The Pit

by Joel M. Traylor

Sir Valerus brushed his blond hair aside as he squinted down into the pit. A nasty collection of sharpened spikes stared back at him, their tips coated with a dark liquid – poison, no doubt. It was maybe thirty feet to the bottom, give or take. If one somehow survived the fall and miraculously avoided the spikes, there would be no climbing back out; the smooth walls offered no purchase. The pit extended from wall to wall, and he judged the distance across to be nearly twenty feet. A narrow beam of a bridge had been raised up on the other side, and the release lever waited nearby. It would take an incredible leap, but incredible had always been the knight’s specialty. He began peeling off his gauntlets.The Pit

“Are you mad?” Kestral the useless young mage asked over his shoulder. “It’s too far.”

“Why don’t you cast a spell to fly me across?” Valerus fired back, setting his iron helmet down on the stone floor. He unstrapped his sheathed sword next.

“I have no spell for that,” Kestral said. Valerus could hear his embarrassment.

“We’ll find another way in.” This was Horrock the thief. He had tried over a dozen times to catch the release lever with a noosed rope, and he had missed every time.

“There is no other way,” Valerus said. He stood up and handed Horrock his chest plate. “Hang onto this for me. I’ll be right back.”

“You cocky shit,” Horrock said. “You’re going to kill yourself.”

“Nonsense.”

Valerus turned and walked back down the hallway. Twenty paces ought to do it. He turned and took a very deep breath.

“The kingdom needs me,” he stated. “And I shall not disappoint her.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Horrock said.

“Thank you for your kind words of support,” Valerus said and smiled. He had never backed down from a challenge, and he wasn’t going to start this day.

He ran, his boots pounding stone, lungs sucking air. And then he leapt, his muscles flexing, feet pushing off. The walls slid by, and he knew he would make it. And he did. His boot hit stone, and his momentum threw him forward.

He heard the crack, and the stone gave way. He grabbed at the eroding edge, but his hands found nothing to grip. And then he was falling back into the open air. Into the pit.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInShare

Creeper

by Joel M. Traylor

The creep broke in on Tuesday close to midnight. I heard the doorknob jiggle and made my way to the living room, silent steps across the hardwoods in the dark of the apartment. Scratching and fumbling, and then the lock yielded with a hard click. I fell back into the shadows as the door opened without a creak, and the man stepped inside.

CreeperHe had been watching her for days. Many men watched her because of her beauty, but this man was persistent. I had seen him meandering up and down the block, and sometimes he loitered at the bus stop across the street. He never looked directly at our building, just quick and careful glances. But he stared at her when she walked, when she stepped into the café for a to-go tea, when she hailed a cab, when she breathed.

The man tucked his tools into his pocket, stepped inside and gently closed the door. He was impressive in his plainness, his charcoal gray button-down shirt tucked into blue jeans. He kept his brown hair trimmed and parted on the side. Glasses with round frames rested on his completely average nose. He might have been in his late thirties, not that anyone would remember him.

He inhaled slowly, no doubt tasting the scent of her that permeated the cozy space. He looked to the hallway and paused, listening. There was no sound besides passing traffic and a distant car alarm. One foot after another, he slipped down the hall without a sound until he stood in the doorway.

Over his shoulder, I could see her sleeping. She still hugged the left edge of the queen bed, the other side now empty. Her brown hair played across her cheek, her lips parted slightly. She seemed entirely at peace.

The man produced a pair of long zip-ties and stepped slowly into the room. I could not bear to watch. I would have to reveal myself soon, before it was too late. I had to protect her. She still needed me. I had to take care of this. I had to take care of her.

She moved in a blur, and something hard connected with the man’s head. He dropped to the floor. She stood over him, a wooden baseball bat in her hand.

I sighed relief, and she stared at me for the first time for months, directly at me.

“John?” she asked, her eyes wide, pleading, tears forming at the edges. “Is that you?”

The room darkened as I began to lessen. My work here was done. She would be okay. I could finally see that she could take care of herself now.

Rage

by Joel M. Traylor

Gunter roared like thunder as he charged down the hill, slipping and stumbling, the broadsword pulled back over his head. His blond hair flew wild, his eyes crazed. They had killed her and now he would kill them. This he knew, and this was all that mattered. They would pay. He was the mad angel of death. And so his vengeance descended upon them.

The bandits scrambled to their feet, their greasy clothes barely more than beggars’ rags. The bald one had been fumbling to start a fire as the sun set blood red behind him. He abandoned his sticks and his flint and scrambled for a weapon. The two others had already stood up to face Gunter’s lunatic charge. One man carried a small sword, barely bigger than a knife, and he wore more scars than skin on his cheeks. The other one with greasy dark hair held only a simple axe, like a farmer would use to chop wood. He smiled. Gunter decided he would kill this man first.

Gunter let his rage carry him between the trees and over the rocks, sliding down the dirt ridge on an avalanche of stones into their campsite. But he didn’t bring his sword down in time, and instead his shoulder crashed into the axe-wielding man. Something bit his back as they both tumbled to the ground.

The pain tore into him, and he swallowed the scream and forced himself up. Another bite, this time in the shoulder, and he knew he had dropped his blade. He stumbled around.

