The Diner: Post One (Introduction)

Person A walks into a diner for lunch. As he’s waiting to be served, person B sits down on the other side of the table. Person B flashes a gun, and says this: “In an hour, I’m going to shoot you in the head. There’s nothing you can do to stop that. Whether I tell you why you’re dying, whether I let you say goodbye to your family, all depends on our conversation between now and then.”

I’ve had this idea for a movie script rolling around in my head for a couple of weeks. I don’t know much about scripts outside of a handful of tutorials, and I don’t have the time to research screenwriting when I don’t mean for this idea to sell, necessarily.

Originally, this meant that I would post the idea on my Facebook Author/Editor page and release it into the wild, as I sometimes do with ideas I don’t mean to develop. I still welcome anyone to take inspiration from this idea and craft it well enough to get published or bought.

However, I’ve decided to take inspiration once again from Brandon Sanderson. A few years back, he started Warbreaker, a Fantasy novel. He decided to publish each draft as he wrote it, all the way to completion, for free. As far as I know, it’s still up there; it’s both a great novel and an interesting look into the writing process.

I’ve decided to use this idea in a similar way. But I mean to take it a step further. In a series of posts, I plan to share my thought process, developing the basic concept by choosing characters and location and outlining the plot, eventually even publishing a full first draft of a script.

This will probably take several weeks and a dozen posts at least. I have a tag cloud that will help you find all posts, under “The Diner”. I’ll also number the posts as I make them.

Feel free to give feedback or ask questions in the comments! I hope you have as much fun with this as I think I will.

Imaginary

It’s completely normal to have an imaginary friend as a child. Studies say that over sixty percent of children have one. It’s a way for children to mitigate loneliness or to cope with a big change in their lives.

 

A lot of times, children will blame their own behavior on their imaginary friend. It was Benny, the yellow dinosaur, that broke the vase, that hid the controller, that drew on the wall. Sometimes this is a clever deflection on the part of the child. But sometimes, the child really believes it.

 

As it’s been explained to me, children will sometimes use imaginary friends as a safe way to give in to impulses that they know are wrong, behavior that is often mischievous or even willfully destructive. They can project their actions onto these friends. It wasn’t them who dropped their parent’s phone in the toilet, who threw a toy through the window. It was Benny.  The child isn’t bad; Benny is.

 

I never had an imaginary friend as a child. I met my Benny when I was twenty-five.

 

Benny isn’t the name that I know him by. But I’ve been discouraged from using his name other than when it’s absolutely unavoidable. And he’s not, in my case, a yellow dinosaur. He’s a handsome, fit guy about my age, blonde hair, blue eyes, and a surfer tan.

 

We became fast friends. Like an old married couple, we could finish each other’s sentences. It was almost like we shared the same mind. I’m a quiet, introverted person. I’d rather play games than go out and party. But Benny is boisterous, charming, witty. He wasn’t quite the stereotypical drinking game jock, but he wasn’t far from it. After many nights in, he convinced me to go with him, do what he liked to do. Which was go out, drink, dance, and try to get laid.

 

You’d think that it would be obvious, a grown man talking and laughing to himself at a party. But somehow, Benny didn’t have any trouble bringing the first girl home.

 

According to police, Leila Matheson received five perimortem stab wounds to the torso, but she was killed by strangulation. More specifically, judging by the angle of the bruises, she was forcibly hanged, and the killer stabbed her multiple times before she died from asphyxiation.

 

I know that Benny isn’t real. That he’s a construct my brain has built in response to some trauma or due to some chemical imbalance. I guess that’s why it’s called a delusion. I know Benny’s not real, and yet, it’s Benny who killed those girls. I was a helpless witness.

 

The second girl, Carrie Vance, had sixteen stabs and slashes, but many of those were messier, more rushed, and some of those were postmortem. Police must have wondered if the killer had been forced to kill more quickly. By the time the third victim, Rosalina Franco, was discovered, this time with nine stab wounds, precise and unhurried, the police must have been analyzing the size and shape, the number and placing. Was the killer sending some sort of message?

 

No. Benny was just competing with himself. How many times could he stab the girl before she died from lack of air. Only stabbing her stomach, could he kill her with his knife before she died from hanging?

 

I still remember his laughs, his taunting. My pleading for him to stop. My helpless shame at not being able to save the girl, my disgust at my own inability to turn Benny in. Knowing what I know now, trying to imagine what it must have looked like, sounded like, for each of those girls, keeps me awake at night. Did she see an insane man arguing with himself? Or did only one of us make it out of my head?

