image border bottom

Zebra-Zero-Zero-One-Two

February 09, 2015 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Setting, The Craft  4 Comments

The Goddess of War enters the battlescape on silent wings.

The battllescape looked like every other battlescape across the destroyed European continent—grey, blasted ruin devoid of life. Color. Each city received a four-hundred and seventy-five kiloton fusion blast courtesy off the SSBN Colorado. Sometimes more than one. Military targets, those surviving the initial Armageddon, met the wrong end of orbital torpedo strikes. Then hastily assembled neutron bombs bathed swaths of landscape where survivors gathered.

Now there was a pause in the wholesale carnage. Not because there were no survivors, but because the Federation of Free Peoples ran out of WMDs.

Their hate, however, was in endless supply. Divisions launched and landed. Most of the enemy left was military personnel, alive simply because when embarking on genocide, one starts with the higher concentrations of civilians as they are the better target.

The Goddess of War appreciated the survivors’ refusal to welcome extinction, so she took to the field.

Neither side knew she had landed exactly in the middle of the pitched battle, a conflict whittled down via attrition to a brutal esthetic, down to handheld weapons, sharp knives and even rocks. Each was locked in a mortal struggle as personal as their first kiss. Their first time making love. The first kill. This battlescape held no innocence; veterans all gave it everything as if nothing else existed.

The Goddess of War lets her rifle drop on its one-point sling. To start shooting, she feels, would almost be a dishonor to her allies; an interruption of the blood music before her. She flexes her armored fingers as her wings fold to become one with her armored back. She pivots on an armored boot and grabs the bloodied lance with the enemy’s standard on the end, still wielded by an enemy soldier, right as the soldier was going to impale the wounded man struggling to get up before him, the man wearing little more than a bloodied rag with only the 101st Airborne Division patch its only denouement.

The lance comes out of the enemy’s hand easily and she continues her pivot into a full circle, the lance flowing down her hand until she grips it tightly. Micro-servos and memory muscle contract in her armor, and then expand with unholy force. The Goddess of War runs the standard through the enemy’s chest.

Blood and nano goo. Great gouts of it spew from the enemy’s mouth and, feeling a sense of irony in killing him with his own standard, she puts the foot she isn’t pivoting with on the corpse’s chest and pulls it free while pushing the body away with her boot. The Goddess of War plants both feet, flexes her knees and jumps.

In the air, she twists backwards and does a backflip over two other combatants locked in a dance of fury. As she lands she swings the standard in an arc and it hits an enemy solder’s head with a mighty crack. His head bends sideways with a snap almost as loud as the impact.

She sinks to one knee as the standard still swings and now it is in downward thrust and impacts another enemy on the back of his leg. Such was the strength of the blow that not only does the leg bend with another snap of bone, but the solider flips completely over and lands on his head right in front of her.

The Goddess of War’s armored fist lashes out. It connects with the enemy’s face and continues through his skull until it punches through the other side. Blood and viscera, brains and smashed cyber gear splash across her armor.

She stands up as a pistol round bounces off her armor, too weak for even her kinetic overlay to absorb it. The enemy holding the pistol is a female. Seeing her feminine form angers the Goddess.

The Goddess of War hates the enemy. She hates the enemy’s females most of all. Her vision goes red. Her armor responds by squirting a stimulant into her bloodstream.

The Goddess of Was is now on her feet and she strides to the female solider who is trying to find a weak spot in her armor with the pistol rounds. She only gets three off as the standard pierces her low in the gut. The enemy screams and the Goddess lifts her off her feet by raising the standard up, the flag now a blood ruin, the untearable cloth torn.

The Goddess of War swings the lance and the female flies off it and impacts another enemy only a few feet away. They both go down and another man of the 101st is there, a combat knife in each hand. He doesn’t even glance at his benefactor as he falls on the two. The man isn’t even an orbital drop trooper. He has a mechanic’s patch on his light armor. He wields the two blades as extensions of his own hate. The blows continue even though both enemies are dead.

This pleases the Goddess, and she observes that not only is she still holding the lance, but also female’s pistol. She flexes her knees and jumps again. She jumps over twenty feet into the air, and at the apex of her leap she aims the crude pistol. As she falls, she pulls the trigger. Once, twice, three times. Four. Five. Click. As she drops the pistol, five enemy soldiers fall, shot in the eye. On top of the head. The neck.

