Two Writing Extremes: George R.R. Martin vs. Stephen King


It’s hard being a writer, isn’t?  Put yourself in the shoes of Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, a man who’s had countless articles written about his progress on the sixth book of his famous series.  Reading those headlines alone is enough to make your head spin!  Imagine the enormous pressure that Mr. Martin must feel himself!!

Stephen King, on the other hand, poses as a pretty strong counterargument for Martin’s progress, as his Mr. Martin asked Mr. King with his own words, what gives?

Clearly these two extremely successful and popular authors have two very different approaches towards their writing.  Which raises some questions for the rest of us, who are looking for a way to make it in the writing business.  First, what can we as authors or potential authors make of this conundrum?  Second, how can we find that balance between life’s demands, easy distractions, and writer’s block?

I have to answer that first question with a question:  What do you stand to gain by imagining your situation is different?  In the YouTube video I’ve linked above, Mr. King says that he commits himself to writing six pages each day, while Mr. Martin is critical of every sentence he writes.  Do both methods work?  Absolutely.  Is either one of them the method for you?  Maybe or maybe not….

So, where does that leave us?

I work a full time corporate job with a long New Jersey commute.  Adding it all up, my typical day is about 12 hours.  I save time on the weekends for drinking alone or with friends, playing video games, watching my Yankees during the baseball season, and typically not writing.

But, and this is the inflection point for where I am in life today, I am single and live alone, which means I can dedicate an hour or so four nights a week to work as hard as I can on my writing.  Sunday night, Monday night, Wednesday night, and Thursday night are no holds barred, gloves off, street fights with my work.  I start each session with 10-30 minutes of meditating (with YouTube’s help), which does a great job clearing my head, especially from a stressful work day.  Then, I don’t care if I write 50 words or 500 words.  Both have happened.  The way I see it, as long as I’m getting words on the page and the story is moving, I can always clean it up later in my edits.  And the best part of it all is that I get two work nights and entire weekends to do whatever brings me joy.

And honestly, over the course of a year, it’s impossible to commit to such a stringent schedule – life happens.  But did you notice my use of language?  An hour or so.  50 words or 500 words are both okay.  I am lenient with myself.  I know I am committed enough to my work that, if I miss a night, it’s okay because I’ll definitely find a way to make up for it.  And those 50 word nights are usually followed by a couple of 500 word nights.  That’s the beauty of pushing a story along.

My therapist is a Buddhist who has taught me that, in eastern philosophy, death is waiting right behind us, counting down and waiting until it’s our time meet him.  Time is the most valuable commodity we have and it’s our duty to manage it as responsibly as we can.  We only get so much time.

So be honest with yourself.  What’s your situation?  How can you optimize it in a way that’s most efficient for you as a writer?  What are your inflection points?  Are you spending your time in ways that are both meaningful to you and lenient?  How about your work?

Meditation Day: Won Buddhism


I was browsing the Lion’s Roar website earlier this week and thought I’d share an excerpt that stood out to me from one of their articles.  I am always in search of peace, betterment, and contribution and there was a lot about the teaching of Won Buddhism in this article that made me feel closer to achieving those first two.  And deciding to share it here with you fulfills the third.  My highlights are in bold:

In Buddhism, interdependent origination is the law of causality. According to this fundamental concept, everything is part of a web of interconnection, depending on limitless causes and conditions undergoing a continual process of transformation. In other words, nothing exists as independent, permanent, or fixed. This is called emptiness or the empty nature of reality. All dharma teachings are based on and lead us to a realization of this interdependent and empty nature of reality. This realization—that all phenomena are woven together—enables us to live a life with infinite wisdom, joy, and compassion for all.

Sotaesan was the founder of Won Buddhism. His definition of the word “grace” (EunHye in Korean) describes the interdependence and interconnection of everything in the world. In order to understand this, Sotaesan asks us to consider life without our relationships with other people.

For example, let’s think about a glass of water. Before we can have a drink, we have to get water from a faucet and pour it into a cup. The faucet is connected to a pipe that is attached to multiple other pipes that are hooked into a water tank. Countless people have worked to perfect this water-delivery system. Beyond all this, there is the glass itself, which we use to hold the water. Different people had to design, manufacture, deliver, and sell this glass. Numerous causes and conditions come together just to allow us to drink a cup of water.

Whoa.  I never stopped to think about how much effort went into my water.  And water is something I use all the time.  I abandoned drinking sodas almost completely (my limit is 5 per year and I generally don’t even get that high) and, in the rarer occasion I have an iced tea, I water it down significantly to reduce how much sugar I am ingesting, while also maintaining the sweet taste.  That means I am drinking water constantly: at every meal, when I am thirsty, when it’s time to take a pill, and to filter through my Brita.  And I never stopped to consider how much I could take such a simple thing for granted by such an extreme.