 

Victims four and five, Fatima and Mimi, had twelve and fourteen wounds. Benny was slowly ramping up his score. The profile that the police released was of a white male in his mid-twenties, awkward and introverted, holding down a job in some technology-related field and living on his own in a house he owned. Benny laughed when he heard. That sounded nothing like him. With the police that far wrong, I was losing hope that they would catch him without me finding the strength to come forward.

 

The doctors say that the inability to turn him in was a part of the condition. Children don’t go crying to their parents that Benny wrote on the walls; the parents find the scribbles and confront the child. The doctors say that I was as incapable, mentally, of turning Benny in as I was of stopping him. Of stopping myself.

 

Victim six, Sari, changed everything. Sari escaped. Police picked me up, and I broke immediately, telling them everything I knew. Even knowing that I would be charged as an accessory, even knowing I’d spend the rest of my life in prison, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. It was over.

Imagine my surprise when they charged me with five counts of murder in the first degree. Imagine my surprise when my lawyer went with an insanity plea. Imagine my surprise when, upon hearing expert witness testimony and the recorded confession from the night I was taken into custody, the jury decided in favor of the plea.

 

Of course, it all makes perfect sense now. I am less insane than I was then, can see just how unwell I was at the time. Three years in an institution with daily therapy sessions (both private and group), and a pleasant cocktail of chemicals, will do that. I’m not what you might call sane. But I’m making progress.

 

Now there’s just one little fact that’s bothering me.

 

Doctors say that the symptoms I present are very similar to those of a child with a troublesome imaginary friend. I suffered trauma or change too large to cope with on my own, or isolation too great to tolerate, and so I created a friend. And sometimes I projected my own urges, my own actions, onto this imaginary friend. Deviant urges. Violent urges.

 

It wasn’t me that murdered five young women by stringing them up and stabbing them as they hanged. Who teased and taunted them, who competed with himself to be a more brutal killer. It was Benny.

 

I understand all of that, now. Benny isn’t real, and never existed.

 

The doctors say that I couldn’t have reported him to the police any more than I could have stopped him from killing the women. That, as a projection of my impulses, he held a sway over me, that as a part of my condition, I was helpless.

 

But Sari, his final victim, escaped. Because I stopped him. I couldn’t have done what I remember doing, struggling for the knife, cutting her loose, holding him so she could run. That must have been an interpretation my sick mind created. What must have truly happened was that I held the knife all along, that I overcame my urges to kill her, that I cut her loose, that I told her to run.

 

When I explain this realization to my doctors, they tell me it’s wonderful. That it means I am stronger than Benny, that I don’t have to give in to Benny. And that, realizing this, I’m far out of Benny’s reach.

 

The doctors tell me it was impossible for me to physically stop him. Just like they tell me that it’s impossible for him to actually make me do things. But I did stop him.

 

I know Benny isn’t real. But that hasn’t made him disappear. And now that he knows that we can interact with one another… Make the other do things, or stop the other from doing things…

 

Benny sees it as a game, now. Can he make me drop my spoon? Can he make me choke on a drink of water? Can he make me bang my head against the wall until I’m put in a personal safety room? If he makes me file an edge onto a spoon, how many times can he stab my doctor before I’m pulled off of her?

 

I hope the doctors figure it out before I kill someone. I can’t tell them about what he’s planning, any more than I can stop him.

 

Late Halloween Treats

In the spirit of Halloween, here are a couple of incredibly short Horror pieces I’ve written in the last couple of months. They’re just quick scribbles, so forgive the grammar.


The other me is insane.

It’s like something from the Twilight Zone. Some evil copy from another dimension. But this isn’t some twisted thing pretending to be me, a mirror opposite that is everything I’m not.

He IS me.

In the madness of the world around me, the WORLDS around me, going insane is the only action that makes sense. Anything else feels like delusion.

This other me has given in, has made the choice that makes sense. He’s become a part of the tableau of horrors. He belongs. Even now I can hear him, like some animal thing, scurrying.

Everything around me is what COULD be, everything that could be. Maybe not all in the same place at the same time. I turn my head, and the once-shattered lamp in the corner casts a flickering light. I blink, and the wallpaper changes. Once I saw the broken lamp sitting beside the one that still worked, like twins, like he and I. More than once the wallpaper melded into an eye-aching mix of patterns, two realities occupying the exact same space at the exact same time.

Sometimes I worry about that happening to me and to the other me outside the door. Is it possible for us to be twisted together into an ungodly amalgam? For me, even for a moment, to be trapped as a part of him?

