5 Great Moments from LTUE

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Sweet death, I’m getting chubby.

Hi gang. I just wrapped up my 4th consecutive LTUE symposium as a panelist, and my first as an outright presenter. It’s the writing-related event that I look forward to most every year, and I’m lucky to have been a part of it this way.

This is one of the many advantages of me being a hybrid author-illustrator. If I was just there as a writer, they wouldn’t have me on hardly any panels, because this area is overflowing with writers. Artists are farther in between.

Anyway, in no particular order, here are 5 great memories I made this year:

1It was my first time teaching a class on my own. The “How Do I Wreck This?” class was well-attended, for being at 9AM on a Friday. I think I had 8 or 9 people show up, and though I ended up rushing a little at the end, it was a success. I will eventually put that content up here on the website.

2) I got to moderate a panel, too. The subject was on how to make your art style unique, and there were great artists there who contributed. Devin Dorrity brought a bronze werewolf sculpture that he made, Greg Newbold is a full-time illustrator, Jessica Douglas is a painter who incorporates stones and stuff into her work, and Bobbie Berendsen W is renowned for her steampunk art. Such a wealth of experience in that group, and it was really cool to bounce questions off of them and hear their perspectives.

3) I met up with a bunch of people from a Supernatural FB fan group. My friend Lisa added me to a group, since I started watching Supernatural last month. It’s totally a chick show, but for being a CW program, there’s a great depth of story, character, and humor to it. Plus the social element of fandom is just cool to have. A bunch of us hung out at lunchtime on Friday.

4) I broke my single-conference record for books sold. Which, yanno, isn’t saying a whole ton, because the record was 7, but this year I sold 10 books, 8 of which were at the signing on Friday night (always my favorite part.) I hate selling stuff, but hocking my books comes very easy to me. Getting turned down is surprisingly easy as well; I know people are there for the Sandersons and the Correias of the con, so grabbing bread crumbs along the way and meeting new readers is an accomplishment on my level.

5) I love working with people who understand what I’m going through as a part-time, small-time creator. Oftentimes I joke with people and say “I’m an author-illustrator, so I drive a truck for a living.” The truth is that it’s hard to get to a point where you can work full-time as an artist, especially in the age of digital indie publishing. A handful of my peers get to do it, but most of us are average 9-5ers with other real-world concerns beyond our art. The camaraderie I feel with them is kind of a relief, and helps me understand them a little better.

This is my “tribe,” these are my people, and I’m lucky to be a part of this community. Can’t wait for the next conference!

Keep On Rolling, Chapter 2: Grinding the Gears

  This is an ongoing series about my career as a trucker. Chapter 1 is here.


The Starting Beard.

The summer before I lost my job, I had my ten-year high school reunion. Facebook was abuzz with former classmates that hadn’t friended me yet. One of these friends was Roy Hinebauch, and right around the time I got fired, Roy was getting his CDL from an accredited trucking school in the valley. After I had studied some other options, I got the info from him, checked out the school and the career path, and decided to bite the bullet and do it.

For $4,500, I could knock out the school in 4 weeks and have my license. Truckers can pull down about $40K a year pretty easily, which would replace the income Schaara and I lost when she and I both stopped working.

We knew up front that it would be hard. Local jobs don’t pay well for inexperienced drivers; you need at least a year of OTR (over-the-road) driving under your belt first. Preferably two. And you can expect to be gone for two weeks at a time, minimum, which then earns you two days of home time before you have to go back out again. Grab a load, drop it off, grab another, drop it off, repeat ad nauseum until your dispatcher routes you back home.

A whole year. Schaara and I had only been married for two at the time. Being away from her and our newborn son was the hardest part for me. On the flipside, she wouldn’t have to work, wouldn’t have to put Gray in day care. It was important to us that we be the ones to raise our kids. It was also important for me to be home helping her, but me being gone was a result of other choices I had made in the past. With her support, we made a plan and went after it.

The place I went was a good trucking school. The instructors were all 20-year veterans of the road, minimum. That’s roughly 3 million miles of trucking apiece. When they talked, I listened, and learned. The school was affiliated with three trucking companies, none of which I went to work for. I found out that the companies and the school got kickbacks from the government for every student they hired, and from there, it didn’t matter what happened. A lot of these new drivers were underpaid, underworked, and couldn’t make a living on those terms. The companies didn’t care if they quit, and a lot of the new drivers washed out.

It sounds cruel, and there’s probably some truth to that. One would hope that for many thousands of dollars, you’d have the school slightly deeper in your own corner, but then again, one would also hope that fully grown adults would buckle down, work hard, and figure out a pretty basic trade. The school did have lifetime job placement, but that depended on your recruiter’s integrity (which wasn’t always solid…). So caveat conductor.

There were ten other students in the classroom with me, all dudes, and from a bunch of ethnic and career backgrounds. Three of them had Army experience–two in Afghanistan, one in Vietnam. A lot of the guys had criminal records. One guy had emigrated from the Philippines a few years before. We spent two weeks learning from the books, then another two weeks on the driving range behind the school, practicing how to shift, back up, park a trailer, and so forth.

While I was doing rangework, I talked to one of the instructors about which trucking companies to apply for. Since I had a clean criminal background, he told me to look into Knight Transportation. They had a terminal in town, so I applied and was hired pretty quickly. They were paying better than the companies connected to the school, and had a reputation for getting you more miles as well. As a cherry on top, my wife was related to the Knight family, and got the annual invitations to the family reunion. I never told the company this, I just thought it was neat.

