11:16 PM, December 24th. South Personificationsburg, Abstractia.
Shifty Simmons was leaning back onto an alley dumpster, entangled in a moth-ridden trench coat three sizes too large for him. He held a stack of bills in his hands, passing them back and forth like a deck of playing cards and taking in the crisp yet crumpled scent of Legitimately Acquired legal tender. Sighing contentedly, he stuffed the bills back in his pocket and smoothed down the dusky patchwork spider web he called hair. As he rose back to his intimidating peak of four foot ten, I decided to speak up.
“AH!” Simmons jump earned him more hang time than an 18th century pickpocket. The landing, however, was a mere 3 out of 10.
“D-D-Donny! What a s-surprise!” he wheedled like a clarinet filled with equal parts phlegm and sawdust. “What, ah, eheh, brings you to my neck of the woods?”
I stepped out of the shadows and rolled my eyes, vision glowing with a six pack of cigarettes rubber-banded together.
“Please, Sim. Even you can’t be that dense. Why does anyone come to you?”
Simmons raised his eyebrows in a mix of confusion and surprise. Hesitating, he reached into his coat.
“No not that! Seriously, Sim. You outta know most of my clients are PD. This is no exception. For chrissake, I’ve got Sweatbrow waiting in a squad car just a few blocks away.”
Simmons jumped again, eyes darting like an Olympic sprinter cyborg caught between two magnets. “Sweatbrow’s here?! Sweatbrow’s close?!”
“Easy now Sim. There’s a reason I didn’t bring him along. Your Legitimate Business is as transparent as a glass ghost, but it’s also too small time to worry about. You’re so pathetic the gum on my shoe would scrape off you. But even someone like you keeps their ear to the ground. Have to if you don’t want your insides to end up a public Picasso project.”
Simmons shuffled his feet and scowled at the mess of compacted trash that passed for a street around here. “S-so, ah, what’s your point?”
“I want information. You give it to me, I’ll continue to not tell the chief about what your coat is full of right this second.”
Simmons twiddled his fingers and looked up, mouth working left and right like rodent adjusting to an all Kale diet. “It’s n-not very nice to t-treat your informant like this, you know.”
I lit another six pack of cigarettes next to the first and glanced at him through the smoke. “Do I look like someone who gives a damn?”
11:51 PM, December 24th. Old Docks, Personificationsburg, Abstractia.
“And you’re sure this is the place?”
“No chief, we’re in the middle of a high stakes murder operation but I didn’t feel like double-checking the address.”
The car ground to a halt and I stepped outside. The building in front of me was older than the decrepit ghost of a laserdisc collector. An abandoned dockside warehouse at a dockside made entirely of abandoned warehouses. The only thing that kept it from blending in with the crowd was the address Simmons had forked over. Chief Sweatbrow wobbled out of the car like an extra chunky can of soup squeezed into a uniform. He glanced over at me.
“I’ve got no time for attitude on a night like tonight, Hardtack.”
“Don’t worry. I can dish it out without slowing down.” I started walking towards the warehouse, strapping on my arm sleeve made of nicotine patches. The chief gravitated in my direction.
“I’m just concerned that your, hmph, informant might not be reliable.”
“Trust me, Sweatbrow. He cracks under pressure quicker than a Faberge egg. The thought of false info wouldn’t even cross his mind.”
We grew quiet as a rational man on an internet forum as we approached the warehouse. Taking up position on one side of the door, I motioned for Sweatbrow to do the same.
“So chief,” I whispered, “how do you wanna do this?”
“By the books!” came the sharp, quiet reply. “We’re going to go in there and keep to procedure, got it? Non-lethal whenever possible, no firing outside self-defense.”
I snorted. Typical. “Alright, fine. We’ll see how that works out for you.”
84 seconds later, and it had worked out pretty well. For us, anyway. The same couldn’t be said for the sacks of lead and broken dreams strewn out on the floor before us.
“What a mess” said Sweatbrow as he stepped forward and lowered his gun. He shook his head sadly and knelt in front of the Swiss cheese ground beef staining the dirty concrete floor. “Some kids need to learn when hold em and when to fold em.”
“Looks like these kids are all outta chances” I said, moving towards the tables in the middle of the room. “But also seems our info was right.”
The chief looked up. “You mean…”
I nodded, dipping a finger into one of the discrete boxes our welcoming party had been packing. “This stuff here? It ain’t Time Wasters, chief.”
Sweatbrow’s pudgy mug paled all the way down to medium rare. “Hobbies? In my town?”
