Now Appearing in this Space: Roads Not Taken.

For some time I’ve been trying to think of a consistent role for this blog.  It’s important to be consistent in any sort of writing column or subscription service–you don’t subscribe to Youtube feeds that are about video games one day and food the next (particularly if the person knows nothing about video games/food).  So I’ve been trying to hit on a consistent “brand” for this blog, and I think I’ve finally come up with something.  Unfinished stories.

Lots of writers talk about how they have a compulsion to write.  They don’t just write for money or for fame (though those help), they write because they literally can’t NOT write.  They have ideas in their head that need to come out.  The flip side of this, though, is that no writer can pursue absolutely every idea that they start.  Neil Gaiman loves to talk about the many ideas “he should really write someday,” and Rudyard Kipling was famous for ending his stories with “but that is a tale for another day.”  Because it’s a lot of work to pursue an idea, even a fun idea, to completion

This is completely me.  I have pages upon pages of fun story ideas written out, stories that are fun in themselves but which I’ll probably never pursue any further because 1) I don’t find them interesting anymore, 2) I can’t think of where to take them, or 3) I’ve got bigger projects to deal with.  And I feel bad, that I have all these great story ideas that I feel are pretty cool but will probably never be used. 

So this is my solution.  Beginning today, in this space, I’m going to start posting some of my old drafts on the blog–disused story concepts–that I haven’t worked on in ages and I doubt I’ll ever actually use.  Mostly they’re going to be scenes, (my brother says that’s how I think of stories) but I may throw in some story outlines just to provide context.Some might be fantasy, some sci-fi, some fanfic.  Some might be short, some might be long.  If someone wants to pick them up and write something out of them, so much the better.  

Here’s the first:  I thought I’d choose a semi-complete story idea for the first one, given how far you’ve read already just to get the concept.  Later ones are probably going to be more… fragmented, by nature.  These are some scenes I thought for the Four Horsemen.

i_love_this_bar____by_afalstein

The Four Horsemen were western-style vigilantes in a comic-book universe that I envisioned quite a while back.  Matthew, Marcos, Jehu, and Rev. John were inhabitants of an oil-rich border town  who attracted more than its fair share of crazies. I had some half-baked ideas of putting them in a webcomic form, along with all the other heroes I’d thought of.  It’s not an impossible plan, but by this point it’d be likely to be very different from my original drafts, so I may as well put down the drabbles I wrote here (along with some of the pictures I drew.)

death_and_taxes___by_afalstein

“I ain’t complainin’ none.”  Jehu frowned about the ruined building.  “I’m just wondering what makes you so sure this is the best place to keep an eye on the farm down there.”

“Aw, c’mon, Jehu, the Reverend knows his stuff.”  Matthew dropped to the floor, slumping comfortably against the wall.  “Just let him do his job for once, can’t ya?”

“This is not my job.”  The Reverend looked back, the dark line of his coat stiffly bent at the middle, looming against the gaping hole in the wall as he studied the crumbling concrete of the building.

“Whatever.”  Matthew shrugged carelessly.  “What would you call this then, your hobby?”

“Actually Jehu has a legitimate question.”  The Reverend turned back to the yawning crack in the side.  “I can understand why he doubts my choice.  But I have reasons.”

Jehu dropped to the floor, just across from Matthew.  “Let’s hear them then.”

“First of all, obviously, we have an excellent vantage point.”  Reverend gestured to the view.  “We can see for miles from up here.  That’s clear enough.  Also, we’re in a cluster of buildings.  If it comes to some shooting, it’ll take them a second or too to find out which one we’re in.  More, maybe, cause a ruined building ain’t the first they’ll look at.”  The Reverend snorted.  “Kinda ironic, cause that’s the other reason.  If we need to get down to bottom level, or just to another room, half the walls are all fallen in and most of the floors are pretty well rotted.  We can move about real quick if we need to.  And if we need to stay in one place,”  Reverend tapped the wall.  “This thing’s made out of concrete.  It can take a bit of pounding.”

Matthew looked over at Jehu, smirking somewhat triumphantly.  “See?  Told ya he knew his stuff.”

“You wasn’t listening to me proper.”  Jehu shot Matthew a glare.  “I said I wasn’t complaining.”  He huffed and began to clean his rifle.  “Anyway, I knew half of that already when we walked in here.”

“Uh-huh.”  Matthew grinned.

Jehu silenced the boy with a really diabolical glare.  “The part I was asking about was how the minister knewed about this.”

“I go snipe hunting out here from time to time.”  Came the Reverend’s quiet voice.  “Plenty of time to look around.  I know this area.”