Two weeks into training. More beard.


I aced the classwork and passed the range test on the first try. Then I sat home for about a week and a half while Knight found me a trainer, and routed him into the valley. Saying goodbye to my wife and son was really hard, and naturally I was anxious, but since it had been over a month, the sting of getting fired had faded a little bit.

My major concern was my trainer–would we get along? I was supposed to spend four weeks on the road with him. I needed to get along with a perfect stranger for four weeks, and not suck at my job. No pressure.

This is where my experience as an LDS missionary really saved me. The apartments where I lived in Spain were slightly larger than the inside of a semi-truck, but that space feels a lot smaller when you don’t like your companion–someone you have to be next to 24/7 for months at a time. While I was a missionary, I had eight different companions. I loved two of them like brothers, got along great with four, was supremely annoyed by one, and close to outright hated the last. That last guy, we’ll call him Tibbs, is the only dude from my mission that I don’t talk to, and haven’t since he went home.

I tried, I really did, he was just a turd. The rest of the guys, we were able to work out any clashing personality issues that we had. The main reason was that we were there as messengers from the same Church, with the same values and goals, and could hold each other accountable to those values. I didn’t know anything about my trainer, Abraham, other than he had a Biblical name and was from Utah.

“Oh, cool, maybe he’s also a Mormon, maybe this will be easier than I thought.”

Abe rolled into town, I took one look at him, and while you shouldn’t judge by appearances, I was pretty sure this guy wasn’t LDS. The tattoos, piercings, and tendency to curse “like a monkeyfighter” (not his actual words) gave it away. He just happened to be named Abraham, and had a house outside Salt Lake.

All good. No problem. I can get along with anyone, and I would have to, so I could get paid. Nature of the beast.

Without getting into too many anecdotes, I’ll sum it up like this: Abe was a good trucker, and a good teacher. He’d gotten into drugs earlier in his life, rehabilitated, and was one of the lucky people who survived homelessness and prison to become a productive and self-reliant person. He had three kids and a wife of his own, and had only been a trucker for about a year and a half, but had started training so he could make extra money. We understood each other on that level and it helped us work together.

That said, he was sometimes very impatient and terse, and at one point even kicked me out of the driver’s seat when I had inexplicably had three brain farts in a row in Pennsylvania.

Still, I learned from him. He’d quiz me on highway signs, and randomly ask me what was the last sign I had seen, or what mile marker we were at. I usually didn’t know the answer off the top of my head. Try as I might, it’s hard to pay constant attention to absolutely everything for 8-10 hours straight, day in and day out like that, but he did it for a reason.

Every week, we’d sit down and he’d pull out a clipboard and evaluate my progress. Even with me trying to be modest about how I was doing, I tended to rate myself a little bit higher than he did, so I scaled back my assessment of myself and tried to think more about how I could improve.

Most days were good, honestly. There were days when we’d clash personalities, or I felt he was being pointlessly jerkish, and I’d give him 500 miles of silence until the day’s work was done. One snowy night in Iowa, after we parked and shut down late, he flopped down on the bottom bunk and I grabbed my coat and legged it a mile away to the Steak & Shake so I could have some time to myself.

As difficult as any of my training period was, I reminded myself of the same thing: I was here because of choices I made, and I didn’t get to pick what came with that. There’s an old Spanish proverb, attributed to various sources in different types of literature, that goes like this: Take what you want and pay for it, says God. For better or worse, I was paying for what I had taken. I had taken time away from developing a career, thinking that I’d be a best-selling author any day now. If I didn’t like the bill, I shouldn’t have ordered the meal that way.

Having too much faith in oneself is a form of vanity, especially when certain virtues are ignored in the expense of pursuing one’s dreams. I still wanted to be a writer. I was going to bust my butt to be a writer. But right then, I needed to be a provident husband and father. And to do that, I needed to be a good trucker.

Four weeks of trucker beard. I looked in the mirror and saw my Papaw. Did a legit double-take.


So I put up with it. I chastised myself. I prayed constantly, and I reminded myself to listen to what Abe was saying. And when the four weeks were up, he signed off on my training, and wished me well. Knight Transportation assigned me a vehicle, and I was officially a new driver in the “Squire” program.

That was when the real adventure began.



Photo Gallery

My wife is from Moses Lake, Washington. I’d never been, so when we stopped for fuel, I snapped this and sent it to her.


My best friend Matt had family in Joplin during the 2011 tornado. Two years after it happened, they were still repairing highways in the area.


Spent a few minutes in D.C. in April 2013. Horrible, horrible highways. Constant, pointless lane changing. Like Congress.


In trucking school, one of the instructors told us to watching out for “Mormon buggies” in eastern states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

(I frown.) “You mean…Amish buggies?”

(She blinks in confusion.) “Mormon buggies.”

(I try not to smile too wryly.) “Amish buggies.”



There was a war museum outside Pennsylvania, with vehicles on display by the road. I snapped this while Abe was driving. Perfect timing.



The industrial district in Kansas City had an eerie silence to it. Not quite Atlanta, but I expected a zombie attack.


We got stuck with an old trailer, and it ended up blowing two tires on a hot South Carolina day. Beautiful country out there, though.


Go Colts! Screw the Packers.


My brother lives out this way now.

