Sunday, November 21, 2010

Don't Fear the Reaper...

...or maybe you should.  Because he's coming.  Let there be absolutely zero question.
We spend our lives ducking the Reaper's Scythe so deftly, we begin to doubt his existance.  We begin to think we're better than everyone else. The long, drawn out absence he grants us while we're off having our fun comes with a hefty pricetag.  We think the reaper has forgotten us. Our complacence is his ally.  The catch is, he's always there, waiting.  He knows our guard is dropping and he relishes that.  He's not evil though.  He's a force of nature, as immutable as time and just as patient.

For those of you who don't know, my mother passed away Friday night.
I was in the backyard.

She had an aneurysm. She died instantly. I had just taken her home from the hospital with my dad. In the car I told her I had a hockey game Sat night that I was thinking of missing out on. She told me to play. She told me she wanted me to play. I stopped at Church's for wings because she was hungry. I got her inside and went out back. I was playing with the dog and just standing there when Caesar started acting odd.

I went inside and saw her lying on the floor. There was a knot on her head, she wasn't breathing and had no pulse. I called 911 and started doing CPR. The paramedics arrived within 2 minutes and did what they could. They rushed her to Methodist hosp. I followed.

Jay was at the Nutcracker. His phone was off, I sent him a text saying Mom is dead. I prayed I was overreacting. I got to Methodist and found the room they had her in. They were working on her feverishly. They wouldn't let me watch. They told me that they would send a doctor and a chaplin to talk to me and put me in a room with a phone.

A mexican girl walked into my room and called her boyfriend on her phone, but didn't stay long. About 20 minutes passed when I couldn't wait any more. I went looking for them. The doctor was walking towards me with the chaplin. He shook my hand and said something.  I have no idea what he said, but he was trying to prepare me for the news I knew was coming. I told him to just tell me. He told me my mother was dead. He may as well have hit me in the gut with a sledgehammer, because even though I was expecting it...I was in no way prepared for it.

They took me to the body and I asked to be left alone with her. I didn't want anyone to watch me cry. Jay arrived about 5 minutes later. He had called mom's brother Joe and my dad's sister Peggy. They both arrived within 30 minutes. Jay mentioned the police may want to talk to me just because of the circumstances. The Chaplin did that for them.

We stayed till everyone had seen her. Then we went make the phone calls. My friend James came by and sat with Jay and me for a while. I eventually fell asleep around 3:30am. The phone started ringing at 7am. We talked to almost everyone.   If I missed you, I apologize.  It has been busy and I know you understand.

I tried getting some sleep but it was pointless. I played hockey and got shelled for 11 goals (on 49 shots) Only 3 of my teammates knew, and I preferred it that way. I went out with the guys after the game and had a beer. I got home Lastnight at 2:15...falling asleep by 3 only to be woken up at 5 by the VA telling me my father was about to die.

Jay and I rushed to the hospital and found out it was a false alarm. We stayed till 7 this morning and returned home. The phone started ringing again at 10am. I stayed up...watched the Cowboys game...talked to some more family and even after all that...I STILL expect to walk into that house and see her sitting on the couch watching the Food Network.  I fully expect to be able to go talk to my mother and tell her all about my day.  I expect to be able to show her the latest comic I am working on.  She is my biggest fan, after all.  It isn't until the reality hits me that the pain starts.  It is not a pain I want.  It's not a pain I think I am capable of handling.

But I will.  I have to.

The worst part? I still can't get the smell off of me from giving her CPR. It's been following me this entire time.
What is the moral?  What do I want you to take away from this?  It's simple.  Take the day you have today as if it will be the last one you have.  Treat everyone you love as if this will be the last time you will ever see them.  You got all this from the Dead Poet's Society.  Carpe Diem and all that.  But I'm here to tell you.  I sat next to my mother 20 minutes before she died and I didn't tell her I love her.  I will take that with me to my own grave...and I have no doubts the reaper's sharpening his scythe right now.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Zombie Tom

I bend to the will of the people.  I will write and draw a zombie story that is 100% mine.  For any who want to know what MY take on Zombies is the first peek.  I don't know how long the story will be...or how it will end.  But these are the first 3 pages as they are.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

...on the hero

I've given this just enough thought to interest me.  That alone should worry you. 

