Saturday, February 20, 2016

Avarice: Chapter Four

The family gathered around the kitchen table. Hands clasped nervously on her lap, Abby watched her father’s eyes. They never left the door to the house. She could hear the tapping of her mother’s feet on the ground. Glad wrung his hands.

Vera started “What are we going to do?”.

Osman didn’t react. He may not even have blinked. It was impossible to tell if he was listening.

“Osman…” said Marietta “I think - “

“We need to find some way to call for help and we need to barricade the house.”

“How are we going to call for help?” Asked Marietta impatiently.

“A fire outta do it.” Glad interjected as he sat down at the table. “Folks in town will see the smoke. With some wet sheets we can tap out a simple S.O.S.”

Osman closed his eyes and sighed.

“We’ll barricade the house tonight and start a fire in the morning.”

“Why not start the fire now!” demanded Marietta. “They have our son!”

Abby looked out the window. It was approaching noon.Osman just started at the door. Every now and then he’d lick his lips a little bit, but his eyes never moved. Abby stared at him waiting, hoping that he’d say something reassuring. Something to make this go away.
“Building a fire means going outside. Anyone even half competent with a rifle could pick us off like sitting ducks from the safety of the woods.”

We’ll fortify the house now and prepare the fire under cover of darkness. Everybody looked at Osman, reassured that there was a plan, but not quite sure what “fortify the house” really meant.

Abby and Emery had never been terribly close. A couple of years her senior, he’d primarily been an antagonist in her eyes - primarily a source of pranks and mischief. Still, she never resented him, never doubted his love for her.

She shuddered to think of what might be happening to him now. Would they torture him, looking for clues as to how to get to Vera? Would they kill him? Had they already killed him?

Abby glanced at Vera, who was standing slumped against the wall. Vera met her eye, then looked away.

“I can’t let you do this for me…” Vera trailed off. “I’ll go to them. I can’t let your son die for me. Emery’s just a boy. Let me go. I should have just stayed in the forest. I shouldn’t have run.”

Marietta opened her mouth as if to respond, but kept silent. Glad avoided eye contact. Abby suspected he would readily accept trading Vera, whom he barely knew, for Emery his best friend of many years.

Vera stood straight, then started to walk toward the door.

“Stop” Marietta whispered. “You don’t have to do this…”

Vera stopped.  

“Sacrificing yourself might not buy us anything” said Osman. For all we know, they’ll think you hid the gold here. The’ll capture you and come for us, and we’ll have one less pair of hands and eyes.

Chapter Five -->

Copyright 2016 Tyler Smith

Friday, February 19, 2016

Avarice: Chapter Three

Update: The KickStarter for The Siege of Abigail Beson (Previously titled 'Avarice) is live!

<-- Chapter One
<-- Chapter Two

Abby hurried up the stairs to her room. As she climbed the stairs she thought through the things she wanted to take with. She didn’t have many treasured possessions; a leather bound journal and a battered old chess set were her only treasures. She grabbed them and her a hooded cloak, then headed back down the stairs.

The refreshing crispness of the morning air was starting to wane when they left the house. Osman led the group as they walked down the path from their front door that led through the field to the woods. They moved at a quick walk, all deathly silent. The occasional chirps of nearby birds seemed to shatter their silence like rocks thrown through glass.

Abby walked behind Vera. She looked to be moving comfortably, but her obvious anxiety and modest head wound robbed her of any semblance of grace. Vera nervously looked left and right, occasionally pausing to stare at some potential danger off in the distance.

The brief walk seemed to stretch on forever, but they eventually reached the forest’s edge without incident. Abby noticed Vera’s hands were shaking, left and right alternately clenching and releasing. Understandable, she must be even more terrified that we are, knowing she’s the target of whoever’s out there.

Abby stepped into the shade of the oak trees at the edge of the forest like she was crossing some grand threshold. The trees that yesterday had been inviting were now made her shiver with fear. Their shade was as much a hiding place for criminals as it was a relief from the sun. The closeness of the woods amplified the sound of each step they took. The crunching of sticks and leaves underfoot made Abby feel naked. We’re so exposed here. Why didn’t we go at night? At least then we’d be hidden. We know these woods. They don’t…

They walked in a single file line. Each holding onto the silence like a rope that linked them all together. Close behind Vera, Abby couldn’t see much of the path ahead.

The path turned and forest rose up around them on all sides. They kept walking, marching forward like a rowers on a boat with no land in sight.

Vera screamed. She turned and started sprinting toward the house, nearly knocking Abby as she passed. Only when Abby had recovered her balance did she notice the shapes of men moving in the forest ahead. Abby turned and ran. She heard a crash on the path behind her, and heard a cry as Emery hit the ground.  Abby kept running. She didn’t know what to do.