Maybe not. It seems that only non-living things flicker in such a way. For living things, like me, it is the world that moves, the reality that moves, not me. But then, maybe the lamp would not perceive its own movement, either.

I’ve had too much time to think. The other me won’t go away. Most of the time it makes nonsense noises, fingernails scraping against the door, head thudding against it. Sometimes it laughs, a cackle like a boot on broken glass. But sometimes… Sometimes it whispers.

Is he some alternate me, a might have been that I never became? The thought is chilling. That perhaps a thought or word turned my path away from what this other me has become. That, as they say, there but for the grace of God go I.

What he whispers is worse. Disjointed, almost nonsensical, he rambles about the nature of time and space. Of alternate realities breeding grotesqueries when given enough iterations–but also of the nonsense that can be made of sense, when thrown out of order.

He whispers that, perhaps, he is not some other might have been. The other possibility is even more terrifying.

Maybe he’s not something I never became.

Maybe he’s something I haven’t become YET.

My eyes follow the doorknob as it changes from crystal to brass, as the lock changes from key to turn to button. The door is bare wood, or is painted, is carved with squares or with circles.

Outside, I hear the other me eating. The knowledge of what he is eating, who he is eating, strains my mind until it threatens to splinter. Whoever that other, dead me had been, he didn’t deserve this.

My eyes watch the door.

Are all these things that might happen? Or things that have to, that haven’t yet? Either way, one thing is certain.

Some time, in some reality, the door between me and the other me doesn’t exist.

 


 

The dead don’t moan. They don’t hiss. They don’t screech or growl or whimper. They’re silent. Silent, except for the wet slap of rotting flesh striking the ground, of dead joints popping and gas expelling.

The dead aren’t hungry. They aren’t angry. They aren’t anything. They’re biological machines, meat pressed into the service of the virus. A series of impulses in response to stimuli. A host that creates more hosts, with no reason, and no end.

The dead make a cold, terrible sort of sense.

Crash Course on Perspective: First Person

I originally started this post years ago. I though I’d lost it when my computer crashed and burned, but I found it a little while ago, and I guess I’ve finally found the motivation to move forward with it.

Because I’m tackling all three perspectives, I don’t go into a lot of depth on each. This is, like I say, a crash course, rather than an intensive study. If anyone wants a more in-depth approach to one of the three, just let me know!

In the meantime, I’m tacking on a brief passage from each, to demonstrate how I use (and occasionally mangle) the perspective.

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Before I start, what is perspective?

Perspective, also called Point of View, can be looked at as the camera in a movie. It determines where the overall focus is in your story. Is it on one character? Is it on a handful of characters and the story they tie into? Is it on a bunch of characters, the world they’re in, and the story they’re a part of? Deciding on what perspective you’re using can help you choose where your focus will be, and vice versa.

There are three kinds of perspective commonly used in fiction. There’s First Person, which uses I as its pronoun, and Third Omniscient and Third Limited, which both use he or she. I’ll get to the other two in future posts, but for now I’m going to focus on First.

First Person perspective is the most immediate, the most personal. Have you ever seen a scene in a movie that is from the character’s eyes? That is First Person.

First is the most immediate, and the most intimate, viewpoint. You can do things in first that you can’t easily do in one or both of the others. The PoV character can address, manipulate or even lie to the reader. They can directly tell jokes to the reader. The PoV character is a legitimate character, in the way that the perspective in Third usually isn’t. You can build a voice and a character that carries the book in a way that the other perspectives don’t. You can even infodump—within reason.

However, this Point of View is inherently limited. It’s very difficult to tell a story from more than one perspective; while it can be done, it’s usually not worth the trouble. This means two important things. First, if the reader doesn’t like the character, they don’t get to hop to another that they might like better. You have one shot to make them like it. Second, you can only give the reader what the character either experiences directly, or learns about later. If some important event has to happen while the PoV character is somewhere else, then you miss out on the chance to have that happen in-scene.

There’s an important question you’ll want to ask at the outset of writing First. Are we inside the character’s head as events happen? If so, you can’t directly address the audience, or deliver information until the character learns it, or have them comment on the current actions with the hindsight of someone who’s seen the outcome. If we aren’t in the character’s head as events happen, then we must be taking in the character’s words, whether written or spoken, after the fact. If this is the case, then we have to assume that the character is alive, and in a state that they may deliver these words in this way.

As you can see, there are serious pros and cons to First Person.