There was a little silence, almost startling after the argument.  Marcos, who had sat down almost immediately upon entering, looked up.

Finally Jehu grunted.  “Whatever.  As long as it gives a good position and keeps us alive, I ain’t complaining.”

“Glad to hear it.”   Reverend pulled out his rifle from the floor.

Jehu growled as he popped a clip into his automatic.  “Can’t see how we’re so certain they’ll go through here anyway.”  .

“Es mas facil.”  Marcos spoke up.  “The ford, she is down there, they must go over and the best place across the fence is right there.  To go across the land and reach the farm, this is the quickest, and the best route.  Muy certainmente they will go through here.”

“The only certainty in life is death.”  Jehu muttered, giving Marcos a sidelong glance.

And taxes.”  Matthew grinned.

Reverend snorted but said nothing.


This was intended as a flashback to the Horsemen’s first meeting.

Ten years is a long time.

I reach within the closet.  I know it’s here, it burns into my mind all day long.  I’ve wanted to throw it out for years, let my past go, but I don’t deserve such an easy penance.

Ten years.  Ten years since I’ve felt the hot whiskey burn down my throat.  Ten years since I’ve drawn in a breath and let my troubles whisp out in smoke.  Ten years since I’ve felt a woman.  Ten years since I’ve since I’ve used this thing.

I feel the smooth barrel and close my fingers around it.  It feels the same… ten years, and it still feels the same.  I draw it from the closet, and glance along it.

“What… what is that?”  Says the kid.  I glance at him.  He’s probably never seen a sniper rifle before.

“Those work?”  I ask, pointing to the pistols on his belt.  He stares at me, bewildered.  “Do they shoot?”  I ask again.

“Uh…”  He looks at them.  “I guess so.  I never really…”

“That door…”  I point.  “…is solid oak.  Get behind it, point that gun out the window, and shoot anything that comes near the stair.”

“I… uh…”  He’s still staring at me and the gun as I move past him.  “Shoot?”

“Yes.”  I don’t turn.  “They get up the stair, run back to the vestibule and take up there.  I’ll be right down to help you.”

“Down… Where are you going?”

“Up to the tower.”  I open the door.  “Good lookout point, should be able to pick them off from a long ways.”

I don’t hear how he responds to that, or if he even follows my instructions.  I don’t hear anything as my feet ascend the stairs, don’t feel a thing as the door swings open and I stand beside the old iron bell.

I sigh as I stare down the long street.  Ten years… I wish it were a hundred.

 


 

“Kid.”  Jehu growled to his partner as an explosion shook the ground.  “What on earth made you think it was a good idea to date an arsonist?”

Wincing, Matthew ducked even deeper behind the boulder.  “Anarchist, Jehu.  She said she was an anarchist.  Not an arsonist.”

“There’s a difference?”  Jehu frowned at him.  “Seriously, you should’ve known there was something up with that girl when she asked you where the nearest weapons stockpile was.”

“She said it was for a newspaper article.”

“Son, you are a piece of work and no mistake.”  Shaking his head, Jehu pulled out another round of ammo and locked it into place.  “And you showed her?”

Matt gave an embarrassed shrug.  “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”


 

“Mabel won’t be out for a while, boy.  Why don’t you sit down and chat with me a while?”

Smiling, Matthew perched himself on the edge of the nearby bench.  He had a feeling about what was coming.

“So you like my daughter, do you?”  Rocking back and forth on his chair, the farmer chuckled as he paused to pick up a greasy rag.  “Ah yes.  Mabel’s a pretty girl, no doubt about that.”  He ran the rag over the gleaming barrel of the shotgun in his lap.  “Quite something, huh?  My little girl, all growed up.  Man, it happens so fast.”

“I’m told that’s the way it goes, sir.”  Matthew nodded, eying the box of cartridges next to the man’s foot.  SLUGS was printed in bright red letters across the top.  “I know my old man says that about me all the time.”

“Well, I imagine it’s hard for you young folks to understand.  Sort of thing you need to have children yourself to understand.  And you don’t got none of those, now do you?”  He glanced over at Matthew and laughed at the boy’s expression.  “No, I imagine not.  Too young for that yet.”

“Yessir.”  Matthew rubbed his sweaty palms together.

“So where you folks going tonight?”  The farmer picked up the gun and peered contemplatively down the barrel.  “Monument point?”

“Oh, no sir.”  Matthew quickly removed that from his plan.  “No, we just thought we’d go to the movie theater and maybe grab a bite to eat afterwards.”

“Oh?  What movie?”