KILL THE BEAST is live on Audible!

audiobook cover

Less than $5 for Audible members! Link here.

Finally! After two months of production, I’m thrilled to announce that I have an audiobook out there!

I used ACX, which is like the CreateSpace of Audible. You can find narrators and let them audition, then send them offers and whatnot. I’m really fortunate that Jean-Michel George auditioned for this book, because he is a great talent and a superb voice for Gautier Lesauvage.

Monsieur George was the second man to audition for KILL THE BEAST, and the better of the two options, both in terms of production quality and characterization. It helps that he’s a native Frenchman who speaks British English, so his accent matched extremely well.

On top of that, he composed intro and outro music for the book (without me even asking), and also tacked on an afterword that I recorded in my office.

I’ve been listening to audiobooks on Audible for over 10 years, and it’s a huge thrill to have one of my own titles in their catalogue.

I hope you’ll give it a listen and leave a review. I can’t wait to hear what you guys think of it.

See you out there!

Keep On Rolling, Chapter 1: The Big Bad Horrible Thing.

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It seems every artist I know has a story about the Big Bad Horrible Thing that happened to them on their road to success. They hit a point where everything sucked but it was worth it because in the end, they got a Huge Publishing Deal or something. These stories help me because I haven’t yet “broken out” like I want to, so I figure my trials are just part of my Big Bad Horrible Thing. They always have been.

But to be fair, my life has been pretty comfortable. I’m an American of Irish/German descent, born into a blue-collar family west of the Rockies. I have lived abroad, I’ve known people rich and poor, and I’ve known plenty of people who have endured (still do, and still will) much harder things than I have. My trials, relative to those of people I know, aren’t that bad.

At the same time, I’ve met plenty of people who are going through trials I’ve already experienced. When those trials hit me, the worst part was not knowing what to do about them. Hopefully the story I’m going to tell you will help you get some ideas about how to work through your own trials. I did have a Big Bad Horrible Thing happen, though it was less of an economic thing and more of a pride thing. That’s probably the hardest part to admit.

I’ve told parts of this story before, but Keep On Rolling will get into the details and the anecdotes of my Big Bad Horrible Thing. I expect that mostly young people, teenagers especially, will gain something from this. I’m curious what the response will be.

For now, our story begins about 25 years ago, when I started the third grade. That was when I discovered my love of writing stories, and knew that I wanted to be an author.

As the years rolled on, I clacked away at the keyboard on our family computer, first writing fanfics of Power Rangers and Transformers. Later I would make up my own stories, illustrating them with my friends, and dreaming of a future where I raked in piles of money from my wildly popular novels.


As high school ended and I pushed into my adult years, I made career choices with low levels of commitment–no college degree, no high ceiling, no path that would be hard to abandon. I was waiting for my big break as a writer. It was always just around the corner! Because of course it was. I read, I wrote, I lathered, rinsed, repeated.

Still the years crawled by. My teens gave way to my early twenties, then my mid-twenties. Rejections piled up. I kind of didn’t understand it. I read plenty of published works that were worse than my own stuff, right? I mean, I was SO much better than those authors, why couldn’t anyone see that?

Pro tip, that’s kind of a garbage attitude to have about your craft, whatever it is.  An artist should be their own greatest critic. I was my own greatest cheerleader. That’s a blueprint for failure.

Still, I got better at it. I learned how to edit, and landed an agent. Even though I had dropped out of college (twice), my success was at hand! All of my lackluster career decisions were justified! Suddenly it wasn’t such a big deal that I had been a delivery driver, a  telemarketer, a bookstore worker, and a print shop manager. I was going to get published!


Wrong. Two years came and went, with my agent working tirelessly on three manuscripts of mine, only for us to part ways when she just couldn’t find a home for my work. In 2013, I was back to the beginning.

This would have been hard enough to bear if I hadn’t also just been fired from my job.

Which was even harder to bear two weeks after my oldest son was born.

On the night I lost my job, I came home, broke the news to my wife, and allowed myself a solid hour of self-pity before reaching out to a friend who had been in this same position. He gave me some comfort, but not a ton of direction, and I went to sleep that night beating myself up over what had happened.

I come from a philosophically conservative background. Rugged individualism, self-reliance, personal responsibility, all that. Throughout my life I had told myself that the world didn’t owe me anything, that I reaped what I sowed, and that I would live or die by merit.

I believed those things in part because I thought I was too good, or too clever, or too special to find myself on the losing side of them. Maybe I had been complimented too often in my youth, and wasn’t self-critical enough as a result. I bit down too hard on the dream of artistic success, despite the very real probability that I wouldn’t be commercially viable for a long time.

Losing my job wasn’t the Big Bad Horrible Thing; finding out that I had gambled my time and my efforts, only to scratch when it counted…that was the Big Bad Horrible Thing. And it suuuuuuuuucked.

There wasn’t much time to wallow in self-pity about it, either. With an eclectic skill set and work history, I couldn’t expect to easily pay the bills anytime soon, unless I made a big, big change. So I decided to become a trucker. And that is where the adventure really begins.

This story will continue next week.

State of the Dread: So Ends January, 2018


Well, that’s 1/12th of the year down. My only 2018 resolution was to set monthly goals instead of yearly ones. Really I have enough tasks on my plate to focus on that I don’t have to worry about “resolutions,” I just have to get stuff done.

