Friday, July 31, 2009

E5 pictures

'Fu' shoots Giles and TJ

Girls at the cookout

My beautiful daughter and wife

Dustin and Chris, the masterminds behind E5

Me and Matty J


That's the word, apparently, for the evening. Only the "swanky" will be allowed into the E5 offices for their Issue No. 1 debut party tonight. We'll be heading there in mere minutes. And you might want to check out the shindig. I'm sure they'll post photos in the next couple of days, but there's a whisper that the party will be streaming live via video for the next couple of hours. It's not up at the moment, but that could change. Check it out.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

11 Days Later...

Today's word: Prodigal. (And I'm referring to the way I squander time...)

A lot has happened since July 19, my last post, and I apologize for being away from this particular outlet for so long. Mostly I've been working during the days and exhausted at night. A few evenings in the pool. A few days and nights working on the garage and attic. Reading a pre-publication copy of my friend Michael Lister's upcoming novel. Reading "The Living Dead."

Reading this:

Which I got for my birthday, and which deserves a full review of its own. (Short version: Lovely. Highly recommended.)

Reading this:

Which my friend Brady Calhoun loaned me, and which also deserves a review of its own soon. (Short version: eh. Despite my utter regard -- Brady might say "man crush" -- for Neil Gaiman, it left me cold.)

-Watching Leverage, Being Human, Primeval, Doctor Who, The Philanthropist, Moonshot (which also deserves a review). Google'em if you're curious.

-Working on turning "The Traveler" from my "366 Days" project into an actual novel.

-Scanning old family photos to share with the family. Like this one, for instance:

Say G'night, kids.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More is Never Enough

Mellie grabbed the sandwich she had made, scampered out the back door, down the wooden steps, across the back yard and through the gap in the old chain link fence. Then down into the creek that ran through a gully behind all the houses on her block, up the other side and into the woods behind her neighborhood. She could hear Sue yelling at her not to get dirty. Sue hardly cared. It’s not like Sue would give her a bath or wash her clothes if she came home dirty. Sue probably wouldn’t even be awake.

Mellie liked roaming the woods, even though sometimes the bums in there tried to scare her. It’s not even like it was a big woods. There were other neighborhoods nearby, and on one side of the woods was a shopping center. Sometimes, she found the packages of things people had stolen from from the stores. Sometimes, she found places where bums had slept -- old blankets, cigarette butts, empty bottles.

This time, she found a sick man. She almost didn’t see him as she skipped along a trail the bums had carved among the pines and the trumpet vines. His skinny, crooked fingers with their curved nails lunged out of the brush and almost grabbed her ankle, and she squealed when she jumped out of reach, dropping the half of a sandwich she had yet to eat. The man didn’t pursue her, or even make a noise. His twitching fingers folded back against him and his mouth opened and closed without a sound.

He was wrapped in old rags and shivering under a palmetto. His skin was gray and slick. His few strands of hair were plastered against a gray scalp. He smelled sweet and sour at the same time, and reminded her of how her dog had smelled just before he died last year. She started to say something, but he reached again, this time grabbing the half of a sandwich she had dropped. He sniffed it, peeled off the bread, licked the thin slice of ham, and swallowed it in a gulp. He moaned and shook.

“More …” he whispered.

Mellie went to the place where the homeless men sleep sometimes and took the blanket they had left there. It smelled bad too, in a different way, like sweat and alcohol and sour garbage, and poo. She held it at arm’s length and went back to the place where the sick man was. He wasn’t still there, though. He had gone. She whistled and tromped around. She heard a noise up the trail and saw him crawling under a stunted magnolia tree. She came close to where he hid and tossed the blanket at him, and he snatched it close before it could flutter all the way to the ground. He rolled in it and tangled himself, sniffing and snorting. Then he froze very still and stared at Mellie.

His eyes were milky and slick and gray, and they didn’t blink. It made Mellie scared. She decided to run home. But she didn’t want to run past the sick man to get there, she was afraid his fast skeleton fingers might reach out and grab her. So she backed away from him and headed in the direction of the shopping center.

She heard him snorting and moaning behind her, and she ran.