I nodded. “Afraid so. It’s quite the operation too. From old classics like model trains to new age shit like 3D modeling.”
The chief wiped his forehead with an entire roll of paper towels. “Damn, they’ve got Creatives, too?”
“Looks like it. Some real dangerous stuff.” I stopped to light my candelabra full of cigars. “A time personification gets his hands on one of these and, well, it’s like they say. One shot to the brain of the old Artistic Fulfillment and you’re hooked for life.”
“This is big, Hardtack. Real big.” He looked down at another body. “Hopefully big enough to overlook all this. How many is it? Six counts of aggravated self-defense?”
“Soon to be eight” said a voice from the door behind us.
I raised my gun and spun in place like a Beyblade. That metaphor would’ve been more complex if I knew a damn thing about Beyblades. Silhouetted against the doorway was a man in a striped suit in magenta and cyan. The thing was tackier than a fur coat at a lycanthrope convention. It almost drew more attention than the gun barrel I was staring down.
“You’re here about The Author’s Free Time, yes?” The man grinned. “Tsk tsk tsk, I heard about what happened. Such a terrible shame, of course. But I get this feeling that you want to blame me, for whatever reason.”
“Don’t play dumb, you sick freak!” shouted Sweatbrow, gun also raised. “You were peddling illegal Creatives to him, and he overdosed out on the streets!”
“Please” said the smug color-blind peacock of a man. “I am merely a…provider. If some poor fool decides to take one too many shots of RPG Maker, you can hardly blame me.”
“RPG Maker?!” I exclaimed. “So not only were you selling Game Development tools, they were for full-length RPGs? I’m surprised the poor bastard didn’t drop dead the moment he walked into this scum hole!”
The drug lord chuckled. “You’re not the only one. We had him hook, line and sinker the moment he took his first hit. But even with all that gameplay balancing and dialogue writing he still wouldn’t keel over. Wasn’t complaining of course, but then the idiot started mixing hits with Blog Writing.”
Sweatbrow scowled. “I should’ve figured you’d have that market covered too. And what kinda goods were you smuggling there? What was he writing about?”
It was as clear as a teenager’s face, but I still heard it. Faint and distorted, on the edge of my hearing, there was a cracking noise. At the same time, something appeared behind the drug lord. It looked like a thin white thread, suspended in midair and glowing slightly in the moonlight.
Sweatbrow glanced over and saw me staring. “What is it, Hardtack? All I asked was what kinda blog he was writing.”
A lump rose in my throat like a rubber duck at the bottom of a bathtub. The thin white thread had expanded in size, branching out in thin bright tributaries behind that hideous suit. It was clear now that the phenomenon wasn’t a thread. It was a fissure. A fissure in the very air.
“Ha!” the drug lord replied, clearly unaware of the bizarre sight behind him. “You think I cared enough keep tabs on what crap he was writing?”
“It’s all the same to me so long as his money’s good. Who care’s whether he’s writing about-”
Like a man on the lam forced into the opera, I’d found my voice and my gun. The sights of the latter were trained squarely on the head of this printer test trash standing in front of me. I tried not to blink in the face of the glowing web of white light.
The idiot sneered. “Someone’s high strung. I was just guessing that The Author’s Free Time was writing about-”
In slow motion, I heard the noise, like a dropped vase sucked into a wind tunnel. In slow motion, I saw the drug lord turn in shock. In slow motion, I saw a cascading, three-dimensional sphere of breaking glass, light filling the space in its wake. In slow motion, we raised our arms against the tide. In slow motion, something passed us by, taking sound and scenery with it. In slow motion, I lowered my arms to behold nothing but the three of us and a stark white void.
In regular motion, I heard a voice.
“Apologies. I don’t usually directly intervene. But I’m afraid…”
“The metaphor’s breaking down.”
The drug lord stared, eyes wide, at the hole that had appeared in his chest. He fell forward, body thumping against the nothing below. Splayed out before him in perfectly curved, scything arcs, was a blood splatter. The carefully calculated mess was bright red, starkly contrasted against the white void beneath it. It wasn’t what blood on the snow looked like. But it was what it should. Someone here clearly understood the conventions of visual symbolism.
“You’re damn right I do.”
Walking out of nothing, a man with a gun stepped forward. He was @#$!#% and #!$%#$# with #@$%@# hair and #$!@## eyes. I paused. Were my own thoughts just censored? The hell was going on here?! And why did it sound like this guy
“Can hear everything you’re thinking?” The man smiled and tossed his pistol over his shoulder, where it simply stopped being. “Simple, really. I’m an entity who can do basically anything they want here. An entity you’re both very familiar with.”
