The Inheritors Chapter 1 – Roland “Ro” Ayers, 27 June 1994

I wrote this chapter as a separate short story (originally entitled “Uncle Tommy”) on the date indicated in the title above. I sent it out once. The editor wrote me a scathing letter about encouraging juvenile suicide. I met them at a con a few months later. “Did you read the story to the end?”

“I didn’t have to. You encouraged juvenile suicide. I stopped there.”

Yeah, well.

Two years later I acquired an agent. She read through my work and singled out “Uncle Tommy” as something to reconsider. “There’s something more here. More story. Take a couple of months and see if you can come up with a novel. She also told me she had a publisher who was interested in “fantasies using a Christian Mythos.”

Two months later I handed her The Inheritors. She read it. She gave it to the head of her agency. He read it. She arranged for a concall for the three of us. We talked for about an hour. He repeated “To come up with a novel in two months is amazing. Two come up with this novel in two months is incredible” several times during the conversation.

Well, it turned out the publisher didn’t want a fantasy using a Christian Mythos so much as she wanted a Christian Fantasy complete with Jesus, the Apostles, the church as Holy Mother, …, which I definitely didn’t write.

The agent was incensed. With me. How come I didn’t write a Christian Fantasy? “Because you told me to write a fantasy using a Christian Mythos.” (which I definitely did write)

Rather than shop the novel around, the agent kept asking for rewrites. I kept asking for guidelines, as in “Don’t tell me to make it bluer, tell me what color of blue you want it to be” which got the response, “No, you figure it out. Bluer!”

I finally asked the agent the relationship ending question, “How many manuscripts have you placed?”

That got the response, “I can’t work with someone who won’t give me what I ask for.”

A few months back I got it out, dusted it off, began reading.

Yes, it needs some work. My style has changed a lot since the 1990s.

Let me know what you think.

Creator and above level members can download a PDF of this chapter to read offline

Inheritors Chapter 1 – Roland Ayers, 27 June 1994


Hello, Little One. Oh, such hugs and kisses in the middle of all these tears. Your momma says it was a bad day for you at school.


You want Uncle Ro to tell you a story? Something to make you laugh?


You want me to tell you about Uncle Tommy? I’ve told you about Uncle Tommy so many times, you know it better than I do!

Okay, okay. Come up here on the rocker with me, up on my lap, and rest your head over my heart so you can hear my love for you.

Here we go.

This happened a long time ago, back before you were born, back before I was even your age, when Uncle Tommy and me and your momma still lived with Grandma and Grandpa.

Yes, and Rusty, I won’t forget Rusty. He was everybody’s dog but he was really your Uncle Tommy’s dog.

You remember Grandma’s house? With all the woods out back?

Well, that house was old even when we lived there. The windows and doors, they always creaked. Some people called it spooky, the way the doors creaked and closed when you walked, but we didn’t think so.

The house smelled so rich and so good with Grandma cooking and baking. Thick rye breads and custard tarts and lemon squares and oh! my mouth waters thinking about it. Every day Grandpa told us stories about the people where he worked fixing cars and he’d act out all the people — Fat Mr. Bonomo who always wanted to help people but couldn’t fit under a car unless it was up on a lift and Thin Miss Lukasie who flirted with every customer who came in and Little Jimmy Foster, poor guy had some kind of birth defect. His head was too big for his body and his eyes always seemed half shut. But a nice guy, a sweet guy — and we’d laugh.

Laugh, laugh, laugh! So much laughter in that house!

Your Uncle Tommy told stories, too, but not funny ones like Grandpa told and Tommy’s stories didn’t have lots of people in them. Tommy talked about places and things — the imagination he had! — none of us knew what the heck he was talking about but boy could he keep us going. It was so real what he’d say. You could touch it and taste it and see it and smell it and feel it. Even Rusty sat quiet, listening to your Uncle Tommy, and then he’d howl when Uncle Tommy finished and we’d all laugh because it was like Rusty understood even though we did not.

