Reminder For New Readers!

Incoming Transmission from the Wordsmith of Sol…

Just wanted to make new readers aware, as well as remind older readers, of my 2 eBooks for sale on Kindle. The first is an Action Sci-Fi novel, while the second is the first annual ebook of the Archives. (Most proceeds go to upgrading/maintaining the site) So without further belaboring, here’s a couple links and descriptions. Thanks for reading!!

SMN

The Omega Device (The Ha-Shan Chronicles: Vol. 1)

Coming Soon!

Description: When Tattooist Maggie Doherty’s client is found murdered, Detective Russell Williams discovers an identical tattoo on another, recent murder-victim. Her obvious innocence leaves Russell perplexed, and with little more than a promise of future aid from her.

But their brief association has unwittingly made them targets for a group known only as Omega. Both must swiftly accept that life as they know it has changed, and prepare to uncover secrets buried by time, or else fall in a battle that might determine the very fate of Humanity.

The Logbook Archives: Volume 1: July 2015 – July 2016

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Description: Dive into S.M. Nolan’s Sci-Fi Logbook with the first-annual edition of The Logbook Archives. Featuring over 100 short-stories and poems from Sci-Fi Author S.M. Nolan, spanning July 2015 to July 2016, this collection of works will keep you riveted through each story and page. Beginning with a special foreword from the author, this collection is a must-have for anyone wishing to show their support for S.M. Nolan and the Logbook.

Transmission ends.

Short Story: Eternal Optimists

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Paris Incident by now. Who hasn’t? It was the sole trigger to the single greatest atrocity in modern history– and I speak as a German whom hasn’t forgotten her history. The Corps may have purged the bombings from the light ‘net and the media archives, but where I’m from, we still live with it. Everyday.

I wake up to a half-leveled horizon outside my window. There’s always frost there when the sun comes up. It doesn’t help that we have no heat in the building. Unless you count barrels of fire as heating. I don’t. After I eat whatever I’ve scrounged up or gathered from the air-drops by neighboring rebels or surviving humanitarian organizations, I head downstairs to the book store I live above.

Funny how some things never quite go out of style. For decades there were people who said that print media was dead. E-readers and web-books were supposed to make the written word obsolete. I can only laugh at the thought– one of few that elicits such emotion nowadays. Those people never realized you couldn’t use e-readers without electricity, or god forbid, the internet.

I miss the light ‘net. All we get around here’s the dark-net, and that’s used for encrypted communications between rebel cells. We simply can’t risk linking the light-net to any of the people here. The few that even have access are lucky. Most of them rigged scavenged-solar cells to old, power-hungry laptops provided by various cells around the continent. Most are grateful, but it makes me feel like we’re a charity case.

Imagine that, all of Berlin, once a powerful seat of progress in a technologically-minded country like Germany, groveling for scraps and hand-outs. There are probably only a few thousand of us left now. The corp-bombings saw to that. When Lemaire fell, and Paris burst into flames, London and Berlin were next in line. There were other places too, but most were small– too small to notice when they were wiped out completely.

But as a haven of technology and free-thought, instilled since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we had the greatest concentration of Augs– that is to say Cybernetic or bionically augmented humans. Whoever wasn’t directly an Aug, was an “Aug-sympathizer.” Everyone knew that, including the corps. So when the proverbial sheisse hit the fan, everyone was splattered with it. When I say that, what I mean is; after two weeks of battling on the streets in major cities around the globe, the offended players banded together to bomb the rest of us back to the stone age. Literally.

Berlin got the worst of it. If there’s any solace to be take from our fate, it’s that we managed to wound the corps’ bottom lines enough to push them out of Germany altogether. We’d taken over most of their buildings, destroyed the rest, cut down those whom sided against us in the fighting. Most were slayed by the waves of bodies that filed through the burning streets.

We Germans have a way of being ruthless to a point of barbarism at times– not from a lack of humanity, quite the opposite in fact. We care so deeply and passionately about things that our natural ambitiousness makes us too strong-headed and hardhearted at the worst of times. Maybe if we weren’t so consumed by our ambitions then, we’d have stopped to look around at what was happening, or sensed what was about to.

Maybe if we weren’t so enamored with listening to our hearts we’d have heard the Raptor-cries. Maybe even, if we hadn’t been so loving of our augged brothers and sisters– whether literal or figurative– we’d have been righteously hardhearted enough to save ourselves.

But we weren’t. We were eternally the optimists. The same people whom, even generations later, were socially guilt-ridden for Hitler’s actions and determined to make up for it. Each of us felt the shame of World War II, promised not to repeat the mistakes that led to it. Somehow, we still let the corps take charge, and until they began their Nazi-esque campaign of extermination against the Augs, we supported them.

That was the issue though. It always has been for us. We let the evil into our hearts with open arms, ever-believing in the good of Humanity. Instead, we’re soon shown to have been manipulated, our love used against us and those that would otherwise truly deserve it.

The first bombs that fell over Europe targeted three, initial cities; Paris, where it all began; London, where the revolution looked to spread most violently, and Berlin, where the Augs that wouldn’t or couldn’t fight were likely to find sanctuary.

