Daily Fiction

Nightly Build, Corona Gale 1.1.1

Kate Foley snored[1] alone in bed, deeply asleep in a way her boyfriend never could snore, who shared the bed and in fact owned it, in fact owned just about everything in the apartment, had still not in months become used to the noise or gravity of that mountainous inhalation. It came from nowhere he could ascertain, not her throat or chest or deeper. But he’d grown to it, and it wasn’t wonderful but what could he do?[2] He stood barefoot twenty feet from her, his back to her and a wall between them, his downturned sleepily half-watching the foggy brim of water turn from still to feverish, half-watching his phone[3] in the other hand, flicking, flicking, flicking. He’d been awake since the snoring broke through his dreams, as it did every morning she stayed over, which was invariable as of late, since he asked her to basically move in and she basically did even though she brought basically nothing, which caused a suspicion he brought up during third-beer rants about privacy and trust, her defense being she didn’t like to own things, as if that was a rational stance about anything[4].

 

Ollie poured water into a contraption that eventually produced decent coffee, not worrying about making noise. Cups clanged on the breakfast tray, a small silver plate with foldout legs, a pattern of an aluminum flower against an aluminum sky underneath two cups of coffee and a plate of bacon, scrambled eggs, leftover sausage. Ollie made or reheated these things while listening to a dulcet podcast[5] about fancier ways of making coffee. He put the tray down on the floor beside her, and he sat on the bed and put his hand gently on her hair, petting it slightly. She didn’t stir, but she stopped snoring and started to sort of purr, and then in a few moments rose to consciousness, a vacation smile appearing on her face as she remembered where and who she was.

 

“Do I have to get up?” She asked like a six year old.

 

Ollie said, “I made you breakfast. Then you can do what you want.”

 

“I’m going to try to not get too used to this,” she said. “You spoil me. You treat me like a princess.”

 

“I treat you like a person,” he said, getting up and heading towards the shower. “It’s just that most people don’t know how to do that.”

 

Next to Kate on the reclaimed alabaster nightstand sat an alarm clock, black, analogue, with hands that glowed in the dark. She had bought it as a joke, because it was her second one. The original sat just right of it, digital and glowing with green numbers, an army of buttons above and behind them to help out with settings and radio preferences. Sitting comfortably just behind the original was a third, this one a cute Japanese ball clock shaped like the head of a cat. To snooze, you had to pull a level in the back that slowly lifted up again to trigger the alarm every ten minutes. There were two other alarms, but they didn’t matter. What mattered is that her nightstand was just alarm clocks, 5 trinkets recognizing hearty ambition and futile practicality. She would buy a new one and within days her unconscious muscle memory would figure out the exact motion needed to not only hit snooze but disable the alarm entirely. She had no real power to stop it. At first, she had them trigger all at the same time, so she would need to exert some real effort to kill them all. Later, she scheduled them at 5 minute intervals. Nothing helped. She sleepily gazed over at her collection of attempts at a possible morning. None of them really did the trick.

 

Kate chewed on bacon in bed. She flipped around on her phone, liking posts and deleting spam. The coffee was perfect and nothing hurt[6]. She’d been seeing this guy for about six months, and he knew how to wake her up and not ask too many questions. She hadn’t once thought of running. Well, she’d thought about it as a routine measure, but not because of anything he did. In his bed, eating his bacon and using his wifi, she considered the possibility of it actually working out. Could she just coast like this forever? She’d lied well enough. He wasn’t suspicious of anything. He didn’t seem to stress about the unknowns. Ollie didn’t seem to stress about anything, as if he’d bottled the ability to glide through life. Did this bother her on some level? She asked herself this before, and the answer was no, then. It was still no. So many problems she usually ran into with her life and with her relationships was still turning up no. She almost didn’t know how to deal with it, except with the dumb reminder that there was nothing to deal with. So long as she could keep up a healthy facade, there was no drama.

 

“Oh!” Ollie yelled from the shower. “You got a letter. This morning. Three hours before the mail guy usually comes. And even though you don’t live here.”

 

[1] She sleeps like the dead with him, and with other boys, but only when she wasn’t at work. She never slept much while on the job.

[2] Repeat this.

[3] Ollie always has a phone in his hand.

[4] Repeat this.

[5] Ollie listens to podcasts about nicer versions of the things he does.

[6] This is a reference to something. Find it?

Daily Fiction

Nightly Build: Corona Gale: 1.1.1

Kate Foley snored alone in bed, deeply asleep in a way her boyfriend never could snore, who shared the bed and in fact owned it, in fact owned just about everything in the apartment, had still not in months become used to the noise or gravity of that mountainous inhalation. It came from nowhere he could ascertain, not her throat or chest or deeper. He stood barefoot twenty feet from her, his back to her and a wall between them, his downturned sleepily half-watching the foggy brim of water turn from still to feverish, half-watching his phone [Ollie always has a phone in his hand.] in the other hand, flicking, flicking, flicking. He’d been awake since the snoring broke through his dreams, as it did every morning she stayed over, which was invariable as of late, since he asked her to basically move in and she basically did even though she brought basically nothing, which caused a suspicion he brought up during third-beer rants about privacy and trust, her defense being she didn’t like to own things, as if that was a rational stance. 

Notes

Stars & Hearts: iTunes' new ratings options explained

Love these explanations on what all the possible ratings mean, now: 

Five stars, no heart: A rating that says, "Yes, I understand Radiohead is great, but please leave me alone."

Precisely. 

As a longtime Zune user (yeah, yeah), I really love a simpler rating system: A heart, a broken heart, or no heart. If iTunes had added a broken heart to their system, it would have been perfect, a feature-complete inhalation of everything great about Zune (they did add a $9.99 streaming/downloading service this month, as Zune had in 2008). iTunes' 5-star system always seemed messy, and I'm glad they're finally simplifying it (or at least giving the option). 

Of course, Windows Phone has zero way to rate a song, other than the "delete" button. So.

Notes

Working through Corona Gale and my other unfinished novels

Corona Gale started out as the next chapter in this thing I'm making. I don't consider it all that successful, in that I didn't work it through before getting started, and wasn't able to course correct before it became a bit of a tangle. It's confusing, and only partially meant to be. I like the story, or at least the story as it exists in my head. But I don't like how it exists now.

In my head, the story goes like this: Kate is sent on a mysterious mission by her job. She has a conflict: there's this guy she's been getting on really well with, but she hasn't been working for a while and has been able to more or less hide what she does. But she fears being stuck so far away and for so long will blow that, and their relationship. She's never been able to make anything work because of her job, but she wants to be with this guy.

In my head, we get to know the guy really well, and want to root for them to work out, and for her to be happy.

In my head, she doesn't die. There's still a calamity, but it's an intermission cliffhanger. It's not the end of anything. The calamity happens at around the end of the first act. The second act is about Kate pulling everything together, solving the mystery, and saving the day. The second act is about Kate as a hero, because for her to be the protagonist of this book, she needs to show a different side of her than I showed you in No Chinook, where she was more or less the villain.

The third act is about the choice of whether or not to tell Ollie what she does for a living. Does she put her chips on the table, or does she continue to try to deceive him? I'm not even sure what direction I want to go, and this book has been in my head for nearly two years.

But even with that, the plot is rather thin. I need to beef up the actual mystery. I need a better villain. And I need a B-story.

This is where Album Yukes comes in. A Record Year for Rainfall was the next chapter after No Chinook, and Corona Gale is the next chapter after Rainfall. I want to insert him in the story in a natural way. It's been five years since he shut down his blog to be a political journalist, and I think readers of that story would agree that couldn't last very long. I think he's actually on a beat here, looking for the truth about a thing he feels could profit him. Album is a great scumbag, and since he was more or less the antagonist of Rainfall, I think it would be fun to put my two villains together to try to save the world (or at least a boat).

People who have put up with my stops and starts since 2012 know that I'm trying to put together a narrative that weaves through several titles. Two of those titles are finished (Chinook and Rainfall), and four of them are at different states of completion (Corona Gale, The Moonbow Easy, Skypunch, and Sprites Jets & Elves). I haven't forgotten about any of these stories, and they're all important to me. I'd like to think I'm finally in a state where I can get back to work on them.

But why haven't I finished these? I think part of it has to do with where I stopped at Corona Gale. I didn't have an ending (or even a middle) in mind, so I felt I had to leave that one and go somewhere else for a while. These stories all take place in the same "world," and they should connect (if only slightly). I couldn't finish Gale until I knew where things would go. And now I know. I know where this is all headed.

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.13.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

Kate left a husk beneath her. He was unconscious. If she’d failed, at least she failed spectacularly. Her knuckles were raw and sore, but the adrenaline too care of much of the pain. She breathed heavily, not from exhaustion but fight or flight. What was she going to do now? She’d read the clues as they came. She’d found the man responsible, and punished him. She did her best with what she said. 

Self-doubt crept in, in the last few seconds of her life. What if she’d barged into the man’s cabin right away? She’d been right to linger, to hear him. She heard about the Corona Gale right away by trusting her gut. But it didn’t make sense then, didn’t feel connected. One instance can’t make a coincidence. Why did she waste so much time with that girl? Why did she try to think about her relationship while she should have been piecing the mystery together? What if she’d done it all right?

She closed her fist. She found the door. She walked out to the deck overlooking the bow. It had been horrifying, but for thirty seconds Kate watched the water rise and rise, beyond where she could see. There was still no way to know exactly where the ship was, whether it be below sea level, above, or still on it. There was no way to know where the water went. There were still so many questions that Kate would never know. But there were questions that would be answered. 

Would she ever see Ollie again? Would she ever see anyone again? Would she finish what she started with this job, or would it consume her? Was there enough time to do everything she wanted to do?

How would she die?

Kate knew all the answers to these questions. 

The corona gale was beautiful, like an undiscovered country. Kate cried. She gasped. She laughed. She didn’t know what to do so she let it out. She planted her feet, closed her fists, and screamed out against it all. 

The water closed in. 

The ship contracted, then buckled, the noise unbearable. It did not take long to capsize and cease being. Kate’s footing was lost, and she was hit by the wall of rushing water, knocking her out immediately. There was only darkness after that. The sea resumed. The ship sank down, to depths no one has seen, to the deep black unknown earth. The crew, the staff, Stellen the Swedish bartender, Magelina the worried wife, Sam the victorious villain, Kate the failed hero, they all fell forever, until there was nothing to see, nothing to feel, and nothing to be. 

 

***

 

It is the autumn of 2013 when a ship disappears off the coast of Vancouver. It is in the news. People talk about it. There are worried about global warming, but for the most part nothing comes of the event. Family members mourn the losses. The ship company is sued. But cruises continue to go out, funerals are held and families move on. Time passes, and the ship’s crash becomes an anecdote, maybe a light warning, but little more. These things happen. Even the most independent and radical conspiracy thinkers conclude it was a freak accident, and nobody could have seen the storm coming, and that sometimes we just can’t see these things, because we are small, and the world is still larger than we know. We may know its parameters, but we do not know its appetite.  

No wreckage is ever found. No bodies are recovered. Nothing ever washes up. 

Kate hadn’t told anyone at work about her boyfriend, Oliver, so nobody notifies him that she has died. Through a mutual friend, he tracks down Kate’s mother. Her father had been dead many years. The death had caused a rift in the family, and they had not spoken in a long time. That Kate was nowhere to be found did not surprise her mother when Oliver told her. 

Oliver would eventually piece together that there had been a freak crash around the same time she went missing. He calls the cruise company and is given access to the list of occupants. Kate’s name does not appear[Kate’s name was not in the ship’s list.]. After that, he made some calls, and dug around online, but found himself helpless. It was as if she simply vanished. He gives it as much time as he can, and then he moves on.

One day, he throws out her alarm clocks. 

Some years in the future, an exploratory vessel submerges to a new depth four hundred miles west of Vancouver island. They uncover a watch. It is lodged under a small rock. The time and date on the face are frozen on the date the ship disappeared. They also find evidence of wood, some steel, and and a layer of soot on the rocks that would indicate an explosion. The lab on sea level takes its time with these artifacts, but conclude that they could not come from the cruise ship that sank in 2013. Even though the date on the watch is from exactly that time, the fragments were found to be far older, at least by fifty years. Their official report suggests that the type of steel and wood recovered could not have come from a cruise ship built in the 21st century, as the cruise ship had been. 