“Uh….”  Matthew thought quickly.  “Dreamer’s Field.”  Something told him the farmer wouldn’t like the idea of Cheerleader Zombie Frenzy.

“Oh?  Nice movie, I hear.”  The farmer blew through the barrel.  “So tell me…”

“Matty?  Is that you?  I’m all ready!”  Mabel came tripping through the front door, all decked out in a pair of tight jeans and a halter top.  “Sorry it took me so long, I had to…”

“Best put on a jacket, child, it’s cold out there.”  The farmer frowned up at her.

“Dad, it’s the middle of August!”

“You never know what the weather’s going to do.”  The farmer frowned again.  “Best get a jacket.  Just in case.”

Mabel rolled her eyes and ducked back into the house.  Seconds later she emerged, wearing a tight jacket.  “Fine now, Daddy?”  She giggled, grabbing hold of Matthew’s arm.

“I guess so.”  The farmer stood to his feet.  “Well, you all run along and have fun now.  Be sure to be back round ten or so.  I should be here when you get back.  Fact…”  he mused, picking up the gleaming shotgun and looking it over.  “…I’ll probably be up all night cleaning this here gun.”

“Sure thing, Dad.”  Mabel nodded.  “See you later!”

“See you later, child.  Matt, was nice to meet you.”  The farmer looked Matthew straight in the eye.  “Don’t do nothing crazy out there.”  He added, sliding a cartridge into the shotgun.

The shotgun clicked shut.

There were two things that always confused Matt when he went out on dates.  One, was why all fathers felt the need to give him the same speech when he was clearly a respectable, law-abiding vigilante who fought dangers to society on a daily basis.  And two, why it still scared him after all these years.


Matthew, the playboy of the group, was intended to eventually get serious with an Amish girl, which would go badly.

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”

“Son, this here church is Baptist.  We don’t do confessions.  You wanna confess, St. Peters is across the road.  Now come out of the closet and stop being silly.”

There was a shivering silence, and Reverend John let out an annoyed sigh.  “Look, Matthew, if ya stay in there much longer, yer gonna get the suits all creased up.  How about you come out and we’ll talk about it gentle-man-like.”

Again a silence.  Reverend groaned and clapped his hand to his forehead.  “Okay, fine.  What the Sam Hill is going on, anyway?  Jehu told me you had some kinda tiff with Edith’s father.”

“That’s one way to say it, I guess.”  Matthew’s voice replied in a sort of hysterical whisper.  “Just a little one.”

“Well, what happened?  He’s never made a fuss about all this before.”

“Well, he never knew about it before.”  Came a tiny whisper.  “Edith never told him.”

Reverend’s eyebrows gave a tiny quiver.  “Idiot young folks.”  He muttered.  “Can’t think straight these days.  What’d she do that for?”

“I… I asked her not to.”

“Fool!”  the Reverend exploded.

“Do you think he would’ve let me within twenty feet of Edith if he had?”  Matthew’s voice was louder now, a savage hiss.  “How could I have even gotten to know her otherwise?”

Reverend shrugged.  “He mighta.  In any’a case, sooner or later you woulda had to tell him, and he’s the type that’d rather know sooner instead of later.”

A short silence, and then Matthew’s voice floated through the woodwork, a question in it.  “Why would I have had to tell him?”

The Reverend frowned censorily at the closet knob.  “He’d have to go to the weddin’ service, Matthew.”  He waited for an answer, and, not getting any, continued on.  “Suppose you coulda gone to Vegas and then hid out somewhere, but I don’t calculate Miss Yelnap woulda taken to that well.”

The silence continued for another few moments, and then Matthew choked out another answer.  “W.. w… well… I wasn’t exactly thinking of…”

“What?”  The Reverend’s hand stopped on its way to his chin.

“…When I started dating her.”  Matthew’s voice sounded strangled  “I wasn’t thinking at all about… that, just about… having some fun.”

 

“What?”  The Reverend repeated.

“Now, well… I don’t know… really.”

There was a short silence, and finally a long sigh came stretching out from the Reverend.  He bent his head, took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes.

“Okay.”  He said looking up.  “I ain’t saying you shoulda thought of that afore you started this whole business.  This sort of thing ain’t something you can plan, so much, more the kind of thing that more sneaks up behind ya and creeps on you slow-like.”

A shivering chuckle was his only answer.

“I am saying maybe you should been thinking of more than just a bit of fun, when you started going out.”

“I know, I know.” The reply had a sort of sobbing annoyance to it.  “But I was young then!  I was stupid!”

“Hmmph.”  The Reverend seemed inclined to say something further, but shook his head.


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