Raptors screamed over Europe with their hard-angled noses spitting chain-gun fire and their rounded bellies splitting to unleash hell. In minutes, any hope for a life in Berlin– for Aug or otherwise– was exterminated, burned to dust in the fires of evil. Before the sun rose the next morning, tens of thousands were dead or dying. Those not killed or critically wounded– and even then some– were distraught, chaotically confused. They tried to save what few they could. Everywhere you went it was like standing in a crowded metro whose noise and movements made you want to cower and weep. Many did. A few couldn’t take it, led themselves out.

I was eighteen when the bombs fell, just into university. I was just old enough to drink, and just young enough to feel the last of my innocence dissected from my heart. It was like I’d been given bypass surgery without anesthetic. The sharpness of grief in my chest was omnipresent in those days, punctuated by the stabbing sounds of rubble as we combed for survivors and dead alike. Most found were the latter.

I remember the worst of it, not because of the grisly scene, but because it was the first time I felt hatred. Hatred is something humans speak of out of anger most times. It is often despair masked by the ego to keep one’s image intact. This was different. This was real, pure hatred; a feeling that filled my mouth with a wetness as though I were goring the throat of a foe with my teeth. From there, it infected my being with a sharpened determination, a strength I have not lost since. It has kept my muscles taught when they should have faltered in fear, steadied my hands when they would have trembled with terror.

I saw a young girl curled in her bed. We’d dug a path to her grave from beneath the collapsed upper-floor of her apartment building. Everything around us was charred black. We were forced to don respirators from the dust and stink of days old, immolated flesh. Then I saw her; curled in her bed as if sleeping peacefully, but where her skin should be was the marred, blackened flesh of a war-crime. She was like one of those Pompeiian victims, forever frozen in her death-pose.

I am a healer, a medic, a surgeon and I feel no shame in admitting I have a strong stomach. I have seen things that could bring the strongest men and women to tears and pained retching. Most of the time, I’m forced to power through them for the sake of the victims– my patients– and I do so. This was so awful I stumbled away in tears and vomited all the grief that I’d held back since the attacks.

Every morning I wake up she occupies my thoughts. Even as I go down through the bookstore, and out into street I think of how she was stolen from this world. She could have been my daughter had I not been more careful. At that, she could have been me if the bombs had been dropped only a few years further beyond than that.

So I walk along the street, largely clear of its debris, and watch the city around me with her in mind. It still has the look of the blitzkrieg turning in on itself. Full, corporate towers are replaced by mounds of rubble, steel and concrete land-fills. Nature has done its best to reclaim the rest while we keep it enough at bay to carry on in our missions.

To that end, my part is simple; keep people alive. I do it for her. Most that come to my clinic down the street are badly injured, either from work-accidents, refugee status, or as acting rebels for the cause. Germany is not without its remaining corporate outposts, but even they steer clear of Berlin. I guess it’s to pick their battles. They already took our government away, any representation or sympathy therein gone with it. Maybe they let us live just to remind the world that, while there may be a place for Augs to hide, it is still due to their good graces.

All the same, every morning I rise for her. The hatred of her image never falters or fails to arouse my determination. So I leave, patch up those whom may one day lead us from darkness and into light. While Lemaire’s death may have caused everything, an unwitting catalyst to a global revolution, it was us that let it happen– the survivors. Whether from our own convictions, or a greater cause, we can not allow ourselves to fall again. At least for us Germans, we’re eternally optimists, believing in a better world with heads even stronger than our unshakable hearts, and finally working toward it.

Bonus Short Story: The Legend

The curved fingers of his left hand formed quarter-notes in andante while his right hand thrummed eighth-note cut-time against it. Ebony and ivory gleamed between shadows thrown from the spotlight in the rafters. His eyes were closed while he crooned a painful symphony of blues-like harmonies. They rumbled from his throat to tell a story of love won, lost, emptiness without it, and finally the love’s return. All the while, the empty opera hall filled with a phantom audience to his side behind his closed eyes.

The sound men readied their mix while their board-lights spiked red. Someone cut the gain on a mic and the mix was perfect. The Legend played on, oblivious to the technical orchestrations. He’d become too enamored with the crowd streaming in through the doors in his mind. His vocals were crisp, clear, perfectly overlaid beneath the piano that accompanied it. Breaks in verses were accented with hard dynamics that would bring even the hardest of heart to tears.

The sound crew gathered near the curtain to watch The Legend, lost in his world. Across the hall, the lighting crew gathered on a cat-walk. They hung in half-hunches on the railing or else dangled their feet through it, heads and eyes fixed as they watched along either side of spot-lights.

As if with the fade of one falling into sleep, the stage-lights dimmed. The lighting guys thought to get up but something held them in place. The Legend launched into the first chorus, his throat rumbling and crooning the highest notes as even his younger-self could have never done. The phantoms suddenly appeared below. Silhouette people streamed in from the doors, shuffled to their seats; a faceless audience that didn’t exist.

The crews wished to look to one another, express some disbelief, but the Legend had captivated them. Instead, they merely listened, mouths half-open and drying against open air.