As for the watch, it was a much older model, but people wore old watches all the time, and this was disregarded as evidence of a different ship. They thought it might be a clue, but it elicited little more than passing curiosity. It could have come from any ship, sunk or not.  

The scientists conclude that another voyage would be needed to study the area again, but they would have to wait for technology to progress to the point where they could sink lower. 

In the future, our tracks are tracked better. There is less unknown, but what remains is feared, much like it is in the present day. But fewer people go missing. In fact, the cruise ship was one of the last, and stood as an example made by those who pushed this new technology on us as something that would never happen again. Oh, ships would crash, they said. But we would know who was on it. We would know the moment they died, and we could tell you. You wouldn’t have to wait and wonder for weeks. You would have this information immediately. And this is better, they said. And most people agreed with them. 

In the future, you know your best friends’ heart rate. You know if they are exerting themselves. You know if they are in pain. You know if they are lonely. You know if they need you. In the future, we have more information, and we believe that we care more than we used to. But it took Oliver a long time to throw away those alarm clocks, and one reason is that he didn’t know. He suffered, and it was in the not knowing that there was pain, confusion, and maybe some sense of betrayal. But in not knowing, there was also hope. Because there wasn’t an answer, optimism had a chance. In the future, we know more things. There is more understanding. But there is also less magic. In the wind, in the ocean, and in the hearts of young lovers and old fools, there is less. 

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.12.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

“Fuck, you look like an asshole,” Kate quipped. 

He sipped his cocktail. Kate smelled bourbon. The man indicated toward the glass. “Would you like one?” He smirked. 

The ship shook. It rocked them both, but he seemed disaffected. Yeah. That was the word to describe every inch of him. He was definitely the bad guy.

“I’m not the bad guy,” he said. “My name is Sam Kingsley. And I’m doing something very important. I’m enjoying it, but that’s besides the point.” 

Kate grabbed the collar of his shirt, gripping tight as if to raise him off the ground, his drink spilling out of his hand as he fell somewhat limp, submissive to her aggression.

He stymied, coughed, then bragged. “There’s not really much point in attacking me now. Not now that it’s all over.” 

The ship appeared to agree with him, shaking violently. The bridge had windows from waist-height to the ceiling, curling around the entire outer wall. She could see the water, still impossibly lifting up, still held by something. 

Kate let the man go. He dropped to his knees, but picked himself up quickly. He was a light man, spry and young, and cool in a situation that couldn’t call for it. Kate began to feel panic. She searched for something on the bridge. All the computers were down. She found a phone but there was no dial. The lights flickered, and finally shut off for good. One bulb burst, creating a trail of dust and thin glass in the air underneath. “Whatever you’ve done, you have to stop it, or everyone on this ship is going to die.” 

“Why don’t I tell you what I’ve done,” he said, lifting his glass from the floor. He walked over to a bar table, where he had a bottle of champagne chilling in a bucket. He dropped the bourbon glass on the table and picked up two champagne flutes. He poured them both, and handed one to Kate. She refused, and he was stuck holding both. “And I’ll let you decide if I have to stop it. If everyone here is going to die.” 

“How much time do we have?” Kate asked. “If you’re responsible for this, you know when it ends, don’t you?”

“Trust me,” Sam said. “We have time. Fourteen minutes, thirty seconds, to be exact. And I do like to be exact.” 

“Well, get on with it then,” Kate said. “If I hear something I don’t like, I will kick your head in. I kicked your guards’ heads in. They didn’t like it.” 

“I assume not,” he said. “It sounds fairly nasty. Very well then, I’ll try to make this plot polite. I was hired to do a job. You probably have a job, right? Is it normal?” He didn’t stop, but Kate shook her head. “Mine isn’t normal. It pays a lot. It’s very dangerous. It isn’t the kind of thing you go to school for, you understand. I’m very good at a very specific thing, and people who want it will pay me quite handsomely.” 

“Who hired you?”

“Why, don’t you know? I work for the cruise company.” 

“You what?” 

“This is all part of the deal,” he said. “You paid for my services with your ticket. That’s the promise of the cruise line. To make people feel young again, as if they were in the volley of youth. They get to relive their lives over, with just enough knowledge that they’re doing it, but not so much as to try to change things.” 

Kate felt a migraine growing. “What?”

“I’m really quite surprised you aren’t aware of this. I mean, I’m surprised you woke up, but some of them do. This is why we have to keep a crew to roam around and knock them back out. It doesn’t matter if they’re awake or not. It makes no real difference, objectively, but it’s a far more pleasant experience if they don’t know what’s happening. Customer’s needs come first, of course.”

“You’re not making any sense,” Kate said. “I would very much like you to start making sense, before I—

“Yes yes, before you take me to the cleaners or whatever. Fine, yes. I’ll tell you in the plainest English I can muster. I work on this ship, and my job on this ship is to send people back to when they were happy. Don’t you see? Because of me, this ship becomes a time machine of sorts. It’s really rather remarkable. You should look more impressed.” 

Kate said, “I’m not impressed by bullshit. Time travel doesn’t exist. Whatever you’re doing is just going to kill people. You may think you’re doing them a favour. I can believe that. I can absolutely buy that you believe this to be true. But I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. You somehow steered this ship into a storm, and we’re in the eye of a hurricane, and we’re all about to be destroyed.” 

“A storm? My dear, this is no storm. This is my corona gale, and,” he snickered. “But Of course you would come to that conclusion. That’s a reasonable one. But I assure this is all real. All you have to do is have a little faith.”

“A little faith in what? Science fiction? This is the real world.” Kate remembered her training, remembered what she was good at. “If things are going to work, then why am I here? Why am I standing here, doubting you?”

“That’s easy enough,” Sam said. “You’re not supposed to be here, and something went wrong. We missed something. You slipped through. But it really doesn’t matter. You just won a free trip, lovely.”

Kate’s shoulders began to tense up. The floor beneath her vibrated heavier, and she soon lost her balance. Sam Kingsley fell with her, and they both scrambled to find either footing or something to grab onto. 

“My calculations are always correct,” he said. “We have five minutes until it happens. It’s certainly preferable to sleep through it, but there’s a total thrill of going back fully cognizant.”

“I’m not listening to you anymore,” Kate said. “If there’s no way to stop this, and if you’re right about the time, then we’re fucked. That’s okay, I’ve been fucked before. You know what I did last time? I beat the fuck out of the guy, and I took him down with me. I’m standing here today, about to die in the same room as you, because I’m Kate Foley. And I win.” 

Kate got her feet under her body and pushed towards Sam, locking arms with the man. She grabbed one arm and tied it around his neck, choking him with his elbow. She got behind him, stood over him, and kicked out his knees. His right arm flailed and she kicked it, grabbed it behind, and yanked. He screamed in pain, but also tried to laugh. 

“It’s no use,” he said, muffled. “Hurt me all you want. This won’t matter in two minutes. None of this will have happened yet.”

“Will it happen again?” Kate asked, tightening her hold, tying up his arms in a way that gave her a free hand.

“Perhaps,” he said. “But who knows? It hasn’t happened before. It’s a little different every time.”

“If it happens again, at least I’ll enjoy doing this more than once.” She began to rally right-hands to his liver. She attacked his body with a ferocity of a prize fighter, feeling the end near, wanting to exert it all. Whatever adrenaline, blood, and violence in her body went through her fists, breaking his bones, puncturing his internal organs, until blood spurted from his mouth and he collapsed in a hump. He cried. He couldn’t laugh. His ribs were cracked. Kate’s knuckles were bloody and bruised, and she’d never, ever felt better in her entire life. 

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.11.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

A gale was a storm. Easy. One less thing to figure out. Her google search earlier came up with no real alternate meanings, nothing mythical or sinister. She moved forward. Her feet fell light as she jogged toward…what? She jogged toward what? She wanted to beat what? She wanted to smash in what? She wanted to save what? She wanted more of what? What was she doing here? What was she trying to prove? Why hadn’t she just quit already? 

Of course, she knew the answer to that. 

Kate checked a map. The bridge was a room away. She would get there in two minutes. She could almost see the door. She slowly turned the last corner, wary of a last guard. She peeked. She saw the door, oak, large, and probably bolted. Could she kick it in? She felt like she could. She hadn’t felt better in weeks. Kate only ever got this contact high when she fought. There was nothing else like it. Old relationships sometimes got her temper up to this level, but with Ollie she’d been calm. He was perfect. 

“Ollie,” she said. “I’m coming home to you, you patient son of a bitch.” 

She saw the door, and knew whatever was on the other side, that’d be it. Either she would beat it and win, or she would lose and die, along with everyone else on the ship, as soon as the water decided to stop lifting up and away. The ship vibrated all over now, the water’s roar almost deafening, even on the inside. 

She thought of Ollie. She wanted to kiss him, and hug him, and feed him, and call him George. She wanted to be at him, on him, as close as possible. She wanted him to make her feel like fighting did, and she would transfer that feeling to him and never need to fight again, never take on another gig, never put her life in danger, never stop another manic street preacher, just let them go and burn themselves out. Let someone else do it. Let someone else try to be half as good. 

Kate decided, right then and there, to make it work with Ollie. Even on the brink of death, in the middle of a scientific damned impossibility, facing down some kind of magic—whatever was happening, she sure as hell didn’t understand it—all she wanted was to let him in. Her reception was dead, but she sent him a text anyway. 

—I don’t want the last text you ever get from me to be an emoji, so, here goes

—I love you

—I love you in numbers. I can count the ways and I can make lists of things to compare it to but I’ll let you decide. 

—I love you in feelings, in images I can’t describe and won’t try because it’s magic

—I love you and I want to be with you, and before right now I didn’t think that could work

—I love you and I am in trouble and you can’t save me

—You don’t even know. I can’t even begin to tell you

—But it’s okay. I will explain all of this away. I will put on my disguise and you will be convinced

—I’ll say I was just tired. I was so tired. Shhhh. 

—I love you so much I come up with my best lies just for you

—I love you in onomatopoeia. I’m making a noise right now that you would laugh at. I promise. 

—I love you in technicolor. 

Her fingers hurt, and the ship rocked, so she put her phone away in her inside breast pocket and took a knee. She was going to rush the door, shoulder it down, get the jump on whoever was in there, and somehow save the entire goddamn day. 

Kate rushed forward, nerves of adrenaline hitting steamed carpet Her favourite workout song played in her head. She saw red, alarming, bloody, total, siren on a lost level.

The door creaked. These fucking designers, man. They cheap out on materials. The bridge was supposed to be accessible. It was locked, though, and Kate felt the steel on her shoulder, which throbbed after impact. Still, she got most of it. She took another run at it and burst through, landing on half the door, cracked thin plywood. It was almost like a stage door, meant to look good and impress people barely paying attention. 

Kate picked herself up, dusted off her jacked, and pulled a few shards of wood splints out of her hair. It didn’t take her long to spot the man. He was looking right at her, sipping a cocktail. 

“I could have let you in,” he said, his voice echoing in the small room full of dials and radios. “All you had to do was knock.” 

Kate stood agape. The man she saw was shorter than her, thinner. He was dressed in a dark, fitted suit, with a white tie and mauve shirt. His shoes were wingtips. His pocket square was folded in a way that would have been too difficult for most people born in the last fifty years. His hair was slick back, black, with a sheen. 

“Fuck, you look like an asshole,” Kate quipped. 

He sipped his cocktail. Kate smelled bourbon. “Would you like one?” 

 

 

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.10.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

The elevator didn’t work. She pushed the button but nothing lit, no mechanisms whirled to her will. The lights were on, but even they flickered from time to time, mostly when the rushes of water intensified, as they did every few minutes. The water got louder, and Kate felt the pressure. The ship, or whatever else was fighting back the torrent, wouldn’t be able to hold it forever. Everyone on the ship would soon be dead. Kate knew there wasn’t much hope. Even if she got to a phone, she was either so far underwater there would be no charge, or in a place where conventional means of technological communication would prove inadequate. But she had to try. What else was there to do? Lie down? Pretend to be like everyone else? What use was there in fitting in here, with these people? 

