Star Wars Rise of Skywalker

Last night I saw Star Wars Rise of Skywalker…here’s everything I liked and what could be better.

As a child of the 80s, I saw Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in the theater. I was seven when I watched ROTJ and as you can imagine, was obsessed with Ewoks. I mean, who wouldn’t be? That was also the movie where we met Jabba the Hut and Leah’s infamous gold bikini.

The new movies that came afterward were not my favorites. Let’s not discuss the name-that-shall-not-be-mentioned-that-begins-with-J-ends-with-S. And, no, it’s not JJ Abrams.

What I love about the final sequels & Rise of Skywalker:

  • Rey is a badass female heroine.
  • Kylo Ren is a nuanced, fascinating villain who I found myself secretly wanting to join the dark side for.
  • The effects are incredible (so much spaceship goodness).
  • Stormtroopers are people, too.
  • New robots that include BB8 and the little cone-head droid in Rise of Skywalker.
  • A sweet farewell to Leia. RIP Carrie Fisher.

    The movie hit a lot of nostalgic notes that a fan like me appreciated:
  • We got to say goodbye to our favorites: Luke, Leia, Han.
  • Went back to where it all started.
  • An epic Death Star fight scene among monster waves.
  • Lots of fantastic space battles.
  • Ewok cameo!

Was it perfect? No, but I’m going to leave all the nitpicking to critics and hardcore fans. I recently bought a BB8 mug that plays sounds. I love it so much!

BB8 mug

Cyberpunk Fairy Tale – Ruby’s Revenge

Ruby’s Revenge
A gritty, cyberpunk retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.

cyberpunk fairy tale

The wind shoved the unlocked balcony door open. High up, on the tower’s twenty-fifth floor, such gusts were common. Neon City’s artificial moonlight filtered in and cast its glow on the blood-spattered floor of a private apartment.

A media screen wall flashed blue, then flickered against inky darkness. He’d seen to the lights already—slashing the wires with his razor-sharp metal claws.

Now he waited in a shadowy corner. Patient. Licking his muzzle, he knew it wouldn’t be long.

Outside in the corridor, he heard soft footsteps and caught the scent of her hyacinth-oiled skin. Ever since the first moment he’d glimpsed her, he was captivated. Most humans were barely worth a second glance, but Ruby was different. A life force stirred within her, and he meant to drink every drop.

His attention swerved back to the door when the hallway floorboards creaked under her weight. Tail swaying, he envisioned his alloyed claws pressed against her graceful neck.

She would fight him. He knew this, and yet he persisted, driven by primal urges.

As she crept inside, her soft deerskin boots glided soundlessly across moonlit tiles, but she halted when she reached the first blood spot. Gasping, she drew a katana sword from her belt. He couldn’t help but grin as he ran his tongue over pointed canines.

“Show yourself.” Her voice rang out like a siren to pierce the darkness.

Another gust whipped the balcony curtains into ghostlike apparitions. She spun slowly, her wide eyes scanning the room, searching the darkness. Through the bedroom door, she spied a figure on the floor. As her eyes adjusted, she saw what was left of her grandmother.
A guttural sound escaped her throat, and her shoulders hunched, but only for a moment. Then her gaze shifted to his corner. Steadying herself, she raised the blade.

The beast growled like a race car ready to burst from the starting line. “Ruby.”

Her knees shook. “Why?” she asked, her voice choking. “Grandmother was innocent. It’s me you want.”

Kingston Wolf stalked forward until Ruby’s face was silhouetted in the moonlight. “To teach you a lesson, beauty.”

Her hands gripped the sword, squeezing the hilt, silently testing the balance.

“I’ll never stop hunting you. When I want something, I get it.” He reared up on massive hind legs, and his cybernetic arms gleamed as he extended his claws.

She held her ground. “You messed with the wrong girl.”

Wolf lunged, but she dodged him and jabbed. Heat blazed behind his left knee. Tipping his head, he howled and darted, making contact and bearing down on her. She toppled underneath his beastly metal mass. Digging his claws into the tiles, he tried to pin her, but she elbowed his jaw.

He recoiled and rolled off. Somersaulting into the opposite corner, she leaped to her feet.