The Legend’s gray hair began to darken to its youthful chestnut. His wrinkled face tightened, its smatter of salt-and-pepper five-o’-clock shadow darkened too. He unripened from the old, grizzled troubadour to the young, boyish song-poet he’d been. He almost shriveled in place from the change. The room merely watched in awe.

He started the first verse over inexplicably, crooned with less gravel, though its presence was undeniable. All the same, it was the least of the crowd’s focus– phantom or otherwise. The stage had darkened to a lone spot-light across he and his piano. His rhythmic melody thrummed and sustained with ear-warming vibrations, filled the audiences’ hearts with a curious, sharp pain.

Beside him, the Legend felt his thoughts and memories project across the black curtains. The heat of the light dissipated and the spot-light died out.

He sang of love won: the projection shone like an eight-millimeter reel. It even shook and bucked with the same, hand-held framing and fast-motion movement of the era’s film quality. He stood before a woman on a platform, their unceremonious wedding officiated beneath a banner that said “Cinco De Mayo” in a dingy looking bar. They wore day-old street clothes, her hair golden as it cascaded down her shoulders with fatigue.

He sang of love lost: The projection jumped through time with the eight-note thrum as its beat. The two people aged a decade in half a phrase. Through the verse, his hair and face grew heavier, longer, her more angry, fierce. At the second half of the verse, he stood alone on a road, began to walk it toward a setting sun. The wandering continued over the rise and fall of more suns. The city he’d left turned to woods, plains, then more city until he hunched over a scotch in another bar.

A man approached from one side, a cigarette in his mouth, put a hand to the Legend’s shoulder to impose for a match. A short conversation took place. The Legend began sang of desolation, sadness. He and the other man took off in a truck. The sun gleamed off its dirty windshield while he stared off at the road, his mind elsewhere. The scenery turned colder, became filled with snow while canyons encompassed the truck. He gave a pained wince, his eyes telling of an obvious longing for the woman.

When he sang of emptiness, the cold truck turned to the cold innards of a darkened cabin. He and the other man were now beneath piles of blankets on chairs before a roaring fire. The man gave a few hacking coughs into his clenched fist. His body heaved. There was a hesitation in the young Legend before he rose from to help his comrade. The emptiness in the elder Legend’s voice apexed as his younger self stood before a filled grave, his face pale and body hunched against cold.

He muttered something beneath his breath, then turned away. The cold scenery wandered past again, the Legend ambling along snow-laden streets. He stumbled drunk most times. It was obvious in the sad droop of his eyes, but bleak grays and drab blacks suddenly began to recolor as the roads turned rural once more. The weather visibly warmed, his posture straightened. Trees budded with beauty that fanned out in stop motion across the road. It lined the edges of an asphalt horizon as the eight-millimeter film shook and bucked more than ever.

He wandered almost endlessly, aimless until he sang of love’s return. The younger visage of himself watched his feet as he walked through a verdant forest. His downcast eyes were prompted upward by a shadow and the face of the woman he’d long ago married and left. They were older now, both more slacked and their eyes heavier than before.

He approached with a cautious, slow gait. She dangled her feet off the edge of a dock, her arms locked behind her to prop herself up. He stopped a few feet away. She seemed to sense his presence, but made no protest. He continued and sank into place beside her.

The last verse cried out over the two once more falling in love. Time passed while the Legend and his wife were hobbled by age. Until at last he stood over her bedside, as weathered as he had first been on stage. She held his hand with a smile, then closed her eyes. The Legend’s last lyrics were echoes. The piano faded out. The crews watched the lights fade up and the phantom crowd disappear. With them, the Legend had gone too, the piano now vacant in the spotlight’s center as its last chords echoed into silence.

No-one was quite sure what to make of it, but neither were they willing to speak toward speculation– or anything really. The Legend had given his final performance to an empty room– yet somehow it was more full than any over-sold stadium. Whatever had happened, the Legend had not died, merely faded out, and that much would forever be certain.

Short Story: The Plain and The Pretty

The Plain and the Pretty

Sarah Morgan was a mostly normal girl. She brushed her teeth, combed her hair, and went to school. Day-in and day-out, she would sit in class at Bacatta High-School as dusty teachers lectured on about things as ancient or oxidized as themselves. These were things that would never affect her, that she’d never need in a million years. Despite the obvious trivialities that dribbled from their word-holes, sluiced across the other, assembled brains in class, Sarah took notes. Always. She dutifully copied every word of each subject, every single lecture, each day.

She would’ve stopped, but had no reason to. For that matter, she didn’t care to. It made her look busy and kept her hands at work. She scrawled pages with lightning speed, her eyes always down-turned at the back of every class, but her ears honed on each syllabic resonance and every phonetic clamor against her eardrum.

The only times Sarah wasn’t writing were lunch and dinner. Otherwise, when not recording lectures, it was creating magical fairy-lands, or dark, mysterious dungeons. All along the walls of her bedroom were stacks and stacks of notebooks, loose-leaf sheets of paper, even torn napkins. Each one was categorized, placed in a specific stack.