She ran right into a man standing at the edge of the woods behind the shopping center. He smelled of sweat and alcohol and sour garbage and poo. He grabbed her by the hair and held her on her tip toes and yelled in her face, and she screamed. He let go, and she ran again, past the back doors of the stores in the shopping center, along the edge of the parking lot, and down the street to her neighborhood. She didn’t stop running until she was in her house again and Sue was yelling at her for getting dirty.

She told Sue about the sick man who ate her sandwich, and the bum who yelled at her, and Sue put Mellie over her knee and spanked her and spanked her, and sent her to her room. Mellie sat in her room and cried for a while, and listened to Sue bump around downstairs, and she thought about things. She heard glasses clanking together, heard the TV come on. After a while, the only noise was the TV. And a little while later, she knew Sue was asleep. It always worked this way.

Mellie went downstairs quiet and empty as a promise. She looked at Sue asleep on the couch, and the bottles and pills on the table by Sue gave Mellie an idea. She dropped a couple of pills in one of the bottles that still had liquid in it. She made another sandwich, and she scampered out the back door, across the yard, through the fence, down the gully and up again, into the woods.

It wasn’t dark yet, but the sun was low and the shadows were long and deep. She listened as she walked. She looked hard at the bushes on the sides of the trail, and she still almost didn‘t see the sick man before she came upon him. He had come further along the trail, closer to where it leads to the gully. She didn’t like the idea of him coming to her house, even if it wasn’t much of a house. Not yet, anyway.

She broke the sandwich into halves and then half again. She tossed a piece at the sick man, and he let it fall in the dirt. He watched it for a while, then his hands snaked out and brought it to his face. He sniffed and snorted. He peeled away the bread and licked the meat. His tongue was a cracked, gray thing and poked and prodded. Then he swallowed the piece whole and quivered.

“More …” he moaned.

She ran past him, dropping a second piece as she passed, hoping that the offering would distract him from reaching for her. She was correct. Again, he grabbed the hunk of sandwich and took it apart and finally swallowed the meat. This time, she could see the sharp yellow teeth encircle the meat before he gulped. He moaned and trembled and crawled out of the underbrush, crouching on the tips of his bony fingers and toes like a crab wrapped in a colorless old blanket.

“More …” he said.

She skipped along the trail then, headed to the place where the bums sometimes sleep. She dropped a third piece on the trail and heard him scuffling in the dirt to attack the meat. She didn’t pause or look back to see him wracked with tremors and moans. She kept moving, right up to the place where the bum was sitting under an oak tree, having given up looking for his old blanket.

He wore layers of shirts, wrapped with twine and scarves. His face was carved and wrinkled, coated with dirt and scabs and wiry gray hair. He scowled at her, exposing black teeth.

“Mister, I’m sorry, but I took your blanket for the sick man,” Mellie said.

“You better give me back my --” he started to say, but then his eyes landed on the bottle in her hand.

“I brought you this,” she said, and held the bottle toward him.

He eyed her. He moved onto his knees and reached toward her. She could tell that he was expecting a trick.

“What is it? Did you pee in this bottle?” he said, and she laughed.

“No, silly! Smell it.”

He took it from her and sniffed. It smelled legit. He tipped it back, letting just a bit touch his tongue. It tasted right. He looked at her again, wondered for a second why she was holding a piece of sandwich in her other hand, and shrugged. He turned the bottle up and drained it. It was a good, cold beer.

He laughed. He sat back against the oak tree. He asked her why she’d brought him a beer.

“I told you,” she said. “I gave your blanket to the sick man. I thought it was fair to bring you the beer.”

The bum laughed again. He was feeling warm, now. Happy. It didn’t even disturb him to see his old blanket come shuffling up the trail behind the little girl on spindly legs. He had a vague realization that something wasn’t right, but most of him didn’t care. He heard the blanket -- or was there a man under there? -- when it demanded “more.”

Mellie tossed the last part of her sandwich at the bum. The thing in the blanket sprang forward. She stood very still as it passed her and fell upon the homeless man and began to eat, peeling aside the clothing to uncover the meat. She saw the sick man’s tongue darting, heard his yellow teeth clicking, watched him tremble and moan.

Mellie didn’t like having her hair pulled.

She liked spankings even less.