Wolf snarled. “Why are you making this so difficult?” Then he charged, but she surged forward, raising her sword high and twisting her body.

The blade dazzled in the moonlight, mesmerizing Wolf, even when it plunged through his plated chest and pierced his synthetic canine heart.

The last thing he saw was Ruby standing over him, the mock moon reflected in her eyes.


On the last night of his life, Ben Mason eyed his microtab. Fairland Towers. A murder. “Shit,” he mumbled. Normally, he appreciated the night shift. Few other detectives on Neon City’s force did. He figured the work kept him out of trouble. Out of the bars.

As he walked the busy pedway, he glanced up at the manufactured sphere. Glowing serenely over the city, it reminded the residents that a moon orbited Earth, only it hadn’t been glimpsed in decades through the vast smog cover.

The orb was turned on high luminescence tonight. The full moon brought out the worst in the lunars. Lots of brawls and domestic calls.

But starting the night with a murder case was rare. Usually, homicides happened only once or twice a month on his shift. You had to work hard to kill someone these days. Victims were shuttled to clinics where replacement organs were hastily printed and implanted. So most of the time, his cases involved beat-up hookers or overdosing junkies.

Mason raised his half-smoked cigarette to his lips and checked his microtab again. The bulletin had been updated. Murder victims: 1 elderly woman, 1 lunar.

He inhaled in surprise, sputtering on tobacco fumes. A dead Moondog? That was rare. He’d only encountered it one other time in his seven years on the force. It had been a mob hit—lunar on lunar violence. You didn’t mess around with Moondogs. He could be executed for even using that word. Enhanced Canis Lunar was the official name for the ruling class of cyborgs.

Upon reaching Fairland Towers, he flicked his cigarette away, unbuttoned his trench coat, and entered the lobby. As he rode the elevator to the twenty-fifth floor, his temples throbbed. Another night of investigating the worst that people do to each other. No time to try to imagine the good things that were left, the people who still aspired to something, the few who weren’t always trying to steal from everyone else.

His first few months on the force had been enough to convince him how ugly people could be. Then the lunars came along and things got even worse.

Several first responders huddled in the hallway outside the apartment. One cop recognized him and nodded.

“Whose crime scene?” Mason asked.

“Castro.” The beat cop tilted his head at the door.

As Mason entered, the stench of blood and human waste assaulted his nostrils. Detective Castro stood a few feet away.

“Mason,” she said, “it’s about time you showed up. You’ve got a dead lunar on your hands.” She lowered her voice. “They’ll want results… fast. This one was high ranking.”

“What’s the scoop?”

Castro swooped her arm as if showing off a piece of art. “Eighty-two-year-old woman by the name of Fiona Crystal. Fifteen-year resident. No record.” She started toward the bedroom and glanced back. “Prepare yourself.”

“I’m cool,” he said, despite his roiling stomach.

“The victims ended up in the bedroom, although there was a struggle in the living room,” she continued.

Mason gagged when he spotted a pair of human legs on the floor. Her bloody limbs were covered in gashes; her entire torso had been ripped off.

“She hasn’t been dead long,” Castro added. “And then there’s this.”

She led him around a corner into a bedchamber occupied by a four-poster antique bed. A dead lunar hung, pegged to the wall, near the headboard. The cyborg was so tall that even with his shoulders nailed high above the bed, his feet still dragged the floor.

Mason whistled under his breath, a nervous habit.

“Yeah, it’s a real shit show. Not the kind of case I’d want if I were you.”

He ignored her and approached the cyborg’s body, but she grabbed his arm. “Not too close. We’re still analyzing.” Nearby, a hovering drone scanned every inch of the crime scene.

He hesitated and stared at the metal beast. “What did they use to—?”

“Pin him to the wall? They’re spikes of some kind. Maybe it was from the woman’s fireplace?”

The end of two staves jutted out from the wolfish shoulders. The lunar’s head was slashed at the throat, but not decapitated. Cyborg blood streamed from the wounds, covering the beast’s body in a sticky, green ooze. The assailant had sliced open the lunar, splitting the creature from crotch to chest. Gauges, gears, and bionic organs had been ripped out and tossed on the floor.

