First, I'm glad to announce we are on our final editing passes for DarkDays: The Monster Within and hope to announce a release date soon. I know there wasn't much news over the holiday break, but I wanted to let people know the novel was trucking along on schedule.
As another preview into the world of Dark Days, I've included the short story The Important Things. Taking place before any of the novels, it give a glimpse into just how much and how little life changes for some under the rifts:
Carl ThreeFeathers has seen a lot of years and a lot of changes. Now that the rifts have quite literally shown up in his front yard...
Carl ThreeFeathers sat on his back porch overlooking a vast expanse of Wisconsin flatland. The day was still bright, but the sun was settling low on the horizon. The first crimson rays of twilight were casting their traces in the air, mixing with the blue of the day. He watched the closest rabbit-thing as it snuffled closer to his porch, getting within a hundred yards of the end of the wooden railing.
The 'rabbit-thing' was bright green like artificial turf, with a lazy pattern of yellow along it's back. The creature had no less than four long rabbit-like ears and the biggest damn eyes he'd ever seen on something so small. A small rounded horn protruded from its forehead, which the critter scratched at absently as it nervously sought out the slightly fresher grass of his backyard. A couple dozen more of the things scurried behind the critter, each sniffing and bouncing as they followed in their leader's wake.
Late morning was Carl's favorite time of day, he reckoned, as he lined up the old .308 rifle and sighted down the barrel. He took careful aim at the weird four-eared rabbit-thing and let off a single shot. The blast rocked him back slightly - the chair he was sitting on had been handmade by himself when he was younger and one leg was shorter than the others. The bullet blew a puff of impressive but harmless dust about six inches to the left of the rabbit-thing. Both the green critter and all dozen or so of its friends bounded away into cover below the rise of the hill. Carl grimaced and lowered the rifle, stowing the firearm in the crook of his arm so he could draw another sip of his beer. Ah well, he thought, they'd be back in a little bit and he'd nail one of the little blighters with the next shot.
The raspy voice of Jameson Hannity came out from his left, "Almost got him that time. Of course, that was true of your last shot, too." Jameson (he hated being called James) was Carl's oldest friend and the two of them had spent more evenings out here in the back of Carl's property than anyone could bother counting.
Carl quietly scoffed at the comment and pointed his gun in the general direction where the rabbit-things had hidden. "I'm telling you that damn thing knows when I going to shoot. He's dodging me."
Jameson took a sip of his beer and readied his Remington .22 rifle. The bastard claimed the small caliber firearm was all he had handy when Carl had called him, but Carl suspected the man wanted to save money on spent ammunition. Carl's friend shook his head and patiently waited for the critters to start scurrying back towards the grass. He waved his gun to the right, indicating where Carl sat, "Uh huh. And your shitty eyesight has nothing to do with it. I should be surprised you hit the general vicinity of the thing, old man."
Carl was old, there was no denying the truth. He was running closer to 70 years than 60 these days and felt like he was aging two years for every one on the calendar. Recent events were only making the feeling worse. Jameson was the same age of course; the banter was simply his way of reminding Carl about his recent cataract surgery. Jameson swore up and down the surgery had given him the eyesight of a 20-year-old, but he hadn't been any closer to hitting one the blighters any more than Carl. They had a standing 6-beer bet on which one of them would nail one of weird otherworld critters first. Carl looked over at the dwindling supply of beers between them. The loser would have to make a run to the store in order to pay off the debt, and he only had five beers left. He chose to ignore the 'old man' comment and instead motioned out towards the horizon with his rifle, "Critter won't dodge me next time. Meanwhile, I'm just waiting for you to miss."
Jameson coughed and brought the beer can to his lips. "Where the hell did these things come from, anyway? Extra ears I can maybe get behind, but these damn things are the wrong color."
Carl shrugged and pointed out to the horizon. "I woke up this morning and saw a hole in the sky about 300 yards out - like you see on the television. The hole was halfway to being closed, but there was already a bunch of these little green shits running around the yard when I came out. Little bastards have been ducking me ever since. They don't sit still and get shot, but they won't stop trying to get at the grass either. "
Jameson saw an opportunity and drew a bead on one of the little rabbit-things. His .22 barked, but the only result was another puff of dirt a few inches away from the target. The whole tribe of little unicorn rabbits bolted back behind the rise again, waiting for their next opportunity. Carl wasn't certain if the dumb beasts were pretending to be scared or the little bastards simply forgot the danger every time they took a shot.
Jameson paused for a moment and sighed. "At least I was closer than you."