If you’re planning to write First Person, I’d highly recommend Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. It’s my favorite single novel ever written, and it shows off the strengths of First Person while deftly working around the weaknesses. If you read it with the use of First in mind, I think there’s a lot it can teach.

Now that I’ve given my bit about what First is and how to use it, here’s what I used it for. Warning: it’s pretty bleak.

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My hands trembled, almost fumbling the cigarette on the way to my lips. Stuck on the steps of the old brick porch, stuck between the cheerful winking of Christmas tree lights spilling from the living room window and the gloom of the sinking winter sun, about all I could do was tremble.

Tremble and smoke.

I pulled the lighter from my coat, trying to snap loose buttons to keep the ratty thing shut, but my hand refused to work the little wheel.

The cold made my veins throb darker, closer to the surface against the back of my hand, and sitting on the porch felt like sitting on the edge of a knife. My breath was a hot fog against a numbed, runny nose. But the cold had nothing to do with it when I dropped the lighter.

If I listened, I could understand the voices stabbing at me from inside. I didn’t want to pay attention. Didn’t want the jumble of noises to suddenly become words, become sentences. I didn’t want to hear what they were saying about me. But my brain was an idiot, and kept right on with the translation.

“Sure, Paul,” Mom said, her words dripping venom. “Keep yelling. That always works.”

Paul took a breath—I could hear it in the pregnant quiet—and the walls shook when he spoke. “Why don’t we just sit down and talk it out, right?” If his words dripped with anything, it was with alcohol. “Like she’s still a child, like she’s not doing this on purpose! Juvenile, Jillian. That’s where she’s headed. And talking isn’t going to—”

“How do you know it won’t?” Mom interrupted. With a shudder, I pulled my hood further forward, and wished the zipper hadn’t busted last March. My aching fingers scrabbled at the step below for the lighter. Paul didn’t like being interrupted. Ever. “Did you try it some time when I was at work? I think that if you actually tried to talk to her—”

“What do you think we should do, Jill? Ground her? So she can steal the car again?” My fingers were back working the wheel of the lighter. Sparking, sparking… “Or take her cell? She can run away again. Who knows? Maybe next time she sleeps with somebody to let her stay with them, we’ll know the guy? How do you like the odds?”

God, finally! I took my first delighted puff of the cigarette, leaning against the wooden banister beside me. It had almost two hours since I’d finished the last one—right before our nice, holiday dinner. Just us family.

Paul had only drank two beers, then, and had only started on the bourbon.

We’d been five minutes away from Mom pulling the chicken out of the oven. Fifteen from her going to take the phone call. Twenty-five from my plate shattering against the wall. My lips curled at the thought of the smears the mashed potatoes must have left. I pulled my fingers under the frayed cuffs—it was starting to feel like the cold was physically squeezing them—I rolled the cigarette across my lips and took another mouthful, letting it out through my nose.

“She promised me she wont do that again…” Mom sounded not quite as sure of herself. Defensive. She was losing. Good for her! Maybe if she was smart, she’d take a dive.

“Did she?” Surprise and mock-relief didn’t sit on Paul’s lips as easily as a bottle. “Well, then. At least we can rest easy there. If only we’d thought to make her promise everything else! “Oh, Mom, I’m so sorry! I promise I won’t get high, break into my school, steal the computers for drug money!” The slur should have made his prissy whine of an imitation funnier.

A few quick, rough puffs shot smoke straight to my brain. Thankfully, every great once and a while, my parents decided to choose their battles. Between taking me to the clinic for gonorrhea and practically strip-searching me for joints, they never did quite find time to bring up the smoking. Thank God. I can only imagine how sanctimonious mom would have gotten about the dangers of freaking smoking.

“I’m tired,” Paul said, almost quietly. If I hadn’t lived under the man’s roof for about two-thirds of sixteen years, I might have felt sorry for him. He sounded sad. Listening to that voice, an outsider could almost believe he’d tried to be a real father. “Jillian, I’m so tired. But you always pull this crap. I always have to be the bad guy.”

“No,” Mom said, her voice just as soft. “Not always. Just when you’re drunk.”

I knew it was coming, but my shoulders still rocked a the sound of a fist making contact. Distinctive, that sound. Impossible to mistake it for anything else, once you’ve heard it a few times. Felt it a few times. My stomach made a funny twist as I heard her hit the floor.

Dropping what was left of the cigarette on the step, I pulled myself up by the banister. I heard Anne’s door creak open, next door, and her head poked out. Looking at her face—like a bulldog, with great hanging jowls, but with eyes glittering in a rabbit’s panic—I gave her an exaggerated nod. She disappeared back into her house.