Your Uncle Tommy, he knew things he had no way to know. Things you’d have to be in college to know and I’m not even sure you’d know it then. Star Wars stuff, crazy stuff.

One time he picked up one of Grandpa’s steel brushes. The handle was a metal coil. Well, Tommy looks at it and turns in around in his hand so he’s holding the brush and the coil is pointing away and he says, “With the right capacitance bridge network we could set up an induction field with this.”

Your mom and Grandma and Grandpa and I just nodded. We had no idea what he meant but he did. Sometimes he’d say these things in front of other people. One time he and I went with Grandpa to his work on a Saturday and Tommy said something like that and Jimmy Foster said, “I think you’ve been watching too many Buck Rogers movies, Tommy.”

Tommy looks at Jimmy Foster, shakes his head and walks away.

But Jimmy Foster, he goes, “I don’t understand Tommy. Help me understand” and that’s all your Uncle Tommy needed and he’s going on and on and Little Jimmy Foster, he’s a head and a half taller than Tommy, and he’s nodding and Uh-huhing and Hmming and saying “What about this part? And what about this part?” like he knows what Uncle Tommy’s talking about.

Uncle Tommy, he’s so happy, he’s helping somebody understand.

But come Monday, your Uncle Tommy, he doesn’t want to go to school, he wants to go with Grandpa to work. He’s got more ideas on how to make things work and he wants to share them with Little Jimmy Foster.

But Jimmy’s not there. He didn’t come in to work that day or the next, he didn’t call, and when Mr. Peters who owns the garage calls the house where Jimmy Foster stays they say, “Jimmy who?” They never heard of him.

Oh, your Uncle Tommy he almost died. The first time someone maybe understands him, pays real attention to him, and they’re gone and there’s no way to find them. Oh, how he cried.

“Someday I’ll find him,” Tommy says.

And we all say, “Good, Tommy. You will. We know someday you will.”

Your Uncle Tommy and I were twins and shared a room. Your momma had the room next to ours in that big old house. When Uncle Tommy wasn’t in our room he was out back in the woods with Rusty or reading books and Rusty’d be right on the bed with him. I spent most of my time in the garage playing with Grandpa’s tools. I’d get so involved in what I was doing I wouldn’t hear Grandma calling me for lunch or dinner. I remember more than once the big spring that opened the garage door would snap and whatever I was working on would go flying, it gave me such a fright! That spring used to snap up quick and I always had to get Uncle Tommy to help me close it down because I wasn’t heavy enough.

Grandpa’s garage was a palace of wonders to me, but not like Uncle Tommy. I could fix things but Uncle Tommy, he made things and didn’t have to use tools to do it.

One time he made me a little paddle boat out of a block of wood, playing cards, paperclips, and a rubber band. Can you beat that? So simple and it would go across a pond if you let it. I lost it long ago, though. One day it just disappeared. No idea what happened to it.

Uncle Tommy and your mom and me, we’d all go to the movies together when we were kids. Movies were different than the movies now. For one thing, in our town you had to go to Wade Smith’s Proud Union Movie House to see them, they didn’t come into your home on your phone or computer. We didn’t have computers in our homes when we were kids. Oh, yes, I know, we’re so old!

So there we were, sitting in the movies on a Saturday afternoon watching what they called a “horrorthon,” playing one movie right after another, kind of like bingeing now but you had to go to a movie theater all day to see it. We watched Zaat, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Trog, and The Mutations.

Your mother hated those movies but Grandma said she was older than us and had to watch out for us. Your mom would sit there going “Eeyeww! Eeyeww!” and covering her eyes and we’d be laughing and making fun of the movies, they were so bad.

Now on this day, there’s this guy sitting behind us. He listened to us talk and he laughed at our jokes and he said things to us about what we said.

