time travel story that I’ve ever read.  The author goes to great lengths to make sure everything is connected, logical, and executed well.  The main character is genetically predisposed to lose his place in time, and in doing so, meets his wife as a little girl.  But then a question arises … does he condition her to one day be his wife, or, when she meets the young adult version of him for the first time, does she condition him to be her husband?  The complexities of cause and effect mixed with potent emotional moments between man and wife make for a wonderfully written, highly engaging read.

 

The Remains Of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – A Book Review

I shouldn’t have enjoyed this book, yet I couldn’t put it down.

The novel details a butler named Stevens nearing the end of his career.  Part of the book revolves around Stevens driving across the countryside in order to reunite with a former fellow servant, Miss Kenton.  He’d like to offer her a position … or is there something more he has in mind?  These are no mere servants, however.  Stevens was once the epitome of perfection as the highest ranking butler in Darlington Hall, a mammoth estate owned by an internationally renowned gentleman.  Though those days are past, Stevens reminisces about them as he travels.

I agree that the plot is not the most enticing, yet trust me when I tell you that as the story unfolds, Stevens becomes a fascinating character.  He is incredibly conscientious, yet emotionally impotent.  His loyalty is unfaltering, but he also lacks critical perspective.  His work ethic is nearly super human; however, he cannot prioritize between his work and his personal life.  And his morality?  Dubious, at best.

These contrasts create a deeply satisfying character study.  Make no mistake, though, it is Ishiguro’s pacing that makes it so captivating.  He knows exactly when to introduce revelations.  Just as things seem to be stagnating, the author embarks upon a relevant piece of information that calls everything prior into question.

Best of all?  The entire book is from Stevens’ perspective, so as these alarming details arise, we must doubt not only the guilty parties, but Stevens himself.  There are moments when the reader suspects Stevens may not be the most reliable narrator …

Because Stevens takes his role so seriously, he is an incredibly well studied, intelligent man.  His vocabulary is complex which results is very high diction throughout the novel.  Consequently, Ishiguro creates beautifully structured sentences that demand both concentration and consideration.  I’m ashamed to admit this is my first Ishiguro book, so I don’t know if this style is a reflection of Stevens’ personality or the author’s typical delivery.

Though I only read the book because a friend recommended it, I’m glad I did.  If you appreciate excellent pacing, engaging vocabulary, and a true character study, I believe you will enjoy The Remains Of the Day.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 – A Longer Than Intended Reaction

I’ll be honest with you, when I first heard about DC Universe: Rebirth, I didn’t think much of it. I’m 39 and I’ve read DC comics since about the age of 3.  I’ve always loved my Super Friends, but yet another “event” failed to engage my interest this time around.

That is, until DC executed a masterful stroke of marketing – they spoiled the book’s biggest revelation.  Believe it or not, that spoiler is what drew me into the comic book shop today for the first time in over a year.

From this moment on, I will discuss the book as though you’ve read it.  If you’ve (somehow) managed to avoid spoilers and have yet to pick up your copy, turn back now!

Last chance.

Final warning.

I’m serious.

Okay, you’re still here.

Wally West.

Or, as I like to call him, The Flash.

Allow me a brief aside.  As a  7 year old, I felt sure Barry Allen was THE Flash.  When Kid Flash took over the the mantle, I felt cheated.  Yes, even then, my comic book rage was fully developed.  They portrayed Wally as a selfish, immature, horn dog.  But then a funny thing happened.  Wally and I started growing up together.  When I reached high school, Wally realized his full potential under the guidance of Mark Waid.  I watched Wally accept his legacy and role as Barry Allen’s successor.  As I sought to discover my own identity, I cheered as Wally overcame his own doubts and achieved both the respect and friendship of the entire DC Universe.  He became the heart and soul of the JLA, the moral compass of the super hero community, and the guy everyone came to for advice.  I marveled at how a fictional character could go through such growing pains even as I endured similar dilemmas.  He inspired me to make peace with myself, to accept myself, and to realize that I have to believe in myself before I can expect anyone else to do so.

I walked away from comic books in my early 20s, but, of course, Wally reached across the multiverse and invited me back in after only  a few years’ hiatus.  This time he had to learn not just how to love himself but how to love someone else.  I don’t mean just love, I mean truly LOVE.  Geoff Johns gave us a Wally West who gave himself, all of himself, to Linda Park.  Interestingly enough, this story line occurred as I myself got engaged and married.  Just as Wally discovered true love and devotion, real loyalty and humility, I also underwent such change.  Both of us became better men as a result.