It usually only took them ten minutes to get here. Sometimes as little as five, but rarely more than fifteen.

I sighed at the wasted half of a cigarette. Then I ground it out beneath my tennis shoe and slipped what was left of the pack out and left it on the banister. The lighter on top would keep it there.

Dear ol’ Dad wouldn’t get a special, free fare ride to the station, an all-expenses-paid stay at the city’s most popular hotel. He’d only got that once, years back, when he was too free with his fists on Mom’s face. Now he was careful. Now all he got was a few minutes in the back of a cruiser while mom swore up and down that we were a sitcom family. Never mind the daughter; she’s a druggie and whore, so who’s surprised she’s a liar, too?

I could have laughed.

I couldn’t leave. I’d promised. And I was tired of sitting out on the steps, listening.

Turning to the screen door, which let out the vague forms of writhing victim and towering, swaying menace, I took a breath of clean, sweet air. Cold, but without sweat, without fear. Ten minutes, maybe fifteen. Then the night would be over, and he’d be done for a week or two. He was always better, afterward. Apologetic. It won’t happen again, it was the booze, yadda yadda. I didn’t so much smile, swinging the screen door open as noisily as a screen door swings, as I sneered.

Ten minutes was easy. I’d learned better than Mom. Know when the hit’s coming, Mom. Know when, know where. Anticipate, and move away. Don’t dodge, don’t try to block. But soften it, and overplay it afterward. He’s drunk. He doesn’t know the difference. I knew the bit well enough to sell it on a late-night infomercial. It had been years since he’d broken anything.

Ten minutes was easy. Two years was hard.

The Climb

This was an entry for a flash fiction contest. I didn’t end up winning, but I had a lot of fun writing this, and I definitely learned a lot about trimming.

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Death’s just tumbling down the mountain, Kehr often said. Life’s a climb to the top.

The Ravager flaked into ash behind Berise. The Oneness with her past lives was already fading; soon she would be only herself. Thousands of soldiers cheered her, ignoring puddles of their enemy’s ichor smeared across the battlefield.

Tens of thousands, broken on the ground, didn’t cheer. They were louder.

Seeking Kehr, Berise followed a young soldier down to the walls where their battle had started. With somber eyes, he pointed to a crumpled form on the ground.

The composite Berise remembered losing thousands she loved during a thousand cycles. It promised reunion in cycles to come. But that consolation was silenced beneath the real Berise’s screams.

Collapsing beside the body, she cradled Kehr’s head and sobbed. “I can’t! Not without you. Please.”

He was the only friend the Ravager couldn’t turn against her. He was the only reason she’d made it this far. He was why she had kept fighting.

He had been dead for hours.

The Ravager would shatter her soul, break the cycle, undo everything she had fought for. Was fighting even worth it?

It is, the other her said, the words almost too quiet to hear. Her head shook in denial.

Part of her remembered the choice she made between lives: to return, to continue the cycle. Without her, the world would drown in darkness. But she could end it all. Find peace.

Was this worth her suffering? Her loss?

It’s not!” the real Berise cried.

Kehr would say it is. The thought left her reeling.

She let Kehr’s head down, and pushed herself to her feet.

Tell the troops to gather,” she said, wiping away her tears. “We’re going home.”

Life’s a climb, Kehr had said.

So she climbed.

Writing Compelling Action

A few weeks ago, I ran through Daredevil on Netflix in a couple of days, captivated by a dozen elements in the fantastic season–a dozen elements I could use as the basis of posts such as this one. But one thing in particular has fascinated me on future watches: The compelling, well choreographed, well-shot, well-acted action.

I’ve long been a fan of martial arts movies. Anything Bruce Lee is in, the classic Jackie Chan movies (Legend of the Drunken Master being my favorite). Watching most typical Hollywood action scenes just can’t stand up to watching a fight scene in one of these films. I’ve always had my theories why, and often ranted at the screen when an action scene failed to capture the grace of its potential. But it wasn’t until I watched the hallway scene in episode two of Daredevil that I knew exactly what Hollywood was doing wrong, and more importantly, how we can apply this to writing action scenes in fiction.

I intend to go into detail on the hallway scene in Daredevil, so I figure I should post a link here:

There are 7 things we can learn from this fight scene.

1) We know why the fight is happening. This scene has context, has meaning. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, and it doesn’t feel like it was put in to meet a fight quota. This isn’t to say that you can’t have an ambush or assassination attempt to surprise the reader; merely that you do so with purpose, and make the action that we know is coming feel important.

