Final Test

Here’s a short story I wrote a year and a half ago. It’s kind of fun and will be part of the anthology I am working on.

It’s called Final Test.


Aaron needed a weapon.

He ducked left, but it was as if his opponent could see the future, because the enormous creature swung its gnarled tail in the same direction. Aaron’s muscles tensed, feeling the impact the moment before it landed.

Then he was flying, the entire left side of his body caved in, ribs pulverized, his hip bone screaming in sudden agony. He hit something large, flat, and hard that stopped his flight and he landed on the floor. Through the haze of pain, he finally understood the first thing about this episode: he was going to die.

He shook his head, sensing the juggernaut coming toward him at terrific speed. Thanking the gods of wherever he was that he had been raising his left arm when the club-like tail struck him, he used that hand to push up, then kicked off the wall of the small sunken arena and rolled, low and tight. Moving entirely on instinct, he stopped the roll and flattened himself to the dirt floor.

Air crackled above him as the creature’s next attack sailed high.

Aaron snagged a handful of dirt and forced away his awareness of the pain throbbing along his left side. Willing himself to focus, he took a precious half second to scan the area. The creature’s last attack had carried it several meters to Aaron’s right, but it was righting itself fast. The thing was massive, towering at least three meters above Aaron’s head, with at least ten appendages lining each side of an articulated body and a long, whipping cudgel for a tail. In the poor light, Aaron couldn’t make out the thing’s color.

The problem, Aaron thought, was that the thing moved fast and seemed intent on killing him. Another problem was that Aaron had no memory of how he’d gotten here and his quick scan of the space showed no door that he could get through to make his escape.

The ground shook and Aaron watched closely as the creature thundered toward him, rearing up, balanced on its six back legs and its tail. Thousands of tiny, milky-white cilia lined the monster’s underbody, keeping it moving fast. Its long arms extended, unfolding into meter-length, serrated blades.

“Are you kidding me?” Aaron dropped back, unnerved. He flung his handful of dirt toward what he hoped was the creature’s face. “What am I supposed to do here?”

He skittered back again, trying to keep away from the creature’s sword arms. The thing followed him fast, moving out from the wall and boxing him in. Was this thing smarter than him? How could such a brutal thing be out-thinking him?

And then it came to him. The creature was out-thinking him, somehow predicting each move he was going to make.

“I have to be unpredictable.”

He watched as the monster approached again, but didn’t wait until it got close. He ran at the thing, screaming his throat hoarse. At the final moment, Aaron feinted as if he were going to jump, pushing that thought to the forefront of his mind. But instead he dropped into a quarterback’s slide, feet first, aiming for the creature’s right side legs.

He felt a satisfying crunch, but didn’t wait to see the damage he’d inflicted. He reached up with both hands, grabbing the base of two razor-sharp appendages the moment before they sliced into his head. The monster lifted those limbs, carrying Aaron off his feet. Aaron frantically kicked at the monster’s middle. He ignored the throbbing pain along his left side and twisted. He planted a foot on one of the thing’s arms and shoved off.

He landed in a graceless roll, jarring his neck painfully.

The creature followed. Aaron felt and heard it land heavily on all of its arms or legs and knew what was coming. Instead of rolling backward though, he spun, took a moment to get his bearings and leapt at the creature.

Its tail attack swung under him, just missing his ankles.

Aaron hit the top of the creature. Ridges and leathery, rough skin scraped at Aaron. He fought for a handhold.

The creature rolled.

Too late, Aaron tried to get clear. The monster’s enormous weight landed on top of him, pinning him to the ground. Air exploded from Aaron’s lungs. His vision darkened.

The creature wriggled. The ridges on its back dug into Aaron’s stomach, chest, mid-section, and face, ripping his skin.

Aaron tried pushing the monster off with his right arm, his left being pinned under the monster. No good. His vision grew darker as he struggled for air. Pain burned all over his body.