My God … I never realized until now just how much I identify with Wally West.  I mean, I knew I did, just not to this extent.  Wow.

Time progressed, and Wally took the final step – fatherhood.  Guess what?  Yep, I’m a dad, too.

Things happened, Bart Allen (aka Impulse/Kid Flash) took over the mantel, Wally returned with Linda and the kids – I loved it.  Here’s my favorite super hero and he’s also a husband and dad!  I literally grew up with this character and enjoyed the same milestones!

When I heard they were bringing Barry back, I felt nervous.  I understood why, I just hoped Wally wouldn’t be tossed aside.  Of course, Geoff Johns did the honors in The Flash: Rebirth, and he gave me exactly what I wanted.  There is a fantastic spread of Wally running alongside Barry, both in a Flash costume, along with the entire Flash Family.  Even Wally’s kids had costumes and were sprinting by their side!  It seemed a new age arrived, one that would be better than ever!  Love, family, legacy – it was all there.

But then Flashpoint arrived.  Long story short, Barry ran back in time, saved his mom, and when he returned to the present, things had changed.  Lois and Clark were no longer married, nor were Barry Allen and Iris West, Green Arrow and Black Canary didn’t even know each other, Wonder Woman was the daughter of Zeus, and Cyborg was a full member of the JLA and had never been in the Teen Titans. In fact, the classic Titans seemed to have not existed at all.  And, there was no trace of Wally West.  No one even mentioned him. A Wally West eventually appeared in The Flash comic, but this was a young African-American man who, while interesting and full of potential, was not the Wally West I’d grown up with.

Of course, this new direction had its ups and downs.  But as years went by, Wally stayed away, and no one really understood why.

Jeeze.  This has been the longest build up ever.  If you’re still reading … thanks for sticking with me.

So the spoiler I mentioned, the one that brought me back into the comic book shop?  My Wally West hugging Barry Allen with Barry saying, “How could I ever forget you?”  Geesh.  I’m tearing up just writing it.  I’m such a sap.

You got me DC; I had to know.  I had to know where Wally had been and what his return had in store for the DC Universe.

This book initiated a change in direction I didn’t even know I wanted, and it’s all thanks to the heart and soul of the DCU – Wally West.

Wally narrates the book.  He’s stuck in the Speed Force.  (This is not the first time he’s been in such a predicament.  I think it’s not even the tenth!  Surely it won’t be the last.)  He’s being held back against his will, but he doesn’t know why or by whom.

Wally needs a tether.  He needs someone to connect with and pull him out of the Speed Force.  He visits several people, all who fail to help him, but those visits set up fascinating plot devices for the future.  He even visits Linda Park, thinking that, like so many times before, she would be his anchor.  It’s a heartbreaking moment, yet not one without hope for days to come.

It’s only fitting that it’s Barry, Wally’s hero, who finally saves him.  Wally appears before Barry, says he’s made peace with dying, tells Barry he loves him, says his goodbyes, and then begins to disintegrate.  Barry, not fully understanding, takes a leap of faith, believes in hope, and reaches for Wally’s hand.  Wally is saved.  And then they remember everything.

Geoff Johns wrote this book, and you can rest assured that his one moment is the mission statement of Rebirth.  It’s incredibly symbolic, perhaps even a metaphor, and it completely won me over.

In the middle of the 1980s, a few books came out that changed the industry.  Interestingly enough, several of them were released by DC Comics.  The Dark Knight Returns was one such book.  The other was Watchmen.  Neither were considered part of “continuity,” but the gritty, adult, psychological approach won fans over and ushered in what some call The Dark Age of comics.  Of course, it devolved over the years into sheer violence without the benefit of intelligent storytelling, then moved into crazy “extreme” versions of characters.   Hal Jordan went nuts and killed the Green Lantern Corps.  Superman suffered death by Doomsday.  Bane broke Batman’s back.  It eventually ran it’s course, and some of these stories were well executed and have withstood the test of time, but several characters were never fully restored to the core of what made them heroes to begin with.

In 2010, after Flashpoint, the DCU wasn’t quite as dark or extreme as it had been, but it seemed to be missing something.  Wally pointed this something out rather poignantly.  What was this “something?”  Love.  Real love.  Family love.  Friend love.  The kind of love that grows over time and bonds people from one generation to the next.  With the New 52, DC abandoned the very thing that made it unique – love, and the legacy that consequently results from it.