Nearing the ground, she grasps the lance with both hands and leans forward. The lance enters an enemy soldier’s head and continues down the center of his body, coming out somewhere near his belly and slicing into the ground.

Buzz, buzz, buzz. The unmistakable sound of combat drones. They slide into the battlscape, the forward thrust of reinforcements. The Goddess of War is quick, but the drones are just as fast. In moments all the enemy are dead. Dismembered. Sliced in twain. Surgically nullified with a combat laser.

The Goddess of War pants as the men’s gazes dart this way and that as if not quite believing the battle has ended, or perhaps disappointed there is no enemy left to kill. The Goddess peers to the left. She peers to the right. She sees the man with the two knives, gore up to each elbow. She smiles as she strides up to him.

The faceplate of her helmet detracts. She grasps the man and gently pulls him close. She kisses him passionately, tongues entwined and dancing. She closes her eyes when she kisses.

How long she kissed the man she does not know. She opens her eyes and smiles at him again as her faceplate locks back into place and her wings snap out.

The Goddess of War leaves the battlescape on silent wings.

The Christmas Memory of Scent

December 15, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Anthonyisms, Atmosphere, Not Exactly Random, The Craft  0 Comments

The house smells so wonderful.

My penchant for Scrooge-like feelings during the holiday season has slowly been replaced by warm memories of my children’s joy for the season. For young boys, yes, Christmas is a lot about presents. If you are a good parent, if you could overcome the bombastic rampant commercialism, there is an underlying simplicity about the season that can pull at the heart like no other time.

This morning Thing Two came in while I was getting dressed, wanting to know if we could go get Thing One’s Christmas present tonight. How cute is that? I’ll tell you how cute it is, it is a bit of the ultra-cuteness.

Yes there are the presents. But then there is the smell of the tree. The gingerbread house. The decorating. The Christmas cookies. The story of Christmas. Grandpa and Nanna. Daddy’s Christmas Day roast. Santa. The music. The warm fireplace and the happy dog.

Long after those presents are gone, the memories of our close family during this time will linger on. One day my sons will be walking in one of the great national forests around here, and after the morning rain, smell the fresh scent of grand firs. And it will smell like Christmas.

And that will be magical, always magical, even in the dead of summer, it will be Christmas magic.

(repost from 2008)

Bonded: Three Fairy Tales, One Bond by Michelle Davidson Argyle

November 08, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  2 Comments

Yummers yum yum!

Bonded is out, and I just ordered my hardcover edition because I am a sucker for beautiful prose in a beautiful physical book.

The first story in this novel, Cinders, was unexpectedly flawless, and I’m not surprised to see it snatched up by a publisher and put into a novella collection. I can’t wait to read the other two stories, and it’s all I can do not to order the Kindle edition and read it this weekend.

If you are a lover of prose so good it’s sensual, if you appreciate the bittersweet truth to the human condition and like storytelling that extracts the pure heart of a fairytale, then I also suggest getting Bonded. Cinders was that good, and there is no doubt the others will be right up there in the literary clouds of whipped awesomesauce.

Michelle is an excellent writer but these are the stories that push her into that otherworldly zone of awe.

Blood Music

August 25, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, The Craft  0 Comments

When I want to pull out all the stops and write an action scene that is a cut above the other scenes in the novel, I listen to this.

The music gets in my head. It sits there, causing me to visualize what is going on. I don’t hear, in my mind, things explode. There is no bark of the rifle, no swish of the sword. It’s music and violent visual energy dancing about the page like fireflies on a hot summer evening. If I listen closely, I can see everything. The chords are blood and the lyrics are pure adrenaline wrapped around the terror of the battle scape.

Inadvertently, the scene ends with the Princess holding the dripping Sword of the Empress, standing in a sea of bodies laying about in a grotesque parody of driftwood blown to the shore during a storm. She looks about the carnage around her, wondering, wondering, how did it ever come to this? Was it worth it, Princess, she asks herself. Is all the blood really worth it?

She shakes her head. Her answer, as always, is no, and she weeps.

Fifthwind by Ken Kiser

July 06, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  1 Comment

There are many readers, myself included, whom are not enamored with recent trends in epic fantasy. The long, drawn out series where the editor seems to have taken a backseat to the writer’s ego seems to dominate the genre. Then when you come across creative bit of fantasy goodness, you realize you have, in your hands, message fiction. The author has a bone to pick, and you’re along for the ride.

Where, an epic fantasy reader, wonders, did sword and sorcery go?  For years and years it seemed R.A. Salvator was carrying the classic epic fantasy torch.