He tried getting a leg free, but both were pinched between the ground and the now wildly wriggling creature. For a moment, he imagined he heard gleeful laughter coming from the monster. It had won. He was going to die.

So be it. I’m dead. But I’m not done yet.

Aaron snaked his one free arm around the creature’s torso and between two waving appendages. With the last of his strength, he grabbed a handful of cilia and yanked hard. They pulled free, warm fluid splashing across his fist.

The creature let out an earth-shaking screech and the pressure on Aaron was suddenly gone. He sucked in a painful breath. All of his ribs ached. Every bone in his body felt battered and bruised.

Aaron rolled to his knees, gasping. The creature’s club tail slammed into his left side again. He heard his ribs break. Felt the flame of agony erupt. He shoved this to the back of his mind.

He pushed to his feet, controlling his thoughts as well as he could. He didn’t know if the thing could read his mind or if it just knew how to fight humans. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to take any chances.

He thought of puppies, with their soft snouts and needle-sharp teeth. He jumped over the creature’s next tail attack, then pushed off the arena wall. He filled his mind with the plaintive whines of the hungry puppies as he kicked out at two of the creature’s legs, feeling the satisfying crunch with both impacts.

The tail swung again. Aaron accepted the blow to his thigh as he kicked at two more legs. Needy puppies with their sour breath and soft ears. Now he rolled to the side and dodged the next tail attack. “Come on, stand up!”

But the creature was too smart. He had found its weakness and wasn’t going to let him exploit it.

Kittens with their sandpaper tongues. Aaron jumped onto the creature’s back, landing on his feet, a lance of agony burning up his entire left side. He slammed into the creature’s back again, then again. Four of its legs, weakened by his kicks, crumpled.

Cat litter. Disgusting stuff. At least toilets flushed. Aaron dropped, wrapping both arms around one of the creature’s good appendages and wrenching it back. The joint popped and the creature snarled. But with only two good legs on one side and another appendage popped out of joint, it had no leverage and it couldn’t roll over.

Cleaning out those nuggets from cat litter had to be nastiest thing ever.

Aaron grabbed another appendage, yanked hard and felt its joint pop. But he wasn’t done. “Why would you ever have a cat, anyway?” His voice bounced off the arena walls. He jerked the appendage up, forcing the serrated edge to unfold. “Zero affection and they shed everywhere!”

He shoved the wildly squirming creature’s knife arm into its side. At first, tough skin resisted, but the blade finally burst through. Aaron shoved the knife arm all the way into the creature. It snarled and reared up.

He rolled off. Where was this thing’s heart?

On its back four legs, all of them good, its tail keeping it balanced, the creature unfolded four blades and spun. Each blade hummed wildly through the air. It skittered toward Aaron.

He stepped back. Dogs were better, of course, but they chewed everything. He spun and kicked at a blade arm. The agony in his side softened the kick, made it a little off, but he still connected. The blade sliced a bunch of the cilia off. Having any pet had to be like having a hairy, shedding kid that never grew up.

He leapt at the monster, grabbed the back of the blade arm he’d just kicked, and shoved with the last of his strength.

The blade met almost no resistance. It slide into its owner’s torso smoothly. Warm, slimy fluid poured out as the blade sliced a long opening. A disgusting smell, like rotten beans or eggs, assaulted him. Tubes and bits gushed out of the thing’s body.

It fell, twitched once, then died.

Aaron collapsed, making sure he did so on his right side. The throbbing pain along his left side felt like it was setting his hair on fire. He felt like a side of tenderized beef, with each bruise from the creature’s ridged back a knot of twitching agony.

He looked around, wary. Was there going to be another creature?

Nothing moved. The circular arena with its ten-meter tall stone walls was completely still and silent. Only darkness could be made out above the walls. He saw no doors, no cracks—nothing in the smooth arena walls.

The walls flickered. The body of the creature disappeared.

Aaron found himself sitting on the Senso-Resin floor of Wizzard’s test room. The pain in his body was gone. He stood, running his fingers down the smooth, black suit that covered every inch of his body. He took the light, comfortable mask off his face and dropped the hood off his head, letting the reality of the test room replace the simulated sensations of the Gamer Suit.