She ran back through the woods to the gully, across the yard, and through the back door. She collected a few clothes and things in a plastic bag. She was taking money from Sue’s purse when she heard the back door swing open and slam shut, and she was running out the front door when she heard a voice calling, “MORE!”
(c) 2009 by Tony Simmons
For the '366 Days' project
(Written between 9:15 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. tonight. First draft.)
Today's Pick:

Anthology of stories including work by Gaiman, King, Barker, Brite and many more. Borrowed this week from the Bay County Public Library.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Station to Station

They call it the dark side of the moon, but that’s a misnomer. It’s the side perpetually facing away from the earth, and thus receives no glow of reflected earthlight, but it gets as much sunlight as starlight, and the shadows only grow deep when the earth eclipses the sun.

The terrain is more rugged than the earth-facing hemisphere, however, with more impact craters and fewer wide, smooth “seas.” So you’ll understand why we use “hoppers” to cross the distance between the stations, rather than the old rovers.

Why am I telling you this? That’s a reasonable question. Just be patient. I’ll get to that.

Not that you’re supposed to know about any of this. Far as anyone back home is concerned, we’re not even up here. I mean, it was something like 37 years ago that Apollo 17 called it a day, folded up shop and went home. I wasn’t even born then. That happened more than three years later, Summer 1976, after Station 1 was fully operational and the go-ahead was given for population growth.

I was supposed to be a symbol or something. A Bicentennial moon baby, born on the Fourth of July on our nation’s 200th birthday. It was all carefully planned, and when I was late, they brought me out by caesarean. Someone thought having a symbol of our colony’s success might be important someday, even though the mission was a secret; someday the nation would know about us, they figured, and my birth would have meaning, give them hope.

Whatever. I’m 33 now, and only a few other people ever cared that I was alive. And God only knows where they are now.

I make this trip between the stations every month. Basic maintenance. Cleaning CO2 scrubbers, trading out water filters in the recycling sumps, and fixing minor glitches in the solar panels. Department of Air, Water & Light, that’s my gig. The hopper makes the trips easy, floating low over the craters on its retro rockets, but I have to be careful not to break radio silence while en route or get my picture taken by some rogue satellite. We track all the space junk, and there’s a blind spot programmed into the official orbiters so they don’t see our landing platforms, but you never know when something could go wrong.

Like today, for instance.

Station 3 was dark when I arrived. No radio contact, of course. The five stations communicate with each other via phone cables buried in 1974, during the excavations for the initial construction. All the stations are buried under the lunar rock, covered with powder, with only small landing platforms for the hoppers to dock. Stations of the Cross, I call them, though we have only five rather than 14. But seen from above, if they were at all visible, they form a cross with one elongated leg reaching to Station 5 on the edge of the Aitken basin. Google it, if you’re curious, if they have Google whenever you are. I have time to wait.

The docking airlock opened for me, since it draws power from the hopper. It’s a security feature. Ensures only hopper personnel can access the stations. That way no pesky Chinese cosmonaut comes knocking down the door uninvited.

It wasn’t until I was inside the station that I realized something was wrong. Main power was out. The corridors were lit by battery powered lights, and the place was absolutely silent. Not even the air units hummed. The atmosphere was getting stale. I didn’t take a look around or head to the control center to ask questions; I opened a floor hatch, slung my tool kit over my shoulder, and took a ladder down two levels to check out the generator room.

Everything was intact. Someone had just turned it all off. I switched it back on, waited for the computer to reboot, and watched the indicators as it cycled through its diagnostics. Nothing was wrong anywhere in the system. The automatic controls reset and the air started cycling again. A breeze moved against my face and the lights came up.

I tried the intercom, but got no response. I tried the phone by the entry, but there was nothing but static, so I rode the lift back to the topside level to check in.

There was no one in control center. No one on monitor duty. I tried the phone again, with the same result. I opened the intercom to all levels and did an all-call. Nothing. No departments checked in. I was nervous now. I had seen all the sci-fi films you’ve probably seen. I never considered aliens, but it was entirely possible that someone had gone nuts, managed to fashion a weapon of some sort, and herded everyone into a room somewhere and killed them.

I didn’t have anything even close to resembling a weapon, just the low-power tools in my kit. I settled on a wrench, and held it in one hand as I called the other stations.