Where some teenage girls’ walls were splattered with friendly-faced photographs, budded artistic drawings, or the occasional half-nude pop-star, Sarah’s were empty. They were also impossible to find for all the towers of notebooks along them. And where most teenager’s rooms– whether girl or boy– were impassable from weeks-old piles of clothing, papers, and the general left-overs sloth-like youth, Sarah’s was impassable from used pens and nail-like pencil-stubs that created a fine layer of unstable floor above the carpet.

To enter Sarah’s room without agile feet was to take one’s own life in their hands– a fact that her mother and father loved to remark on. Whatever, it kept them out of the room, left her to work in peace. All she wanted to do was write, even skipped frequent meals when a particularly interesting passage flowed like a sieve from her thinker onto her pages.

While she wasn’t plain looking, Sarah didn’t have the bombshell-looks of the cheerleaders, or the brain-gasm smarts of the nerd-girls, or even the dexterous phalanges and sexual curiosities of the band and orchestra girls. In fact, whatever clique one could think to name, she wasn’t in. She was merely a hitch-hiker on the road of life, presently stuck on the far-side of the fast-lane that was high-school.

No-one bothered her, not even to pick on her. For that at least, she was grateful. She liked being alone, even if it was boring sometimes. So it was with extreme irritation to her inner-muse when, one day, she slammed notebook-first into someone in the hallway. Her notebook crumpled, fell. A pair of loud thumps signaled the collision of Sarah’s front-half with another’s. A catastrophic cascade of books tumbled to the floor. Opposite swears drowned the back-step and crouch of both Sarah and her new-found acquaintance.

The girl’s hands slipped beneath her pile of books and papers on the floor, while Sarah’s gathered the loose pages she’d added to certain, earlier sections of the notebook. Sarah’s eyes only captured her fellow victim of circumstance for a moment, but it was clear she was one of the “pretty girls;” a part of the clique that relied on genetics rather than talents– or anything else for that matter– to fit in. They held power over the boys, the prettiest of them alphas that dominated the other girls. Whether Alpha or not, this girl was certainly close to leading the pack.

“Sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

Sarah muttered something similar– more of a grumble than an apology. Even so, the message came across well enough that the girl continued with piercing, blue eyes. “I just moved here. Name’s Allison– most people just call me Ali.”

“Sarah,” she mumbled with less than a cave-man’s intelligence.

Allison gathered the last of her books, stood up, “Well, Sarah, sorry again. Maybe I’ll see you ’round.”

Sarah “mmm’ed” in reply, slid the last of her pages into her notebook, and continued on her way. The clack of Allison’s heels were distinct all the way down the hall, even over the din of lunch-time students in the halls. When the bell screamed through-out the school, it finally drowned the heels’ last reverberations, and ushered in a rise to the din as the students headed for class.

For the rest of the day, Sarah thought little of the collision, returned to her notebooks to record the geography lecture. The topic was long, as arduous as the formation of the lands that dictated the first part of the word. The teacher’s tongue and throat droned while his plump hands drug chalk across the board at an Earthly, slow pace. Sarah’s hands worked too fast for him. She had to drag out her other notebook just to keep moving. The jump between subjects and books made her eyes ache and her head spin, but even so, she managed to make it through the class.

The rest of the day was easy, mathematics formulas and theorems, and biology notes kept her busy. Both teachers were young, agile with their words, wasted no time between them. When the last of the two classes came to an end, Sarah had just enough time to stuff her notebooks in her backpack before the door uncluttered from the dismissal bell. By the time the mass of bodies formed the shapely, single-file line, she was up, headed for the hall.

She slipped out in the dissipation of students in divergent streams, floated out to the far-side of the hall to head for the stair-well. She dodged the few locker-clingers that blocked her path, her feet quick to juke sideways and back in-step without a missed beat. Near the end of the hall, a clamor sounded behind her like a band-geek’s tuba had just fallen and shattered on the tile floors. She smelled “fight” before the word was ever uttered. Her neck craned backward as her feet continued forward.

Indeed, a pair of the testosterone-fueled, genius-carriers of the Y-chromosome had begun to trounce one another. With what little Sarah could see, it was like one of those hockey-fights– sans the usual, impressive act of balancing on ice-skates while they pummel one another. It ended as quickly as it began, the two boy-children torn apart by a pair of teachers over shouts. Sarah rolled her eyes. The next moment came in actions that seemed to slow time. She lifted a foot, began to rotate her head back to her forward-path. As her eyes caught the view ahead, a locker door was flung open. Her foot came down just as the door’s edge bisected the bridge of her nose.

She was smacked by the door, fell to her ass. The locker-door made a thwanggg with the sound of cheap metal. Sarah was certain her tail-bone was broken– or maybe that was just the feeling of her fractured pride. The locker-door flung closed as Allison’s face appeared, her piercing-blue eyes wide as saucers.

A hand covered Allison’s slacked jaw, “Oh. My. God.” Sarah half-expected the pretty girl to laugh at the plain-girl’s misfortune, was doubly stunned when Allison extended a hand to pull her up. “Oh my god. I’m so sorry!”

Sarah took her hand, “S’ok.”

“Sarah, right? Are you alright?” She asked as her hand pulled a jacket from her locker.

Sarah’s wits returned slowly, “Uh, yeah. Allison, the new girl.” Allison nodded. “I remember– Ali, that’s what you said earlier.”