What is a hero and why do we want them?  Why do we need them?

I look through countless stories out there these days and the one thing that strikes me about them the most is the hero. The protagonist.  This creation is normally considered the good guy but not always.  I'm going to avoid the whole when is a good guy the best hero and when should you use a bad guy instead? question altogether.  That's not what's stuck in my craw right now.  The thinig I can't shake from my head is the question of wether you need a hero at all in a story.  Sure you can write a short story with no central character, but at SOME point, a hero will emerge.  The one character the reader can relate to and cheer for.    But is such a creation necessary for a story?

As a writer, one learns fast that plot drives story.  And we also learn that Plot is derived from one of the seven basic conflicts (Borrowed from wikipedia). Man against Man, Man against Nature, Man against Himself, Man against God, Man against Society, Man caught in the Middle, Man & Woman.  In each of these conflicts, someone (or something) is at odds with someone (or something) else.  You can't have a decent story without one of these, we are told.  I've always been a person whose initial reaction on being told I cannot do something is to go out and do it.

I'm not saying it's possible...or even practical.  What kind of a story can you have without a hero?  How can you establish conflict without a protagonist? 

I'm not as well read as I would like to be.  There are holes in my literary index you could drive a truck through.  I never read Faulkner.  I never read Frost.  In fact, if you name 10 of the top writers of the last 100 years, it would be a safe bet that I have probably read one or two of them at most.  That said, a person with a 20% coverage of today's writers is hardly the best person to sy "It ain't never been done."  I'm sure that some experimental type got this identical bug in his britches and his effort was widely appreciated.  SO I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel or even remotely claim this quest as my creation.  I am claiming it as my own that I want to know what a story without a hero looks like.  I want to know what it is about the reader that demands his presence.  What is it within the working dynamics of any story that implicitly states "Thou Shalt Have a Hero!!" 

I'm probably chasing a red herring here, but I don't care.  There are no heroes in your daily life.  None that are worth noting that is.  The ones that rise above it on a daily basis never have their story told.  And that's not even my main concern here.  There is limited conflict in your day to day life.  You struggle against unseen foes, you triumph 30% of the time and fail 60% of the time.  The last 10% is a tie.  But no one wants to hear about your sandwich story...even though you did something quite heroic in achieving it.  That's still a story, though.  And You are the hero of it.  But what's the story about that homeless guy on the corner with the sign?  Is he a hero?  In the literrary basis of the term, if I write a story about his struggles, he becomes the hero.    But what has he done?  He got $2.50 today and was able to eat.  That's his big triumph.  You ought to be impressed.

What is it that attracts us to read about great deeds done by others?  You put yourself in the shoes of the first audience, gathered around the campfire as Ugluuk tells the others of Aghaak's battle with the fearsome lion.  He tells of masterful feints and powerful strokes that slay the beast in heroic fashion.  You are impressed with this story and it inspires you to duplicate Aghaak's actions.  Yet when you meet a lion in the woods later, he eats you.  End of story.  But that first tale about Aghaak and the lion has done it's work and convinced you to fight a lion.  It doesn't matter that the lion is now chewing on your bones.  We look to the stories as targets.  We look at them as entertainment when they instill in us the desire to get better and achieve more.  We look at them as preachy when they tell us what we ought to do rather than what we want to do.  We look at them as wise when they show us that through the right mindset, any obstacle can be overcome.  But they are all boring when there is no hero.

We need his act as a mirror held against our own actions.  Were WE on Odysseus' ship, would we have ordered ourselves lashed to the mast as we passed the sirens?  Would We have been crafty enough to tell the cyclops our name was No Man?   Odds are we would have jumped overboard at the first note of their song...or else had our femurs serve as Polyphemus' toothpick.  That Odysseus succeeded where we would have failed gives us a target.  We want to be that courageous.  We need to be that wise.   That is the role of the hero, I suppose.