But mostly he talked with Tommy. At the end of the horrorthon he gives your momma his card and asks if Grandma and Grandpa can call sometime.

Well, Grandma and Grandpa told us never to talk to strangers and your momma and I got real mad at Tommy because he broke the rule, but that was Tommy, always making his own rules so long as nobody got hurt by them.

Anyway, when we got home, your momma kept that man’s card hid.

Two weeks later who shows up at our door? That same man. We think he showed up earlier because Rusty, he puts up a fuss! He’s barking and yelping like the devil himself set the house on fire, then he stops, snap! Just like that.

Anyway, about an hour later Rusty goes to the door and he’s growling and barking and then comes a ring at our door.

Grandma opens the door and there he is. “Hello, Mrs. Ayers.”


“I’d like to talk to you about one of your sons.”

“I’d like to know your name.”

Your momma peeks out of the kitchen and this guy smiles at her, smiles like he knew she wouldn’t show Grandma his card all along.

“My name’s Fernberg. Joel Fernberg.”

“Fernberg? That’s a Jewish name?”

He looks shocked for a second, like he didn’t know he had a Jewish name. “I suppose it is.”

“Has one of my boys done something wrong, Mr. Fernberg?”

“No, no. Not at all.” He gives grandma one of his cards. “I’m with the government. One of your sons, Thomas, we think he’s a very special boy. We’d like to test him with some other children.”

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Fantasy Horror Author A.F. Stewart and I talk Deviltry, Noveltry, Shipbuilding, Agony and Ecstasy

Watch, leave a comment, gain a friend!

A.F. Stewart, aka @Scribe77, did me.

Interviewed me, I mean.

We talked about

  • The differences between writing short stories and novels (not much from a crafting standpoint, me thinks)
  • Creating sympathetic villains (even the worst person has one humanizing detail)
  • Genre writing (I don’t believe I write in a genre. My regular readers tell me my genre is “Joseph”)
  • My incredible anthology, Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires
  • Being able to do amazing things with words when you’re an author
  • The link between Satan and Hamilton Burger
  • Getting kudos from your readers
  • Ritchie and Phyl, my incredible work in progress
  • How writing Flash fiction is like building a ship in a bottle
  • Great Opening Lines
  • My incredible scifi/military/thriller, The Augmented Man
  • Writing about characters rather than genre (the story comes first, the genre comes second)
  • Empty Sky and my standing offer; read the book, leave a review, and I’ll send you an autographed copy of the rewrite when it’s published.
  • Children growing up
  • Stories that grew out of my anthropology studies – Mani He and The Goatmen of Aguirra
  • Getting kudos from editors and publishers
  • Writing almost fantastic fantasies (okay, the story’s fantastic. It uses almost fantasy elements – The Weight)

So, yeah, we covered a few things.


Interviews with Writers Did Me!

I like being interviewed.

Let’s me know somebody out there is listening.

It’s like writing Goodreads reviews. I’m shocked when people like or comment on my reviews. I responded to one person, thanking them for the Like and sharing that I didn’t think anybody paid attention. After all, who am I to review a book?

They understood and felt the same way re their reviews.

I wonder who reads/watches/listens to my interviews. Are they bored? Are they curious? Do they know me from a previous life?

I’ll read/watch/listen to a review if I’m interested in the author, often if I’ve read and enjoy their work, often if I know them personally and wish to support them.

What’s your reason for reading/watching/listening?

You can read my Interviews with Writers interview here.


Empty Sky Chapter 11 – Shem

(Getting feedback from proofreaders now, all good. You can read the previous version here)

Read Empty Sky Chapter 10 – Poppie

Creator and above level members can download a PDF of this chapter to read offline

Two men, one shaved bald, tall, thin, and quick like a whip, and the other a fireplug on legs with a jet black ponytail halfway down his broad back, both in tailored, navy-blue pinstripe suits and wearing hand-made, alligator-skin shoes so polished they reflected the lights marking the aisle, made their way from the locomotive through the tender to the back of the train. The whip would walk a few long, waspish steps, wait, then spin the gold and diamond pinky ring on his right hand until the fireplug caught up. When the fireplug reached him the whip would walk a few more long, waspish steps, wait and spin his ring again.