“Idiot boy,” the scarred man said. “What d’you want?”

Gunter tried to speak, but he only spit blood. They didn’t know him. They didn’t know her. They didn’t remember what they had done, or they didn’t care.

The metal licked his throat, and he lifted his hands to the wound. The strength went out of his arms, and he fell forward into the pile of sticks. The wood turned red, and the ground darkened. He tasted dirt. He couldn’t move.

“He’s bleedin’ on our firewood,” one of them said.

“So get some more wood.” Some other voice now.

They didn’t know what they had done, and he could never tell them. Gunter’s rage had betrayed him.

Checking In

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here, and I wanted to catch up with some love to awesome things that make life better. Here goes…

What We Do in the ShadowsRed Rising & Golden Son – Pierce Brown’s novels are the most fun I’ve had between book covers since I don’t know when. These books are an incredible ride. Can’t wait for the third!

California Bones – Reading now, and I’m blown away by the weird and incredibly imaginative world Greg van Eekhout has created. So much fun.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Holy shit! This is why I go to the movies.

What We Do in the Shadows – Brilliant and hilarious.

The Martian – The perfect adaptation of a terrific book.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck – Wow.

Scream Queens – So dark, so funny. Love it!

Dark Matter – If you missed it, it’s on Netflix. It’s a good time.


Kung Fury – Just watch it. Now.


Too Many Cooks – Wonderfully demented.

Continuing to love Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Banshee, Gotham, Amy Schumer (for her TV show, her standup and Trainwreck!), Nathan for You, and Billy on the Street. Fear the Walking Dead and Killjoys both surprised and delighted me. No, I haven’t seen Ex Machina yet; I will, I promise. And yes, I am stupid excited for Spectre, Fallout 4 and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, most of all.

Life is otherwise good, just searching for my next gig and doing some writing. Joanna is back to work on Rectify, and we’re happily enjoying married life. Sparkle the dog is asleep between the couch and the coffee table.

Hope this finds you well.

Maze of Frustration

The Maze RunnerI went in excited to see The Maze Runner. I haven’t read the books, but they sound cool. Mazes have fascinated me since I was a kid, and this seemed like a rich opportunity to explore their mystery and adventure.

The movie is a good time, for the most part. I don’t watch Teen Wolf and am not familiar with teen heartthrob Dylan O’Brien, but he makes a solid leading man. It’s also nice to see Thomas Brodie-Sangster who nerds know as Jojen Reed from Game of Thrones; he brings real acting chops and credibility to the film. The maze itself is an awesome visual achievement. You really feel its massive scale and power. It seems entirely real, from its cracked and dirty concrete to the vines that have overgrown it. And its terrifyingly rendered denizens are clattering nightmares you won’t soon forget.

Unfortunately, the film is guilty of two major sins: exposition and withholding. As an adaptation, I can almost forgive the first. The movie has to convey a lot of information to the audience or nothing will make sense. But it’s too often done in marathon question and answer sessions, where the amnesiac main character gets stuck tediously interviewing people to find out what’s going on around him. As hungry as we are to learn about this mysterious world, it’s hard not to squirm in your seat during these monster data downloads.

I have a much harder time forgiving the film’s need to withhold information from the audience. It makes for an extremely frustrating viewing experience. I won’t give anything away that’s not obvious from the trailers, I promise, but the film contains some major mysteries that we’re dying for answers to. When the characters on screen actually start to figure things out (or regain their own memories and knowledge), they still don’t tell us what the hell is going on! In one instance, one character blurts that it doesn’t matter. Wrong! It matters to me! Later, when we are finally given what should be real answers, they’re vague and don’t ring true. It’s maddening.

Let’s talk about dramatic irony for a minute. As most writing students know, it occurs when the audience knows something the characters in the story don’t. It creates tension and can work very effectively. We know there’s a monster hiding in the closet as the main character reaches for the doorknob, and we’re climbing backwards out of our chairs in anticipation. Cool stuff. And then there’s the opposite of dramatic irony, let’s call it reverse dramatic irony, where the characters know more than the audience. This can work well in the case of a first person narrative, especially one involving an unreliable narrator. When it doesn’t work, it feels like the story’s creators are fucking with the audience by intentionally withholding. It creates the wrong kind of tension: tension between the audience and the movie. It sucks. This is the main problem with The Maze Runner.

In Robert Rodriguez’s fascinating interview with Quentin Tarantino on El Rey’s exceptional The Director’s Chair, Tarantino talks about toying with the audience:

Tarantino considers himself an audience member. He’s one of us. He knows what our expectations are, and he subverts them. He gives us something fresh and better than what we expect when he makes his “left turn.” He still delivers. He doesn’t withhold.

PierceBrownsRedRisingI recently read Red Rising by Pierce Brown, and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a master class in setting up compelling questions and then providing satisfying answers that also create new questions. By continually deepening the story’s mysteries and shifting the paradigm, Brown creates a powerfully addictive read. And he doesn’t withhold.

It is unfortunate The Maze Runner does. It could have been a truly great experience, perhaps one of my favorite movies of the year. I still like it, sure. It’s well-made and lots of fun, but I wish it didn’t make me so angry.

Of course, now I must read the books. I need some damn answers!