Where indeed. If ever there was a disconnect between what’s on the traditional bookshelf and what people want to read, epic fantasy was it. I don’t want a twelve book serial where book seven makes no sense. Epic fantasy should rise above pulp but also fulfill the basic yearning of what comes with the fantasy genre. I’ve found a few authors (some in my recommended list) scratching that fantasy itch. Now I’ve found another. If you like epic fantasy and was thinking about or actually writing it, then check out Kin Kiser’s Fifthwind.

Fifthwind, my friends, is classic epic fantasy at its best.

It’s totally obvious, when reading Fifthwind, that Ken Kiser is a classic epic fantasy fan. Take everything you like about epic fantasy: the world-building, the rich characters, the high-stakes plot, an honest protagonist, the epic feel of the setting–these are all present.

Yet, Fifthwind turns out to be original and fresh while at the same time dishing up what makes classic epic fantasy so great. We depart recent fantasy troupe trends with the main character, Ben. Ben is a bad-ass. He starts the book as a bad-ass and simply dials his bad-ass-ery up notches as the novel progresses.

Yes, let’s talk about Ben.

Ben is bad-ass with a slice of awesome toast served with magic butter and jelly made from the tears of lessor fantasy main characters. Normally, I find characters like this annoying, but not Ben. No, Ben is too busy trying to save everyone else and his own ass to grow his ego and arrogance. In the brief moment where there is a pause in the action and Ben becomes reflective, Ben has doubts, but they are proper doubts. Ben doesn’t doubt who he is for a minute, but he doubts his actions because he doesn’t have all the information. And when he gets information that throws him for a loop, his character changes in subtle ways. Ben eventually learns what he doesn’t know can kill him, and instead of focusing on the obvious, he focuses on information gathering. And every piece of information Ben gathers that helps him figure out what is going on, it makes him a right-royal holy terror on the battlefield.

It’s a great piece of careful plotting in which the story moves forward and so does the main character.

Yeah, this is how one should write fantasy characters. It’s familiar: we have the trusted friend, the mentor, the love interest. Kiser doesn’t spend a single moment in the book turning these people into something they are not in the guise of being “original” or “fresh.” Fifthwind is so refreshingly honest, as a fantasy book, it leaves a reader wondering why other novels of its kind are so hard to find.

The plot, as I allude to, has a large mystery and Ben chews away at it and, often, simply refuses to give up because he simply must know. When he becomes a student of a secret society, it’s almost as if his mentor is simply on a crash course to connect the dots for Ben and not preach to the choir. And the scene where Ben learns that his simple view of the world is dead is quite telling. Ben sees that he must harden up. People are going to die, and soon.

And die they do. Fifthwind has the impressive body count, which dives into the highlight of this novel: the action scenes are many and detailed. They make logical sense and they have a certain urgency yet graceful flow about them, which is totally fitting for the martial whirlwind of death that is Ben. This is fantasy action at it’s very best and I am not exaggerating. It’s R.A. Salvatore good. That, dear writers, is so very worth the careful read.

Fithwind is also bittersweet. The story did not end the way I thought it would and I loved every page of the last two chapters, so if you like your epic fantasy served with grim and dark, you’ve come to the right book. You’ve also come to the right book if message fiction and cheap and pretensions thematics causes you to toss a book aside. Fifthwind doesn’t truck in recent trends of literary preaching. It’s an epic story of good vs. evil–monsters and bad guys that simply need killing. Violently.

Highly recommended for both a novelist in the fantasy genre and the reader. I give Fifthwind the coveted five bacon strips out of five.

The Unfinished Song: Initiate by Tara Maya

January 05, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  0 Comments

For anyone new to Rehabilitated Hack Writer Recommends, I target my book reviews towards novelists (you can find my prior reviews here). I also need to point out that this is a review of the first book of a series, not the series itself.

Before we dive headfirst into the fantasy pool of epic goodness that is Tara Mara’s The Unfinished Song: Initiate, we need to take a step back and formally define what epic fantasy is in the novel landscape of 2012. The classic definition of epic or high fantasy is it’s a sub-genre of fantasy set in invented worlds.

I hate that definition.

To me, epic fantasy needs to be, well, epic. Epic. This is fun, but not epic, fantasy:

A mysterious, sexy pale-skinned sword dancer hires an infamous mercenary to find her kidnapped brother. The mercenary learns there is more to women than bedding them, while the sister learns that if she lets her quest define her life, she becomes defeated before the rescue of her brother ever begins.