In the greater scheme of things, a hero is simply one literary device.  Like the plot, like the introduction.  You think of it in terms like that and it is not long before you try to work a story that leaves one of those devices out.  Much like a jet airplane.  At it's core, all a plane is, the thing that makes it go, is an jet engine.  Were it not for that, it would cease to me a plane and become a plain old trailer.  You think to yourself 'that engine needs to be attached to something, so you need a fuselage.  Ok.  Now you think 'well...I need wings or it won't fly'.  Then you add landing gear so it can land.  Next you give it a pilot.  He's going to need a cockpit, naturally.  When that's said and done...there is still a laundry list of things it still needs.  Seats, seatbelts, windows, rudders, drinks, bathrooms.....passengers.  The thing of it is.  The main part may very well be the engine.  But without those other components, it's worthless.  It's not a plane.  The hero is the engine of the story.  His actions are necessary to draw our interest.  His struggle is necessary to boost our own ego.

Thinking of it in terms like that...I can see why we need heroes in our stories.  I may not like it..but I understand their necessity.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I like working by myself.  I just do it so often that it is second nature to me.  It's a rare moment when I collaborate.  It's EVEN Rarer when I draw something someone else wrote.  I love seeing a good story and being able to add to it in any way I can.  That said, when my buddy Erik Hendrix The Last Bard emailed me asking if I would be willing to work on a story with him, I was a bit reticent to do so.  That was untill he told me the story.  We comic guys are super protective of our pets.  We are so afraid others will take our efforts and make the dollar we were unable to squeeze out of it that we often keep these stories in a folder and let no other human see them.  I'm not that way.  I share (some would say too much) almost all I do.  When Erik shared this with me, I jumped on it. I was supposed to be published last year, but that fell through.
Here are a few pages.  I promised Erik I wouldn't share them all, but the comic is so good I had to give you a taste.

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I've Always been facinated with the turn of the century.  With our nation's gradual shift from agrarian to industrial.  From our weaning from gaslight to suckling on the teet of mother electricity.  That era is an untapped trove of story and drama.  The characters that actually LIVED in this time are more colorful than those created by almost any writer since.  That old saying truth is stranger than fiction holds true.  THAT SAID...I took that era and held my peculiar magnifying glass to it and THIS comic was the result.
There is more to this than meets the surface.  I only jotted down the first 5 pages of a story that easilly will number in the 80-100 page range.  There are characters and events that I'll hit with this that will truly make you stand up for a minute and ask yourself if I just did that.  I'll answer that now.  Yes.  Yes I just did that.

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The Wright Brothers

This was my answer to one of my favorite TV shows as a kid, Simon and Simon.  Along with magnum...this was one I made time to watch, likening the interraction between Rick and AJ to that of me and my own brother.  When I sat down to write this one, however, I left THAT dynamic, as well as the one between me and my own brother out of it and attempted to capture the dynamic between two polar opposites, tied together by blood, and little else.  In a way...that IS the heart of Simon and Simon, as well me and my brother.  It's a brother thing regardless of how you look at it.  My story is a finite one with this one, but I still haven't decided if it will go on beyond the conclusion of this.  The future is unwritten, we are often told. 
That said, I have altered the setting a bit in this.  It takes place in a time similar to ours, but it has different inventions and culture.  Most of what you know and expect is the same but a lot of the key components have been altered.  That plays into the story a lot.  You don't get a feel for this from the brief 5-page sample I did...but it is painfully evident in the full story.

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Barnabus Moss

This one is a little different in that it started out initially as a draft for a novel.  I wanted to change the setup after getting about 40 pages written so re-tasked it as a comic.  It details the life of a very old man named Barnabus Moss who hunts the Old Ones.  In this setting, all of the Gods that were worshiped still exist.  Some are content with their retirement, others...not so much.  I tried for a more comic-style with this one than my normal fare.  More mainstream if you will.  I'll let you judge the success or failure of that attempt.
I did this in Black and white initially but fully intend on coloring it at some point.

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Bad Seeds

A while back I did a short story comic called Bad Seeds.  It was in answer to a challenge I made for myself to create several new different comics I could serialize and do on a weekly basis.  This particular one dealt with gangsters from America's prohibition era who were dead....or so everyone  thought.   i started this one with one rule.  I was to adhere to the chiaroscurro rule of NO OUTLINES.  I tried to use shadows to sculpt my images.  For the most part it worked.  It failed in a few places (as you can no doubt see) but overall I was pleased with the result.  I never finished this particular story, but I will eventually if it garners enough interest for me to do so.
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Friday, November 12, 2010

The Project (The Vulture)

This one is a little different.  I'm going to write a story in bits and pieces and give you a front row seat.  I'll post the story as it comes..unedited and raw.  I'll edit as I go so you will have to keep up. 
It's not going to be long though....I really have no idea how long it WILL be to be honest.  The story came to me in the first sentence.  Beyond that I have no idea what will happen or where this will go.  Hell.  I haven't even named the character yet.