“Yeah, are you sure you’re alright? I totally wasn’t paying attention,” She asked while she fished an arm out of the jacket, stuck her arms into it.

Sarah shrugged, the interaction already belabored past her comfort-zone. She rubbed the bridge of her nose, “Yeah. Nothin’s broken. Was my fault anyhow.”

Sarah wanted to make a move away, but it was clear Ali’s guilt was beyond that of the other pretty girls. Her turned head and eye-contact made it all the more clear she wasn’t going to let Sarah go until they’d exchanged some pleasantries– at least there was some sign of life in that pack of wannabe-plastic people that called themselves rulers.

“Well, still, I’m sorry.” She fished out her backpack, shut the locker. Sarah sensed the dreaded walk-and-talk that people did as Ali started forward, “Those fights happen a lot here?”

Sarah had trouble matching the pace of Ali’s “don’t-quit” legs, but moved in-step beside her to the stairs, start down them. “Uh, I dunno’. I never see ’em, just usually hear ’em– and usually at lunch.”

Ali grimaced, “So they happen a lot then?”

Sarah shrugged, “Once or twice a week.”

Ali rolled her eyes with a huff as they rounded the first foyer, “God guys’re retarded. It’s like… they don’t even have half the brains they were given. Just drooling, slobbering, ogres with B-O and ape-brains.”

Sarah laughed. Genuinely. It surprised her too. It even started with one of those throaty-snort sounds people made when they were genuinely amused. It made Ali’s piercing-blues brighten, her lightly tanned face almost glowed as he cheeks dimpled.

Sarah nodded, “Yeah, they’re cave-people with less hair.”

“At least most’a the time,” Ali joked.

They giggled laughed all the way down to the main-floor, were at the hallway for the front doors before they could speak again. The doors ahead gleamed like a holy beacon– and indeed to some they were– as the autumn sun splayed late-afternoon rays across the floor before them. The buses had already begun to depart, the crowd of bodies thinned to only the last, few hangers-on that waited for rides from parents.

“Shiiit!” Sarah groaned as she watched her bus lumber away.

“What’s wrong?” Ali asked with a glance.

She threw her head back, her shoulders slumped, “Bus’s gone.”

Ali patted her back, “Ah, don’t worry. I can give you a lift.”

They stepped from the less-populated entrance, “It’s cool. I’ve walked before. No biggie.”

Ali sighed, “Oh come on, Sarah. I smacked you with that door. It’s the least I can do.”

Sarah contained the squirmy discomfort that wriggled within her. In truth, she didn’t much mind walking if the alternative was more intimate time with another person. Before she could protest further, Ali wrapped both her arms around Sarah’s right bicep.

Come onnn, my car’s right around the corner.”

Sarah sighed, “Okay, okay.”

Ali half-drug her the length of the red and white brick school, her gait double that of Sarah’s. They rounded the corner to the insanity of the Junior-Senior class parking-lot. All manner of cars from all makes and years filled the horizon; from old, rust-bucket clinkers whose mufflers were only such in a theoretical sense, to brand-new, shiny BMWs and Mercedes bought with the greasy cash of wealthier mommies and daddies.

Ali drug Sarah clear across the parking-lot, all along the way the two were forced to dodge the erratic, imbecilic drivers they called peers. Ali even heated up, flipped one guy off after he shouted, “Nice ass, baby. Now, move it!” She finally stopped at the rear-end of a relatively new soft-top convertible, Camaro. The car said enough to tell Sarah that Ali had some money– or her parents did anyhow. While she doubted it was BMW or Mercedes money, for a plain-girl forced to ride the bus everyday, Ali was leaps and bounds beyond her own fiscal benefactors.

“Wow. Nice car,” Sarah said with admittedly more awe than she’d have liked.

Ali slipped into the driver’s seat, and the engine roared to life, “Yeah, it gets me where I need to go. Sucks in the winter though– too much power and not enough weight.”

Sarah buckled her belt, “Better than the bus, I bet.”

“Oh definitely,” she agreed as she backed out, followed the aisles to the line of cars that waited for the turn onto Orwell Avenue. “So where we headed?”

Sarah was still enamored with the plush interior. It smelled of something like dream-sicles tasted; creamy and orange with just a hint of cold.

“Sarah?”

“Huh? Oh, right. Up Orwell to Marigold, then a right on Beech,” Sarah said oblivious to her driver’s ignorance.

“Gonna’ need a play-by-play,” Ali replied through the right from the school onto Orwell.

“Just keep going forward. It’ll be on the left.”

The shopping mall gleamed in Ali’s rear-view mirror behind and to the side of other student drivers. Ahead to the left, Orwell branched off in city-blocks that gridded the northern section of town in a long rows of quaint boutiques, shops, and various, other establishments too small for the sky-scraping madness further North on the horizon.

All along Orwell Avenue, traffic made its start-stop procession through the three-way stop-lights that made up the bulk of the South-side of “downtown.” The cozy, beige brick and mortar shops that were sandwiched side-by-side, ended abruptly with the Y-fork of Orwell and Armistice. Sarah kept Ali on track past the police-department that hid the first sections of the southern neighborhoods. Then, well-manicured lawns rose and fell with the hilly topology of the middle-class side of town. The more expensive houses were even further South, undoubtedly where Ali lived.