“So?” The voice came from speakers overhead.

Aaron swiveled and grinned at the developers in the observation room. “Yeah. It works.”

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THE SEER’s Kindle Scout Campaign

All right, Garrish Army. Gonna lead with this: the only way this works out is if you help. I need this from you:

  1. Nominate The Seer in its Kindle Scout campaign. Click here. If you have an Amazon account, you’ll probably have to log into the Kindle Scout site with your normal credentials, then you’re good to go
  2. Share the campaign with everyone you know. Please share it everywhere. Every share makes a difference.

That’s all I need from you. If that’s all you wanted to know, see you later and thank you for your help! (Just note that you can only have three books nominated for Kindle Scout at a time. Don’t knock The Seer off!)


But if you want to know how this all works, you can check out this page that details the Kindle Scout program. I’ll sum it up.

  1. Kindle Scout is Amazon’s publishing system. Not self-publishing- Amazon is the actual publisher. They market and everything. But they’re using the power of crowd interest to help them publish books that have a real market. You, your family and friends and enemies, and everyone else out there, are my market. Every. Single. Nomination. makes a huge difference.
  2. When you nominate The Seer, you essentially become a Scout for Kindle publishing. You can have three books nominated at a time- so you have to be careful not to remove The Seer from your nominated list!
  3. As a nominee of The Seer, when it wins its campaign and Amazon Kindle picks it up for publication, you get a free e-book! They’ll ask you to read and review it, but hey, pretty good deal right?
  4. When The Seer is picked up and published, Amazon Kindle’s publishing team will do another professional edit, typeset it, put together a marketing plan, and will get it in front of people who will buy and read it.
  5. Kindle Scout does not share how many nominations the book receives during its campaign. So I’m going to keep hammering on this and I thank you for doing the same. Let’s leave no doubt!

Sounds great, right?

Go nominate it and share. Help a brother out.

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My Ideal Work Day

Let’s do some dream vocalization, shall we?

For your reading pleasure, my ideal work day. Please share your ideal work day in the comments!

  1. Wake up at 7AM.
  2. Write 1500 words.
  3. Lift weights etc. for an hour.
  4. Shower and breakfast.
  5. Write for another hour.
  6. Take a couple Uber passengers on my way to that day’s PI (private investigator) job.
  7. Do the PI job: follow someone, testify, provide security, investigate a case.. whatevs.
  8. Lunch with Annemarie.
  9. More PI job and/or writing and/or Uber. Whatever the day needs or I’m feeling.
  10. Home. Putter around the garden or house, do laundry or some daily chore, and get dinner going.
  11. Eat dinner.
  12. Goof off with Annemarie and the kids.
  13. Write/edit a bit.
  14. Watch some TV/movie/story thing.
  15. Off to bed.

As I look at that 15-item list, my heart leaps. One day, my friends. One day I will bring this to pass. Bit by bit, it is unfolding even now.

All right, your turn. Tell the world your ideal work day.

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Fix It!

I don’t know about you, but I think Kenan Thompson of SNL fame is one of the most talented people they have right now. And as I consider the terrible tragedies that happen around the world: Kenya in 2015, the refugees from all over for the last decade, the miasma in the middle east, Newtown, and most recently in Orlando, it’s understandable that people get like this guy:

We see terrible things and we have good hearts and empathize with the awful pain of the victims and their friends and families and there’s an undeniable problem that surely we can solve. Surely.

The thing is that we all see the malaise of our ill society, but we can’t name it. We try to blame it on things though– smart phones, the internet, Republicans, Democrats, religion, lack of religion, extremism, apathy, big houses, busy lifestyles, central planning, the pride cycle, guns, not enough guns, not enough freedom, not enough regulation, entropy.. and whatever the villain in your world is.

But it might be nice to, for once, just name the malaise. Diagnosing the problem is the beginning of effective treatment. Anything else is just symptom treatment– far too often with placebos.