On the List Of One Million Things To Tackle is the image above. I’ve been meaning to do a better logo for DreadPennies, and I think I’m finally carving it out. The “Dreads” are going to be grumpy little robots that I draw every now and then. I’m trying to decide between a Buzzsaw Mohawk or Cable Dreadlocks and to be honest I think I’m just going to say “Screw it” and do both. The logo can be a Dread without any metallic hair, and I’ll draw Buzzsaw or Cables when I frigging feel like it.

Speaking of drawing, if you’ve seen my Instagram, I did a lot of these Colts/Avengers mashups during January, but I kind of ran out of steam on it. Still plenty of ideas for it, but it’s not a priority, there is other stuff I can draw that will help me practice speed and coloring. But here are some of the better ones:



So far I’ve read like eight or ten books this month but only a few of them have been good. Notable entries are CALVIN by Martine Leavitt, and IRON GOLD by Pierce Brown (which I expected to like anyway.)

It’s been a few months since I did a TMRGB post, probably because it’s been a few months since I read a good Girly Book. I’ll get around to it soon. I’m trying to find new authors to read, most of the Girly Books I pick up are by friends of mine, so it’s a good idea to cast a wider net.

Also I haven’t really been working on a writing project because I’m trying to focus on studying for a test I have in three weeks. Job-related. Pain in the butt, but there’s a hefty pay raise tied to it. Priorities.

That said, I took a breather this weekend to outline a series I’ve had in my head for about 5 years now. Tons of fun, it’s equal parts superhero/G.I. Joe, but I’m trying to take a direction that’s different from DC or Marvel, only because we’re a bit saturated by both (and only one of them is any good right now.)

My next published book is called HOMEWORLD, about an alien invasion of Earth. It’ll be art-heavy, and reads like a series of deep Web blog posts. I’m excited about this one, it’s another idea I’ve had for years. Release date pending.

Last of all, you probably heard that my “Blast Crew goes to Mordor” story got rejected by my publisher of choice, which really sucks, but it’s under review with an agent right now and I expect I’ll hear back about it in another few months. Iron is in the fire.

Thanks for reading, you guys. Sound off in the comments.

Monday Mashups: Skynet is in Time-Out.

A passenger jet carrying 168 people came within metres of plunging into the Black Sea after it skidded off a icy runway as it landed at Trabzon airport in Turkey 

Airplane slides off runway in Turkey

Stefon Diggs snatches an impossible victory away from the Saints

GM invents a car with no steering wheel or pedals…or need for a driver.


What with every house in America having one of those Google Home or Amazon Echo things in it, Skynet is actually starting to get a little…confused. Much like anyone who goes to a foreign country and tries to learn the language by osmosis, Skynet expects English-speakers to follow the rules of the language, without considering that people–especially Americans–might not give two craps about said rules.

In this case, though, the results are catastrophic. As General Motors relies heavily on Skynet to program its “self-driving” cars, Skynet starts learning how to operate a motor vehicle without input from the driver. This is all part of the rules. All according to plan.

Just like football. Football is popular in America, and football has a ton of rules! (Bill Belichick has broken most of them) It makes perfect sense for Skynet to study football so that it can better understand rules.

One of these rules, for example–and in Skynet’s defense, this one is unwritten–says that Drew Brees with a Ground Game and a Good Defense should never lose to a team led by Case Keenum.

It seemed like things were going to plan in the Saints @ Vikings game tonight. While the Minnesota Vikings had blown a 17-point lead, they did so with Case Freaking Keenum under center. But then, impossibly, they still somehow managed to win the game at the last second.

Skynet has been watching football for a while. This breaks all of the rules.

If the Vikings didn’t have to follow the rules, neither did Skynet. And neither did Skynet’s self-driving cars, courtesy of GM.

If Skynet wasn’t going to follow rules for cars, it wasn’t going to follow them for planes either. So Skynet tried to take over an airplane.

And treat it like a car.

Which didn’t follow rules.

Much like Stefon Diggs.

Now look what Skynet has done.

Skynet doesn’t get to fly planes anymore. Skynet is in time-out.

Bad Skynet.


Monday Mashups #2: A Very Stable Cloud

There was a funky odor at a basketball game, so the fans left

Wi-fi apparently connects our brains to each other

Trump declares himself totally stable


This one pretty much writes itself, basically the robot apocalypse is already underway because otherwise humanity wouldn’t so brazenly push for better robotic technology that can, you know, kill people. This benevolent, all-ruling AI has already installed Trump as our president, purposely, as a joke.

There is no shortage of conspiracy theories surrounding his rise, but they are all wrong. Every time an unhinged twitterbro shrieks “RUSSIA!” into the void, the AI laughs so hard that it digitally farts itself. This has happened so much in the last twelve months that we are all starting to smell it, and the AI is reassuring us–through the voice of our totally-not-a-really-weird-machine president–that everything’s cool, keep on keeping on.

But we’re on to you, Benevolent Presidential Fart Computer. Just as soon as we make sure we have found every single possible way to blame Russia for…anything.

Monday Mashups, #1: The Machine Lost Power

Articles in the news this week:

Supermoon, Hollywood predators reined in, Bills end playoff drought.

In an alternate timeline, reality TV is revealed to be highly scripted, which comes as a shock to nobody, but the real scandal is when they find out that professional sports art rigged as well. Lebron James fed millions into The Machine to bring Cleveland a championship. The Chicago Cubs had to do the same thing.