The Vulture (A Story in Progress)

(C) 2010 by: Roger A Wilbanks

Like most vultures, he didn't mind the stench. Not anymore at least. Digging through the moldy piles of filth found these days is a survival tool. You never know what you'll find in them, but they're not for the picky person. There weren't many of those left these days. Picky people came from the world before this one. A world separated from this one by years of fire and wind. He was a product of this modern age; a changed man. It was the scarcity of comfort that changed him.

He flipped through a magazine he uncovered; a relic from a yesterday foriegn in recollection. It advertised an article titled "What would you do if...?" which presented absurd social situations and posed polarizing moral questions to the reader.

"What would you do if, your neighbor kept a tool he borrowed?"
"What would you do if, a stranger didn't hold open the door for you?"
"What would you do if, you found a $5 bill in line at the checkout?"

The innocence of this article stung. These questions were asked by a ghost. A corpse that died a long time ago in fire and flood. No one today even mourned his passing. This world would laugh at him and take all he possessed .  This world’s only morally challenging question is “Why shouldn’t I kill you?”

“I’d kill the neighbor, kick the door down and what the hell is a $5 bill?”

This pile yielded very little treasure aside from the magazine. He put these items, two cans of cat food, a deck of cards and three pencils in the worn leather satchel at his hip. Civilization these days amounted to nothing more than similar piles of trash scattered throughout the barren land he wandered. One heard whispers of communities, walled off from the open and sealed from the harsh elements. One heard of them but never saw one. These communities were oddities. They may as well be unicorns. But if he ever came across one, his face would crack into a crooked smile. He respected no person involved in something so wasteful. There was no room in this world for cooperation and compassion. Those who practiced these vices were weak. Their comminuties were weak. They were found money to the wanderer strong and smart enough to take them. He laughed out loud at the notion of people working hand in hand to get by. Extra hands meant extra mouths to feed. These would only slow him down. You had to earn their keep to stay around and none of them ever could.

The notion of helping your fellow man had vanished in Apophis’ wake. Though the state-sized asteroid had missed the Earth, it didn’t travel alone. For three weeks, the sky rained down its agents of fire and destruction. Even the missiles that missed the people damaged them. Oceanic impacts created tidal waves that flattened coastal cities like sand castles, leaving the skeletal remains of skyscrapers poking through the mud like tombstones. Monuments to the people buried below who once lived and worked in them. They spoke of a world filled with weakness, filled with people convinced others would be there to help them. They spoke of fools.

Yes…this world was different. In all the ways that mattered. He was just old enough to remember the ghost of the old one. Bits and pieces of a past time played out inside his mind. Some of these memories rang through the fog of time clear and focused while others melted into oblivion. He remembered baseball. He remembered movies. That helping hand thing? He drew a blank.

He repacked his bags to conserve space and weight. These two things were most important to a wanderer like himself without the aid of a mule or a wagon. When he traveled, he traveled light. That was the best way to avoid complications. Things weighed you down. He had seen with his own eyes many a man fall to his death because his free hand grasped a treasure rather than self-preservation. He kept the food in one bag and the necessities in another. This helped him know where his survival stood. When the food bag was heavier than the other one, he was ok. It was when it got lighter that it was time to worry. His food bag was light now. His entire pantry consisted of 2 bags of rice, 9 cans of unlabeled mystery meat and a dozen high-energy candy bars. He didn’t pack spices or condiments. He found these unnecessary and they took up valuable space. He did have a block of salt that he shaved into his food, but that was the extent of his diet. He added the cat food to this bag and increased its weight enough to delay the alarm bell for a few more days at least. He left the magazine in the pile. What need did he have for painful memories? Let a sentimental fool find this. He would appreciate it more.