Kate hated her job. Her life was in danger, almost imminent and certain. She was going to die on this ship, and her last text to her boyfriend had been a fucking emoji. She was going to die and nobody would ever know how or why. The worst part of it was, she didn’t even know. She didn’t have enough time to crack it. She had no idea why this was happening, why she was ever on the ship to begin with, and what would happen next. But she had to move. She had an arrow. She followed it. 

Her pace slowed in the next section of the ship. She’d taken the emergency stairs up to the same level as the bridge, and as she opened the door onto the next hallway, she heard two pairs of footsteps. Escalation, she thought, cursing herself. It’s never fewer goons the closer you get, is it?

Kate heard one of them doubling back, and took it as an opportunity to take them out one at a time. Unfortunately, she didn’t have time to scan the area for a hiding spot. She panicked for a moment, but then got her bearings. What was around? Bodies. 

Kate dropped to the ground, closed her eyes, and tried to blend in. The footsteps got closer, and she heard them until they were less than a foot from her. He was looking at her. He must have just come through here, and she wasn’t here last time. What was he thinking, she wondered. Did he think she was a threat, or just something he’d missed? 

His boots scraped the carpet, and when the sound descended slightly she sprang, grabbing his ankle and wrapping her body forward, through his legs, until she knelt and he tripped. Kate flipped up, and took a quick look of the man she’d felled. He was larger than the first guy, but clearly awkward: a stockier man wouldn’t have fallen so easily. 

“What the shit!” He exclaimed. “Who the fuck are you?” 

As he tried to get up, he as met with the same kick to the head as his predecessor. But he blocked it, grabbed her ankle and pulled her down. With the other leg she stabbed at his hand and wrist, and she pried herself free, rolling backwards, getting ready to pounce. As she got her footing, he came at her, lunching his shoulder into Kate’s stomach, launching both bodies towards a wall. The crash was audible and it winded her. He grabbed her arms to hold them up, but she slipped through and lowered down too fast for him, and slithered through his legs. Two quick punches to the backs of his knees made him imbalanced, and she grew in height while striking him all the way, finally wrapping her arm around his neck, her nails digging into the back of it, with threatening pressure. 

“Who. The Fuck. Are You,” he gasped. 

“Stop struggling,” she whispered. “You’re going to tell me what’s going on.” 

She felt his body exhale under hers. He put his hands in front of him, and touched the wall. 

“It’s a suicide mission,” he said. “It’ll never fucking work.”

“Hey,” Kate said. “I think I’m doing fine, given the circumstances.” 

He almost laughed, but kept it in. His hands dug into the wall, really pressing. “I don’t mean you. I mean him. He’s crazy.” 

“If I let you go, will you tell me what’s going on?” She had the crazy situation would make otherwise stout guards go a little soft. Weather plays the worst tricks on a person’s ability to truly defend themselves. He nodded. She slowly released the choke hold. 

He asked a question she’d heard before. “What are you doing awake?” She didn’t want to answer it, so he stared him down and pressed down on one foot. 

“You know how we got here, don’t you? In the water like this? I want to know how, and how to get out of it.” 

To this, he let out a bellow. “Oh, you’re cute. There’s no getting out of this. There’s no stopping it.” 

“If there’s no stopping it, at least tell me what’s going on. And quickly. I’m not very patient, and I’m beginning to really enjoy hurting you guys.” 

He leaned against the wall, crossed his arms. “My friend is going to be back in a second. He’s not as nice as I am. He’ll enjoy hurting you, too. I myself don’t take any pleasure in fighting a lady.” 

“Save it,” she said. “I’m sick of you putting this off. Who did this? Who’s responsible, and where can I find him?”

“He’s on the bridge, but you’re not going to get there. You’re not actually leaving this hallway conscious.”

Footsteps increased. She heard the man a corner away yell “Biggs?” 

“That’s me,” he said. “I’m going to yell for him now, and then we’re going to put you back to sleep.” 

Kate punched him in the face, a crisp right hand to his nose that knocked the back of his head against the wall and busted an artery. His hand went straight for the crane of his nose when he should have watched out for the second punch, which landed on his adam’s apple, restricting his breathing. Kate stepped back, and as he angrily, drunkenly, idiotically lunged at her, she twisted and lifted, allowing a graceful and nerve-bungling kick to land on his sternum. He gasped for air and none came. Two elbows to the cheeks finally made him fall to the ground. Kate walked in the direction of the other man. 

He turned the corner and saw her. He rushed her. She anticipated another tackle, but then—

“Aaagghhh!” His screams became shrill, as his hands rushed to his face and he fell to his knees. “Mace! Are you fucking crazy?” 

Ollie, Kate thought. If you only knew.

Kate continued down the hallway, letting the two guards—goons?—suffer and cry. There wasn’t much doubt that they meant to bring her down, and even if she didn’t get much out of them, their very presence explained a few things. 

First, this wasn’t an act of nature. Someone had orchestrated this. She’d figured this might be the case, but knew it for certain now. Mother nature didn’t hire guards to make sure nobody would stop a hailstorm. 

Second, whatever happened to this ship could be stopped. If it couldn’t, if the wheels were already so far in motion that nothing could help anyone survive, why have goons—guards?—in the first place? What were their purpose if not to stop a girl like Kate. 

Lastly, she was no longer uncertain as to why she was on the ship. Kate may have never experienced anything like this, but this was the kind of thing she’d been called in to stop. Someone gets a crazy idea and decides to go for it, and she breaks them down before it’s too late. The guards gave it away: it wasn’t too late. She could still do her job. This is why she was here. 

The last point opened up a new line of questions, of course. How did Kate’s employers know about the ship? How did they know something might happen? Did they know this would happen? Couldn’t they have warned her, at least a little?

But then, the note in the pocket called to her, as if it warmed in place, a bit of leftover cake in tinfoil the next day. She pulled it loose and looked again. 

“Everything you don’t understand is magic. When you understand things, there’s no more magic.”

She kept going. She felt she was close. Either security was tighter in other areas and she was slipping through, or the person in charge of all this only hired a small crew. Kate thought this might be likely, since too many would have been noticed on the ship before. A few people, however, could have blended in perfectly. Kate might have seen these people. She might have heard them talking. Was she listening? Was she listening for this?

Then she remembered the conversation she heard in the executive area.

A corona was a layer on the sun and many planets. It protected life. You could see the sun’s corona in an eclipse.  

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.9.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

Nine, Nine, Nine for a lost god

Kate didn’t put stock into this one. Not everything means something. Not every song lyric is something to write in white-out on your backpack. But this lyric always gave Kate just a little adrenaline, as if both sides of it had come true. We had a God. Everyone knew how to pray, and worship. And then we lost him. And nobody knew what to do with themselves—

Kate believed the modern world lost God. We lost God with technological prowess, the ability to see the universe around us with our bare eyes peering into scientific marvels. We lost God with every great war in his name, every great tragedy under his attributed words. We lost God when the only people left willing to die for him were insane. We lost God the moment we understood him.

Kate remembered the card in her pocket. Everything you don’t understand is magic—

It was all back. She had herself, her thoughts, her beliefs, her doubts, and her four problems.

It was too loud. Her ears had to be deceiving her. Was she actually surrounded by rushing water? She had been on a ship, and may still be there, but the water beneath them was still. Even if they hit the gale, it would still be underneath her. 

Was she drowning? A few parts of her nervous body cried, yes. 

But it had to be a deception. There had to be something deeply wrong with her perception. But she was finally ready to come back full. Just one more exasperated silent scream. 

Ten, Ten, Ten, Ten for everything, everything, everything, everything. 

Kate opened her eyes.

She could not believe what she saw. 

She was still on the ship, this hulking mass of a floating city under her feet. She stop atop it, on one of the many floor decks. She was near the aft, she believed. Around her, as far as she could see, were other people, all unconscious or dead, strewn sloppily around, as if they’d fainted and fell with no one but the ship to catch them. What had happened to them all? What had happened to Kate? Why was she awake, but nobody else was? She didn’t feel drugged, or drunk. She pinched her arm, and slapped her face. She was not dreaming. This was happening. 

Kate wanted to concentrate on the bodies, an entire ship apparently made unconsciousness, but she couldn’t. There was something bigger to worry about. On the outside of the ship, where there should have been a view of water for miles, was instead a view of water feet away, thousands and thousands of gallons of it, rushing upwards in every direction. The sound was so deafening she couldn’t hear herself scream. It was like an infinity pool had been turned on its head, and the laws of gravity in reverse. Kate felt intense vertigo. There was no obvious up. 

Kate looked above her, but the water reached upward as far as she could see. She did not process what she saw. It was not something she could describe. Who would believe her? She tried to approach it, wondering if it could be touched, but she could only get to a few yards away from the edge of the ship before the intense wind held her at bay. The waterfall surrounding the ship held it captive and still, caging it. 

Kate made way for the closest door. The closest entrance to the interior of the ship was wide, with eight doors, all made of tinted glass, covered in advertisements for the various bars found on the ship. A picture of a celebrity chef adorned half of them, the others canvassed with logos and guarantees. Kate grabbed a door handle and pulled. She had to dig her heels in and pull as hard as she could for the door to crack, the wind much stronger than she felt herself. 

“Fuck!” She screamed, inching herself through the barely-open door, catching her foot in it, yanking, and hearing it slam. It was the first thing she’d heard that wasn’t rushing water since regaining consciousness. She screamed “Fuck!” again, just to see if she could hear it. She could, finally. She exhaled, and watched the water through the glass. What the fuck was happening? 

Kate fished for her phone, its shape meeting her fingers in her right jacket pocket. She grabbed it with the other hand and pulled it out, clicking the little button to reveal its screen. She held it up, and saw no bars. She checked the wi-fi, which was supposed to be everywhere on the ship, but it would not connect. All radios on the device returned null. She put it away.

Kate still couldn’t really process what was happening outside, but knew she had to find some semblance of an explanation. She couldn’t be the only person left alive on the ship. If she was, she had to find a radio. She had to call for help.

Kate found a map, the light behind it flickering and tattered. Some cells of the map just didn’t light up at all. It had been struck by something, Kate thought. Still, she could read that the bridge was three floors above her, nearly on the other side of the ship. She would try a few cabins on the way, but that was the most likely location of a working phone. If there was no working phone, maybe someone was alive up there. 

Just as she began walking, she heard a noise down the hall. She stopped, found the closest door, and hid inside. It was a room very similar to her own, except instead of her luggage there was a woman, unconscious, halfway off the bed. She would check on her in a second, but she kept her ear to the door, hearing a lone set of footsteps slowly approach. She bolted the door, and checked on the woman. She was older than Kate, overweight, wearing a Hawaiian-style shirt with ‘MMA’ written all over in a curly font. Kate put two fingers to her neck, then a finger under her nose. She was breathing slowly, as if just sleeping heavily. So Kate poked her, first in the arm and then the face. 

“Hey,” She said, louder and louder until she gave up. The sound of the water was still the loudest thing, even though this cabin had no window to the outside. The woman would not budge. Kate lowered her to the floor, so at least she’d be a little bit more comfortable, but her body gave an audible thud as it hit the floor. A second later, Kate heard a knock against the door. 

“Is someone in there?” She faintly heard. The question to answer was, was he friendly? Should she trust the voice? There was a padlock between them, but—

Kate’s mind came into focus. Someone had done this to the ship. Someone had placed it here. This was not a work of nature. Nature would have killed them all. Nature would have taken the ship and tossed it into the abyss. It would be upside down, sawed in half by waves and gravity and the pull of a hurricane, and nobody would have survived. 

Kate was alive, standing on a ship surrounded by rising water, a ship full of unconscious people, and there was a knock on the door. If she were alive in a situation like that, there’s no way it wasn’t designed. And if it was a plan of some sort, then this man was likely not friendly. 

Kate looked through the viewfinder. She saw a man in a black life-jacket, thick on his large frame. He knocked again and she heard it next to her ear. His hands were empty, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t armed. He tried the door, but the attempt was half-hearted. She felt good about this.