Mason was rarely shocked in his line of work, but this was an exception. Castro studied him. “It’s a mind fuck, for sure,” she said. “Each time I look, it just gets worse.”

“Why rip him open?”

“To pull something out. Follow me.” She led him across the living room to a bathroom.

He gazed at the dead lady’s cerulean tiled floor and ceiling. On the far side was a small tub. Nothing out of the ordinary, until he noticed all the blood.

Someone had gathered the pieces of the elderly woman’s body—head, part of her arm, and other bits he assumed made up her torso—and rested them in the tub.

He gagged and launched the contents of his stomach into the toilet, barely opening the lid in time.

“You owe me, Jenkins,” Castro yelled over her shoulder.

Mason rinsed his mouth in the sink. “Glad I helped make you a little richer.”

She shrugged. “Gotta keep spirits up around here. Let’s talk on the balcony. Get you some air. You’re looking mighty green still.”

Outside, he sucked in the breeze despite the pollution. It smelled better than the stale death cloud inside the apartment.

“Maybe the perp came in, found the woman half-eaten, and slaughtered the cyborg,” she said. “Why anyone would go up against a lunar… especially him. Everyone knows Kingston Wolf owned half of Neon City.”

Back in the apartment, Mason studied the living room. A coffee table and chair had been overturned and knocked aside. Deep gash marks interrupted the parquet wood tiles. Must have been a hell of a struggle.

“The scanner picked up evidence in the bedroom. A strand of hair. Human. Doesn’t match the old lady’s.” Castro smirked as she read her micro. “A positive ID. You’re gonna owe me big time for this.”

He flashed a grin. “Dinner on me.”

“Cheeky,” she muttered and handed the tablet over.

Mason’s breathing sped up as he studied the woman’s profile. Locks of fuchsia hair framed her cheekbones and heavy glam makeup obscured her delicate features. “Ruby Rollins,” he said, reading the info stream. “Only nineteen years old. Just a kid.” He paused. “Jesus, the victim was her grandmother.”

“There’s your motive. The kid got an address?”

He nodded. “On my way.”

As he left the tower, he glanced up. The counterfeit moon showered the city in a ghoulish glow.

Mason soared above the city streets in his unmarked sky cruiser. The Rollins girl’s last known address was in the abandoned toy district. With so few children born nowadays, demand had nosedived. His chance to have offspring had passed. Gone, years ago, when Marla left him after his drinking got worse.

He figured humans were dying off, anyway. So far, he’d resisted the peer pressure to get augmentations. His fellow detectives had biochips connecting them to the insurance companies who monitored their health. His buddy Smith had chips implanted in his ocular cavities giving him night vision and access to the info stream just by thinking.

But Mason waved his hands. “Nah, that’s not for me,” he told his pals. “I don’t want SimCorp getting in my head.”

The cruiser’s dash pinged, snapping him from his thoughts. He approached Ruby’s building rooftop and landed. Eight stories above street level, the breeze lashed his face and the tail of his trench coat whipped behind him. He rested a hand at his hip, feeling the reassuring weight of his sidearm. The rooftop was empty. Even so, his heart raced and the hairs on his neck stood up. He felt like he was being watched, though clearly there was nobody around. Crime scenes rarely fazed him, but every time he pictured Ruby’s grandmother, his stomach churned. He launched a security perimeter drone to guard his cruiser and alert him to visitors.

Inside the building, he descended a steep staircase until he reached the third floor. Moldy grime covered the corridor walls and the cheap 3D-printed tiles were caked in years of dust. He passed a few apartments, heard a media screen blaring inside one, but no other signs of life. The place smelled like old newspapers, glue, and rust. He couldn’t imagine a girl as pretty as Ruby holed up here.

Mason reached her unit and clutched his gun at his side. He rapped on the door and waited as the laugh track down the hall echoed.

He knocked again, harder this time. Nothing. The deadbolt was old school, not the high-tech smart networks of fancier apartments. Retrieving his police-issued bump key, he unlatched it.

Inside the apartment, a dim table lamp flickered on. Motion sensor. Heady scents of rose and lavender tinged the air. A gold velour couch occupied the center of the lofty room next to a zebra-striped throw rug.