Tears streamed down her face as she sprinted back up the path. She ran as long as she could, never looking back, convinced there was someone behind her.
Finally she saw the light of the forest ahead. As she emerged into the light, she saw that her parents, aunt, and Glad were still running, and had nearly reached the house.

As Abby approached the house, she heard her mother crying. “Why did we leave him! They’re going to kill him!” “There were too many…” sighed Osman. “I saw at least 6 men, and I’m sure there were more. If we’d tried to fight we’d all be dead.”

“Marietta...” Vera started.

“You brought this on us!” Marietta cried “Why did you have to come to us…”
“There was nowhere else to go…”. Vera sat down and put her head in her hands.

His shoulders slumped in defeat, Osman sighed. “If they didn’t know where we were before, they do now.”

Chapter Four -->

Copyright 2016 Tyler Smith

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Avarice: Chapter Two

Update: The KickStarter for The Siege of Abigail Beson (Previously titled 'Avarice) is live!

<-- Chapter One

As Abby dabbed Vera’s face with a damp cloth, Vera began to explain what had happened.

“Y’all know Philip was fighting in the war. Well they were defending Richmond a few months back. Apparently during the retreat they managed to hole up in the big bank for a few hours before gettin’ driven out. Nobody knows anything for sure - at least, nobody’s willing to say they know anything - but word is that each man walked away with a solid gold bar. He never mentioned the gold when he came home. Last week he went missing, and as best as I could learn from folks in the bars in town, that gold is the likely reason for it.”

“But what happened to you?” Abby’s mother asked impatiently. “How did you end up on our porch covered in blood?”

“They came for me during the storm. Broke into the house, demanded to know where the gold was. Said they’d kill me if I didn’t tell them. I said I didn’t know, but they didn’t listen. They were about to kill me, but lighting hit a tree near the house and startled them enough for me to make a break for it. I ran through the woods, hoping to lose them. I managed to shake them about a mile from your place, but not before getting this nasty graze.”

Vera gestured to the spot on her forehead where a new bandage had been tied.

“I’m so sorry for pulling you into this. I just didn’t know where else to go…”

Her mother hugged her aunt, and both began to cry. Abby turned to her father, who was nervously looking out the windows.

“They know you’re here, don’t they?” He asked.

Vera began to cry.

The last time Abby had seen Vera was her wedding day, just over three years ago. Phillip had rightly guessed that the conscription was looming, and decided they should tie the knot. Abby had been ten years old at the time.

She remembered watching Vera walking proudly down the aisle of the little chapel. As she passed, Vera had turned to Abby and given her a wink and a tiny smile. Abby treasured that smile - it was the smile that made her realize there were more men in the world that her father and brothers.

It was jarring to see her aunt so distraught. Abby’s mother was frail and grim. Vera was a woman. Beautiful, and young, and strong. And laying on their floor, sobbing.

Emery walked to the kitchen table and sat down. “Well, what are our options?” He asked aloud to no one in particular. Emery, tall and lean, had been preparing to follow his his brothers into war when they’d gotten the letter informing them of the war’s conclusion.

Glad spoke next. “We can run, or we can fight.” He spoke boldly, as if he had some idea what it would actually take to fight. Abby doubted his resolve, but stayed silent.

Glad and Osman joined Emery at the table. A long moment of silence followed. The beautiful day outside betrayed the anxiety that was settling into Abby’s stomach. At any minute men with guns could come bursting into the house and kill them, all in search of gold. Gold that might not even exist.

“We should make for town. It’s only a few miles.” said Osman “Even if you two knew how to fight, we don’t know how many men are out there, and we’ve only got a couple guns and a little powder. We should make for town as fast as possible.”

The knot in Abby’s stomach tightened a little more. Going to town was only a few miles, but it was a few miles through dense forest, following a rough track that was so overgrown that you could touch branches on with both hands if you reached out while riding. They could sneak up on us so easily. They could be ten feet away and we’d never know.

“No, no, no” Vera was murmuring, groggy but trying to listen to the conversation. “We can’t leave, they’ll catch me…”. She trailed off.

Marietta, Abby’s mom, sighed. “I don’t think we have a choice. We’re sitting ducks here. They might not have figured out where she went, but this is the only house for miles around.

Osman settled the discussion “Then we should move now, before they have time to figure out that we’re here. Get ready to go.”

Emery and Glad sat motionless, mouths open slightly, both clearly considering arguing the point. Osman stood up and walked upstairs. The discussion was over.

Chapter Three -->

Copyright 2016 Tyler Smith

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Avarice: Chapter One

Update: The KickStarter for The Siege of Abigail Beson (Previously titled 'Avarice) is live!