Kate pilfered through the room, hoping to find something with which to defend herself if necessary. What would work best, she wondered? She found coat-hangers, clothing, suitcases, and toiletries. There wasn’t much. But, then, underneath a pile of similar over-sized shirts in a suitcase, the first cause for celebration. Kate found a can of mace. Just how had this woman hidden this on board? She must have read some website about crime rates on ships of this size, that having a population with so much alcohol in closed quarters for so long would surely lead to danger. 

“Thanks lady,” Kate said. 

The knocking stopped, and Kate watched the man continue walking away, until she couldn’t see him anymore. She waited a few moments, then slowly opened the door a crack and peered out. He wasn’t anywhere she could sense. She kept on her way. 

Would she fight? Why not? Fighting would make sense in this circumstance. It would be the most normal thing in the world now. Kate smiled. She kind of loved fighting. The mace can sat harmlessly in her left jacket pocket. All her feeling had returned. She cracked her knuckles. If she had to fight, at least she might get some fun out of this nightmare. 

She tip-toed around two corners before finding the man’s shadow, shrinking against the edges of a round hallway. Lights flickered. The ship was not well. Whatever was happening to it was not harmless. This vortex or tunnel or whatever it was was dealing damage. How long did she have? But first—

Kate crept up behind the man and cut him down. She kicked the back of his knee, stomped on his foot, and rolled over him, catching his neck, taking him down. She was above him, her hands fighting off his flailing arms, her right food pressuring his left shoulder into submission. When he pushed there, she let him and let him turn over, trying to get up, but she grabbed his life jacket and pulled it over his head, like a jersey in hockey, she controlled him. Two powerful left hooks to his face and he was reeling. 

“The fuck is wrong with you?” he stammered, bleeding now through his nose. 

He tried to tackle her but she jumped out of the way, and he fell.

He turned over, but didn’t get up. She smirked. She had him. Nothing was going his way. 

“So,” Kate said. “You want to tell me what’s going on?”

The man lowered the life jacket back to its regular position. He shook his head, and put two fingers to his knows and leaned his head back.

“Jesus,” he said, extending the first syllable for ten seconds. “Give me a second.”

“Don’t get up,” Kate threatened. “I will kick you until you cry.” 

The man stayed where he was. “You’re not supposed to be awake.” 

“I had a feeling,” Kate said. “But why am I not supposed to be awake?”

“Because you’re not supposed to see this.” 

“I have exactly thirty seven questions to ask you, but whether or not I was supposed to know what was going on was not one of them.”

He laughed through the blood. “You don’t get it. You’re too late.”

“Too late?” Kate asked, getting more frustrated by the second. “Okay, you’ve got one more insane babble before you swallow your teeth.” 

The man piped down and looked her over. If he was thinking about making a move, he hid it well. But it was also clear he wasn’t about to tell her anything. And when she recognized this, she sighed. 

At her exhale, he leaped toward her, thinking it was her putting her guard down. But she was faster, tougher than he could anticipate, and her boot ran over him, a mack truck to a bicycle, a starving lion pouncing on a wildebeest. Her ankle felt the impact, but the throbbing dissipated immediately, drowned by the sound of surrounding water and her adrenaline. Fuck yes, she thought. That felt so good. 

Kate remembered the last time she kicked a guy into unconsciousness. It was a year earlier, in Detroit. A pair of men tried to mug her. She left them in an alley. It was the second best moment of that vacation. 

 

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.8.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

“So, anyway. That’s me. What about you?”

“Well, I just told you,” I said. “It’s all shot to hell, right? I have no idea what I’m doing now. I’m really playing by Ackerman.”

“Ackerman?” Scott asked. This, I feared, was going to be lame.

“Yeah, it’s this phrase I had in college,” I said. “Huh. Isn’t that funny? I haven’t said that since college. Like, I have never uttered it since. But there it is, just slipping out, like leftover drunken memories told the morning your new roommate moves in because you need a story to tell over toast. Anyways, Diane Ackerman came up with this one quote that I just fell in love with when I first saw it. It was in this quote about traveling. Ever since, whenever I’ve really felt this way, I’ve had her to fall back on.”

I sat upright and pretended I was playing a scene from a very old play.

“It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.”

Scott asked, “Are you talking our relationship?”

I made a face that told him he wouldn’t be receiving an answer. That was okay. I didn’t want to talk to Scott about the wisdom of stealing quotes from books, or how I probably had it out of the proper context somehow. I didn’t want to challenge his idea of divine truth. The only thing I wanted was to burrow inside whatever idea I had of the future that wouldn’t be destroyed by oncoming storms. 

 

Kate’s eyelashes felt heavy, and whatever store of energy she had wasn’t enough to lift them. She wouldn’t call what she was conscious. Was she dreaming, remembering, or getting it wrong? Did she see Scott, just now? Or a reflection, or a memory? Some fragment of a conversation from their time together—

Scott never sent her texts, even years later when she knew he would have had a good phone. He never once called her up to see how she was doing. Where did he go? Why did he never show up again? And why was Kate here, dreaming, or, asleep or in a purgatory, one of the many, but this one was different—

 

“Kate,” Josephine[Josephine is one of the managing heads of --] said her name with such a lyrical quality, it was difficult to imagine anyone saying it better. It was just a syllable but the way she’d lift on the ‘A’ in a way nobody else did. It wasn’t any mystery at all why people did what she asked, no matter how strange. “Kate, are you listening to me?”

It wasn’t a real question so much as an affirmation of attention. Kate had her eyes wide open, legs crossed, hands on her knee, sitting across from Josephine in the big office up there[The office in the clouds in Skypunch.]. 

“Intently,” Kate said. “I can’t wait to get started.” 

“You’ve signed the contracts, you know the basic structure of what we do here. This will be the most important work you do in your life, and we’re thrilled to have someone like you on our team.” 

“Funny,” Kate said. “I didn’t really anticipate all the corporate culture stuff.” 

“We’re not unlike any other large company. We have HR. We have billings. Marketing. An agency of propaganda.” 

Kate interrupted. “I don’t think all companies—um,” 

“Trust me Kate, I used to work at Chrysler. Every company has an agency of propaganda.” 

Kate shrugged. 

“I want to instill something in you, that you can hold on to even in the worst of times. Can you do this for me? I want you to repeat something three times along with me.” 

Kate squinted at Josephine, but then nodded her head. 

“This will help you in a crisis. And I’m sorry to say, you will likely find yourself using it pretty often. It’s a lyric, easily memorized. You’ll laugh, and think it’s silly, but trust me. It’ll save your life.” 

Kate planted her hands on the desk and looked directly at Josephine. She was ready. 

 

Her finger moved a quarter centimeter, just a flicker of firing nerves, maybe. She wasn’t moving her hand yet, but something in her body was pushing for movement. Did she feel the ground? She wasn’t sure what was underneath her, or above her, for that matter. Was she inside or out? Was she in a city or the country? If she was somewhere else, what country? How would she find her way home? 

How did she ever find her way home? 

Kate’s head was just questions like this, ephemeral representations of synapses finding their place in the world. Kate squinted, her closed eyes shutting tighter in the hopes she’d feel the pressure. She did not. She was beginning to regain control, but was operating at half a sense out of five. 

She never forgot that conversation with Josephine. It was the first piece of advice her boss gave her, and it proved so right over the years she’d never needed any more. 

Her lips pursed, then blossomed. A faint exhaust of air escaped, and she opened up her jaw, cracked to the left, then right. This was the first feeling she experienced, air escaping the sinew keeping her together, slowly tearing away at her form. She had a doctor who was once very concerned about how often she cracked the bones in her face, neck, and knuckles. He told her she’d suffer when she got older. She stopped seeing him after explaining that she shouldn’t even be alive as it is[Why shouldn’t she be alive?]. 

One

It was just a word, or a number, she was never sure, but it didn’t matter because she could perceive it. Kate could see the curvature of the O, the light of her mind shining on it and capturing what it communicated. It was the beginning. Everything starts at one. 

One

It repeated, the same but with momentum. She moved forward, not with her fingers pressed into the dirt but with the thread, the math. 

One cause you left me

Josephine had a sense of humour, bleak, deep, wild, frustrating, opaque, blue. She doled out her advice in ways that seemed asinine at the time. 

Two, two two for my family

When Kate heard the whole thing from Josephine’s lips, she did laugh. She did think it was asinine. She didn’t recognize it at first, but still thought it was a joke. When she looked it up later, it seemed even more so. 

Three, three, three for my heartache

The idea behind it was that counting was easy. Any idiot could count. But counting also led to thought, and an unconscious mind could be brought to consciousness with ten thoughts. Here they were, in order, with numbers. Easy. 

Four, four, four for my headaches

Kate could feel a tingle, then a throbbing in her head. Her fingertips responded. She could wiggle her toes. She could feel the headache, now that she’d remembered the word for it. Like a largess chemical hangover, the lack of things loomed and choked. But she was on the uptick. She remembered that she should be alive, and more aware than she was. She remembered who she was, and most of what she was trying to do. She remembered that she was stuck. 

Five, five, five for my lovely

She remembered Ollie. She thought of his large arms and warm, slight paunch. Kate could remember what he smelled like. She remembered she thought of leaving him, of cutting and running, disappearing forever. Is this what it would feel like from his side? Would he drown, as she had? Would be have to stumble, and recall who he’d been? Kate remembered Khalid, and what a child he’d been. She remembered Scott, a man who she had been tasked with protecting, and failed. Would Ollie, if he didn’t accept it, be poisoned? Or would he be strong, and blink it off, like she was nice enough but just not the woman he was meant to love?

Kate remembered her ego. She thought of only how he’d handle losing her. She didn’t think if it would affect her. 

Seven, seven for no tomorrow

The seventh line took longer to memorize because the rhythm broke. It was meant to be more difficult. It took longer to parse. And iti was the saddest, bleakest bit, a lie and a promise and a threat and a joke, a sad, sick joke, because the funniest jokes were true. Kate was tasked. It didn’t matter with what. She was tasked. And her duties had to be carried out, or else it was all for nothing. 

Eight, eight, I forgot what eight was for

Kate began to hear the world around her, or rather the one sound canceling everything else out. Her mind was having trouble describing the torrent, but she took a guess and called it a hundred waterfalls, all next to one another, surrounding her, close, and she was at the bottom of everything, the world drowning her deeper, but she was contained somehow, protected and kept, if only to see a deeper horror. The sound wailed and wailed, increased and increased, crashing down and beneath. She still could not feel her heartbeat, but she began to think it was not her consciousness failing her. 

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.7.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

“All right, fine,” Kate said. “You don’t want to help, or can’t help, fine.”

“I don’t even know what you want, really,” he said. And she believed him, because why would he? Everything might be connected, but it didn’t mean everything was connected to everything. Kate decided that Stellen may be able to help with her boyfriend issues, but not her secret mission. 

She felt like an idiot for even thinking about those two things together. 

Instead, she turned to her phone, which still had full bars. She connected to the Wi-Fi at the bar, and typed in the phrase that was on the card. It seemed strange to just google for the answer to a riddle, and a bit like cheating, but a punt was a valid play. And yet, why not? It always helped, even if it led to some strange ads later on. She’d be searching for a Christmas gift online, and the suggested items would often be things like grappling hooks, extreme hiking gear, and tiny radios one could stick to underwater beacons. It was strange enough that search providers knew that she wanted and sometimes had to buy these things, but it was even stranger that they were perfectly willing to offer them up, sometimes with a 10% discount. Kate’s life was strange, and even Amazon knew it. 

A quick search for the term came back with the author of the quote. It was something that Tim Berners-Lee had said, apparently, and it was a widely-circulated quote. “Magic is the stuff you don’t understand,” he’d said. Kate kept reading. She’d heard of Berners-Lee, probably in school, likely in a computer class. He was responsible for how the internet functioned on a basic level, and was credited with its invention in the sense we understand. This was all well and good, but why was a quote of his shunted under her door? What did it have to do with why she was there?

On the maps were little lighthouses all over the place, indication help stations for guests to find out about the ship, go on tours, and utilize the lost and found. Obviously these would be useless. 

Kate walked through a shopping area. It reminded her of casino hotels. In fact, just about everything on this boat reminded her of Niagara Falls, from the heavyset elderly to the dim neon lighting almost everywhere, this sick sense of gasping fun, acceptable levels of enjoyment, and the faint smell of paint thinner everywhere. Whatever desire she had for going on a cruise one day ended here. Actually on one, she realized what it was: a façade for nothing. It wasn’t hiding anything. It wasn’t representing anything. This ship, and everyone in it, was not worth her time. 