Bonus points if you can guess that book, by the way.

Now this, this is epic:

The good peoples, it seemed, never defeated the evil that threatened to consume them all, only delayed the final battle. The dark and vile lord who threaten freedom everywhere wrapped his essence into a ring, and now a band of unlikely heroes must cast the ring into the fiery pit of its creation or see it reunited with its maker. Setting out on their quest with the best intentions, the task soon falls to the smallest and unlikeliest hero while the armies of evil marshal to crush everything in its path. If the hero doesn’t destroy the ring and thus the dark lord in time, there won’t be anything left to save.

Epic fantasy is ambitious. Epic fantasy is grandiose. Epic fantasy is bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s heroic, it’s classic, it’s is all-encompassing and all-consuming fantasy. There are stakes. The stakes are high. You could say that the stakes are (wait for it!) epic.

And Mara’s Unfinished Song: Initiate is an introduction into 21st century epic fantasy. Here’s the teaser:

Dindi can’t do anything right, maybe because she spends more time dancing with pixies than doing her chores. Her clan hopes to marry her off and settle her down, but she dreams of becoming a Tavaedi, one of the powerful warrior-dancers whose secret magics are revealed only to those who pass a mysterious Test during the Initiation ceremony. The problem? No-one in Dindi’s clan has ever passed the Test. Her grandmother died trying. But Dindi has a plan.

Kavio is the most powerful warrior-dancer in Faearth, but when he is exiled from the tribehold for a crime he didn’t commit, he decides to shed his old life. If roving cannibals and hexers don’t kill him first, this is his chance to escape the shadow of his father’s wars and his mother’s curse. But when he rescues a young Initiate girl, he finds himself drawn into as deadly a plot as any he left behind. He must decide whether to walk away or fight for her… assuming she would even accept the help of an exile.

Now I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking, wow, that sounds cool, but um, that doesn’t sound too epic to me.

Oh, my friends, pour a cup of hot tea and wait for it. Don’t let the girly frou-frou cover and character-driven teaser fool you. Behind the rich, detailed world-building lies the heartbeat of an epic fantasy tale that rises above the bounds of mythology and into a coming-of-age novel that will leave the reader yearning for more. Maya clearly dips her plot and characters in several different mythologies, yet the book has a distinctive voice that tugs at your heartstrings.

Let’s deconstruct the goodness going on here.

World-Building

Maya’s world building kicks ass. It’s unique, it’s ambitious, and it has an undercurrent of femininity that, without the advent of the interweb tubes, the story Maya is trying to tell never would have seen the light of day. It’s so different it is, and I say this with no exaggeration, a high fantasy literary bomb of mass destruction. It is not so much a filled with troupes and familiar themes as it becomes a classic example of the very idea of world-building.

How does she accomplish this? Maya’s neolithic setting latches on the magical undercurrents of the world she envisioned and never lets them go.

For example, stone-aged peoples in the real world were concerned primarily with survival. Gender roles and relations follow a path necessary for the continuation of the individual and the group.  There is a reason when an attractive woman smiles at a man she unconscionably puts her hair behind an ear, why rejection impacts men and women differently and why we are creatures of instinct despite our technological advancements.

Yet, toss magic into the fray. Magic, like technology, lends itself to the removal of the disparity of force. Maya takes this one step where few tread: it’s not necessarily what you can wield, but more what you know. Dindi’s quest isn’t so much a classic grab-onto-the-power but an unlocking of a mystery.

That moves us back to the impact of the type of magic Maya puts forth. Women, in her tribal society, have distinct roles but they are far from simple property. Women need to bear children so the society she has shaped takes that into account, but it’s not as if the magic is something that sits around in a feudal or even Victorian society as if it’s a character by itself rather than infused into the setting. It has a distinct feminine vibe without the politically correct bullshit.

This is evident from the ground up. It’s in the way characters talk. You might think ancient peoples would also have a primitive language and culture. But neolithic-era people with magic? Maya nails this. It’s in the way they dress, how they pick their mates, how they relate to other tribes, how they view politics, honor and duty. In a world where magic comes forth from a dance, where pixies, talking bears, and fae abound–Maya uses this magic as the glue to everything: setting, plot and characterization. It is the basis of her world-building and because of the creative and talented way she does it, Initiate comes off as highly original, unique and engrossing.

I’m not exaggerating here. World-building. How To. Tara Maya. Initiate. Read it.