July 1st, 1865

Thunder boomed in the distance, echoing through the house and briefly disrupting the pitter-patter of raindrops falling on the roof. The lightning had illuminated the landscape outside of Abigail Beson’s window, but the yard and fields were already drenched in darkness. 

From her room on the second floor, Abby felt safe from the rain and the thunder. Judging by the sound of her father’s snores from across the hall, she guessed that her parents weren’t too worried either. She guessed that her brother Emery and his friend Glad (short for Gladstone), who were sleeping in the peaked attic above her, might not feel so assured.

Abby, Emery, Osman (their father) and Marietta (their mother) lived together in a large colonial house. Two stories tall and painted a stark white, their home had the outside appearance of a  grand mansion. It was grand, when Abby’s grandfather had built it. However, the strain of the war and the absence of her older brothers had been taxing, and the house fell into disarray.  The only grandeur left came from the sheer size of the place.

Abby’s room was now one of just a few that they bothered to maintain. The western wing of the house, where it got unbearably hot in the summer, had been abandoned entirely. The family lived strictly in the eastern half, which was still large enough that dust frequently gathered on the floors of the lesser used rooms.

Abby stared hopefully into the blackness, looking for the rolling ridge in the sky which divided the near-darkness of a cloudy sky from the utter blackness that was the row of trees as the edge of her family’s land. It was no use; there would be no stars tonight. She turned away from the window and laid back down in bed. She breathed out softly, and felt herself drift off to sleep as she listened to the soft rhythm of the raindrops. 


Abby awoke with a start. “What was that?” she thought to herself. Remembering the thunder, she sighed and laid back down. Her heart was pounding. 

The next BOOM! was accompanied by a flash of lightning. Abby gasped as she caught a glimpse of a dark shape moving slowly down the wall opposite her bed. Darkness fell again, and she held her breath, staring into the darkness where the shape had appeared. 

Abby breathed in slowly. The initial shock of being jarred from sleep was fading, and her wits were returning. Silently, she slipped out from under her covers and crossed the floor of her room on bare feet. She knew where to step to avoid making the old floorboards creak. She grabbed the broom propped up behind her door and waited.

At the next BOOM! of thunder, Abby darted across the room and jabbed with the end of the broomstick as hard as she could up into the corner where the ceiling met the wall. The corner where the shifting of the house had opened up a small crack. The corner where, she expected, two fourteen year old boys were currently dangling an old sock on a string.

A smile crept to the edges of Abby’s mouth as a startled yelp confirmed her expectations.  Feeling satisfied, she set the broom down and curled back up in bed. Her smile grew broader as she caught bits of accusations whispered between her brother and Glad.

“Why didn’t you tell me she had a broom!”
“I didn’t know she had it there!”
“Next time you hold the string” 

Their voices faded, and Abby let herself drift off toward sleep again.


Calmer this time, Abby rolled away from the window, hoping to hide her eyes from the intense brightness of the lightning. 


Something didn’t feel right. Abby turned back toward the window, her mind racing to figure out what new prank her brother had contrived.


There was no lightning. Why was there no lightning? Abby got up and walked to her window. The fog of sleep was clearing from her mind, so the next BOOM! finally registered as the firing of a rifle.

Confused, she peered out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the source. The rain had stopped, but the cloud cover continued to hinder any illumination from the moon. 

Why would there be musket fire? Abby asked herself silently. Lee signed the surrender, when the Union was just miles from our door. At least, that’s what the last letter from Benjamin had said. That letter was two months ago. They hadn’t received any letters since. The post had been spotty throughout the war, and after the surrender it had stopped entirely. 

Abby heard a pounding above her as Glad and Emery rushed down the stairs. The whole family met in the hallway outside Abby’s door. Despite the fear and confusion, Abby couldn’t help but smile when she saw Glad holding his hand to his forehead.

“The cellar, now.” whispered her father. They began to walk down the stairs, ears piqued for the sounds of more shots. As they reached the foot of the stair, Abby stole a glance out of the windows at the front of the house, but saw nothing but darkness. She turned and followed her father to the kitchen, where he was already opening the trapdoor that led into the cellar. 

As they descended the stairs, Emery whispered “Apricot, you gave Glad a bump the size of a quarter. You should really apologize”. Abby chuckled “You should be apologizing for roping him into one of your boneheaded schemes.”

One by one they climbed down, breathing in the cold, musty air of the dirt floored cellar. Her father grabbed his gun from the top of the hutch before following them down and closing the door. Abby leaned against her father’s shoulder and closed her eyes again. 

Abby slept very little the rest of that night, awoken frequently by the chill of the cellar, the soreness of her back, and the fear of not knowing what might be out there. 

Morning showed itself as a few thin tendrils of light strewn across the dirt floor where the sun was able to piece the floorboards in the kitchen. “Stay here” said her father. He slowly climbed the ladder up the the trap door, then shoved it open. It swung open and hit the floor with a crash, but there was no response. Gun in hand, he climbed out. 