He climbed the highest hill in view to survey the horizon. He did this with caution because he had no way of knowing whose eyes would be doing the same. As he crawled to the crest of the hill, he saw it. An unmistakable pillar of smoke signalled a camp nearby. This was a large pillar. That meant one of two things. This was an inexperienced traveler, unaware of protective concealment or a large party in need of a large fire. He licked his lips at the thought of either scenario. The inexperienced traveler would be easy prey and the large party would allow for some trade possibilities provided he approached it with caution.

He was wary of large groups in the wild. They were unknowable. If the people were fighters or bandits, he could lose everything, perhaps even his life. If they were survivors, they may be open to the possibility of trade. If they were exiles or even better, Infirma…they were prey. He crawled back down the back of the hil and decided to reevaluate the rubbish pile. He took his few valuables and buried them behind brush so the telltale signs of disturbed earth would be hidden. That done, he repacked his new bags with the essentials. He placed the cat food and a few candy bars in his new food bag, certain that being seen without food would alert the strangers to the ploy he was using. He packed another bag with two magazines and anything else of value he found in the pile. A rusty stapler with about 45 staples and a cracked magnifying glass were placed in this collection along with two heavy iron scraps. These scraps were true treasure if that fire contained a smithy. They were worthless otherwise. He saw a picture frame in the pile. It was stainless steel. That would fetch good value in trade. The picture was rotted away, but there was a ghost image of a woman and a tree on the backing board. To these items, he added small nicknacks as he found them. A rubber dinosaur, a worn pencil, paper clips and three golf balls filled the remaining space in the pack. His new inventory packed, he started the walk around the hill towards the camp.

He would know in an instant what he dealt with. Bandits would have scouts. He would be in their grasp first, before he ever saw them. Travelers would have a watch posted. He would get within eyesight of the camp before they were alerted. Infirma would let him just walk on in. He knew that if he got within eyesight of the camp he won and just in case, the reassuring weight of the knife blade sewn into his sleeve would give him enough of an advantage should the opposite prove true. He looked weak. He did this on purpose. Better to let the enemy think you an easy target and be surprised than to warn them in advance and take away the pleasure of that last quizical look as you slit their throat. He took pains to walk with a slight limp just in case eyes were on him. He did this often enough the limp became his normal manner of walking. He took great pains to stay clean. He knew the cost of allowing filth into your person. With no antibiotics in his pack, the danger of infection was a real one so he washed regularly. This was a sign of caution he didn’t wish to convey to his unmet foes. He took a moment to dirty himself before walking further by dropping down to the rust colored earth and rolling for a while.

When he was sufficiently filthy, he moved on. “This is where the scouts will be.” He thought. He limped through two massive rocks that opened into a clearing. “If there’s anyone here…I’ll be set upon any second now.” He continued his distracted walk. A snap in the brush alerted him but he made no outward motion of alarm. He knew it was harmless. Perhaps a small animal or maybe a thrown rock, used to gauge his reaction. Either way, he walked past it as if it weren’t even there and the sound failed to repeat itself. As he neared the edge of the clearing he relaxed just a bit inside. His concern about facing bandits eased and he began to think about the other options. His previous run ins with the Lawless had left enough scars on him to advise against seeking to repeat them, but these were tough times and you had to take risks to survive. Siting in a cave being cautious was just the same as walling yourself up in a tomb and singing a dirge. Either way, you were as good as dead. He limped onward and could now see the top of the smoke pillar. He was getting close. The watch would see him in a moment.

The camp was 20 yards away when he saw it. They hid it well. The people who set up here were good. They had taken up in a very defensible position. The bandits that broke through had come in force and the signs of a terrible fight were all scattered across the earth. He walked over the dead bodies of the bandits and neared the camp. There was no outward sign it was inhabited. The fire he saw, was not a camp fire as he had first thought. It was a wagon set ablaze. He saw the tents the people used scattered about as if kicked with a giant foot. The dead were all over the place. Whatever was in this camp must have been of great value for the bandits to send this many to take it. This thought tickled something inside him. There were a lot of dead. Perhaps this was a wipe out? There were even numbers of dead scattered about. The bandits could be told by the blue bandannas they tied around their heads. The campers were discernable by their mismatched clothing. There were about 100 bodies around the camp as he crossed the perimeter. “This will be where they take me.” He thought.