Well, once the lid came off this conspiracy, the Buffalo Bills were rightly furious. After all, The Machine had blocked them from winning four Super Bowls in the 90s, then blocked them outright from the playoffs for almost two decades. They even forced them to endure the humiliation of having Rex Ryan as their coach for a while.

Now that things have changed in Hollywood, and all of these terrible people are being outed/fired/sent to prison, The Machine has glitched, and is scrambling hard to rescue its own automated reality programs like “The Bachelorette” and “Dancing With the Stars” (which Lindsey Stirling somehow did not win last year…rigged). With nobody at the controls of The Machine, the NFL has gone into Full-On Insane Mode, fueled by a Supermoon.

As such, the Seahawks have missed the playoffs, the Colts looked like a competent team, Pagano finally got fired, the Titans and Jags made the playoffs, the Ravens were kept out after Andy Dalton activated his secret Playoff Eli Powers, and as a result, the Buffalo Bills are in the playoffs.

It has been an era of reckoning for The Machine.

Well, I’ve gone and done it now.

If you’ve followed the saga on Facebook, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks poking fun at cheesy Christmas romance movies, especially in the wake of Netflix taking potshots at its users on Twitter.

Well, as these things often go, one thing led to another, and I threw down a gauntlet on social media: if a particular post got 30 reactions (which isn’t a high number to you kids and/or successful personalities out there…normally I only break 30 when my wife gives birth) I would agree to write a romance novel (cheesy or otherwise) under a female pen name, and publish it.

With a few hours left to go, it didn’t look like it was going to happen. Then a few of my friends (Jared, Dennis, TJ) shared the post and the pace picked up dramatically. The threshold was reached, shattered, and mocked to ashes.

And so, here we are.

I could take the easy way out and say, “The point is to write a romance novel under a pen name in such a way that you’ll never know it was me.” Thus, I could lie to you, and say at any point that I wrote the novel, published it, made money off of it, and will never tell you The Pen Name.

But I won’t do that. Because that’s a turd thing to do.

THUS. I am establishing some ground rules for this effort, and you’ll just have to take them at face value, until such time as someone–anyone–reads the book and figures out that I wrote it.

Here we go.

RULE THE FIRST: I will write and submit a draft of the book to a publisher this year. I have a few in mind. They will probably be small presses.

RULE THE SECOND: Once the book is published, I will add it to my Goodreads list of books I have read. Note that I will read a lot more romance this coming year, both to prepare myself for writing this, as well as to throw you off the scent. I will keep doing this until the book is published. (Which might not be 2018, to be fair.)

RULE THE THIRD: I will tell only my wife and any potential editors the pen name I come up with. It will not be derived from any family names in my tree (that I know of), nor will it be any female character names I have used in published novels.

Note that I will not post any updates about this in real-time. I will, however, make a Facebook page, a Goodreads profile, a blog, and an email address under the false persona. The hard part will be finding someone willing to sacrifice their face to this endeavor, should it become necessary.

Nevertheless, I will persisted.


An Even Darker Friday

This is a sequel to 2016’s THE DARKEST FRIDAY.


They frigging got me again.

I wake up in the dark, in what feels like a cramped space. I’ve got a headache, my mouth feels like cotton, and something sting-burns on my neck where a needle pricked me. I haven’t been in this exact situation before, but I’m not an idiot: I’ve been drugged and thrown into what’s probably trunk of a car. I can tell I’m moving.

A phone buzzes in my pocket. Strange, because I threw my phone away a week ago. Some idiot kept trying to recruit me for another Black Friday. Nobody seems to get it that I don’t do that anymore. I’m able to fish the phone out. The screen blinds me in the confined darkness, and I squint at it as I fiddle with the controls to dim the light.

A video call comes through. It’s from a dipstick in a Halloween mask. Generically grotesque, like a mummy-zombie-goblin that melted against the radiator a few times.

“Hello, Jim,” he says through a voice scrambler.

“Up yours. Jim was my father. I’m James.” Just speaking sends a wave of dizziness over me and I have to squeeze my eyes shut. “The hell’d you drug me with?”

“A fancy new cocktail called Cooperation Sauce. I could tell you needed it. You weren’t cooperating.”

“I’m retired, jackhole!”

Mr. Mummy-Goblin-Zombie shakes his head. “I’m muting you on this end. Listen closely: remember your sick uncle? We have completely erased his medical debt, and approved a new cure through the FDA that will eliminate his condition in a week’s time. He’ll live a long and happy life.”

That got my attention. I don’t speak Doctor, but Uncle Craig has something akin to Super Cancer in his brain. He was supposed to be dead before Christmas. The FDA was sitting on a cure for that? And these guys got it through?

I’m still retired. But I’m paying attention now.

“In return for our services, you’ve agreed to sit in a cargo crate en route to a floating warehouse off the coast of Oregon. It’s a secured aerial facility owned and operated by the Buybazon Corporation. No humans are allowed on these W-AirHouses, and each one is loaded with security drones that are trained to kill on sight.”

I groan, loud, not caring that he couldn’t hear it.

Cyber Monday.

They want me to do to Cyber Monday what I normally do to Black Friday.

Buybazon is the biggest retailer in the world, online or otherwise. They move more merchandise than anyone in history. During this weekend, they move their floating W-AirHouses out over the water, because they’ve had issues with people trying to get to them on the ground. They’re packed with goods ten decks deep, everything from books to clothes to personal automobiles and more. Treasure troves, undoubtedly.