Mason roamed the flat, checking the small bathroom and bedroom. Ruby’s bed was neatly made with a rose velvet comforter. He flicked on a light switch in the bathroom. Five red bulbs bathed him in a scarlet glow. He inspected his face in the mirror. The hollows under his eyes were more obvious today. No doubt about it, he was aging faster than his augmented friends.

Something near the front door clinked. He drew his revolver and tiptoed over. A figure stood in the living room, partially obscured in the shadows. Mason knew right away when he saw its massive size, midnight black hair, and ochre eyes set back atop a steel muzzle. A lunar—a big one.

Mason edged out of sight, as the cyborg rummaged through Ruby’s living room. His nerves tingled with adrenaline. At any moment, the lunar would walk into the bedroom and discover him. Despite being above the law, most lunars operated by a code. They rarely harmed police officers. Usually.

He took a chance and holstered his weapon, stepping into view. “Don’t be alarmed,” he announced. “Neon City PD.”

The lunar recoiled, growled, and flashed his claws.

“Whoa,” Mason said, palms up. “You can check my badge. I’m a detective investigating a crime.”

The lunar relaxed his shoulders. “Why didn’t you show yourself when I entered?”

“I was in the bathroom. Nature was calling.” He smirked, hoping the cyborg would buy it. “I’m Detective Ben Mason. Have we met?”

“Crimson Wolf.”

Alarm bells rang in Mason’s head. Crimson was a notorious lunar mafia boss. He was guilty of many crimes including murder, but they could never find enough evidence. Not that you could convict the cyborg mafia anyway, not when every judge and jury feared retribution.

What was he doing here?

“So,” Mason said. “Looks like the apartment owner isn’t around.”

Crimson growled, low and guttural. “She’ll be here.”

“You a friend of hers?”

“A friend of a friend.” As he spoke, his lips curled to reveal large canines.

Mason rocked back on his heels. “Huh. I have a few questions for her and bad news to deliver… Her grandmother just died. Murder.”

Crimson held Mason’s gaze, unflinching.

“You happen to know anything about that? We believe there were two perps at the crime scene. One who killed the grandmother, and another who killed a lunar.”

“Kingston Wolf was my brother. Ruby Rollins murdered him.” Crimson’s metal claws flicked out from his fists. “I’m here for justice.”

Mason’s heart threatened to sprint from his chest, but he had to stay cool. “Guess we’re here for the same reason. I have questions for Miss Rollins.”

“You don’t believe she’s guilty?”

“Well,” Mason said, “I wasn’t around when it happened. I have to follow the law—innocent until proven guilty. So, I have questions for her, and I’ll probably end up taking her to the station—”

“Useless,” the lunar hissed. He swiped a meaty fist in the detective’s direction as if brushing Mason off.

Mason’s microtab buzzed with an alert from his security drone. An image of someone in a red hooded cloak appeared on screen. Ruby. She entered the building lobby. Mason glanced at the cyborg. Should he leave and cut her off? Take her to the police station? Or let the Wolf have her?

Crimson Wolf would surely kill Ruby. And if Mason tried to intervene with a lunar who was hell-bent on vengeance, he would end up a cadaver too.

“What’s on your screen?” Crimson asked.

“This? Just my annoying boss asking me about the case for the hundredth time. Bosses—so aggravating, right?”

Crimson sniffed the air, hunching his shoulders. “She’s near.”

Crap, crap, crap, thought Mason. So much for heading Ruby off.

“Look, I have to follow procedure here.” He searched the cyborg’s canine eyes. “You understand my dilemma, don’t you?”

But Crimson Wolf growled.

“Let’s make a deal,” Mason said. “I’ll ask her questions. If she confesses, you can have her.” His instincts screamed against this, but what else could he do? “If she denies it, I take her to the station and book her. Let the justice system figure it out.”

“You’re wasting my time, Detective.”

“You’ll get your chance if she confesses.” Mason’s throat was dry. “You can have her, and I’ll never tell a soul.”

“You test my patience.” Crimson glared at Mason. “Fine, I’ll wait behind the door while you ask your questions.” He crept toward the bedroom.