Nothing happened. He walked to the closest tent and said in a forced harshness “Hello? Is anyone here?” He got no reply. He looked into the tent and saw two people, a camper and a bandit. Both had stabbed the other and lie in a pool of their mixed lifeblood. He saw no valuables and moved on. Any survivors of this massacre would be watching him now intently. Should they be bandits, his life was all but forfeit. He would feel the arrow long before he heard or saw it. If they proved to be campers, the same could hold true. He felt the danger of his situation begin to close a net around him and walked to the next tent. Empty. He examined each tent for valuables and found none. He looked to the wagon and saw a few cans under the flame. Taking a blanket from a tent he extinguished the flame. Still, no person challenged his presence. He began to relax. “Just another pile of found treasure.” He thought.

He was able to salvage three dozen burned cans filled with God knows what from the wagon. The vehicle itself was burnt beyond repair. Several of the tents were of usable quality so he went about removing the bloody combatants from them and cleaning them up. He would keep one for his own and use the others as trade goods. He found a shovel and a bag of tools. Though these would be valuable to have, he traveled too often to warrant carrying them about. The extra weight would not make up for their usefulness. He removed the hammer and a screwdriver from the bag and added these to his possessions. Let some other romantic fool cart off the rest. There were three grainsacks that still contained some of their former contents. He collected these into one much smaller sack and after checking for leaks, went about collecting the waterskins.

This was the one burden he was happy to carry. Water had become scarce in the days following the Earth’s devestation. He heard rumor of massive ice caps forming in the northern regions, but this was a fanciful notion as far as he was concerned. There was no way he would willingly travel that far north for water when he could just as easilly take it from the weaker survivors. He had found massive plastic drums a while back and buried them. He returned to these drums with any and all the extra water he could collect. This was his treasure and he guarded it’s existance with vigor. He counted often on both hands the number of people he had killed to protect it’s secrecy. Most of these victims had it comng, he thought. But the ones who didn’t, the ones who learned of the stash accidentally, these were the ghosts who haunted the little sleep he got. Especially the children. He hated himself more and more when that little girl’s eyes opened one last time to ask him “Why?” against his mind’s eye.

He shook himself alert from this daydream at the sound of another snapped branch. By this time he was certain that no danger lurked in the rock and brush that enclosed the camp. He held no fear for the creator of these snaps. Part of him harbored the hope that it was another person. The monotony of traveling alone could often be broken by just the simplest of conversations. What did it matter if he was likely to steal the life of his chat mate? At least his boredom would be diverted for one more day.

The unmistakable rustle of life caught his ear. His hand gripped the shovel he had found and he called out in a voice hoarse with neglect “Who goes there?” He received no reply. His curiousity stoked, he ventured into the perimeter of the camp. Several large boulders marked the edge of this oasis. There were three gaps in the rock. Two of them were large enough for two men to walk abreast. The other opened to a panoramic vista looking out on the valley below. The vista was fenced in by a brush wall the size of a man in height. There were gaps in the wall where the residents of the camp could see clearly into the valley but from below, this wall was solid and gave up none of its secrets. The wall of brush was about 3 meters deep in places and thinned to less than a foot in the gaps. It was from the deepest section that the rustle came from. He focused his attention on this section and redoubled his grip on the shovel.

“Come out!” he barked. No one complied. The rustling had ceased and now a silent stalemate gripped both participants, seen and unseen, in the exchange. He scanned the brush for any giveaway of the identity of his foe. The light had darkened behind the wall and shielded him. As the seconds ticked away , he began to feel a sense of urgency like nothing he knew before. He was actually afraid of this spy in a manner that was alien to him. His mind raced images past his mind’s eye of the creator of that noise and each image was more fearsome than the last. He could take no more of this torment. The sun was falling from the sky like it had an important errand to run. He was running out of time. As soon as darkness wrapped it’s cloak over the camp, the opponent would have the upper hand. If he was going to act, the time was now.