The hilly rise of the police-station fell to Lotus Drive. After a few houses, Hyacinth passed with its sloped, Northern incline, and Marigold peered out at its re-leveled height to match Orwell. Ali’s left turn was greeted by a block of cookie-cutter houses one either side. The Camaro slowed to a stop at Willow and Marigold, kicked up into second before the next intersection and the turn on to Beech from the three-way stop. At the left, the river that ran from Grove Park to the center of town, was visible between the side yards of Elm Street’s houses. It marked the property lines of the homes on either side, twisted and turned beneath the small bridges on Orwell and Asimov– two of the main Avenues through town– to deposit in a pond far ahead.

Sarah pointed to a tall white house, its lawn as well-manicured as the rest on this side of town, save for the few weeds that grew through the cracked, cement driveway. As usual, it was empty in the early afternoon. Mom and Dad wouldn’t be home for another few hours.

Sarah readied to slip out of the car– in truth, readied to bolt like a deer in the headlights– and glanced to Ali, “Thanks for the ride.”

Ali smiled with perfect, white teeth that met one another at crisp angles, were obviously the product of expensive orthodontics; yet another testament to the pretty-versus-plain girl contrast between them.

“Anytime, Sarah,” Ali said. She hesitated as Sarah pulled on the door handle. She was almost to freedom when Ali spoke again, “Hey umm… Can I ask you something real quick?”

Now Sarah was a deer in the headlights. She had the vacant face of terror and confusion, the dumb stare into mysterious, fast-approaching glowey things that even Sarah couldn’t name in the moment. The question formed on Ali’s lips innocuously, much like the graceful automobile that went about its business as unwittingly as that most mentally-stunted of animals.

Ali drove on, completely oblivious, “Do you mind if I hang out here for a while? I mean, I don’t wanna’ be rude or anything but home kinda sucks this time’a day.”

With all the nimble majesty of an airborne deer in mid-collision, Sarah replied, “U-uh, s-sure, I guess.”

She would have said no, knew she should have, but something had compelled her not to. Terror might have been its source, or perhaps mere stupidity. In either case, a mental five-K began for Sarah the engine cut-off and Ali stepped out of the car. Sarah followed, even to the door, where the only indication that something was expected of her was the way Allison stepped aside to let her reach the knob. While she dug for her key, tried to produce it to unlock the door, the five-K turned to hurdles.
Why’d she accept the ride? Why’d Allison offer it? Was this some prank by the other pretty-girls? Was it mere chance, or even fate? Even then, what was the point? Sarah was a loner; a fact she knew and liked-well about herself. What good was companionship to her? What good was her companionship to another? More importantly, what would Allison think when she inevitably twisted her ankle stepping into Sarah’s room? Would her neurotic note-taking and ceaseless word-smithing become a new focus of taunts for the pretty-girls and their gimps? And why’d Allison’s house suck with her undeniable wealth?

All these questions sprinted through her mind in the micro-seconds it took for her to unlock the door and step into the foyer. She held the door politely, half-prepared to slam it shut on Ali’s face, but knew she couldn’t. As much as part of her wanted to kick Allison to the curb, the rest was intrigued at how things would play out– what exactly the answers to those questions would be.

She followed Ali up the stairs as she rubbernecked the white, tastefully decorated walls filled with typical, middle-class photo-frames, knick-knack shelves, various electronics and faux-wood furniture.

“Wow,” Ali said as she stepped aside to let Sarah up the stairs. “This place is nice.”

Sarah snorted, “Nah, it’s just home.”

Allison shrugged, followed her through the dry-walled archway and into the kitchen, “I like it. It’s cozy.”

Sarah set her pack on the table across the kitchen, “Uh… cool I guess. Well, you want somethin’ to drink?”

Sarah went about the tedious process of listing the house’s entire beverage repository before they settled on pop. They sat at the table in an awkward silence while Sarah’s leg made restless shakes underneath it.

Again the perfect teeth appeared as Allison broke the awkwardness with a smile, “I’m guessing you don’t have many friends.”

“Uh…”

She smacked her forehead, “Wow that sounded really insensitive.”

“No, it’s–”
“What I meant to say is; you seem nervous, like you don’t hang out much.”

Sarah opened her mouth to protest, but her mental faculties were tied up in the questions she’d asked. So much so that the lie-production machine in her brain had no room to cater to her already-minute ego.

She closed her mouth with a long sigh, sank back in her chair to open it again, “It wasn’t insensitive. I got what you meant. I’m not really easily offended anyhow. Stuff just sorta’ rolls off’a me.”

Ali chewed a corner of her lip, “You’re sweet, Sarah, but I’m an idiot.”

Sarah shrugged, attempted reassurance, “I can’t tell you for sure since we just met, but you don’t seem like one.”

“See what I mean,” Ali replied with a bigger smile than before. “You’re sweet.”

Again, Sara shrugged, “I dunno’ maybe. But you’re right anyhow. All I do’s hang around by myself. At home and at school.”