The malaise is lack of connection.

Think about the people you hold dear. That list probably begins with your family. If it doesn’t, I’m sincerely sorry and I hope that changes one day. For most, the list of the people we hold dear begins with our family. After family, our list tends to include friends from high school or university, and people from work. We feel connections with them.

Why is that? What qualifies individuals to be on the list of people we hold dear? What gives us tender feelings toward others? What makes us love them on at least some level? Because if we can figure out why we feel connections with people and how, through doing that, love for them builds in our heart, maybe we can find a way to spread that and maybe start to fix the malaise.

Think about the last connection you made. The last time someone went from stranger to human person and perhaps even from human person to acquaintance or friend. Was it on the bus with the driver who seemed like he couldn’t find the brake pedal until the last moment? Was it on the commuter train that got stuck behind a freight train, delaying you and your co-passengers something like a half hour? Did you happen to meet somebody’s eyes and make a wry comment that got a smile or laugh? Did you strike up a conversation about the shared unpleasant experience?

A few days ago, I got to my train station with about two minutes to spare. My normally packed platform was empty– but the usually empty platform across the tracks was full. Crap. I had to get across the tracks to get my train, since it was immediately obvious the train was on a different track this morning. I started walking fast to the crosswalk.

A young woman with dark eyes caught up to me. “Sorry, excuse me. Where does the train going north come?”

I smiled at her. “Normally on this side, but not this morning apparently.” I explained what was happening and she kept pace with me to get across the tracks before the train came. And we chatted a bit as we got down to where I was going to wait for the oncoming train to stop. In my head, my internal jackwagon was telling me I had planned on listening to my book so I should end the conversation. But it was nice to talk to someone during what was usually the bizarre ‘civilization’ experience of being packed closely with other people, but not connecting to any of them.

And so we chatted. I asked her what she did for work. After thirty minutes, I saw Griz (short for Grizelda) for who she was. Not a stranger at all. She was very familiar: really driven, really smart, totally determined to improve her life, disappointed in guys of her age and their passive and lame approach to dating, and a big reader. I’ve got nieces like her.

I gave her my writer business card. We went our separate ways, a connection made. Nothing weird or awkward or disloyal was involved. Just two people talking and becoming, if not friends, familiar to each other– opening the world a little more for each other.

I’m so disappointed in myself that this is the only time I’ve ever made a connection like that during a year of commuting on this train. At least 200 trips– probably 400– made and I only told my inner jackwagon off and talked to someone one time.

I’m part of the malaise of lack of connection. But that day last week, I got to be a part of fixing it, just a bit.

Some people will say this isn’t an ‘actionable’ approach to solving tragedy and gun violence and worse.

Those people are flat wrong. It’s not about the tools used to do evil, it’s about conquering evil. Love conquers evil and making connections with people is how we love them. We’re having shared experiences all the time– so the opportunity to make connections is always there.

I’ll commit to talking to people, even though it is so very hard for me and even typing these words has me in a bit of a cold sweat. I’m going to see if I can have the courage to say hello to the person across the way when I sit on the train home. And maybe I can’t fix the big problem, but I’ll fix my heart on others and maybe help them feel connected to people around them. And maybe that will help fix it.

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It’s On Us, Guys

I dadded pretty hard today. I worked from home due to a kid being sick and ended up witnessing one kid being aggressive with two of my other kids.

We don’t tolerate that stuff. We don’t try to compel fear in others. It’s a big fat double Nope around here.

So I told the kid (I have five boys and one girl, by the way) that a certain privilege was totally revoked until he dealt with the things right. Later, that kid and his sister got into an emotional argument about something to do with her spending a lot of time and effort on building a structure on a map that he and his older brother had built. They wanted to destroy the structure she had built.

First off, I love that they were arguing over gaming. It’s just a game, but seeing how vitriolic some things have become over males and females in the gaming world, I’m glad to see all of my kids having literally zero issue over the girls/boys playing video games thing.