In this book we see the pre-New 52 Lois with Clark with their son – love.  We see Ryan Choi working with Ray Palmer – legacy.  We see a meaningful glance between Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance – love.  We see Jaime Reyes side by side with Ted Kord – legacy.  We see Arthur Curry proposing to Mera – love.  We see the other Wally West living up to the name “Kid Flash” – legacy.  We see classic versions of Dr. Fate and Johnny Thunder – legacy.  We see the classic Legion flight ring – legacy.

And just in case Johns hasn’t made it apparent, he kills off Pandora, the driving character of the New 52.  And who kills her?  All indications point to Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen fame.

Mind.

Blown.

Never in a million years did I think DC would go there.

Oh, they went there.

Imagine.  The heart and soul of the DCU has been held prisoner by the harbinger of the Dark Age.  From a story telling perspective, it makes perfect sense.  The DCU is a multiverse, we all understood Watchmen existed in that multiverse somewhere, but I personally never dreamed they would finally integrate members of Watchmen into the mainstream DCU.

Can this renewed direction of love, legacy, and hope start off any better than by having the heroes battle the one character who most perfectly encapsulates the antithesis of those things?  This is a bold step by both Johns and DCU, and I applaud them for taking a pretty big chance.  Watchmen is a seminal work and the author, Alan Moore, has made it explicitly clear he does NOT want his creations mucked with.  Oftentimes publishers purport that a story will “change everything!”  In this case, it’s true.  This has literally never been done.

How fitting that Wally West is leading this charge into a new era.

Arcadia by Iain Pears – A Book Review

Know from the onset that this is a book you will need to read twice.  That’s not a bad thing, though.  Arcadia is so full of plot, so rich in its complexities, so perfectly executed, that I actually look forward to reading it again!

Describing Arcadia is no easy task.  It takes place simultaneously in the future, in the past, and in a seemingly parallel world akin to that of Middle-earth or Narnia (but without talking animals or humanoid creatures).  It delves heavily into the nuances of time travel and alternate realities and provides viable explanations for the possibility of both.

It is at times a work of science fiction, at times adventuresome, and times philosophical, at times social critique, at times pure fantasy, but it is always a well-written book that wastes not a single word in telling a deeply satisfying story.

Be aware, though, that Pears expects much of his reader.  Nothing even begins to make sense until about half way through.  Every moment of this novel demands concentration and engagement.  Everything, and everyone, plays a vital role to the tale.  It is one of those rare novels that keeps the audience enthralled right up to the very last page.

If you love multi-faceted, compelling stories that are delivered expertly, Arcadia is the book for you.

Bats Of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson – A Book Review

I should say from the outset that this book warrants a second read.  I’ll explain why in a bit.

If you’re a book lover like me, you need to own this work.  Not because it’s a terrific story, but rather because it is so original in format.  I often discuss with my friends the next steps that book publishing should take, and productions like this may be the answer.

Bats Of the Republic takes place both in the future and in the past.  It is comprised of old letters, field journal drawings, handwritten notes accompanied by sketches, chapters from a fictional book written to exist within this book, technical schematics, as well as electronic messages.  It boasts photographs, a fold-out map, beautiful illustrations, and a very (literally) long letter you can take out of an actual envelope.

Its overall design is exquisite and it is, undoubtedly, a multifaceted work of art.

So, even with all that being said, the story itself did not satisfy.  It’s an interesting read, of that there is no doubt.  But it is somewhat repetitive, the plot seems to serve the design, the characters struck me as inexplicably motivated at times, and, frankly, there were moments when I didn’t quite follow why anything happening proved important to the overall story.

However, because there is so much to digest, because it is so visually interesting and spans so many different eras and formats, it is entirely possible that I missed an important aspect of the plot.  I plan to reread the book this summer with fresh eyes and see if I pick up on things previously missed.

Even so, if the story proves to disappoint on a second reading, I will still unabashedly recommend this work to friends on the strength of its design alone.  This is a step forward in publishing, and it’s one that needs to be experienced.

A Special Valentine’s Day Short Story For You

If you’re looking for a special Valentine’s Day short story, check out “Cupid’s Conundrum!”

Cupid’s got a bit of a problem. He now appears old and decrepit, and he’s lost his will to spark romance. In fact, on St. Valentine’s Day, he’s content to merely mope on a park bench, sulking. What has brought Cupid to this lowly state, and is there any way Bernie and Patti can renew his vigor to unite lovers?

Find out HERE!

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

EPSON MFP image

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