She frowned, “That must be lonely.”

Sarah slurped a sip from her can, “Sometimes, but not really. It’s just how I’ve always been. I mean, no one who doesn’t have mental problems wants to be alone all the time. For me, it’s just easier.”

Ali seemed intrigued, “Well, why don’t you make friends?”

“Just too busy, I guess.”

Her intrigue grew, “Busy how?”

Sarah was suddenly timid, quiet. Her mouth squirmed, her forehead hardened, angled closer together. Her face pointed downward at the floor, but Allison leaned to get a better look at it. Sarah was too scared to explain her utterly obsessive-compulsive writing habits. There was too much in her brain that didn’t want to come off like a freak. What little ego and pride she had was too delicate, fragile, to take the risk. All the same, Allison waited.

“Earth to Sarah. Come in Sarah,” Ali joked.

She shook off her petrified trance, “Uh, well, I um… uh… Mostly write.”

Ali’s eyes brightened, “Write? Like stories and stuff?”

Sarah was profoundly terrified– to the point that all the words she knew of to describe fear summed together still didn’t describe its depth.

Her words tumbled out like dice from an upturned cup, “Uh, well sh-yeah. I mean, um… most of the t-time anyhow.”

“Does anyone ever read ’em?”

Sarah shrugged. She knew the answer was no, but the ambiguity of a shrug seemed like it might keep the conversation from turning to its inevitable point. Eventually it would get there, no matter what, but Sarah hoped there would be time before then.

Ali was leaned forward, “Why not? You don’t want ’em to? I could read some if you want.”

Sarah sighed, “Ali, I don’t wanna’ sound like a jerk, but … it’s just not something I really wanna’ share with anyone.”

Allison’s pretty-face had that pinched frown and glisten that pretty-girls get when on the verge of tears from even a minor pin-prick on their feelings. Sara winced. Contrary to her expectations though, Allison blinked, and the gleam became depth-less intrigue.

“Well I get not wanting to be judged, but… d’you mind if I ask why you’re so worried about it?”

It was a fair enough question, and Sarah wasn’t rude enough to say “fuck-off” just quite yet, but even so, she wasn’t sure she had an answer. “It’s just not something I share with anyone. Just something I do ’cause I do it. I don’t really know why I do, but… well it’s like people who hang out with friends. That kinda’ takes the place of that.”

Allison grimaced, “Yeah, I get it, but… do you share anything with anyone? I mean, anything more than the air you breathe?”

Another fair question, granted more invasive than the last, and especially callous for two people who’d just met. But it was more than tame for a pretty-girl. Sarah was once more forced to run through the list of questions that had arisen at the door. She saw a clear pattern emerge from her knowledge of pretty-girl/plain-girl dynamics.

Sarah eeked out a grimace, “You’re gonna’ grill me about this ’til I let you read something aren’t you?”

Ever the more perceptive pretty girl, Ali giggled, “Most definitely.”

Sarah threw her head back, smacked it on the chair, “Blah.” She growled a throaty word that crescendoed in a whine, “Fiiine.” She stood with her shoulders limp, trudged forward, “C’mon.”

Ali followed her from the kitchen out to the right, down the long hallway that opened to the various rooms on either side. She stopped at the door to her room, only one arm limp now, the other with a hand on the knob.

“You light on your feet?”

Ali squinted confusion at her, “Huh? Oh. Well, I was in gymnastics for ten-years.”

“You’ll need it,” Sarah warned.

She shoved open the door. It only just cleared the height of the pens scattered at its threshold. In Allison’s view, the door gave way to stacks of notebooks, and the pen-covered floor. Her jaw fell open, her eyes nearly popped from her skull. Sarah stepped in– or rather-tip-toed– across the plastic and metal pens and wooden pencil-stubs. She slid sideways onto her bed as Alison planted one sure foot before the other to close the door behind her. Her eyes swept the room as she made a small circle inside the towers of notebooks and stacks of loose-leaf papers.
She almost came full-circle, but stopped on Sarah atop the bed, “Holy hell! I thought you were joking. But you aren’t. There’s gotta’ be five-tons of paper in here.”

Sarah shrugged, “Maybe. I’d have to do the math.”

Allison had the sudden urge to rush for a stack, begin tearing through it and soaking up the words inside. Instead, she stepped to Sarah’s side, almost slipped and fell, but managed to maneuver an upright sit from the near-fatal mishap.

Her jaw finally shut to wet her mouth, “Sarah, it’s really hard not to want read this stuff when you see it like this.”

Sarah was melancholic, “A lotta’ people’d probably disagree.”
“Yeah, but they’re not here.”

She had a point. “Dig in if you wanna’, I don’ really care.”

The bright-eyed intrigue returned to scan the room, “Wh-where should I start?”

“Doesn’t really matter I guess. You mind if I write?”

There was a slight shrug as Ali stood for a stack across the room. She walked for the stack like an acrobat; her hands flat, arms locked for balance across the strewn floor. She reached for a red-covered notebook, returned to Sarah’s side while she scrawled across a fresh piece of paper. The intermittent pauses between ink-scratches gave rhythm to Ali’s thoughts. In the span of a page and a-half, she was transported to a world where a king had sworn fealty to his subjects only to be back-stabbed by a traitor courtsmen whom viewed him as weak.