No one answered.

Let me make this clear: None of the stations answered. None of the department heads or grunts at any of the numbers I regularly call. My parents didn’t respond. My girlfriend. My wife. Nobody. I broke protocol and used the scrambled channel to call Ground Control, but no one responded. The channels were open; I got the ping back that indicated my calls were being received. It’s just that no one picked up and said hello.

I clutched that wrench and walked through the station, opening every door and locker and hatch as I went. It took me hours. I stopped to eat at one point. I stopped to throw up. I used the waste recycler. I stopped to cry like a lost child. I passed out. I slept. I woke up and ate again. I showered and changed into someone else’s abandoned clothes. I searched again. Got to keep searching and searching.

There were no bodies. No sign of a struggle or damage. It looked for all the world like everyone had vanished into thin air. Or they'd gotten a call to abandon the base, and they'd turned off the lights before they closed the doors.

I gathered some supplies, just in case the other stations were in worse condition than this one. Food and water, extra air tanks. I loaded them into the hopper. I went back to Station 2, where I’d come from last. There I found the same thing. Empty rooms. Power switched off. I restarted the power and searched the empty rooms and moved on to the next station of the cross, and the next, and the next.

I’ve been driving like a demon from station to station for days now. I’ve combed every inch of our little part of the moon. And I’m the only person I have to talk to.

Yes, it has occurred to me that I am not well. That none of this is really happening. That I’m actually lying in a hospital bed somewhere, making all this up in my head. That these are the things of dreams. That men don't really live on the moon. Should I believe that I’ve been stricken? I don’t know.

Maybe the others will return as mysteriously as they left. Maybe I’ll awaken from this dream.

I have considered equipping a hopper with extra fuel, somehow, and driving to the nearside. Trying to catch the eye of some watcher on the earth. Setting off an explosion at one of the Apollo landing sites. Trying to signal someone on the International Space Station. But I suspect that no one is there to see me or hear me. It’s too late for that. It’s too late.

But with the stations remaining operational, I can hold out for years, so long as I keep them maintained and the hydroponics farms running. I’m no farmer, though. We’ll see. Meanwhile, I will record these messages to whoever might find me here, or so I can remind myself why I’m still trying, one small step at a time.


(c) 2009 by Tony Simmons
T-minus-15 days
Somehow inspired by this song, and intended as part of my 'Paradox Kid' comicbook project, retasked for '366 Days' instead.


Today's Pick:

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Is there anybody out there?

Yes, I know tonight was supposed to finally be the Dark Side of the Moon, but it has been a long day. So I went with a different Pink Floyd reference.

Hello? Is there anybody out there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone home?

If so, leave a comment. Send a tweet.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Moonage Daydream

I just sat down and looked at the earthrise over a horizon too near. The gray powder and rocks rose ahead of me toward a distant mountain range, and behind the low gray hills was a black sky with the blue orb of earth climbing into view. Clouds obscured the surface, and I couldn’t tell what continent or ocean was turned toward me.

I would have liked to have seen my homeland once again, to imagine saying goodbye to my loved ones. But it was not to be.

I did not cry or curse or beat my helmet against the closest boulder. No reason to get upset, and no reason to fear. The suit would fill with my own carbon dioxide exhalations long before the cold got me or the vacuum. I’d gasp myself to sleep, never knowing if the lander received my distress signal.

I could feel it happening already, as I sat there and watched the earth. I didn’t think about the leaking tank that had left me without enough air to make it back to the lander. I didn’t think about the rover that had skidded into a crevasse, wedging itself sideways, or the struggle to free myself from the wreck and clear the cracked moonscape, only see my O2 indicator dropping.

Honestly, none of this crossed my mind at that moment, because I could see the insects coming out of the crevasse to investigate.

They moved slowly, wings held close to their bodies. The size of men, but walking on six legs, they clambered out of the shadows and over the skeleton of the rover, then noticed me sitting on gray dirt nearby. One of them pointed a foreclaw at me, and the others began to close in.

I wanted to panic, but the thin air in my suit wouldn’t allow it. An odd peace fell over me as the insects came close and surrounded me. Now I could see the way their faceted eyes caught the images of each other and me, and duplicated us a million times over. I could see that their heads were encased in some kind of rough crystal.