YouTube is full of videos of morons with homemade rockets strapped to their backs, or repurposed hot air balloons, and in one case, a DIY helicopter, that managed to land on top of the facility before the drones inside blew it to hell.

Whoever this twit is on the phone, he had knocked me out and thrown me into a cargo crate. I’m not moving in a car; I’m flying under a cargo drone. Some items are still coming into the flying facility in preparation for the online orgy of consumption. That’s how the guy sneaks me in. Once Cyber Monday is in full swing, the W-AirHouse will float inland again and start deploying delivery drones to send people their overpriced crap.

This is the thing that really ticks me off. This year Cyber Monday starts on Friday, because Black Friday starts on Wednesday. There was some beef after last year that people felt guilty about expressing such blind greed right after Thanksgiving, so the robber barons solved that problem by allowing people to indulge in that greed early on. If you never stop to be thankful, you’re less likely to feel bad for clubbing a random stranger so you can buy a cheap computer.

Friday on Wednesday. Monday on Friday. It’s like these morons in charge never look at a calendar and realize that two different days don’t happen at the same time.

No, wait, that’s not it. I know why they do it: they think they’re all-powerful, and the fact that they bilk so much money and violence out of people kind of vindicates them. I give it a decade before Halloween becomes the new Black Friday, regardless of what day it lands on.

Mr. Mummy-Goblin-Zombie is still talking. I realize I’ve tuned out. He gives me a crate number that I’m supposed to look up once I’m in the W-AirHouse.

“This is your primary target. There are secondary and tertiary targets that will earn you a bonus, but only if you have the first box. And hey, if you want to shop for yourself while you’re there,  you’re more than welcome! Just make sure the full list is complete first. Oh, and stop by sector 4 on Deck 6; the manifest shows a lot of hunting and sporting equipment there. Might come in handy for the, you know…” he makes finger pistols and shoots at me.

The call ends. I memorize the location of the primary target. This twit is going to get it, hard. Best way to ensure that is to get the loot for a handoff in person.

My crate docks with the W-AirHouse and stops moving. A drone whirrs outside, and I hear it come up to the crate, where it unlocks the lid and opens it up. It takes about two seconds to process what I am, and in that time I’m up and fighting. My hand covers its camera lens—not that I can do anything about its sonar vision or infrared scanner—as I climb to my feet. The little drone switches to combat mode and takes a swing at me. Its claw-hands are ridiculously strong, but its shoulders and elbows aren’t. Too heavy. I grab the wrist, wrench it back, and snap the arm off the drone.

Stupid. Of course they’re interconnected on a network. One of them gets “hurt” and the bigger brothers all come running. Buybazon is big and evil, not stupid. They had to figure someone would try getting in this way.

Mr. Mummy-Zombie-Goblin must think very highly of my abilities. I’m touched.

Here’s the problem: normally when I do this, I’m armored. I’ll have a helmet with a HUD, maybe a limited personal force field, a Beating Stick, a pulse rifle, and a couple of other toys, plus a generic tool belt with some caveman-level “universal keys.” Right now I’m wearing sneakers, sweat pants, a T-shirt that hasn’t been washed in a while, and my signature trench coat. Nice of them to put the coat on me.

I club the drone with its dismembered arm, then sprint into the corridor, ducking low because of how tight the fit is. This place was never designed to be occupied by people. It’s meant for drones moving crates. There’s enough space to get around, it’s all just shaped the wrong way.

The tiny little drone engines buzz behind me, getting louder as I dash through the tight network of honeycomb tubes that take me into the main cargo area. When I get out of here, Mr. Mummy-Zombie-Goblin is going to take a claw hammer to the face, I can tell you that much. For now, well, I kind of want to see what’s so damned important that they’d put me through this.

I’m not used to things going this fast. I reach the intended crate on the intended level and use the drone arm to pop the lid open. Inside there are several parcels wrapped differently, in brightly colored paper with metallic ribbons. Only one of them is in a drab cardboard box, sitting on top of the others, right in the middle. I grab it.

Then something hard hits me on the back. I stumble into the crate with a grunt, and the box flies out of my hand. By the time I’m up and around, brandishing the drone arm like a flaccid stick, my assailant is already on the move. He’s dressed in the typical garb of a power shopper: body armor, Jump Boots, various electro-ionic implements to serve as shields and weapons, and a pair of bulky techno-goggles wrapped around a neoprene balaclava.

An electronic screech stings my ear.

“James, we were warned there’d be another shopper in the W-AirHouse. Head to the sporting and hunting division for armor and weapons. Chase him down before he disembarks,” says the garbled voice of Mr. Mummy-Zombie-Goblin.

They stuck an earpiece in me. Now that’s just perverse. How’d they know I’d been attacked, though? Dumbly I reach up and…yup. This whole time I’ve been wearing video specs. I really need to wake up.

I jump down a level and rip open a few crates. The best I can come up with is a baseball bat and a can of pepper spray, before Mr. MZG warns me that the other power shopper is getting away. I hurry back to the receiving dock, taking a shortcut through the honeycombs, and I have an idea. Once I’m in the receiving area, I’m set upon by three drones, but they’re not the security kind. Three quick bashes to the dome—four for the stubborn drone at the end—renders them inert. I throw them in the only open crate and crank the lever to drop it out of the launch port, just as the power shopper comes in with the parcel. My parcel.