Abby glanced at her mother’s face as it was briefly illuminated by the light streaming down from the kitchen. Marietta was a strong woman, but years of wondering whether her sons would make it home had taken their toll. Her cheeks were so rigid and held so solidly that Abby sometimes wondered whether she could ever smile again.

Abby barely breathed as she listened to her father’s footsteps. He walked around the kitchen, living room, and entryway, then he returned. “It looks clear.” Osman Beson, Abby’s father, had the look of a man who felt courage because he wouldn’t allow himself to feel anything else. Behind his greying beard and spectacles was a grim but determined face.  Back in the Mexican-American war he’d been given the nickname ‘The Bull’. He was small and careful, but somehow the name stuck. 

The rest of the family climbed up the ladder and into the kitchen. Abby blinked, and blinked again; the sunlight was so intense her eyes ached. As her eyes adjusted, she looked around the kitchen. Nothing seemed out of place. She walked to the window and looked outside. All that awaited her was the bright green of the grass outside. She turned, walked out the back door, and screamed. 

A woman lay on the back porch, covered in blood. Her raspy breathing said she was alive, but she looked like she’d lost so much blood it was hard to imagine how. Struggling to keep herself from retching, Abby stepped toward her. 

She was clad in a simple blue dress, with brown flat shoes on her feet. One of the sleeves of her dress was torn off, apparently to form the bandage that was wrapped around her head. 

Abby stepped to the side as her mother rushed over. “Oh my gosh…” she said. “That’s Vera. That’s my sister.”  Abby looked again at the woman’s blood covered face. It had been years since she’d seem Vera, but now that her mom had recognized her, the face was unmistakable. “Get her inside, and warm up some water” her mom ordered.

Chapter Two -->
Copyright 2016 Tyler Smith

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tyler Reviews "Became A Stranger"

Fletcher Magellan's Became A Stranger possesses astounding lyrical and emotional depth. By my third time through the album I caught myself forgetting that Magellan is just the alter ego of my friend Cody Fitzpatrick. Became A Stranger's storytelling is earnest and authentic, compelling even the most jaded listener to open up and hear a story.

When Fletcher Magellan took the stage as last weekend's CD release show, I didn't have much for expectations. I hadn't listened to their music before, but I wanted to support my friends and knew that my wife enjoys folk and country.

When Cody first took the stage in character as 'Fletch, he carried a battered suitcase. Without drama or announcement, he quietly opened the case and removed a stool, two barbells, and a kick drum pedal.

My interest was piqued.

He assembled the stool, put the pedal on the ground, placed the barbells back in the case, and set the case down in front of the stool.

Without uttering a word or playing a note he'd already told volumes of Magellan's story, laying the groundwork for tales of the life of a traveling singer in the form of a rudimentary kick drum.

Each track on Became A Stranger expands on this character, adding dimensions of love, loss, regret, and reflection to paint a portrait of a man I can scarcely describe but feel I know like a lifelong friend.

My favorite moments come in the love song Olive Green, which tells the story of a 17 year old boy who falls in love with a blacksmith several years his senior. Hearing the final chorus change from

The sparks weren't flying from the anvil, they were coming from my heart


The sparks weren't flying from the anvil, they were coming from our hearts

Makes me smile every time I hear it.  It will make you smile too.

You should listen to this album.

Fletcher Magellan's blog

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tyler Reviews "Trainwreck"

Trainwreck: 3/10

On Saturday night Rosalyn and I watched "Trainwreck". It is written by Amy Schumer, who also stars as the female lead.

I wouldn't quite call it dismal, but it wasn't very good.

Schumer plays Amy, a 20-something woman whose inability to have a healthy relationship is traced to her philandering father. She exploits and abuses most of the men she encounters, up to and including the film's principal love interest - a sports doctor named Aaron, played by Bill Hader.

The film's crass approach to presenting her relationships makes it hard to have much empathy for her. Her sexuality is wielded like a cudgel, slammed into the viewer's face so hard it's difficult to find another facet to her character.

Hader's character is relegated to the role of an emotional punching bag, relentless in his inexplicable love for Amy as she slowly tries to sort her life out.

Trainwreck's sole step towards vindication is in its clever use of big-name cameos. Lebron James and John Cena provide laughs through unexpected emotional compassion and insight, and a familiar face from Harry Potter supplied my loudest laughs of the evening.

Amy faces a variety of life changes through the film: her father's move into a retirement home, her sister's budding family, and a stressful but potentially promising writing career. All of these serve to construct a compelling picture of a woman wrestled into adulthood against her will. Unfortunately, the film's resolution left me feeling like the bulk of her struggles were far from resolved; most had barely even been addressed.