They reached for me, and I didn’t try to fight them off. I thought of it, but had no strength to do so.

It occurred to me that I was about to be eaten by moon ants.

They lifted me onto something, and I realized they had draped me over the back of one of their fellows. It carried me quickly toward the crevasse, skittered around the rover and into the darkness. I continued to have a sense of motion, but the darkness was total. I think I may have passed out.

When I came to again, I was in a cavern lighted by glowing stones in the walls. And my helmet was missing. I was exposed to some kind of atmosphere trapped in this cavern, cold and crisp. I was breathing oxygen inside this cave, deep below the surface of the moon. And I was surrounded by more of the oversized insects.

They no longer wore the crystal helmets, and I could see the details of their faces, some of them obviously softer and younger, some of them gnarled and ancient. They saw that I was awake, and began to close in around me. One of them carried my helmet. The creature had a sash of some kind draped around its neck, and a beard of white wiry hairs on its creased mandibles. It placed my helmet back on my suit, secured it, and reconnected the lines running to my O2 tank.

The creatures lifted me up again, and the “old man” creature carried me into the darkness of a nearby tunnel. My eyes never adjusted, as the darkness was complete. Then all at once, I saw stars overhead and the orb of the earth. My transporter clambered over the rover and set me on the dirt where I had been sitting when they found me.

It set me down gently and faced me, showing me that it had donned one of those crystal faceplates during our journey. It tapped its faceplate, then tapped my helmet playfully before it turned and hurried back into the crevasse.

Just then, the second rover came around a rise of boulders and discovered me. Carson found me. He replaced my faulty O2 tank and put me in his rover to get me back to the lander. I was barely conscious most of the way, but I saw my tank when he changed it. Over the gash where it had leaked, it now had the same crystal coating that the insects used.

That’s the story, sir. I’ve told it how many times now? There’s no way my O2 would have held out that long on its own. I swear it’s true, sir. Have you checked the crevasse?

What do you mean? No crevasse? Just a crater?

No, sir. That’s not possible. I saw it.

What about the oxygen tank? Nothing? Are you sure?

I don’t believe it. I can't. I know what I saw.

There were insects. Insects in the moon.

(Originally posted at PCityLive as part of my '366 Days' project)
(c) 2009 by Tony Simmons


Today's Pick:

This movie, and the story it was based on, was obviously one of the inspirations for the story above; the other was the title of this song. The tale was originally plotted as part of a comic series I call 'Paradox Kid' and was retasked for 366 Days. I read the novel by H.G. Wells in eighth grade, and saw this movie sometime around then on Channel 5's afternoon "Big Show." Or maybe on the latenight "Popcorn Theatre" show on Channel 3. Maybe both. Anyway, it scared me pretty good, thanks to Ray Harryhausen's magic.


(And maybe tomorrow we'll get around to the dark side of the moon...?)

Monday, July 06, 2009

Ticket to the Moon

Today's Pick:

Produced by Tom Hanks for HBO in 1998, this series follows the history of America's moon missions, playing like an extended version of The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, from Kennedy's vow to reach the moon before the end of the decade, right through to the end of the program. One character remarks, "We stopped going up just when we were getting really good at it." (This was my Father's Day gift this year. Highly recommended.)

Today's Music: Ticket to the Moon (ELO)
"Remember the good old 1980s? When things were so uncomplicated? I wish I could go back there again, and everything would be the same....I got a ticket to the moon..."

I'm thinking about the moon because the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing will be July 20. I can remember watching it on our TV in Century, and hearing my Papo talking about how it couldn't be real, because such a thing would make the moon turn to blood and be a sign of the endtimes. (Although, admitedly, I can't be sure that's exactly right. But I recall looking up at the moon and wondering what he meant by that.)

The splash down was on my fifth birthday, July 24, 1969.

"...Fly! Fly! Through a troubled sky, up to a new world, shining bright, whoa-whoa!..."

Here's a repost from part of my "366 Days" project -- chapter 27 from my novella, "The Traveler," in which Cain imagines a parallel reality where he and Gabriel (who has forgotten he's an angel) are astronauts on the moon:

From the Book of Cain:

There is a medieval legend that I wandered the earth until, one day, having walked every part of the land and having nowhere left to go, I went to the moon. There, in that barren place, I finally settled, having only the bundle of twigs I had carried with me.