Still. There was the man. 

Kate hated her job. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do or look out for. Outside of one riddle, nothing seemed terribly out of sorts on this ship. So she googled the keywords she’d heard from the hallway, just in case. Nothing came up with anything interesting. 

“Corona, that’s beer, and a layer on the sun and the earth you can see during an eclipse. Gale, that’s a bit of bad weather.” Kate checked the weather forecast for the area. There were going to be gales. Maybe he was talking about the weather? How dull. 

Here was the thing, though. Kate didn’t usually have this much trouble piecing things together. It’s not that other assignments had been easier. Some had been excruciatingly difficult. But there was always a thread of some kind to pull. There was always a lead, or a man in an alley willing to talk, or a napkin with an address. In Kate’s life, there had always been an arrow, pointing in the direction of next. And if the ship had a direction, Kate didn’t. She knew there would be no point in calling home. The entire endeavor had to be double blind. They didn’t know what she was doing, and she didn’t know what they knew. She never received confirmation of a specific job’s completion. There were no rules. There was no target. There was only ever an address, and sometimes a ticket. 

Kate was normally content to sit it out and watch. If the trip was going to be seven days long, it might take until the end of the seventh for the action to formulate. If the ship docked at a town, perhaps it was there. In some cases, Kate had to stop a murder, or a kidnapping, or a suicide. In other cases, she had to convince a person not to press a button, even if she had no idea what pressing the button would really do. She had in the past simply distracted a person long enough, and the job was successful. 

But for some reason, as afternoon slowly—so, so slowly—turned to evening, Kate found herself remarkably impatient. She couldn’t get Ollie out of her mind, yet couldn’t push forward any ideas about what to do. Increasingly, she should about Madelina and her stupid crap. Why was she with that guy, anyway? She should find her and talk her out of it. They should have a chat, and more drinks, and—

And then she thought about the bartender, and how cute he was, those cheekbones harsh, cleanly shaven and Swedish, young and Ollie wouldn’t even know, you know? He wouldn’t even know—

Why hadn’t she been given a tour? Or taken one? Why didn’t she go play some mini golf? Or the pool! There’s a pool, you know. It’s huge, and there are four of them, because swimming in a pool a quarter mile above the ocean made all the sense in the world. A floating city-casino-hotel-thingy filled with all-you-can-eat buffets and all-you-can-drink bars and all-you-can-screw—

Kate felt ranty. Kate only ranted when drunk, but it had been some time since the bar, and she hadn’t drank that much anyway, and she figured since the drinks were paid for they’d be weak anyway, but here she was, over-thinking and laughing to herself as she walked through what appeared to be some kind of miniature amusement park. She watched couples tease one another over mini golf, playing frisbee in between people having a picnic, riding carousels together, and why is there a carousel on a ship she wondered very heavily. It makes no sense! 

In the corner of her eye, she saw a couple fighting, with flailing arms and yelling, a lot of melodrama in a very public place. She was crying, he was fuming, and in a moment they switched. They were far enough away in the distance (how very far you can see on this ship, outside like this) that Kate couldn’t hear them very well, and they took on this sort of movie-like quality. She couldn’t help but watch and wonder what the fight was about. She saw a ship attendant, or someone in a uniform, come over and escort them away, but not too quickly. The fight dissipated with official attention. Neither wanted any kind of trouble. And what trouble could you get into around here? Domestic squabbles seemed inevitable in such close quarters, but what else could you really do? Nothing cost more than the entry ticket. Nothing closed. Nobody was denied anything. What could possibly happen of any real consequence? 

Kate looked up, and thought she saw a harsh light pierce her retina. It wasn’t the sun; that was on the horizon, lighting everything in pink haze. In a second, another happened, and she was suddenly very hot all over, like she’d been transported to an island in the Caribbean. The flash lasted a second and disappeared, but the head remained on her skin, slowly cooling back to normal. She felt her bare forearms, and they were hot to the touch. The ship rumbled. Everyone within Kate’s line of vision was shaken to the left, then right. They grabbed onto what they could. Some screamed. All around her, Kate heard people confused and afraid. 

She couldn’t believe that a moment ago, she was bored. 

The ship veered starboard, harder than any turn thus far. They had been heading south, and now they were going west, further into the ocean. Kate took out her phone and checked the compass, which confirmed her theory. She couldn’t see land anywhere, so it was difficult to really tell where they were going. But—

There is a space out there, not a real place so much as anyone understands, but a plane, I suppose, a vehicle or a home or a shelter, but it’s not safe, and if it’s not safe then it can’t be home—

Kate stopped the man from pressing the button, but what if it didn’t stop anything—

What if he was supposed to press the button?—

Kate, there is no such thing as supposed to—

There is no supposed to—

There is only what people get away with—

There is only what people can do—

The plane carries us forward, but we are selfish and it carries that forward, too—’

Kate dropped to the ground, her legs giving out on her, collapsing underneath like refrigerated taffy warmed over. She couldn’t feel her legs, or her hips, waist, it was all going. Her arms went last, after her back hit the floor and her eyes fogged over, and her thoughts became clouded with warmth and darkness, a blackness so convincing she didn’t even fight it, didn’t even think it wasn’t right to just fall into. Her arms reached up, tried to touch a piece of sky, and as the last threads of thought left her, she could swear she grabbed a star in her fingers, held tight, and was burned. 

 

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.6.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

Kate found the bar, confident, and found Stellen, quietly cleaning a glass, absentmindedly bobbing his head to Styx. 

“Back already? I’m happy to see you,” he said. “It’s been so dead since you left. Where’s your friend?”

“Who?” Kate asked, then remembered Madelina. “Oh, her. We’re not, well, I don’t know. I have no idea where she is. Canoodling with her husband?”

Stellen shook his head. “Not likely, but sure, why not? What can I get you?”

Kate ordered a ginger ale. “Gotta take it easy. I’m on the clock.” 

“There’s a clock? There’s no clock here.” Kate looked around. There was indeed no clocks in the bar. 

“Huh,” She said. “Well, I mean I’ve got to pace myself.” 

Stellen grabbed a tall glass from above him without looking, and positioned it under a pop gun. A second later, Kate had a large ginger ale in front of her, with ice. He said, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.” 

She sipped from the straw. “You probably say that to all the single girls.”

Stellen slung the towel over his shoulder, put away the glass he’d been cleaning, and began slicing limes. He said, “You’re single? Whatever are you doing on this ship?”

“Trying to find Mr right, I guess,” she lied, and told the truth. She wasn’t sure which direction Stellen would take it. 

“I’m fairly certain you’re the only single person on the ship. So far as I was aware, it was couples only.” 

“Really?” She asked. “That’s news to me. Well, if they say anything, I’m with you, okay?”

Stellen smiled. “Are you actually single?” 

“No,” she admitted. “I mean, I’m not sure about him. But I’m with him, I guess.” 

“How long has this been going on, sweetie?” he asked. 

“Almost six months.”

“Wow, so you’re getting those getting serious jitters. I get that.”

She sipped, her sore heels appreciating the break from the walk. It must have been two miles. She could see how people would be hesitant to get moving again after finding a comfortable spot on the ship. 

Stellen waited for Kate to reply, but she found herself immediately introspective about Ollie. So he said, knowing what would be coming but bored and in need of gossip and distraction, “So, why don’t you tell me about him.” 

Kate thought about what she was doing here. Was it small talk? Was she opening up to this bartender so that she could gain some trust, open him up, and scoop out some information. But she had no idea if he even had information. He was just a guy in suspenders working in a gimmick bar. Did he always work here, or was this a summer job? What did it pay, she wondered? The same as a regular bartender on land, or more, or less? Nothing about Stellen was clear, but it was less him than the existence of a floating city with a full bar staff every three hundred feet. Stellen asked her to hold on while he took the order of a foursome across the bar, which was shaped like a half-moon around an impressive garrott of taps. 

Was she buttering him up, or was she actually opening up? It might be the hallmark of a good bartender anywhere, but Stellen actually was a phenomenal listener, and seemed just bored enough to encourage Kate to spill it all and find some therapy here. 

Kate thought about the potential actions she’d have to take in the next hours or possibly days, and then thought about the spaces in between those actions, how many minutes she would have to pass, and if perhaps those might not be better passed thinking through a solution for her poor relationship habits. She didn’t need to go over every relationship, but it might be nice to be stranded for a few days with her thoughts, really figure it out, and maybe get the advice of utter strangers she would have absolutely never met otherwise. 

What would Madelina say? Kate snickered, and immediately wanted a stronger drink. 

Stellen returned, and Kate decided that she could probably unload her emotional baggage on him a little later. She asked, “Hey, do you know if there’s anyone on board I should watch out for? You know, like a celebrity or a prince or tech billionaire?”

Stellen kinked his neck to the side, as if he’d just seen a cat do something ungraceful. “That’s not a new one, but I didn’t expect it from you.” 

“Just curious, you know. Ships are mysterious locales, right? You never know who might show up.” 

“You’re thinking of the Love Boat, Kate,” he said. 

“I have no idea what that is,” she said. 

Stellen stammered. “It’s an American show. How have you not watched it?”  

“Is it old?”

“No! Like, the 70s.” 

“I was born in 1983,” she said. 

“I was born in 1990,” he replied. 

Kate slapped her hand against the bar. “Fuck you. You are not also twenty three.” 

Stellen shrugged. “I watched reruns in high school.” 

Kate tried to get things back in order. She ordered a Margarita, hoping that the prep time would give her a chance to regain her conversational footing. 

“So, is there?” She asked. “Someone special on board?” 

Stellen leaned in, and raised an eyebrow, his perfect cheekbones in even higher definition. He said, “I can’t tell you anything. But I can tell you someone who can.” 

He whispered a name into her ear. She repeated it back to him, quietly, and he nodded. The she thought about it for a quarter of a second. 

“Mata Hari.”

“You betcha,” he said, winking like a dork. 

“So, she wasn’t shot nearly a hundred years ago,” Kate said, crossing her arms. She grabbed her drink. “I oughta throw this in your face. The nerve. You know, we don’t know each other well enough for you to be making fun of me.” 

Stellen snorted. “But we know one another well enough for you to ask me ship secrets. Please. Even if I did know something, which I absolutely don’t and never really could, because come on, I am a frickin bartender. I’m not even a top-level one. I just serve drinks. Do you know what you have to do to make it to the upper floor bars? Like, a PhD or something. It’s insane. But even if I was the kind of guy who had information like that, why would I also be the kind of guy who tells secrets like that to pretty strangers?”

“I…hmm,” Kate stopped.

“And besides,” Stellen added. “They never found her body.” 

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.5.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

This was the kind of thinking that derailed relationships. This is why people who travel can’t be with one another, why long-distance relationships always crumbled. James Bond may be full of shit, but the fact that he’d never held down a girl for very long was maybe the most realistic part of those movies. Kate wasn’t at that point, but she could see it, off in the distance, a long string of broken hearts. It made her somber, and sober. What didn’t help was the little bit of her that actually felt a little like James Bond, and that little part of her was beaming at this realization, that she’d used up Ollie—sweet, perfect Ollie—and now she’d be on to something else in a month. 

Kate decided she needed to leaver her cabin and explore the ship a little. How was she going to fulfill this mission if she never left her room? So she put on a light jacket, put the card on the inside pocket, and headed out. She took the elevator up to the surface level, where she breathed fresh air for what felt like the first time in hours. The sun shone down on the ship and all its couples, all there to presumably fix something wrong with a marriage, like Madelina and Jack. But maybe some of them were just happy, and this was their lifestyle? Kate didn’t know. These were not her people. But who was, really? 

Kate walked past lawnchairs filled with people tanning, reading newspapers and ebook devices, some talking on their phones through headphone speaker jacks, telling loved ones how much they missed them, relaying gossip, and checking in on sitters to make sure their dogs weren’t missing them too much. 