2) We know the stakes. We know what happens if Daredevil fails (beyond being beaten and likely killed). We know what this means to the main character, why the character can’t back down from this fight, and why he must win.

3) The fight is properly blocked out. We are shown the area he’ll be fighting in before the fight takes place, and we get a rough idea of how many people he’ll be fighting. We aren’t surprised by any weapons (improvised or not), because we see they’re available from the beginning.

4) The fight is well-choreographed, well-shot, well-edited. I’m not saying that as writers we should write every punch thrown. What I am saying is that, like Daredevil, like classic martial arts films, and unlike most modern Hollywood action scenes, we need to think about what the audience needs to see, and put the focus there for long enough for the audience to understand what is happening.

5) We’ve been made to believe that Daredevil could lose. Earlier in the episode, he reveals that he’d been tricked into an ambush in which he’d received his many wounds, and had barely made it out alive. There should always be doubt, in an action scene, whether the main character will win. The other choice is to set up alternative fail conditions or secondary conflicts that evolve within the action sequence. Either way, the action should always contain some tension.

6) The hero does not come out unscathed. This contributes to the previous point. If we see the character bleed, we feel that they can fail. It helps for other reasons: Seeing them react to pain can reveal more about the character, and seeing them make mistakes and/or be overwhelmed temporarily makes the character seem human, easier to sympathize with. In the original Die Hard, my favorite scene is after he’s driven to flee over broken glass by the villains, McClane pulls shards of glass from his bare feet and makes the cop on the other end of the radio promise to give a message to his wife if he dies. John McClane is often hurt, scared, or overwhelmed (an element that the last two Die Hard films have forgotten, and suffered for). It’s seeing him struggle through these adversities that makes us cheer.

7) The fight fits the pacing and the tone of the scenes around it, and helps to develop the character as a whole. Try to fit the emotion of the scenes leading up to the action into the action itself. Try to feel the emotion of the scenes before. The action should be a crescendo of elements already in play, and your character brings into the fight emotions and thoughts he had in the moments leading up to them. Make the action custom-fit to this moment.

If we can manage to do all of these things, we can write compelling, impactful action scenes.

A Brief Scene

This is a scene (a rough draft) inspired by a writing prompt: How would your character survive a bear attack?

It’s non-canon as of yet, but it would fit neatly into canon if I chose. A deleted scene from The Hanging Tree, for now. It contains one minor spoiler for the PoV character.

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The bear’s growl was deep, rumbling, angry, and yet somehow plaintive. It rattled in Vithia’s chest in the same way that the bear’s charging steps sent vibrations up her legs. Bears weren’t just large. She’d seen large animals, even vicious ones. Bears were more than imposing. Bears were awe-inspiring. Not a being in the world, not human, not Hanged, not Compromised, would keep their heart steady as they stood before a charging bear.

The bear wasn’t a threat, any more than the cubs half-hidden beyond the trees were a threat, any more than the tree whose bark bit into Vithia’s palm was a threat. If Vithia wished, she could snap the bear’s neck like a farmer wrung a chicken’s neck. She could eviscerate the bear before it had finished a swipe of its great claws.

Her eyes followed the bear as it closed through the clearing, splashing through the stream Vithia had hoped to wash at. Ten seconds, maybe, and it would be on her, and her choices would be limited. Her eyes moved to the cubs, and back to the bear. The mother.

History was filled with mothers who killed, who died, to protect their offspring. The thought sent a dozen stories through her head that she knew word for word, and half as many songs.

She reached for the branch over her head, pulling herself onto it with hardly a thought. History was filled with such tales. But there wasn’t a need for her to add another to the list.

She climbed the tree like a normal person might walk, using one branch to push herself up to the next, never faltering, never pausing. Soon she was high on the branches. Any higher and the branches were too thin, too weak, to support her.

Below her, the bear was just reaching the trunk. With another of those plaintive howls, it scraped at the tree, shoved its side against the bark. But the tree was too old, too deep-rooted, to so much as sway. The bear made a sound that might have been a whine, raising up on two legs to look at her through the branches. She said nothing, just meeting those mournful eyes. The bear gave a huff, and headed off back toward her young, satisfied she had scared off the intruder.

Vithia smiled. Then, after a few hours had passed, she let herself down as quickly as she’d climbed, and headed off away from the stream. A mother will do anything to protect her young.

Strange, that she should think of Remy now.