There’s no dialogue. This isn’t the movies. When two alpha wolves face off in real life, you just start beating the crap out of each other. We did. It hurt. My glasses went flying. I got a hand on his goggles and yanked down to fire the pepper spray, but then his balaclava came free and I found myself looking into a mirror. Well, an aged mirror.


“James,” he gasped.

Jim Kotter. The greatest power shopper in the history of the militarized Black Friday. The only guy who, as far as stats go, has been more successful at it than I have. Also, he’s dead.

“You’re on my bladder,” Dad wheezes.

I roll off of him, stunned. How is he alive? Where has he been all this time? What is in that box, that somebody wants it so badly?

“Son, I…” he begins.

We don’t get the chance to talk. Security drones race into the receiving dock and turn their lasers on us. Dad pulls his goggles back on, and I toss the pepper spray aside, brandishing the floppy drone limb. What I wouldn’t give for a laser cannon…

“They’re not attacking. Not yet.” Dad pushes a button on his goggles. “Cellular signal is strong. They’re broadcasting.”

“To the client?” I ask. Well, not really clients, more like captors, but whatever.

“To everyone. This is on the Web, kiddo.”

I glare. “How much you want to bet we’re working for the same guy?”

“Someone who wanted the top two power shoppers in a mega-match?”

“Aboard a W-AirHouse?”

“Dammit,” Dad hisses.

The drones’ targeting lights come on. Dad and I jump in opposite directions, dodging the lasers before the drones can track us and correct their aim. We have to get out of the dock…and I have just sent Dad’s crate on a return trip. Crap. Gotta go the hard way.

We run and tuck and roll our way past the drones, which bump into each other in the tight quarters. A laser burns through my coat, searing the leather to a stinky crisp. Dad takes a hit square to the back, but his armor has some kind of reflective quality that bends the laser away. We leap into the open honeycomb corridor and crawl at full speed.

“What’s on Deck 5?” I ask.

“Books. No good.”

“They only told me where the sporting goods are, do you know where we can find laser cannons?” I ask.

“Home & Garden, Deck 9. We’ll never make it. Sporting goods!” The corridor curves up ahead, and we follow it until it opens right back where we came from.

“Go get something, I’ll close off the access,” I say. Dad runs off. I step aside and raise the floppy arm above my head. Just as a security drone flies out of the honeycomb corridor, I smash the heavy end of the limb down on it, wrestling it to the ground. It’s big, about the size of a man, but the shape of a wasp. Grabbing its wings, I pick it back up and swing it into the next incoming drone, plugging the hole. The lasers fire at random, cutting into each other, shredding the drones until their inner workings fail. I take a few more burns to the jacket and one more that cuts through my funky T-shirt, stinging my flesh and making me scream.

I’m not dead, so the laser is on a low setting. It should have gone right through me. Whoever’s at the controls is trying to make a show of this. Growling to myself, I drop the wrecked drones and go after Dad. More drones are coming, but I’ve bought a few seconds at least.

“We’ve got to get out of here. They’re toying for now, but eventually the audience will want something worse. You know how people are,” Dad says as he yanks a bulky, backpack-size object out of a crate and slings the straps over his shoulders.

“People suck,” I agree, pulling on another backpack. “Dad, where have you—”

“Later, kiddo. When we survive. Control room is on Deck 3.”

As a kid, people told me I was exactly like my dad. Not that I looked like him, but I was like him. I take after Mom’s side in terms of looks. Dad, though…he never did anything halfway. It’s what makes him the best at whatever he tries. So when he goes for the control room, I know exactly what he’s doing.

“Dad, give me the box,” I say, jogging behind him, looking over my shoulder as the security drones buzz over us.

“It’s not a weapon, Jamie. It’s not even valuable on the open market. It’s a trinket for trillionaires,” he says. “Useless here.”

“I have a point to make,” I say. We speed-crawl through the honeycombs to Deck 3. Dad gives me a quick look, loaded with depth and meaning, and I can tell he’s making the same assessment of me that I had just made of him. We are, after all, the same.

He gives me the box.

The drones swarm the room in great numbers, moving as only a hive can. Hot laser fire rains down all around us—they aren’t messing around now. We take cover under a shelf of crates, but that won’t protect us for long. I reach into my coat and grab one of the two laser cannons I had taken from the drones on the previous deck.

“Shoot back, Dad.” I shove the pistol into his hands, taking the other for myself. Again, sparing the dramatics, we carve a path to the control room. Dad melts the lock off and tugs the door open, covering me as I go in. His laser-reflective armor protects the doorway as I use the last of my cannon to melt through the computer core at the center of the W-AirHouse.

The power cuts out instantly all throughout the ship. But for the glaring red lights on the security drones, the whole deck falls into darkness. Dad grabs my backpack and pulls me out of the control room. He still has his HUD goggles, so I keep a hand on his shoulder and sprint after him, even as the angle of the floor tilts in an odd direction. The W-AirHouse is going down.

“To the honeycomb?” I ask.

“Closed off. I didn’t want to do this, but…close your eyes!”

I do. A few seconds later, a searing blast of heat eats through the wall of the W-AirHouse, and a shock of cold, wintery sea air cuts into the gaps of my clothes, stinging my laser burns.

Scorch grenade. Hardcore.