Characterization

My number one surprise with this book is that this book has guy stuffs in it. I could talk at length how fascinating Dindi is, how she comes across as both vulnerable yet puts aside her fears to do what must be done. How she seems like she is fourteen going on eighteen one moment, and fourteen going on twelve the next. Maya pens her as tenacious and doesn’t shy away from giving her a sexuality. Dindi’s great.

My little fantasy heart, however, belongs to Kavio.

Because Kavio kicks ass.

Kavio, actually, is a tragic figure. Maya gives him nobility and youthful idealism as his moral fiber, and tosses him into situations of conflict where it becomes apparent that Kavio greatest enemy is himself. Kavio is a good guy, but he’s also a weapon of mass destruction. He follows the rules when obviously he could, quite simply, make up the rules himself with his magic. He’s like a Jedi Knight being given a ticket by a traffic cop. Press hard, Kavio, you’re making five copies. The cop has a gun and feels superior, but Kavio could turn him inside out, burn his cruiser, go to the station, and have it swallowed whole by a rent in the earth while blood pixies rip out everyone’s eyeballs through their noses making the police station scene in The Terminator look like a scene from a Jane Austin novel.

Instead, he signs.

Did I mention he’s a bad-ass?

As a writer, Kavio fascinates me mightily. I’m beginning to wonder if someone handed Maya an honorary penis because she hones in on the masculine feel of Kavio with laser-like focus. She nails what I call the Tragic Masculine Paradox: when confronted with an attractive young woman coming-of-age, the man of honor is torn with feelings of protectiveness as a father figure yet desires as a lover. You see this in fiction all the time. Rarely do you see it done with such empathy and understatement. Many writers go overboard with this, giving this a tragic (and pervy) element. Maya, however, simply presents it as-is. Kavio has bigger problems than his youthful naïveté.

Dindi’s feminine, innocent beauty, simply highlights Kavio’s main attraction: Dindi is magically powerful. Without going into the rest of the series, he’s slowly falling in love, and love, my friends, is messy. Dindi is more than a girl and then more than a young woman. She’s the catalyst to…

But I digress. Dindi isn’t the only character in a come-of-age journey in Initiate.

Plot

Which leads us to the clever, delicious plotting, and how we come full circle back to our discussion about epic fantasy.

A prevalent, and welcomed trend in speculative fiction is the come-of-age journey set in a fantastic (be it wonderful or dystopian) setting. I am a huge sucker for these types of stories, and in Initiate, Maya plots a literal come-of-age journey as Dindi goes out to become a woman, ready or not (and no, she wasn’t ready).

But epic fantasy has stakes. Big stakes. End-of-the-world (or worse!) type stakes, but unlike much of what is out there today, this book is surprisingly not a coming-of-age novel with an epic plot line to give the character’s punch and excuses to reveal their literary humanity. No, this is a book that provides the foundation for the true story: the battle with the malevolent forces out to crush humanity. It’s not exactly Clan of the Cave Bear meets The Lord of the Rings, but you get the idea.

Dindi is on a personal journey and she yearns to become a magical dancer in the society she was born in. However, if, as a reader, you’re paying attention, you can spot the epic plot that Maya is serving up like drops of water to the thirsty.

And this is where we depart the shackles of traditional publishing. Maya fearlessly has plotted out a twelve book series and each book is building  on that plot in a relentless, epic fashion. Let me be very clear, I am not a big fan of many-book fantasy series. Many of them have problems with continuity, editing, and, quite frankly, sometimes as a reader, I feel I’ve been ripped off around book four because I’m being milked rather than being cleverly entertained.

eBooks, and today’s book market, however, has expanded the types of books we can find and buy, and Maya’s greatest accomplishment as a writer is taking  full advantage of medium. The twelve book format, based on her world-building, is not only daring but also a little slice of epic fantasy goodness, and her skill at characterization draws the reader right into her world.

It’s epic fantasy by our very definition, and it’s yummy. Give me those twelve books. I’ll gladly ready every one of them. If you love a good fantasy series fix, Maya’s your drug dealer, Baby.

More Please

You can tell I’m a fan. Initiate is a wonderful, rich and diverse book and the series thus far is a fantasy reader’s fantasy series. I do have quibbles with it, but they are nits in the larger picture. I’m not a fan of the cover art. I disagree with some of the editorial decisions made and feel Maya’s talent could easily support books of larger word counts, smoothing some of the abruptness of the plot presentation.