The doorknob rattled. Sweat dripped down Mason’s forehead, and he loosened his collar. Messing with Crimson meant certain death. Even for a cop, it was beyond foolish to go up against a lunar. If his plan backfired, he was done for.

He stood in the middle of the living room and pulled out his badge. Ruby shut the door behind her and cast off her hood. Wild fuchsia locks cascaded down the back of her cape.

As he cleared his throat, she spun. “Who are you?”

“Hey there, I’m Detective Ben Mason. Neon City PD. Here’s my badge in case you want to—”

She strode forward and grabbed it from his hand. He caught a whiff of the flowers again. Mason’s gaze fell to a speck of dried green cyber fluid on her ear when she shoved the badge back at him.

“Why are you in my apartment?”

“I can explain. You didn’t answer my knock, and I thought something might be wrong.” He paused and began tapping on his micro. “Unfortunately, I have terrible news.” He frowned. “Your grandmother was found murdered this evening.”

Ruby clenched her fists and fought back tears. “I know.”

Mason’s throat tightened. He didn’t want this girl to die at the hands of Crimson Wolf. This was madness. “How would you know that already?” he asked softly.

She bit her bottom lip as if measuring her words; Mason waited. Please don’t confess, he pleaded in his mind.

Finally, she met his gaze. “What do you want from me?”

“Do you recognize this lunar?” Sweat made him nearly drop his microtab, but he managed to hand it over.

She studied the screen, then her eyes flashed to his in confusion.

“Take your time, please,” he blurted out.

Instead of a picture on the screen, Mason had written:

Crimson Wolf behind bedroom door.
Leave w me now.

Her jaw tensed, and he glimpsed her pupils contract. They could still walk out alive–he was sure of it. But everything hinged on her next move.

She thrust the device into his hand and moved closer. “I’ve never seen him before.”

“Very well,” he said. “I’m taking you in for questioning. We have to leave right—”

Before he could finish, Ruby lunged toward him and grabbed his revolver, yanking it from his holster. In one leap, she faced the bedroom door and fired into it.

Crimson shrieked and uttered a high-pitched howl. As the creature slumped to the floor, Ruby loomed over him and emptied the gun chamber until he stopped twitching.

Every muscle in Mason’s body stiffened, and he felt as if he walked a tightrope to her bedroom. “What have you done?”

Ruby glared at him. “He was here to kill me and would have killed you too. Afterward, he’d have cut your eyes out to make sure you didn’t have an ocular camera streaming video.”

“I don’t have implants,” he muttered.

“Good.” She kicked Crimson’s body. Grabbing a knife from her belt, she pried a steel claw from the cyborg’s hand.

Ruby was eerily calm. She wiped the fluorescent cyber fluid from Crimson’s barbed digit on his coat, her cherry red lips parted in a smile.

He’d expected a frightened young girl, reduced to tears, collapsing in his arms.

From under her bed, she grasped a jewelry box in which she laid the cyber claw next to a dozen others–her collection of trophies.

Mason’s stomach twisted, and she was there in front of him, guiding him to the edge of her bed.
Ruby was no hapless victim; she hunted lunars.

“Don’t worry, Detective,” she whispered. “This will all be over soon.”

The weight of the badge in his palm reminded him that he should lunge for her, knock her down, retrieve his gun. His duty was to haul this murderous woman to his precinct. But as he stared into her eyes, her pupils morphed into crescents. What was she? His mind buzzed, shouting at him to flee, but his limbs were dead weights, dragging him down.

“I’m going to take care of everything,” she said. “You have no augmentations, right? Nothing in your eyes?”

His response was automatic; he’d repeated it so often for his coworkers. “Nah, that’s not for me.”

“Good. No witnesses. You understand, don’t you?”

Something inside him snapped, and he wished for a drink–one last toast. To whatever humankind was now becoming.

The last thing he saw was her heart-shaped face, peering at him in the dim bedroom light, as the artificial moon cast a hazy glow on her skin. A shiver rippled along his spine when the steel barrel met his temple.

Detective Castro was the first on the scene.