Carl chuckled and rearranged the blanket in his lap, "What? You were a mile off."
Jameson scratched his beard, "Maybe...You ever worry about it, though?"
Carl looked over at his friend, "About what? Your terrible aim?"
Jameson shook his head and picked up another beer, "About all this stuff which has been going on. Weird animals coming out of holes in the air. People doing wizard-y magic crap and getting superpowers. The guy on TV that had those extra arms."
"Nope. Not worried about it at all."
Carl chuckled. "Nope. Hell, Carl. The federal government authorized open carry for the whole 50 states and them California types didn't even protest. That makes recent evnts a positive development as far as I'm concerned."
Jameson picked up a beer can and waved it in the air absently, "I'm not saying they shouldn't have, but doesn't that tell you how scary things are getting? So many people can kill each other with crap the government can't regulate, they've all but given up on the notion. of regulating any weapon"
Carl raised his rifle and took another shot, sending the horde of rabbit-things scurrying again. "Damn it. No, Jameson, I ain't worried a lick about 'recent events'."
"C'mon, "Jameson scoffed, "How about how those aliens sometimes pop out of these portals. Beings who think like people but aren't human? Tell me the idea of space aliens don't worry you none."
Carl shrugged and took another sip of his beer, "All that crap means is Martha's daddy was twice the fool for complaining about me being Indian. If he was alive I would be able to point out Martha coulda brought home one them elf people or something."
Jameson brought the rifle up, but paused. "You're only one sixteenth Indian."
Carl pushed back his hair in a mock pose. "Yeah, but it is a damn handsome sixteenth."
Jameson chuckled, "I don't think that counts. C'mon, Carl. The world has gotten a hell of a lot crazier in the past 6 years. Things from other worlds are walking about, and we are discussing this while shooting moon rabbits in your backyard."
Carl threw an empty can at one of the rabbit-things. The can only sailed a couple of yards, well short of its intended target. He mused for a moment, letting his half-buzzed mind work through what Jameson was saying. The world had gotten crazier and more dangerous in the past few years - ever since the portals started showing up and spitting things out from a thousand worlds no one had known existed. He thought about Jameson's statement, came to a conclusion, and opened another beer before his brain came up with any objections to foresaid conclusions. He looked over at his friend and caught his eye, "Let me ask you a series of questions, Jameson, and you give me honest responses."
Jameson cocked an eyebrow at him and nodded. Carl lay his rifle on the ground and point up a finger, "Is Congress still full of moronic assholes?"
Jameson smiled thinly, "Yeah..."
Carl held up another finger, "Are the world's governments still in a pissing contest with each other?"
"Yep, I reckon so."
A third finger went up. "People still doing dumb crap like robbing banks and getting arrested for it?"
"Of course they are."
Carl put a fourth finger up, hiding only his thumb. "People still arguing about religion and philosophy?"
Carl raised a fifth finger, showing a triumphant upraised hand. "People still drinking beer?"
"Jesus Carl, it's not the apocalypse.", Jameson sounded like he'd heard someone cuss in church.
Carl downed a gulp as if to prove the point, "Then the world hasn't really changed a damn bit. Doesn't matter if people are shooting guns or fireballs. If minorities are a different color or a different species. If space rabbits come out of the sky or normal rabbits come out of the ground. Nothing has changed. We are still a bunch of dumb apes trying to obtain good things and screwing each other over either on purpose or on accident. I don't care what the TV says. I have sat on this porch with you or Martha for over three decades - every weekend I ain't fishing or hunting.", he pointed his beer at Jameson, "Let the TV folks scream all they like. Nothing's really changed for me. or you"
Jameson let out a low chuckle and leaned back even farther, "Since when you a goddamn philosopher?"
Carl retorted, "Since you forgot how to aim that peashooter which couldn't hurt a pile of water balloons. You going to shoot or talk my ear off?"
Jameson snorted and raised the Remington again, he barely even aimed and let off a single shot from the rifle. The lead rabbit-thing spun over once and lay still. There was a momentous silence for a moment as the now-dead creature's friends scurried for dear life and the whole field emptied. Their mouths dropped open for a while, contemplating the sudden turn of events.
"Shit.", Jameson swore, "I killed it."
Carl laughed, long and hard, and let out a small whoop. "Well, I tell you what. You shot it, you can go wander out there and pick it up. "
Jameson turned to him slowly, worry showing in his face. "Think the critter has got space rabies or something?"
Carl laughed, long and hard, "Better question: Can you cook alien rabbits?"