More short stories gave way to poems about love and death, beauty and pain. The words flowed with rhythmic rhymes and swelled with alliteration whose pace was ever-more kept by the tempo of Sarah’s pen. Every-few pages, detailed histories of worlds, cities, and people would arise with intriguing dichotomies, secrets, and flaws to put the greatest of literary contemporaries to shame. All of this, in only one notebook.

It could’ve been a fluke, Ali knew. She dove into another. Then another. The pattern held strong. All the while, Sarah’s pen worked. A pause a drum solo saw it tossed at the wall ’til it bounced, fell with the others on the floor, and was replaced with a new one.

Ali finished a fourth notebook, the sun already set in the sky. She looked sideways at Sarah, curiously absorbed in her work, as though the world in her mind was the only one that existed.

“Sarah?” It took a minute before her pen stopped, and her head rose from the page with a dull question on her face. Ali was hesitant, all the more emphatic for it, “I’ve read a lot of books and stories. But this is by far the greatest stuff I’ve ever read.”

Sarah’s brow furrowed in disbelief; partly from her self-consciousness, and partly from distrust that a pretty-girl like Allison would ever read, “You don’t have to flatter me, Ali.”

She was insistent, “Sarah, I’m not.” Sarah’s eyes narrowed skeptically. “I know I’m mostly eye-candy to people– like I haven’t got brains– but I know greatness when I see it. Apart from hanging out with friends, all I do is read– like you write. All these stacks of notebooks? That’s how my room looks, but with other people’s books. And I’m telling you this stuff is awesome!

Sarah was suddenly dumbstruck by her own prejudice, as if Ali had heard her thoughts all along. She was also, admittedly, flattered by the idea that someone found her work so intriguing. At the same time though, she was profoundly embarrassed by the way she’d thought of Ali. Here was a girl not unlike herself, save a hyper-critical label Sarah had applied to them both, defying said label to befriend and show her admiration and interest.

“Uh… I-I’m sorry,” Sarah admitted suddenly. She put her pen and paper aside, sat forward to speak openly to Ali. It was a curious thing to her, she’d never opened up to anyone, let alone a stranger. “I judged you, Ali, I’m sorry. I’m an ass.”

It took her a moment to connect the subtext that had lingered between them all day, “Huh? Oh you mean ’cause of the pretty-girl stuff, right?”

“Uh… I wanna’ make sure we’re on the same page… what d’you mean by that?”

Ali explained, “I know you know. You’re what pretty-girls call a plain-girl, someone who’s not super-model gorgeous, or otherwise wrapped in plastic to their eye-lashes. Truth be told, I’m not really either. I just got lucky genetically. I hate those girls.”

“You hate them? But I thought–”
“That I was one?” Ali asked. Sarah nodded in acknowledgment. Ali chuckled, “I know I look it, but I’m not. It’s one’a those weird coincidences– like the ISS they people confuse for a UFO… it doesn’t quite look like a star, and you know it’s not a plane, so what else could it be? Most people go for UFO ’cause they’re not thinking that the space-station’s there.”

Sarah simplified it for her, “You mean Occam’s Razor, right?”

“Exactly,” Ali replied. She pulled her legs in to sit cross-legged on the bed. “I didn’t keep talking to you at school today ’cause I’m an airhead who’s got boundary issues. I like you. You seem interesting. You probably didn’t even notice it, because you’re always writing, but I have two morning classes with you.”

Sarah’s brow furrowed, “Man, I really got pay more attention.”

Ali laughed, smiled, “Point is, I knew I’d either end up being poached by the vapid pretty girls, or be alone. I saw some one that looked interesting, got curious. I was just lucky that I bumped into you at lunch.”

Sarah rubbed her nose, smiled, “I don’t know if the after-school thing was luck, but I get what you’re saying.”

Ali chuckled again, “I really am sorry about that, by the way.”

Sarah shrugged, adjusted herself to hug her knees, “It’s no big deal.”

Ali grimaced, “Actually, it kinda is. If you hadn’t hit that locker door, we wouldn’t be hanging out right now. And I wouldn’t know how awesome you are. And you wouldn’t have someone to tell you.”

For once, Sarah felt perfectly at-ease without her hands constantly working her pen across a page, “That’s… actually a pretty good point.”

They met each other’s eyes with giddy looks that transferred glee between them, and suddenly fell into a mysterious fit of giggles. The plain and the pretty together at last, both equally enamored with the other; one, for its unquenched thirst for friendship, the other for its insatiable hunger for mental stimulation. It was a freak-accident-caused friendship that they both knew would last ’til death. The first few weeks of hanging out only further proved it as Sarah and Ali returned daily from school to write and read respectively. Long evenings soon turned to long nights and weekend sleep-overs, and the latter pushed the former ever-nearer toward greatness with her unassailable support.

The precarious nature of their meeting alone would have given Rod Serling another one for the black-and-white picture-show. The plain and the pretty, Sarah and Ali, writer and reader, entwined in friendship forever over a simple, innocuous mishap.