The deck was white, as were most of the walls and accents. A blue line contrasted the white at points, but this was a clean ship, made to look brand new, likely scrubbed down heavily after each booze-soaked trip. Kate remembered that Madelina had insisted on booking a bumpy ride, and had no real trouble figuring out why. As soon as the weather got bad, everyone would return to their quarters. They’d be essentially stuck there, and once the sea-sickness wore off, they’d have nothing but one another. She wondered why it took her so long to add that up, but then realized she hadn’t actually been thinking about it until now.

She leaned on the side—port? She leaned on the port side of the ship. She couldn’t see Vancouver. She couldn’t see any land mass. Kate was adrift on a very, very large boat with nowhere to go, no direction home, and no idea why she’d come in the first place. 

Kate walked the top of the ship, looking around, taking in the surroundings and the people. It was such an artificial thing, this ship, a facsimile of Las Vegas on the water, every light a harsh white or neon, a bar every thirty metres, usually with a companion pool or jacuzzi filled with the middle-aged. She looked at people and they looked back. Where is her husband? They must have thought. She wanted another drink. 

She found her way back to the original bar. She felt she managed a tiny rapport with Stellen, and could, if she got lucky, get some kind of information from him. 

Getting information is what I do best! The nerdiest part of her thought. 

“Shut up, Kate,” she said, annoyingly to herself. 

There was a slight problem with her plan, however. She had no idea where she was. In her wandering, she’d found herself lost. Backtracking seemed laborious. She instead searched for a map. They were everywhere. The closest one, laminated and framed with screws, being being poked at by two of the oldest women Kate had ever seen. She could hear them bickering. 

“Which way to the gazebo?”

“There’s no gazebo on this one Shirline. You’re thinking of the Mist Naturale. We went on that one just after Harold died. You remember.” 

“I thought I swore I saw a gazebo, though.”

“You probably saw a zebra. You know, in that circus from France.” 

“I thought they were Canadian?”

Kate sidled along the opposite wall, looking away from them. She slowly moved east, around a corner. There would be another map, and she knew they would snare her up into minutes of useless hen-pecking. She may not have had any idea if there was time to lose, but she wasn’t about to start actively losing it unless she had to. 

The next map proved tougher to locate. She had to re-enter the interior of the ship. She thought that finding an elevator would help her, but one wasn’t in sight anywhere. What she found in this hallway instead were maid carts holding towels and cleaning products. She saw three of them, all sitting idly outside doors twice the size of her own. She’d stumbled onto executive or first-class or some kind of high status accommodations. It was difficult for Kate to do anything but snicker. She’s never had much admiration for the wealthy, even if she had to work with them from time to time. 

Even the hallway was nicer than hers, though. The carpet felt nicer under her feet. The doors were made of a dark cherry wood instead of the brushed hotel-door-style steel of hers. The only aesthetic upgrade she felt a tinge of jealousy for were the lights: yellow and natural and awful for the environment. She’d never quite got used to white light or its over-exposing harshness.

It was difficult for her to believe in coincidences, so she didn’t rush through the hallway. If she loitered for a moment, something might happen. She leaned against a wall and checked her messages. Ollie hadn’t texted anything cute. Nobody else had contacted her. Her battery was draining quickly, but she inexplicably had full bars in the middle of nowhere. 

Her assumption proved half wrong. She did hear a bit of a conversation through the walls, something about an upcoming launch, some kind of showy event, but the person speaking was doing a good job of hiding their voice and any actual distinguishing remarks. She wrote down what she’d heard anyway, just in case it came up later. 

The voice was enthusiastic, but cautious, methodical. Is he a little British? She thought. The accent wasn’t immediately parceable. Then she realized, she wasn’t hearing him through the wall. She was hearing him through the door, left open just a crack, improperly closed by the cleaning woman. This guy, whoever he was, was talking about something to someone on the phone (there was only one voice, and there were pauses) while a cleaning woman cleaned the washroom and made the bed around him. How important could the conversation be? 

Still, Kate wrote down what she believed to be the key words from the conversation. 

—Launch.

—Party.

—Surprise.

—Corona Gale.

—Fundraising.

—Mimosas.  

She heard the door swing open and turned to leave, before she could hear more of the conversation, but she’d heard enough to make note of its importance. She knew how lucky this was. This was definitely a thing, unless something else became a larger deal later, in which this might actually be nothing. There were no easy answers at the beginning. Even the obvious stuff would be turned over a hundred times, until things became so convoluted Kate felt a fathom under. 

Kate walked until she found an elevator. There was a map. She took a picture, so she’d have it on her from then on. Placing her finger over the red dot showing her location, she etched her way back. She wasn’t nearly as far off as she figured. The map didn’t make the boat seem like a labyrinth, but it already sort of had been. How likely was it that it might continue, increasing in difficulty as time went on and the weather soured? 

No, everything’s going to be fine, she thought. This one’s going to be easy. 

She would ask the bartender about any strange attractions on the ship. She would ask if he knew about any special passengers. Surely, he would tell her about the man in the expensive room. 

 

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.4.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

The people Kate worked for were cryptic bastards, capable of turning a tipsy good mood into gloomy sobriety in a second. What the damn hell did this note mean? She sat down on her bed, holding the card, reading it over and over until she could know for sure there wasn’t anything else in front of her. 

Kate could feel the water beneath her. There was a slight chill coming from the air conditioner, so she found the dial on the wall and cranked it up a few degrees. The sun shone through her window. It was still early afternoon. Not much time had really passed since she accepted the mission that morning. Accepted, she thought, laughing to herself. As if I couldn’t. 

Kate didn’t know what to think about this riddle. It wasn’t her first, obviously. Riddles were part of the gig, and a sliver of her was happy to at least be moving forward on the assignment. The wandering from post to post was oftentimes the most difficult part of the job. But the riddles were never easy. 

Okay, so, magic. What did the magic stand for? There actually was a magician on the ship, performing two shows a day. But that was far too easy. Kate liked magicians, and scribbled a line underneath the next available show so she would remember to attend. 

It was the term ‘understand’ that got her attention. Like ‘magic’, ‘understand’ appeared twice. Its emphasis did not go unnoticed. She thought of literal meanings: underneath, stand, standing under something. Standing under a magician? Kate, stop it with the magician, she poked at herself. She knew it wasn’t anything this rote, but she wanted to exhaust the easy stuff. 

Her phone buzzed. Ollie sent her a picture of his lunch. 

—Eating tacos without you :(

She didn’t answer it. What a dork.

Kate thought about the riddle in terms of mathematics. If there is no understanding, there is magic. Adding understanding removes magic. The act of understanding actually depletes magic. 

Kate hadn’t thought about her nickname in a while. It made her frown. The riddle brought it right to the front of her mind. 

A few years before, she was at an office party at the headquarters in Skypunch. It was getting late in the night and she was out on the roof with Tess and Bret. 

“I’m so glad you two are getting married,” she said. “Obviously, I will be there, even if you get married in the Yukon.” 

“Hey,” Tess said. “Only half of my crazy family lives up there. We’re thinking of doing it abroad. Maybe Scotland. Do it all traditional for an elopement, you know?”

“Her parents do absolutely hate me,” Bret said, swigging a cocktail in a jam jar glass. 

“Then again,” Kate said. “Maybe it’s not a good idea to have the faith breaker at such a special occassion.” 

Bret and Tess paused. “How did you know we called you that.” 

“Please,” Kate said, leaning against the railing, her hair loose in the wind. 

“You’ve got to understand,” Tess pleaded. “We don’t mean it as a negative thing. We’re impressed! Not everybody has super powers like that, you know.”

“That’s job security, is what that is,” Bret added. 

“Haha, thanks,” Kate said. “Good to know I’m good for something.”

“Oh, honey, you know it’s not like that,” Tess said, hugging her. Bret joined in. They all hugged, drunk in the cool summer, high above the city. 

Kate said, “I know. It’s just hard sometimes. Why couldn’t my great skill be pottery, or the hammer throw? I could have been great at the hammer throw.” 

“Of course you could have,” Bret said. “You’d look great all covered in chalk, spinning.” 

Kate spilled her drink laughing. Bret took a picture of her against the black August night. It was still her favourite picture. She kept it on her phone. That was a good night. 

She answered Ollie’s text with an ice cream emoji. 

Kate continued with the line of thought on the riddle. There was no telling when it would need to be solved, and if the answer would directly impact the kind of action she would need to take, or need to stop.  

Everything you don’t understand is magic. When you understand things, there’s no more magic.

She thought about the word ‘everything’, but couldn’t land on any plateau. It just didn’t speak to her like ‘understand’ did, and she trusted her gut on these things. It was some kind of additive/subtractive thing, she was sure of it. She was sure of it because the last three assignments had been of this sort. 

It always went like this. Kate counted the steps on her fingers, the knuckles curled, her nail polish shining under the sunlight. 

First, there was a believer. He or she had something in their heart. A little belief that grew strong and became misguided. 

Then, the believer gained some power or influence, and this misguided belief system was the core driving their ambition. Money followed. Attention. And of course, manipulation. 

Then, there would be preparation. He or she would show up on radars, influential lists, and would be invited to galas and auctions and begin spinning the wheels of the world with their will. They had gained a momentum most would only dream, and this was all due to their unwavering little belief. 

A countdown would begin. There would be a time in the near future when their influence would become legion and permanent, a household name of principles and capabilities.

Of course, this wasn’t every job. Kate’s assignments took her everywhere and required a couple handfuls of cunning, practice, and good old fashioned police work (or at least the outfit and fake ID of a good, old fashioned police woman). But usually around the time the influencer hits the cover of a mainstream magazine, assisted by a question about how we live our lives, Kate gets a call, and she goes to work. 

And so she was here, on a boat she knew nothing about, surrounded by strangers, holding a riddle, she wondered: who’s spirit was she about to crush?

Ollie texted her. 

—Hey, thinking about you. Puppy eyes emoji. 

—I love you too. Cookie emoji. 

—Feeling any better?

—Coughing person emoji. 

—Sad face holding flowers emoji. 

Kate thought about whether or not she would need to get into someone’s room without them noticing, and how difficult that might prove on a fucking boat. 

She thought about whether or not she might have to sleep with someone, and if she would feel guilty because she was in a relationship, or if she’d feel guilty because sleeping with people she was not supposed to sleep with felt better, or because she felt, in that moment, like the worst person in the world. 

She decided she would do her best to not sleep with someone. But how long would that last, practically? She had to think longterm. Maybe not this mission, but the next? What if the next one sent her to Monaco? She always slept with the enemy in Monaco. The city was built to accommodate this precise action.

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.3.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

Three toxic, plastic Margaritas later, Kate couldn’t feel her toes. Madelina had told her about the entire marriage, all her problems. It seemed an unbelievably thick and detailed account. When her husband wasn’t running around with other women, he was out hatching get rich quick schemes, even though he was already wealthy and owned a rather large house in a good neighbourhood. Vancouver wasn’t inexpensive to live in. Kate didn’t understand how people with regular jobs got by. The only people she felt could afford it well enough were people in film or software, or people like her, who were paid in large wads of cash stuffed in manilla envelopes, picked up at a different spot every time, always tucked in a library private room, a coffee shop washroom, or, in one particularly annoying case, the roof of Living Shangri-La. 

Kate was only now wondering why Madelina didn’t seem to ask her about much, but instead just went on and on and on about her own problems. Didn’t she want some kind of conversation? Or was she like this with everyone, dispelling half-truths and high drama about her life to anyone who would listen? Kate didn’t feel like she had any sort of special connection to this girl, several years younger than herself but so filled with the kind of high school mindset that she wondered if she’d ever grown out of it. Kate of course, hadn’t had much time since taking on her current line of work. She had to leave boyfriends before anything became too serious for her own good. She didn’t want to feel torn between her job and a relationship, but she also didn’t want to be relationship-less. It was a sad circle, but not a particularly exciting one. She couldn’t imagine it going over well with someone like Madelina, who, for all intensive purposes, was an entire soap opera unto herself. 

“And that’s when he came home with twenty cobra’s, a canon, and beta software some so-called ninja dev made for determining addresses of CTO’s deathly afraid of flying snakes.” 

Kate couldn’t make this stuff up if she tried. 