She found Mason sprawled atop Ruby’s bed. In stiff hands, he clutched the gun that had killed Neon City’s most notorious lunar.

His lifeless eyes watched the fake moon beaming down from the smog-choked sky.



Summer travel and Good Omens

I hope your summer has started off nicely (or winter for my southern hemi friends). The weather in Chicago has finally warmed up following a chilly, rainy spring!

Last weekend, I took a trip to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Sometimes life in the city gets to be too much—frequent sirens (I live near a hospital), car horns beeping, garbage trucks in the alley—and it’s a real treat to sit quietly and stare at a lake. I captured a beautiful sunset. Check it out.


In book news…
Did you grab your copy of my novel, After We Fall? It’s free for my readers. Here’s the link again in case you missed it.

I’m 8,000 words into a book in a completely new series that features a robot as the main character. He struggles to survive in a post-apocalyptic world while carrying precious cargo. I don’t want to say more because it’s still early (a lot could change).

This is a novel in partnership with Molten Universe publishing, and I’ll find out if I can share an exclusive preview of the first chapter with you in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

What are you watching these days?
I’ve nearly finished Good Omens on Amazon (based on the book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman). Have you seen it? I’m enjoying the laugh-out-loud antics of an angel and a demon teaming up to prevent the apocalypse. The show features several Queen songs, so you really can’t go wrong. 🙂 😇😈

Gaiman is one of my favorite authors (currently reading American Gods which was made into a series on Starz). He also teaches a master class on writing, and it’s awesome to hear him describe where he gets ideas and to learn his work habits.

Quick favor to ask…
My friend, author KA Crow, is starting a new fantasy series and is looking for feedback from readers. When you fill out her short survey, you can register to win a signed copy of her first book when it comes out. KA is an amazing writer and good friend of mine, so please check it out. It takes less than a minute. Click here to give your 2 cents.

Books by Cameron Coral

Rogue Spark Series:

ALTERED (Book 1)

BRINK (Book 2)

DORMANT (Book 3)

SALVAGE (Book 4)

AFTER WE FALL (A Rogue Spark Novel) – get it for free on


Dark Shadows 2: Voodoo and Black Magic of New Orleans (An Authors on a Train Short Story Collection)

New Sci-fi Dystopian Novel

Many readers have asked about Reed, a character from Altered (Rogue Spark Book 1). He was bullied at Woodlawn Youth Improvement Center and harbored a huge crush on Ida.

The novel After We Fall describes what happened to Reed and the other kids at Woodlawn. Here is chapter 1…

Sci-fi Dystopian


Journal Entry of Reed Reynolds

February 16, 2040 

I guess I’d always thought the end of the world would happen fast. 

Maybe an asteroid would wipe out humanity, or Yellowstone would blow its top.

But it turns out the fall of society happens like a slow caving in. 

Ever build a sand castle and watch as a rolling wave steals a wall, and then you rebuild, but it gets sucked away again?

And with each rising swell, more pebbles disappear until there’s only a soggy lump on the water-logged beach.

Until you’re left with nothing but ruin. You shape and mold the slippery mud as fast as you can, but you’ll never beat the onslaught of waves.

Woodlawn Improvement Center

Oneida County, New York State

We’re misfits and orphans, sprinkled in with a few juvenile delinquents. 


I’ve been part of the system since I was fourteen, when my mother had left me in the hands of New York State because she couldn’t handle being a parent. Can’t blame her, I guess. Life in the late 2030s hadn’t been easy for anyone. Jobs were scarce and environmental disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes were happening frequently. Having a kid was just another burden in a crumbling mess of a world.

“Welcome to Woodlawn, Reed Reynolds,” Kilpatrick had said my first day—over two years ago. I’d shaken the head supervisor’s cold, moist hand while a creeping sensation had risen in my throat.

My social worker, a kind lady named Maxine, had assured I’d be in good hands. She’d winked goodbye. “It won’t be long before a nice couple adopts you and takes you to your forever home.”

I’d nodded despite my insides feeling like quicksand. Once Maxine had lifted off in her air cruiser, Kilpatrick had introduced me to the real Woodlawn. After handing me a scratchy used blanket, he’d led me to my new room, bare except for two cots with worn foam mattresses that weren’t much thicker than a folded towel.