“I’m The Author.”
I gaped at him. Either this chump was loonier than a Saturday morning cartoon character, or my world had just come crashing down around me. Actually, the latter definitely just happened. But I meant metaphorically.
“Huh” he said, “so this is what it’s like to be the bystander. Can’t say I much like it. Do you mind if I take over that first-person for a while?”
The private eye squinted and raised an eyebrow in confusion. He clearly had no idea what I was talking about.
I smiled. “Much better, thanks” I said.
“The hell is going on here?!” said the police chief. “You said you’re The Author, but that doesn’t make a damn lick of sense! We live inside the author, don’t we?”
“Nah, you got it wrong chief” said the private investigator. “The Author is like this…extradimensional sorta…I mean the way he interacts with our world is…huh. How does that work?”
“Now now,” I said, “this is what I was afraid of. You’re examining the boundaries of this universe with far too much scrutiny. Forbidden knowledge best left alone, poking at the fabric of reality, that sort of business. Verisimilitude has already been completely shattered at this point.”
I sighed as the two looked on soundlessly, working my words over in their minds and making little headway. “Look, I knew from the start that I was walking a tightrope with this premise. It’s clear to me now” I motioned towards the white abyss “that it was a failure. Sorry about that.”
“What exactly are you saying, you walking deus ex machina?” growled the detective. “Am I supposed to believe the whole world just ended because you didn’t like how things were going?!”
“Oh no!” I said, holding up my hands. “I’m not near so pessimistic a writer to leave things like that! No, this will just be a little…hiccup in existence. You’ll soon go back to your business as usual, with no memory of this encounter. I think I might even give you two another story of your own one day. It’s the least I can do to make it up to you after this debacle.”
I smiled ruefully. “Just, uh, don’t expect it too soon. I don’t have the best track record on writing deadlines.”
The chief was gaping like a fish out of water and the private investigator just stared down at the (lack of) floor. After a long, awkward silence, he spoke up:
“I don’t know what to say.”
I gave him a timid shrug. “Yeah, apologies for that too. Couldn’t think of any good one-liners to close with.”
“Well, Mr. Hardtack? Mr. Sweatbrow? Until next time.”
It was at this point that I remembered I can’t snap. When I was a kid I just vaguely imitated the motion and clicked my tongue against the roof of my mouth. I turned beet red as the two stared at me. I’ve never actually seen anyone turn that red in reality, but here I could be as awkwardly pigmented as I liked.
Donny Hardtack and Chief Sweatbrow were standing in front of me. Then they weren’t. I was standing completely alone in an endless white void.
I turned to face you.
“Well, I suppose we should wrap things up here, eh? Now that it’s just us, this format is a bit awkward. Let’s get things back to the usual arrangement…”
Hello again, readers. It’s been a little over a month since my last post, and that month has felt extremely lengthy on my end. The holidays happened, I took my first week off work since I started 9 months ago, a bunch of old friends rolled into town, and I spent a ton of time working on a video game. As hinted at above in quite possibly the most convoluted way possible, I’ve been working on an RPG. It’s called Small Favors. And eventually, it will be freely released to everyone.
If you’re one of those rare theoretical readers I don’t know in real life, it’ll be quite some time before you get your hands on it. I’m testing earlier versions with various personal friends, and won’t be releasing it to the general public until at the very least the main story is completed. It already has quite a few hours of content and I’m ridiculously eager to show it off, but alas, ‘tis not possible for now. All I can promise you is this: Before the end of 2017, some version of Small Favors will be publicly available.
So you get a free game! That’s the good news. Now surely I am going to give you…more good news? That’s probably how it works, right?
The bad news is that in ramping up commitment to this game, I’ll have less time to write for this blog. May I stress that this blog isn’t ending. I still quite enjoy writing here and will have more to write about. It just won’t match that frankly kind of impressive output of the last year and a half since I started weekly updates*. I’m no longer unemployed and have basically agreed to do a second, part-time job in the form of this RPG. This will interfere with my previous second, part-time job in the form of this blog.
*You’re free not to be impressed by my weekly updates. I know I missed a week a few times and a lot of them were filler update posts. But then a lot of them were also like four or five thousand god damn words. Given my track record, at least I’M impressed.
I’ve got the next couple posts I want to write about lined up. But neither will be done by next week, so I’ll go into detail on them then. For now, just know that more content is coming. It may not be quite the same rate as before, but it shows no signs of stopping. That about sums it up.
And guys? Thanks for reading.
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