She still couldn’t figure out if this was part of the assignment or just a coincidence. She’d largely stopped believing in coincidences. It was a rude side-effect of her line of work, much like how typographers couldn’t help but grind their teeth at poor LRT advertisements and how extras can’t enjoy the scenery in a film without seeing the people in the background who stand still incorrectly. What Kate did for a living, well, it destroyed her sense of serendipity. Nothing was coincidence. Nothing was meaningless. Nothing didn’t have a high-wire act in order to make things move forward. 

“I think I’m drunk,” Kate said. Madelina laughed. 

“Yeah, I could use another one though,” she replied. Kate nodded, as if it was the wise decision. 

“So, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” Madelina said. “I feel like we’re becoming really good friends.”

“Yeah yeah, me too,” Kate said, sipping out of a neon purple straw, now. “But, I have to ask. Where are we?”

“We’re on a cruise ship, sweetie. You’re not that drunk are you?”

“No no,” Kate said. “I know we’re on a ship. But, like, where is it going?”

Madelina fumbled with a tie in her hair. “You’re telling me you bought a ticket for a cruise ship and you don’t know where you’re going?” 

Kate shrugged. “Spur of the moment. I like to be spontaneous,” she lied. 

“Well, I researched the heck out of this trip, so let me break it down for you.” Madelina spread out her hands to indicate the whole trip, then broke it down by slicing the space with her hands, like the air in front of her was pizza. “You’re in for seven days, six nights on choppy seas. We’ll be stopping in Seattle, Portland, San Jose, and finally San Fransisco before heading back.”

“Wait, you say choppy like it’s a good thing,” Kate asked, immediately suspicious. 

“It’s the reason I picked this cruise. The weather is going to be terrible, and the reports said it was going to definitely be a rough trip.”

“I’m sorry,” Kate said. “I don’t really get it. Why book a cruise in bad weather?”

Madelina smiled. “You’ll figure it out dear.” 

“Don’t call me dear. I’m thirty. You’re like eighteen.”

“Twenty-three!” Madelina said, straightening her back and posing. “But thank you.”

Madelina and Kate enjoyed one more drink, and then Madelina excused herself, saying she needed to go find her husband. Madelina hugged her, with palms digging into Kate’s back, like Madelina was holding twenty pounds of shopping bags. She then teetered off back to her cabin.

What was that all about, Kate wondered. She motioned to the bartender to grab the bill, and he asked to see  her room card. He swiped it over an IR scanner, and said “All taken care of, Mrs. Your bar tab is covered with the price of your package.”

Kate hated her job. She did. There were myriad reasons why it was worse than any day or night job, worse than any part time bullshit high school gig. But every now and then there were perks. Every now and then there were amenities. Every now and then she got an unlimited tab. And in those moments, Kate had a unique smile. It was the smile of a person who’d been given a “get of of jail” card for the very first time in their life, yet still fully aware of its rarity and precious state. 

“Thank you,” Kate said. “What’s your name?”

“Stellen,” he said, shaking her hand with a white towel over his elbow. 

“Tack, Stellen,” Kate said. 

“Ah you speak Swedish?” he said, surprised. 

“Bara lite,” she stammered. He smiled at her. She said, “I don’t know about that girl, but you and I are definitely going to be friends.” 

Kate found her way back to her cabin. She changed sweaters and read over the note, her ticket, and docket materials. The cruiser seemed just as rote and pedestrian as advertised. She’d be frustrated except for the fact that this is how they all went. Something would set off an alarm, and she would be sent to a destination. She was never sure exactly what kind of intervention would be needed, because her employers weren’t sure, either. Sometimes, it ended up being nothing. Sometimes, the cost was high. Kate kept her job because she was prepared for any circumstance. She could fit in anywhere. And where she was right now was pretty good. 

The schedule for the cruise, two pamphlets, one for meals and one for entertainment, were shunted into an inlet of the wall. Kate pulled them out and looked through them for anything that might be out of the ordinary. She lay down and held them above her head, a little dizzy from the drinks. Everything looked fun for a couple in their forties, together for years, comfortable with each other’s aging tendencies, looking for something safe and easy and drunken. She saw very little here for her specifically, though there were two DJs she recognized from her music collection, even if they were a little old themselves.

Her phone buzzed. She checked her handbag, somewhat stunned to find she had a full signal. They had left the dock only two hours previous, but she figured they were far enough away that she’d be in a dead zone. She flipped the pamphlet over to the bag, where it explained that the ship was recently retrofitted with a cell tower, so every guest would have terrific cell service, certainly better than in a busy city, and full, free access to Wi-Fi both in their cabins and in most cafe’s, all in fact except the Casablanca cafe, where they like to keep things somewhat period specific, with a required dress code and everything. The text was from Ollie. 

—Hey, what are you doing tonight?

Shit.

—Not feeling great tonight, love. I’ll call you tomorrow?

—Everything all right?

—Yeah, nothing to worry about. Just going to drink some soup and read a book.

—You want me to bring you anything?

Ha ha!

—It’s fine, baby. You take it easy. Go out with your boys. 

—I don’t have boys. 

—You should find some boys!

—What is wrong with you. 

—I love you.

—Aw, love you too. Call me if you feel like it later.

Shit!

Shit!

Skit!

Kate left without telling Ollie where she was going and for how long. She couldn’t break up with him in time. She couldn’t be honest with him on the phone. What was she going to say? Hey, honey, I’m on a cruise ship without you, with full bar privileges and a mystery to solve. Yeah, I know. Typical Tuesday, right?

Kate felt like a bad girlfriend. She didn’t tell him because she wasn’t sure she was even supposed to get on the boat. She wasn’t sure the boat would leave when she got on. She still wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be there the entirety of the trip. Maybe she was supposed to get off in Seattle? Maybe this would really be one day away, and she could be back on his comfortable couch, getting cuddled with hot chocolate, watching reruns of Cheers from Netflix. Then again, maybe that morning would be the last time they saw one another.  

There was a knock on the door. 

And then another. Kate figured it might be Madelina, with more things to complain about regarding her husband. But when Kate looked through the viewfinder, she found nobody standing there. She waited a moment, then opened the door a crack, just enough to feel the cool air of the hallway. She could already sense the ocean underneath her, and in that moment the boat fell a little more than usual, and she could sense the drop, then rise, then a re-centering. In that moment, she looked around the hallway and saw no one, but then looked down and saw an envelope. It was an envelope she’d seen many times before, 

Inching her thumb over the paper revealed its quality, a fine faint yellow, like canary but faded. Slight ridges propagated and she could feel them with the insets of her fingerprint. She felt the ink, raised only slightly, but a raise in any case; a result of careful handwriting. Kate flipped it over and put her nails to glue, ripping the side and pulling out a single baby blue card, with writing on one side and no identifying markers. There was no signature or stamp or brand. There was no indication who wrote the letter or who she might give it to. There was only a warning, written in plain handwriting. 

“Everything you don’t understand is magic. When you understand things, there’s no more magic.” 

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.2.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

In the note there was an address, but she wasn’t familiar with the particular arrangement of items. A quick search on her phone showed it to be the address of a cabin on a ship. It wasn’t clear if the cabin was her destination or just the way to it. It was never altogether clear just what she was supposed to do at this stage. The boat could be in the harbour indefinitely, or it could take her to the arctic.

Kate found herself stepping out of a cab near a huge cruise ship, the type you can’t take in entirely while anywhere near it. It seemed made entirely out of steel and glass. White with blue trim, but quieter than she figured a colossus might be, she gaped at it while she approached. The cab driver handed her the handle of her overnight handbag, then pulled her suitcase out of the trunk. “Happy travels, Miss,” he said, returning to the driver’s seat and leaving her.

Kate had never been on a cruise ship before, but she knew better than to begin exploring. She boarded and checked the map on the wall. She climbed a set of carpeted stairs, holding her ticket, reading the signs along each corridor until she finally found the door with her number. The key card that came attached with the note slid in, a green light lit and an affirming beep sounded, and she was in. The cabin was small in comparison to a hotel room. She had no idea how long she’d be staying in it. Kate dropped her handbag on the bed and sat down. Could she smoke in here? A sign on the back of the door indicated that she could not.

She clicked on the light in the bathroom and splashed some water on her face. She looked at herself in the mirror, and wondered about the particulars. Was her hair right for this? Were her eyes supposed to be brown? Did she need any indicating marks on her body? Was she, herself at her most basic, enough?

Kate heard the engine power up, and within a few minutes she felt the ship move. She was going somewhere. But where? And for how long? Okay, she thought. Cruise ships just kind of go out for a while, right? They end up in the same place. But they dock at various places? Maybe?

She searched her room. She was sure there would be some clue as to how to proceed. It appeared there was nothing to guide her until she opened the closet to find a dry cleaning bag containing two dresses, one white, one black, both full-length, slinky, and probably way out of her price range. She had packed a dress, but compared to these two it was a shabby excuse. These were for her. But why two? Was it a choice? Or was there to be two opportunities on this ship to wear lavishly expensive dresses?

She heard a knock on the door. Peering through the viewer, she saw a girl a few years younger than her.

“Hello?” She asked through the door.

“Hello!” She heard, the girl excited for a reason Kate couldn’t figure out.

Kate turned the handle and saw the girl, smiling and kind of short. She was wearing white runners, a cargo vest, and a button-up blouse. It was like she’d searched for “boat wear from the 70s” and bought the lot. Kate asked, “Can I help you?”

“We’re neighbours,” she said. “My cabin is right next to yours. My husband is up at the bar, so I thought I’d introduce myself. I’m Madelina.”

Kate heard the name and did her best not to snicker. She hadn’t heard a name like that since she read fantasy novels as a junior.

“Kate,” she said. They shook hands. Madelina’s palm was sweaty. She was clearly nervous.

“And where is your husband?” She asked.

Kate smiled. “I’m traveling alone,” she said. This caused Madelina’s expression to sour.

“Can I come in for a second? I’m already so bored I’d love to chat with someone.”

“Sure,” Kate said. Madelina made her way in and sat down on the one chair across from the bed. Kate sat next to her handbag.

“Are you divorced?” Madelina asked.

Kate shook her head. “Also, isn’t that kind of a personal question?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I can be too forward sometimes. But, it’s just that, this is a couples cruise. It’s strange that you’re here alone is all. I was told by my travel agent that there would be no single women on our floor. So that’s why I asked, since she must have thought you were with a partner. I’m sorry again, but are you sure you’re not traveling with anyone?”

“Look,” Kate said. “Madelina, was it? I’m alone, and I never talked to your travel agent. I don’t know you, her, or what you’re getting on about. What does it matter that I’m alone on a couples cruise? Surely that happens from time to time. Maybe I just wanted to be on my own on a giant boat full of happy couples. Maybe I’m writing a book! I’m an anthropologist studying the mating habits of middle-aged cruise-goers for The Atlantic.”

Madelina crossed her legs, then uncrossed, then crossed them back the other way. “Are you an anthropologist for The Atlantic, whatever that is?”

“No, but my point is, it’s not really any of your business what I’m doing here. We’ve introduced ourselves and you’re already questioning my motives. I have to say it’s not terribly friendly.”

Madelina bit her lower lip. “You’re right. I’m sorry. It’s just that my husband, well, him and I are not on the best of terms right now. Jack is, that’s my husband, Jack, he’s a recovering addict, and I thought this trip away from everything for two weeks would help us out.”

Kate looked at this woman. She was like a TV show, something there for Kate’s popcorn-chewing entertainment, something she didn’t really have anything to do with but couldn’t help but poke at a little, to see if there was more meat on the bone. She said, “Well, I’m sorry to hear that. I have to know, what was he addicted to? Alcohol? Gambling?”

“Women!” She exclaimed. “That son of a you know what is probably flirting with someone at the dang bar right now. Anyways, I wanted to introduce myself just in case, thinking maybe if you met me first you wouldn’t want to go to bed with him. I was hoping everyone around us would be married, but if you’re not, can you at least be on my side? I’m really trying with this marriage.”

Kate crossed her heart and hoped to die that she would not sleep with this Madelina’s husband, Jack.

“Thank you,” Madelina said.

“How long have you two been married?” Kate asked.

“Oh,” Madelina responded, counting on her fingers. “Four months.”

“And he’s constantly cheating on you?”