That’s when I’d met my roommate Zeke. He’s a year younger and had looked like a frightened shelter puppy at first. Later, he’d confessed his relief I wasn’t a bully. We’re true friends now. Bonding happens fast when you’re both picked on by the older, bigger kids.

Zeke’s sister is Daria. She’s my age—sixteen—but also blind, which makes life really difficult at Woodlawn. Zeke often shakes his head, explaining that they’re a bonded sibling pair. According to him, they can’t be separated during the adoption process. That Daria is disabled means no one in their right minds would take them. I never know what to say when he mentions it; I suspect he’s correct

Six months ago, a red-headed girl named Ida had arrived. She’d been different from the others, more of a loner type. But there’d been something about her, and I’d followed her around in the exercise yard always trying to catch her attention. She’d kept ignoring me until one day—when she’d stood up for me against the biggest bully at Woodlawn—Marc Mal.

The few times Ida had actually met my gaze, I’d seen loneliness in her eyes and something else. Bitterness? She’d had a rough past like a lot of kids here.

Too bad she hadn’t stayed long. I’d only known her a few weeks before a couple had adopted her. But four months later, she’d sent a letter, and we’ve kept in touch since. The craziest thing of all? She’d been recruited into the military; now she’s in basic training. 

I miss Ida like anything, but her story gives me hope. Hope for a better future outside Woodlawn.

But that was before The Fall.

The Fall—the collapse, the invasion—whatever you call it, had happened real slow at first.

In the early days, soon after Ida had left, the adults who worked here had looked nervous. Some of them had stopped showing up, which had been odd because Woodlawn ran like clockwork. Even Kilpatrick, who’d usually enjoyed taunting us, had become distracted. He’d spent time alone, holed up in his office, listening to new reports. Something was happening. I hadn’t known what, but it had seemed like a big deal.

One day, after getting beaten up and sent to the nurses station, I’d found out.

Nurse Tilda’s lips had been tightly drawn as she’d rubbed alcohol-soaked gauze along my cut cheek. “At least they didn’t break your glasses this time. Good thing, too, because we can’t replace them.”

“Why not?” I’d asked, wincing at the sting lighting up my bruised and torn skin.

She’d dropped the bloody bandage in a tray and frowned. “Because… It’s hard to get things right now.”

“What do you mean?”

“Reed, I’m not supposed to say a word… But you seem like such a smart boy.” After checking the hallway and shutting the door, she’d knelt before me, resting a hand on my knee. “There’s been an incident.”

I had studied her face, noting dark circles under her eyes. And I’d smelled something like wine on her breath—a familiar odor from many evenings living with my mother, when she’d return from the bars.

“What is it, Nurse Tilda?”

“Far from here… in Europe. There’s been an invasion. These creatures… They call them the Heavies.”

Creatures?” My jaw had dropped, and even though it had ached from getting punched earlier, I hadn’t cared. “You mean like from space?”

She’d nodded. “There’s been little news. They don’t really know a lot about them. But they’re dangerous. So, people here have been scared. Folks are taking precautions… evacuating south to designated cities.”

Visions of green space creatures, like the ones from my comic books, had filled my head. Were they menacing? Had they tried to communicate with us?

Tilda had lingered by the window, gazing down into the yard. “It’s hard to leave you kids but… I have to go. My sister lives a hundred miles from here. She’s on a farm with her husband and daughters, and I figure if anywhere will be safer, it’s there.”

My stomach had dropped. Nurse Tilda had been the only adult at Woodlawn who was nice. “But you can’t move. What about me?”

“I-I’m sorry, Reed.”

That had been the last time I saw her. Over a week ago. And the other employees had stopped showing up, too.

Kilpatrick is the only one remaining, sequestered in his office, poring over papers that litter his desk, and constantly on his terminal. He’s grown a beard and hasn’t changed his clothes in days.

Last night, on hall sweep duty, I’d lingered near his door, staring through the glass partition. But then he’d seen me and had ordered me back to my room, promptly shutting his window blinds.