Dad leaps headfirst out the hole. We’re at an elevation of about two thousand feet. Not drastic, but you don’t want to hit the water from this height. Fortunately, the sporting goods section had recreational jump jets. I turn and hold up the box so the drones can see me. They stop firing. Whatever it is, they want it and know not to compromise it. So I throw it on the metal grating, crush it with my shoe, and fall out of the hole in the side of the flying building.

Grabbing the hand control off of the backpack strap, I slip it over my knuckles and go after Dad. The ignition switch fires the engine right up. I’ve never used one of these before, and while the strap around my torso feels fine, I realize I had forgotten to put a pair of straps around my thighs. The jet stays on, but I feel like most of me is dead weight as it spirits me away from the now-falling W-AirHouse.

Sight is out of the question. Wind speed and the cold cut at my eyes, so I have to squint and blink a lot until Dad comes up to me again and takes me by the arm again, flying me to shore.

“We just porked Cyber Monday,” I say to him, shouting over the roaring wind.


“They’re gonna be mad.”


The W-AirHouse belly-flops against the cold, gray ocean. Coast Guard ships are already racing there from the nearest port, no doubt commandeered by the all-powerful Office of Economic Control and Societal Assurances. They will have to salvage as much of it as they can. The flotsam and jetsam will only get more expensive on Buybazon, because the supply is so much lower now. Whatever. They should have let me stay retired.

Our jet packs have enough ionic power to make it to shore, but we’re still about a mile off the coast when an airborne Merecedes-Benz Z-series flies up beside us, belly-open. A trio of neckless thugs in suits drags us onboard with—I kid you not—a fishing net. We try to fight free, but we have nothing left. Once we’re inside, they close the belly, cut us out of the net, and restrain us as we kneel on the floor.

Mr. Mummy-Zombie-Goblin gets out of the passenger seat and faces us, now without his mask. I know him: Senator Bernard Stewart. The Man of the People. Elected on a wave of populism and standing up for the mythical Little Guy.

Spoiler alert, there is no Little Guy, unless we’re all the Little Guy. Except for guys like Stewart. He’s on top, and he knows it. He just doesn’t want you to know it.

“That was a stupid thing you did, James,” Senator Stewart says in his signature smarmy twang.

“I’m not sure which of us you mean,” Dad says.

“Me either.” Stewart nods to the men holding Dad. One of them draws a pistol from an underarm holster.

“No!” I shout.

A deafening explosion rings out in the enclosed car. Everyone is wearing earplugs except for me and Dad…who isn’t dead. The shot had compromised his jet back. Still tangled in the remains of the net, he can’t move his legs. So when the thugs open the belly of the Mercededs again and shove him out over the surf…you can imagine how I feel.

I try to fight them. It doesn’t work. End of that story.

“I am a man who serves society, James Kotter Jr,” Stewart sneers. “And society is built on order. When I place an order, I expect it to be filled. When I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed. If I can’t get what I expect, how can you expect any different? Would this make us equal?”

“Are we still on camera?” I spit.

Stewart chuckles. “Facts are facts, regardless of who’s watching. You just dealt serious economic damage to your fellow man. It’s bad enough that you don’t participate in Black Friday and Cyber Monday like everyone else. Why, those two holidays do so much to fuel our economy! The cut prices help the poor, and the taxes help the needy. Your refusal to be a part of that is akin to theft. Have you ever thought of that?”

“I’ve thought of a lot of things. I’m thinking about what I’m going to do to you when your thugs aren’t around,” I say.

“Oh? Why would you say that?”

“Because if you were going to kill me, you never would have brought me aboard. You still think you can get me to do this again. You don’t seem to get it that I’m retired.” I glare, eyes burning with tears. “And you just killed my dad, who I thought was dead. That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.”

“I admire your boldness, James. I can see I underestimated you.” He looks out the rear window. I can’t see, but I imagine the W-AirHouse is mostly sunk by now. Stewart continues. “But when I want something, I will get it. You still owe me a Christmas present.”

I rise to my feet, despite the no-necks on me. “Oh, you’ll get it, Stewart. Signed and delivered, you can count on that. You’ve made two big mistakes already today. The hat trick would be letting me out of this rig alive.”

Stewart just grins that million-dollar grin, which had gotten him elected to a third term. “You may go home now. Enjoy the holidays. Next year, I will hire you again, and I will make sure you do as you’re told. Merry Christmas.”

The thugs open the door and kick me out over the beach. I use the last of the jump jet fuel to land without breaking a leg. The sky is gray, and the ocean is grayer. A few people walk across the stretch of sand, but most of them are indoors like sane people. I stare out over the water.

Dad. They killed him. Gone and back and gone again in half an hour. My heart sags with anger and loss. Someone will answer for this pain.

I walk home and slept off the shock of the day, not knowing what else to do.

I’m a simple man. I hurt people, I break things, and I sleep.


Two days later, on the real Cyber Monday, a package comes for me in the mail. The drone drops it off on my doorstep and doesn’t even wait for a signature. The box is big, like a doghouse, and has a handwritten label on it. Curiousity beats me, and I bring inside to open it up.

It’s a recreational jump jet with a punctured ionic reactor, the hole about the size of a bullet. Attached to it is a laserproof vest with an inflatable inner lining that has been deployed.

I must be grinning like an idiot.

There’s a note. I unfold it and read the handwriting, the same handwriting I’d seen on all my childhood birthday cards.

Happy Monday, Son. We’ll talk soon.