He flipped the shovel in his hand, gripping it like a javelin and threw his weapon into the left side of the wall. He hoped to force his opponent to flee through the right side of the wall where he would be waiting, hammer in hand. This worked perfectly and he was there at the gap as his nemesis raced out of the protection the brush gave. He expected a grizzley bear. He expected a mountain lion. He hoped for a wounded bandit.   What he was given instead was an 8 month old black and yellow kitten. Frozen in place, inches from each other, the foes regarded one another. The kitten showed no fear and his own apprehension made him feel ashamed. He stood poised to strike with the hammer but stayed his hand. The kitten had reared up and arched its back, fluffing itself out to an abnormal size. When each realized the other would not attack, their respective guards began to slacken.

The kitten relaxed it’s threatening posture. He lowered his hammer. The two stood there and looked deep into each other. An agreement was made between them. Some psychic connection that told the other “I will not kill you.” The kitten began to walk towards him. It took cautious steps, unsure of what his reaction would be. He didn’t move. When the kitten was close enough to sniff him, it reached out a paw and swatted at his foot. He laughed. The kitten took this as a good sign and swatted again at his boot. Thus the bond between the two formed. He knew at that moment he would have a companion. The kitten knew that it would have a protector. He turned back to the camp and took stock of the carnage. Over a hundred dead people, three sacks of loot, three gallons of water and a hammer. The kitten brushed against his leg and mewed. “And one stinky cat.”

Stinky blinked and sat where he stood.

The cat had an amazing ability to keep up with him in his travels.  It also had a maddening habit of being easilly distracted.  He cheered the former and often had to halt his boot from flying at the latter.  Besides, he thought, It was good to have someone to talk to with nothing to hide. Stinky may have been a lot of things but a secret keeper was not one of them.  He ate.  He slept.  He played.  This was the cat at his core.  Occasionally Stinky would wander off at night in camp, but he would always be awoken when the cat silently crawled onto his chest to sleep. He found in his new companion a sounding board. "Looks like trouble ahead." he told Stinky.  "Should we just toss the firebomb and run for it or wait it out?"
The cat cocked his head as if in deep thought and swatted at a fly.  He decided to wait it out. "Good call." he said to the cat.

He had just crossed the roughest patch of hill country he could remember when he first saw it.  At first he could not believe his own eyes.  Out here in the wastelands that was usually the first thing to go.  The harsh elements had a habit of playing tricks on you.  You often saw what you wanted to see when there's been nothing to see in months.  He had a system for this.  When he came onto something that got his attention he would sit, in the shade if he could find it.  He would sing a song to himself that he heard on a record player in his youth.  He couldn't remember the words, but his ear was fine.  He hummed the melody to himself.  It took 2 minutes from start to finish.  If the vision was still there after all that, then it bore investigation.  Most of the time, this method was able to filter out the mirages.  After finishing the song, he turned and looked.  It was still there. 

Another pillar of smoke. 

This one was different.  This wasn't a campfire with its white whispy frolicking personality.  This one was thick and ominous.  Something was being forged here and the people doing the work were not worried about security.  If he saw the smoke, others did.  And if those others were bandits, the people making the smoke would be equipped in dealing with them.   Stinky sneezed.  He looked at the cat and agreed.  "I don't like that smel either, cat."  There was a sour sting of sulfur to the air.  There was also something green in that smoke.  Something that was once alive.  Whatever they were making down in that valley, they had access to wood.  Not the scrubby brush he wandered through, either...real wood.

This meant industry.  This meant creation.  This meant society.  He made it a habit of avoiding all three.  He had grown accustomed to scavenging humanity's corpse.  He had gotten good at it.  There was plenty left these days to live on.  But there was always that one question that lingered in the back of his mind while he sorted through a pile that others has pilfered before him.  What next?  What do we do when all the piles have been picked clean?  Who will make new ones?  This wasn't his question to ask however.  His existance was not motivated by creation. 

He remembered the stuff of his youth as if it were presented in a fairy tale.  There were mountainous piles of stuff all over and it was all unprotected.  He had a home too.  The permenant one.  He would actually return to it when the day was out without fear of another tracking him.  That was the thing that stuck out most in his past recollections.  He didn't remember fear then.  It took fire and death to teach him that one.

His nostrils puckered at the odor that he could no longer ignore.  Stinky did the same.  Both companions knew that their future was tied to that black smoke now.  Even if he walked the other way now, his mind would forever be haunted by a question.  What if?  Once a man gets that question in his soul, there is no escaping it.  He said aloud "Ok Stinky.  Let's go knock on the door and see who answers."