The fireplug strolled, his hands clasped in front of his chest as if in prayer, his eyes skimming over his knuckles as they evaluated, the bands of the two turquoise rings he wore — one on each ring finger — clicking sometimes as he walked. He passed no one without reaching out to their carotid and checking for a pulse; conductors, stewards, clerks, passengers. It didn’t matter.

The fireplug’s slow methodicity and attention to detail frustrated the whip who released his frustration by aiming a small but powerful ruby laser into the lens of the security cameras while he waited for his partner to catch up.

“Christ, look at this place. What did The Boss use again?”

“Ambien. That’s what he had us dump in the food service trucks. It makes you sleep and wake up without feeling groggy. ‘Far as everyone on the train is concerned, they’ll all think they probably had too much to drink.”

“Do you have to test every mother’s son?” The whip broke protocol and used names in an attempt to make the fireplug move faster. “We’re supposed to get MacPherson to Pangiosi before morning, you know.”

The fireplug stopped and stared at the whip who turned away before the fireplug answered. “We have plenty of time. Besides, we find one dead person, we got trouble.”

“Didn’t you tell me once something about your grandfather teaching you to help people die?”

The fireplug nodded as he worked. “Not exactly. He taught me to sing them from this world to the next, to carry the souls of the dead so they’d find peace.”

“Happy hunting ground stuff?”

“Something like that.”

“You believe in that stuff?”

“I don’t believe in much of anything anymore.”

“Yeah. Ditto that.”

The fireplug continued his slow inspection. The whip tapped his foot at the rear door to the car.

The fireplug stopped and looked up. “I wonder if these people dream.”

The whip broke protocol a second time. “John, who gives a shit. Pangiosi gave us an order. We carry it out.”

John stopped. His arms folded over an expansive chest.

The whip looked out a window and spun his gold and diamond pinky ring. “Sorry.”

John’s prayerful hands went back to work.

Shem twitched himself awake. His head rose up and he sniffed the air. A scent, something from deep dog memory, canine memory, canid memory, canis memory. He leapt off the bunk and growled. A door opened in the bedroom suite, a door only dogs, only canines, only the line that first walked before man then behind then beside could see, sworn under the first full moon to watch for such doors because humans, the canids knew, would grow to forget.

The door closed. Whatever had been there had been warned away by flashing eyes, by baring teeth.

He jumped back on the bunk. As he circled to lay down he remembered the Little Master had gone. He looked across the suite to the other cot. The Great Master snored lazily like an old Alpha in the tall grass on a hot summer day.

Shem scratched his ear with a hind paw then sniffed his genitals. He rested his head over his paws, flopped to his side and stretched on the mattress. The entire bed was his!

Glorious His!

A few minutes later he, like the Great Master, snored like an Alpha in the tall grass.

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Cheryllynn Dyess’s “The Soul Maker”

Ever read a story and say to yourself, “Wow! That’s how it’s done!”?

I get exhilarated when I discover a new author.

Let me clarify. There are lots of people out there writing books. In my opinion, few of them are worth reading (I’m a writing snob. There, I’ve said it).

But once in a great while I encounter some writing that so pulls me into its story, calls me into the story’s mythos so completely that my pulse quickens, my eyes open wider, my breaths deepen, … When readers have a physiologic reaction to your writing, you’ve arrived.

Such a story is Cheryllynn Dyess‘s The Soul Maker in Harvey Duckman Presents Volume 3.

The Soul Maker is a wonderful story because it combines great storytelling – do you have an interesting story to tell? – with great storycrafting – can you tell that story in an interesting way?
Continue reading “Cheryllynn Dyess’s “The Soul Maker””