I never went to the moon. The fact that I have to tell you this is a sign of the wonders you have seen. That you could believe such an incredible thing might have happened? You have witnessed strange things indeed.

But let’s say that I lived into the 1960s. And let’s suppose that I worked my way into the space program. Is it impossible that, among my many personae that I have adopted over the ages, I might have become an Air Force pilot and then an astronaut? And that, one day in the early 1970s, a few trips into the moon missions (I will not reveal which one), I set foot on the lunar dust and planted seeds in the powdery surface.

I only wish my gift had been returned to me before that time, just to see if the moon could have yielded to the blessing of the creator and given forth fruit in abundance.

And as I stood there and looked across the void at the little orb on which I had been born, you stood there beside me. An angel without wings, without even the memory of wings, but who had found a way to break the bonds of earth and soar again among the stars.

And I knew who you were, even if you did not. I turned to you. I asked you a question.

"Do you believe in God?"

You didn’t answer right away, and I thought perhaps you pretended not to hear. I didn’t repeat the question.

"I believe in that," you said, and pointed at the earth.

"What you can see?"

You kicked up some moondust, and you grunted. "I can’t see gravity," you said, "but I’d be stupid to say it didn’t exist. And yet, I also long to defy it."

I thought about that, and I asked, "Given the chance to defy God, would you do so?"

You didn‘t hesitate: "If I thought I was right."

And that’s when I decided you wouldn’t have an unfortunate accident there on the moon. That’s when I knew you had been a good choice for the mission Shekinah had in mind. You were the hand of God, but when you stood with God against Lucifer in the time before time, it was because it was the right thing to do, not because of blind devotion or a lack of free will.

And you would stand against God for the right reasons. You would stay his hand if need be.

I only wished you would recall our time on the moon when next we met. What things we might talk of then!

I held up my gloved hand and pretended to squeeze the distant planet between my fingers.

"It’s like a big, ripe tomato," I said.

"It’s like a dream," you said.

And we were both right.
(c) 2009 by Tony Simmons
Tomorrow: Dark Side of the Moon.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Patterns of Forever (366 Days redux)

The woman had a severe sunburn. I winced when she came up to the counter and said she wanted a tat. She didn’t ask how much or pause to let me ask about her burn. She pulled up her loose shirt tail and showed me the pattern on her stomach.

That’s when I noticed that the burn was only on her front half. The backs of her arms and legs were a normal shade made pale by the red on the front half of her body. Obviously, she’d fallen asleep lying on her back at the beach. But the pattern she showed me:

“It’s where he placed his hand,” she said. “I was drowsy, and when he came up out of the water and lay beside me on the blanket, I asked him to make sure I didn’t sleep, make sure to wake me so I would turn over and not burn. He said he would. He was out of breath from the boogie board and the waves, but he assured me he was wide awake.

“When I woke up, I was mad because he’d fallen asleep too. I shoved his hand aside. But he wasn’t asleep. Massive heart attack. Right there on the blanket beside me. Never made a sound. But he had reached for me there, at the end. He had reached for me and put his hand on my stomach. He tried to tell me. To wake me. He left it there while I slept and he went away.”

I looked at the pale pattern of a left hand print on the lower right side of her stomach. I told her what I’d charge to outline it in black. She waved her hand, dismissing the cost. She didn’t care what it cost.

“Make it red,” she said. “Fill in the pattern the same color as my skin is now. Make it last forever.”
(c) 2009 by Tony Simmons
Originally published at
Eric Darnell's favorite of my early 366 Days project.

Once upon three haiku

Once upon a time,
Happily ever after
was what we wanted.

In the meantime, though,
Happily ever after
became but a dream.

When we awoke, we
retold the fairy tale,
once upon a time.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Quick one: The Wall of Voodoo

I have many old albums. Some I have never listened to, and only purchased from yard sales because I was amused or intrigued by the cover art. I change the display of art on my wall whenever the mood strikes. This photo above was from the wall circa May/June. Below is the new one, which will probably last through July.