Anyway. I guided the girl and boy to try again and to see if they could talk rationally to each other and figure out a solution. It took a few tries, but they made progress. Then I heard the boy say something like, “I know Minecraft gamers way better than you do.”

So the next time I needed to step in and adjust their approach and coach them some more, I told the boy, “I heard you say that thing about you knowing Minecraft gamers way better than she does. Whether that’s true or not– and you have no way of knowing that– you don’t talk down to her. One, because she’s a human being and your sister. Two, because she’s a girl and for freak’s sake women and girls have had thousands of years of that and they don’t get that crap in this house and this family. So be extra careful.”

He nodded, apologized for his language, and moved on.

Later, we chatted about his behavior from earlier. Man, this young man is so good, so completely good inside. He needed coaching, sure, to get his heart and mind where he was being honest with himself and seeing his motivations for his behavior, but when he got there– what a sweet guy. He realized he’d been trying to make someone else scared of him, that he was trying to inspire fear. And it hit him so hard how contrary that is to who he is and the good he wants to bring to this world. He got really remorseful and emotional and immediately wanted to make it up to the other person and tell them he would never do that again.

See, it didn’t matter, when it came down to his actions, his motivations, and who he was in that moment, what the other person had done to hurt his pride. Or to inspire that temper in him. What mattered in the utmost was his choices and how he treated the other person– no matter the provocation.

Don’t get me wrong– someone attacks you, you defend yourself and by golly end that conflict instantly with precise, effective action.

Aggression otherwise is unacceptable. We don’t force. We don’t go around inspiring fear. We don’t do violence. Not in this house; not in this family.

And for the love of God in Heaven and His children on Earth, we don’t rape. We don’t do anything sexually aggressive. We don’t make a person afraid. We don’t make a person uncomfortable around us because of our wrong actions. We don’t ogle. We don’t leer. We don’t touch inappropriately. We don’t allow inappropriate touching either.

It’s about respect and mutual belief that people own their bodies and we have no ownership of any aspect of another person. I won’t get into the covenant of marriage here other than to say it’s not ownership– it’s equally shared partnership.

We’ve taught our five boys and our one girl all of that. We’ve taught them that the rubbish that they’re sometimes taught about how modesty is all about what is being worn is wrong. Modesty is in action and thought. What a woman wears doesn’t give me license to do a damn thing. What she wears doesn’t excuse thoughts that I allow to make nests in my brain. What she wears doesn’t give me license to judge her, report her to some governing body, or expect something from her.

We teach our boys and girl that we own ourselves– so we own our actions. Period. We own how we treat others. And treating others with anything other than consideration, love, kindness, warmth, helpfulness, humor, and other virtuous traits is wrong. And when we make mistakes we learn from them immediately.

Because it’s down to us, guys. We have to make a world where women can be and feel safe. Now, I hope women go ahead and arm themselves with guns and learn how to use them so that any man that tries to take advantage of her– well, that it’s the last mistake he ever makes.

But we, guys, in partnership with women, have to be proactively, diligently, and relentlessly building a world full of men who don’t do awful things to women and girls. That means we:

  1. Don’t defend sexual aggression of any type: catcalls, rape, and anything in between.
  2. Stay vigilant to perceive any situation that could make a woman fear wrongdoing and make it instantly safe.
  3. Listen when women are talking about their experience. It’s different from ours and has been for thousands of years.
  4. Stop complaining about sexism toward men. For crying out loud– surely we can take it, can’t we? Not kidding. Sure, let’s fix it where we can, but buck the frak up.
  5. End the idea that there are male games/toys/activities and female games/toys/activities. My daughter’s a gamer through and through so back off because I will freaking cut you.
  6. Not tolerate any sexually inappropriate or aggressive talk or behavior in our male friends. We must have the courage to shut it down in our circles of friends.

Go ahead and complain that women can be rapists too. Then shut up. That’s not the point and it has literally nothing to do with this.

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