Yet these are mere nits because from a storytelling standpoint, it just doesn’t work, it’s a slice of Awesome Toast with Bacon. I tell my non-writer, but reader friends, the Era of the Reader is upon us. Novels like Initiate proves that assertion. If you are a writer, take a step back from all the meta that goes on with writing, look at the bigger picture, and read Initiate. You’ll realize the sum of the book is bigger than its parts, and, at its heart, epic fantasy many readers want to buy, but haven’t really been able to do so.

I give Initiate four bacon strips out of five. And while this is a singular book recommendation, I’ll just drop a teaser that as good as it is, the other books in the series get better.

Stand with Her or Not at All

August 26, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Characterization, Not Exactly Random, The Craft  0 Comments

Center of the Sun
Conjure One

***

Young girl in the market
Music to the men
When the men leave
Her eyes are red
When her eyes are closed again she sees the dark market of above

And she sings
‘They say the most horrible things
But I hear violins, when I close my eyes
I am at the center of the sun
And I cannot be hurt
By anything this wicked world has done’

Young boy in the market
Follows all the men
When the men leave
He’s out of his head
When his eyes are closed again he sees the dark market of above

And he sings
‘They break the most beautiful things
But I hear violins, when I close my eyes
I am at the center of the sun
And I cannot be hurt
By anything this wicked world has done
I look into your eyes
And I am at the center of the sun
And I cannot be hurt
By anything this wicked world has done’

Center of the sun

Young boy in the market
Sees the girl alone
And asks her
‘Have you lost your way home?’
She sings
‘You say the most beautiful things, just like my violins’

I look into your eyes
I am at the center of the sun
And I cannot be hurt
By anything this wicked world has done

When I close my eyes
I am at the center of the sun
And I cannot be hurt
By anything this wicked world has done

‘Cause
I hear violins
I hear violins

I hear violins
I hear violins

Center of the sun

I hear …violins

Opening Line

April 16, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Plot, Setting, The Craft  2 Comments

The landscape Josh glided through was bleak and blasted, a twisted caress of despair and destruction, yet it was nothing compared to the dark memory of the girl that abused his thoughts.

Lies We Tell Girls

March 18, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Characterization, The Craft  2 Comments

The loss consumed Davis.

If there were stages of grief, he felt he was at the very most bottom, standing in a hole, looking up at a sky getting farther and farther away.

Reality suddenly intruded on his circular thoughts. Someone else had left flowers. They weren’t even wilted, but the petals where sagging in the rain.

Davis added his own. They made a nice, soggy, arrangement.

***

Two months. Summer gone. Today it was a teacup, with a teabag of jasmine tea. The rain had filled the cup, the raindrops going plip and sending small waves of water over the rim.

She never drank jasmine tea.

At least, she never drank jasmine tea in front of him.

***

A winter rain. More flowers. These were bright and vivid, as if picked to dispel the ever-present grey winter gloom. A beacon of color.

He left the mistletoe next to the flowers. He could imagine holding the sprigs above her head, giving her the flowers and receiving a sweet kiss in return.

The kisses were the most cruel of daydreams.

***

At his apartment, Davis stared at the calendar.

I see you, he thought.

***

Early spring.

The man was tall and well-dressed in his trench coat, expensive shoes and tight-fitting black leather gloves. One of those men would would look good in a hat, only he wasn’t wearing a hat, and the rain was in his dark hair.

Davis walked to his side and stood next to him, both of them silent. They were silent for a long time.

“She always liked the rain,” the man said, staring in his cup of petals. Japanese maple petals.

“She loved Japanese maples, she did,” said Davis.

The man turned to him.

“Joshua?” David asked.

The man nodded.

Joshua. The boy who moved away. She confessed to him one day after a glass of wine in the late hours, that her first love was a boy named Josh. Her parents told her she could not follow the boy.

She was too young to be married, they said.

There would be other loves, they said.

Davis remembered the look on her face when she told him this. There were other loves all right. Other loves after a broken heart. She cried, finally, when he touched her face after she sat there staring into her empty wine glass.

Crying like Joshua. Silently.

Davis set down the very same glass, or the glass he liked to think was the same, and grabbed the man. Joshua was stiff and then it was as if he melted.

“Why? Why do we tell girls those lies? Why do we hurt them so?” Joshua whispered.

“They were just trying to hold onto something they loved. But it’s never right to lie to a girl.”

“No,” said Joshua, “it’s not.”