“Not if I can help it! I’ve stopped him as best I could. This is my last resort, Kate. I’ve got to reform my man. I don’t want to lose this one, too.”

“Wait, too?” Kate asked. “You lost another husband to infidelity?”

Madelina kept playing with her khaki shorts, specifically the pleat in the front. They were brand new by the looks of them, as were everything she wore. To answer Kate’s question, she just nodded sheepishly.

Kate stood. “Can I buy you a drink?”

Kate and Madelina walked the corridor to the elevator, where Madelina led her to a floor filled with shops, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that were open 24/7. “Nothing on this floor closes,” she explained. “If you want to buy cigars and dance to Madonna at 5 in the morning, they’ll let you. It’s too much.” She said too much like a positive, like she’d been freely given everything in the Skymall. They found a bar filled with beads and neon, a postcard rendition of a Las Vegas remaking of New Orleans. They ordered Margaritas and received something more resembling a trough of green slurpee. Prince played in the background. It was delicious.

“I know we just met,” Kate said. “But can I give you some advice regarding men?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Guys who cheat on you all the time are real pieces of shit and you probably shouldn’t be with them.”

“What!” She slapped the table. “You think I don’t know that? You think I want Jack cheating on me? I don’t! But I don’t know what to do.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know you or Jack or the situation you’ve worked out for yourselves.” Kate thought about it, but then just drank from the neon straw and enjoyed the drama. “I mean, he’s probably a piece of shit. Almost definitely. How many times have you stopped him from cheating on you?” Madelina held up her hand with all her fingers outstretched. “Okay, five times in four months. That is probably a lot. Almost definitely too much. I mean, how are you two in the bedroom? Everything firing on all cylinders?”

“Now who’s asking personal questions?” Madelina laughed.

They talked about sex for enough time that Kate didn’t see anything terrible awry or irregular. She didn’t particularly want details but found herself prying anyway, beginning to feel a little bit on vacation herself. But she’d been doing this for too many years. She caught herself gabbing, and wondered, is this part of it?

It felt coincidental that Madelina (with that name, really, of all names for a person that really existed), would show up minutes after Kate found her room. It felt unbelievable that she would have a problem right away, a problem Kate may be able to solve, or at least push down the line a little while she searched for the real thing. She couldn’t help but look around the bar. She couldn’t help but do a lot of things she did all the time when out on assignment: look around, question everything, and generally stay on her paranoid, slowly-going-crazy toes until something, anything happened that seemed just out of place enough for her to intervene.

 

Daily Fiction

Corona Gale, 0.1.1

Note: this is an alpha release of Corona Gale. Much like Sprites, Jets, and Elves, it only exists as a first act with no ending and has a lot of rough edges. You can see other chapters by following the Corona Gale tag. 

Two cups of tea sat on the counter, bags dropped in only seconds before, water piping hot still, milk, sugar still left to pour in. He had left them here to go splash some water on his face. It was early. No light came through the windows. She was still too asleep for any alarms but a shove. 

Next to her on the wooden lacquered nightstand, there was an alarm clock, black, analogue, with hands that glowed in the dark. She had bought it as a joke, because it was her second one. The original sat just right of it, digital and glowing with green numbers, an army of buttons above and behind them to help out with settings and radio preferences. Sitting comfortably just behind the original was a third, this one a cute Japanese ball clock shaped like the head of a cat. To snooze, you had to pull a level in the back that slowly lifted up again to trigger the alarm every ten minutes. 

There were two other alarms, but they didn’t matter. What mattered is that her nightstand was just alarm clocks, 5 trinkets recognizing hearty ambition and futile practicality. She would buy a new one and within days her unconscious muscle memory would figure out the exact motion needed to not only hit snooze but disable the alarm entirely. She had no real power to stop it. At first, she had them trigger all at the same time, so she would need to exert some real effort to kill them all. Later, she scheduled them at 5 minute intervals. Nothing helped. There was no waking her without him actually putting his hands on her shoulders and pushing her off the bed and into the world. The first few times he had to do this he felt bad. Who pushes their girlfriend off the bed to wake her? It seemed cruel and abusive, but after a few days it became funny. After a few weeks it became sad. 

Sometimes, she would fall back asleep on the floor, curled into a pile of clothes she’d left on the floor the night before. If the winds were particularly rough, as they were this morning, her body would exert every effort to stay warm and asleep. 

“Come on,” he said. “Your tea is ready. I’m not coming back in here.”

She would moan, as if communicating some appreciation for his effort. But she wouldn’t move from the floor. Her phone had dropped off the nightstand and was now in her hair. It vibrated. She had email, and probably thirty other things. It kept happening. Her hand reached up, under a pillow covering her face, up and above and in the tangle of her curls she found the blasted thing. She held it up to her face, her eyes finally coming open, an inch at a time. Another alarm, one she had configured weeks ago and forgotten about. It was set to wake her up ten minutes after her normal time, but not every day. She was practicing with intervals. This one kind of did the trick. 

She shuffled out in her slippers and robe, both new, gifts from her boyfriend, for no reason. He handed her a cup of tea, bag out, milk and sugar in, quickly losing its heat. She had taken her time even with the slippers. 

“Thank you,” she said, barely seeing him. 

Her first real thought was, this is going to be hard. The tea struck her lips. A little dribbled past, a pair of droplets falling on her housecoat. Was she really going to do it before getting properly dressed? 

She sat on the couch as he turned on the news. She watched blankly, not really taking anything in. She contemplated. It was going to be tough on him. 

But maybe she didn’t have to do it! Maybe he would understand. Maybe he’d be the first guy to ever understand. She had to travel, and she had to be away, but she could come back! She could return to him after a few months. Maybe he loved her like that. Maybe they could call each other all the time, text constantly, and she could send him photos from her motel rooms. Maybe it didn’t have to be this way. 

“Hey, I have to say something,” she said. Shit. She’d begun. She was breaking up with him on autopilot. She wasn’t ready. She wasn’t even really awake! It was like her half-dozen alarms woke up the wrong page of the script. 

“What is it?” He asked. “Oh, can I say you look really good this morning?”

“Oh, screw you,” she said. “I look terrible.” 

“No you don’t. And you know you don’t. And you know what? You know I know you know you don’t,” he said. She squinted at him, and kicked his foot a little with hers. 

He’d halted her. She had to leave tomorrow. She got the letter and burned it, over the stove in the middle of the night while smoking a cigarette and eating a hash brown. Why did they still send her letters? How was that possibly still the most secure way of doing business?

He took his finger and flicked her hair back behind her neck. “You look great. I wish I didn’t have to go to work in like, ten minutes.” 

Shit, she thought. She’d forgotten he had to work this morning. Well, that settled it. There was no way she could break up with him in ten minutes. How cruel would that be? “Yeah,” she said. “That’s really way too bad. Given three or four hours I could have really done something for you.” 

He laughed. “You prepare too much,” he said. “You gotta learn to live in the moment a little.”
She hated to admit it, but the son of a bitch actually did know her pretty well. They’d been together six months, long enough for her to feel comfortable leaving some of her alarm clocks and some clothes at his place. They had recently talked about moving in together. She fantasized about it, but knew it wouldn’t work. There was the fact that she was still lying about what she did for a living. There was the fact that she was going into a busy season, and she’d be away a lot, and would eventually run out of excuses on availability. 

He was under the impression that she worked for a major social media company, and that her job had nondisclosure agreements for kilometers. He asked her once if she was working on a fancy new phone. When he would get frustrated with Facebook, he asked her to take down the entire website, feeling like even if she didn’t work there she probably had some kind of access to those kind of switches. 

And then, of course, there was the whole living in the moment thing. Her job made that both impossible and a grand, high-drama joke. 

He was already half finished his tea when he sat down, but she was still surprised when he got up a second later and kissed her on the forehead. “I’ve got to jet, love.” He turned the corner in his apartment to his bathroom. She could hear him brushing his teeth, and she immediately felt the dread of responsibility. She’d never really tried keeping a long distance boyfriend because of the obvious downsides and frustrations. She would eventually have to explain things, and then she’d be a liar. But could she even explain it? Would he understand? 

No, of course he wouldn’t. Nobody would understand. It took her years to really get it. 

And then, how much would she have to explain before he was satisfied? Would she have to tell him about the clients? The missions? The secrecy? Would she have to tell him about all the lives she’d altered? Would she have to tell him how she can’t quit, even if she wanted to?

Would she tell him that this was her life, for better or worse, and if he wanted to be a part of it then he would have to accept her entirely, without questioning or expecting too much in terms of answers or flexibility? 

He was not the first guy she was torn about telling. There had been Sabin in 2010, then Khalid in 2008, and Scott in 2006. She came closest to telling Scott, but then bungled the entire thing. After that, it became easier. She knew what she had to do and it was just a matter of building up the courage. For some reason, that part was always difficult. And now, in 2013, with Ollie.

No, she had to do it now. She learned this lesson best with Khalid. Rip off the damn bandage. If she didn’t do it now, before he walked out that door, then she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to really do it. She put down her tea, tightened her rope, and stood, eyes open, a little sleep still on either side, but awake and determined to plunge in the knife. 

“Bye!” He said, the door closing. She ran towards it, but it was too late. He was gone.

She didn’t go after him. She bit her lip instead, and decided to face what kept her up half the night: she didn’t actually want to break up with this guy. She sipped the tea he made her. She sat on the couch in his apartment. Everything was comfortable. He was great. She said it all the time, in her head. He is great. 

But could she just leave town and text him? Would that be a jerk thing to do?

She hated thoughts like this, but there they were, right next to and behind and just slightly quieter than the real, good thoughts, the ones that were true. You cannot break up with this guy what is wrong with you. It was louder, but only just. And for how much longer would it hold? 

She put the tea cup in the sink, next to his, light beige stains on the bottom of both. She was trying to think of what she could wear. She’d rifle through the backpack. There’s got to be something in there, she thought, slowly sliding her way to the bedroom, around to the other side, close to the window, where she kept her things. She leaned down and opened the flap and found it light, and then found it empty, and then felt very curious. Where the hell was her overnight stuff? 

She texted him. 

—Hey. 

—What’s up? 

—Where’s my stuff? My bag is empty? 

—Check the middle drawer. 

—What? 

—hmm? :)

—You’re a jerk. 

—:)

He’d emptied out a drawer for her, and placed her things inside. Things had been folded, piled, and arranged. Her makeup sat on the left of everything, laid neatly. That son of a bitch. 
When she eventually left his house and made her way to hers, where she had a bag to pack and a handful of rent cheques to sign in advance, she was in a kind of love. She’d been in love half a dozen times, and some of them had progressed past this level, but it was this point she enjoyed every time it arrived. Sometimes, there is a perfect pop song, and it transcends product and becomes a moment you can play in your head over and over, tangling it with real memories and the present tense, allowing it to add a beat to your step. It is this perfect pop song that makes you believe that there’s something out there, something beyond the people who made and distributed the thing, something beyond the selfish and liberal reasons that there are things in the world. That’s the kind of love she was in. 

She held onto the feeling as long as she could, and it nearly kept until she got home and found a note on her door. This was her world, a world of things left for her to find, every new one a reminder that she didn’t live a normal life, could not fit into a regular schedule, and could not make it work with the current and great love of her life. 

Kate hated her job. 

Writing Practice, June 15 2015

He had her cornered. He really figured it would have gone the other way.

Kate looked into his liar eyes. Album looked back, his smirk appearing just to cause her to wince In annoyance.

"I don't want to meet you," she said. "I won't know you."

"All I said was 'good evening'," he defended, knowing damn well what he'd done outside of this moment.

tutorials

InDesign tip: Fix breaks caused by brackets in a quote

Here's a nice simple one. When an author replaces a letter in a word inside a quote, they'll often surround the letter with brackets. Brackets won't automatically keep with connected characters in InDesign, however, so you'll end up with this nonsense: 

A word as simple as it, when written as [i]t, will unfortunately break. No author likes seeing this, so it's something you have to fix. It's something I've manually fixed (and had to look for) forever, until I tried this tiny stupid GREP trick:

](wildcard for any letter), and apply a character style with "no break" checked.

Keeping this inside your body paragraph style will result in exactly what you'd hope to see:

Since I figured this one out, it's been an automatic inclusion into almost all my paragraph styles.