The bell rings, signaling our hour-long recess. Automatic doors shuffle us into the yard regardless of weather. The skies are grey and overcast today, and it’s warm enough I don’t see my breath.

I take refuge under a scraggly tree, poking a tiny stick into the top of an ant-hill. Each time I wreck the entrance, the worker ants race over and fix the damage. 

Once, in a foster home, there’d been an ant farm, and I’d spent hours watching the workers swarm and serve their queen. For once, I’d thought there might be a future with that foster couple. They’d lost their five-year-old in an air cruiser crash—he hadn’t been buckled in and another flying vehicle had collided with them, thrusting the boy forward into the cockpit dashboard.

But they had sent me away, like all the others.

Bored, I dig a path in the dirt pile to help the ants. Staring at the ten-foot-tall electrified fence that contains us, I sigh. What would be waiting outside Woodlawn? Would I ever lead a normal life?

Three older boys in the yard start brawling. I stand, yelling at them to cut it out as I stare up at Kilpatrick’s second-story office window where he usually watches the yard. But there’s no sign of him. After a few minutes, the Responsive Riot Control Units (RCUs) descend from the roof.

“Longlegs!” a kid yells, and the teen bystanders scatter. Four of the flying spider-shaped drones swoop down and survey the situation. Instead of running, I stay to see what will happen, fascinated by the insect-like robots that sense when fights break out and intervene.

One of the fighting boys (I think his name is Pete) runs off and blends in with the kids lining up for the door. The two others seem oblivious to the spiderbots until they announce, “Attention. Stop moving. Assume the position.”

That means the boys are supposed to sink to their knees and put their hands behind their heads in submission. They had trained us on the position from day one. Once the spiderbots had subdued us, adult supervisors would emerge from the building and handcuff the offending teens, escorting them to their rooms, the nurse, or to Kilpatrick’s office for punishment. It was standard procedure.

But none of us had seen the supervisors in a week.

“Get them!” Marc Mal shouts. Six boys storm over and throw stones at the RCUs. The drones swerve, dodging the projectiles. But Marc hits one square in the front control panel. It veers up, weaving a corkscrew pattern, crashes into the brick building wall, and falls to the ground.

A shrill blaring sounds from the other machines—one of their defense mechanisms.

Marc’s gang draw more rocks from their pockets and pummel the machines.

I edge away from the chaos, trying to avoid the line of fire. I scan Kilpatrick’s office window and glimpse him. His gaze meets mine, and he hesitates. Frowning, he grabs his jacket and exits the room.

The RCUs blast their sirens while Marc and friends continue their assault. I watch the roof four stories up, expecting a fleet of spiderbots to descend. But I spy Kilpatrick. One moment he stares down at us and shakes his head. Then he steps out of sight.

The machines launch tranquilizer darts. Every attacker collapses within five seconds except Marc. It takes three darts in the chest to bring him down.

Kilpatrick’s air cruiser lifts off from the rooftop and soars east into the muted grey sky.

That’s the last time I see him.

Game Night

Did you see Avengers End Game yet? I went on opening day and made it all the way through without a bathroom break! But seriously, the movie was amazing, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again (at home when I can press pause).

My next novel is called After We Fall. The story takes place between Books 1 and 2 of the Rogue Spark series. It’s about what happened to Reed and others at Woodlawn Youth Improvement Center after Ida left. The cover is ready, and I’m excited to share it with you.

What do you think?

Game Night
Last weekend, I invited friends over to play a game called Dark Tower. It came out in 1981 but was discontinued. I have fond memories of my family sitting around our kitchen table playing it when I was a kid. The game did not disappoint!

Four players own a kingdom each and must travel to other kingdoms to find brass, silver, and gold keys. Then you trek to the Dark Tower where you have to decipher the order of the keys to enter. 

Along the journey, there are battles with brigands and other dangers such as plague or just getting lost. Each player manages a supply of soldiers, gold, and food. The game was groundbreaking at the time because it contained a tall plastic tower with a computer interface. 

Guess what? Dark Tower is coming back in 2020! Restoration Games is updating the game and bringing it back. I’m so excited:-)

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite game to play? Do you have a game night? Hit reply and let me know.