Now imagine for a moment what it feels like when you expand this concept out to far more complicated technology.  I’m writing you from my desk, which has a computer, a typewriter, a mouse, and an internet connection.  All of these things have their own individual webs of human connection that we don’t often think about.  What if those people are having their own personal struggles and need a voice that’s heard?  Are they happy at work?  Do they have a good boss?  How’s their dating life?  What if I know one of the people that assembled one of these tools that I use everyday?  And, what if it’s someone who isn’t my friend?

The point is that the next time you’re feeling hurt or flustered, take a minute to think about the people who brought you the luxuries of your own life.  They’ve all been your behind-the-scenes cheerleaders who have sustained and carried you to where you are.  They were supporting you when you didn’t even know it.  They wanted you to succeed and find happiness, even if it was just for one moment.

And, if that isn’t enough, then have a glass of water with me.

First Book Is Finished!

Hello readers!

I am still so new to blogging and am learning how to do it, but since I am serious about becoming an author and contributing to the creative community every way I can, I made a commitment to be a little more active these days.  The biggest news I have is that, on Tuesday, March 19th, I finished writing my first book!  (Shhhhh don’t tell my boss).  I love word counts because they make me feel like I’m making progress, so here’s a screenshot of the final, unedited damage:

TCM word count unedited

I am really excited about this because this is a years long projected that started in my late teens and didn’t really start gaining momentum until sometime after I was finally finished with graduate school, getting my chemistry degree.  I had 40,000 words at the time and a story that moved way too fast.  So, I put all of those words aside and started this book from scratch a second time, with an entirely slower beginning.  That became 40,000 words much more quickly and I added those to what already existed, with some light editing.  When I reached 100,000 words in December 2015, I knew this was going to finally happen.

In the end, all of my writing is an effort to make this world a little bit better.  I hope all of you learn from what I have to say and, most importantly, talk to me about it.  I’m here for you always.

150,000 Words!

Hello glorious fans,

I think I’ve decided I write a only a teensy bit faster than my good friend George R. R. Martin because I finally crossed the 150,000 word mark this morning!  Here’s a screenshot as proof: 12-18-17 150000 words

I’m only celebrating this because this kind of word count is not easy to come by and I think it expresses my commitment to the work and to my current and future fans.  I do all of this work for you.  Please be there for me when I am finished because you all deserve just as much credit for waiting for this project as I do for trying to accomplish this at the whims of an 8-5 job, plus two hours commuting (at least).



Long Time No See!

Hello Dearest Followers,

It’s almost embarrassing I haven’t written anything for you guys in such a long time, but I’m back and with a vengeance!  My book is progressing slowly, but well.  I reached the 125,000 word landmark over the Christmas break and I’m still less than half done!  The complexity of writing epic fantasies are so frustrating at times.  I hope all of you are there with me at the end because I’m promising today that you won’t be disappointed by the result!

Anyway, I’d hate for my first post in a thousand years to be political, but since people are clearly pissed off about this election with the Trump protests going on across the country, it inspired a lot introspection in me about the American political system.  If you’re open to hear what I have to think about all of this, please follow the link to this image for a two minute read: Election 2016.

Kindest regards,

C. R. Lukische

Strumming the Strings of a Wish

Steve sat on the edge of his bed and fingered a new chord on his acoustic guitar.  A drop of sweat rolled down his forehead.  He’d been practicing for a few hours now and was just starting to tire.  His fingers were hurt and cracking through his calluses.  But, he was eager to show his best friend Tom what he’d been learning the last few months.

Tom met Steve freshman year of college.  They found each other through their campus’s commuter events during orientation.  Tom made the first joke – something perverted – and Steve referenced it to some of their other mutual friends many times throughout their orientation.  Tom was a loyal friend.  Steve considered him sort of kingly the way he constantly read the news and gave accurate advice. 

When Steve brushed the sweat away, he began to play.  Tom sat in Steve’s La-Z-Boy leather recliner across from him and watched him play the next song.  Steve taught himself how to play a few songs the past eight months.  Tom noticed how he played most of those songs very well; the timing between notes was great and he maintained a great rhythm.  He was making a few minor errors, but nothing that wouldn’t happen to the best guitarists.  Tom gave Steve a mini-applause when he finished.

“You taught yourself all those songs?” he asked.

“Yeah, with some help from youtube.  What did you think?”

“Not bad, man.  What inspired you to do all this?”

Steve rolled his eyes, then looked Tom in his pupils.  “You know why.”

“You wrote and published a book of emotional poems for your ex and now this?”

“Well, this isn’t just for her.  I’ve always wanted to learn how to play this baby,” Steve said patting his guitar’s neck, “but now I feel like I need to prove to someone, anyone that I’ve done some personal development over time.”

“And let me guess – you feel like learning the guitar accelerates that process?”

“Exactly,” Steve agreed.  This wasn’t anything new for Tom.  He’d been hearing it for over a year now; I want my girlfriend back.  In spite of the improbabilty of the task at hand, Steve was at least dating other girls.  Well, trying to.  Most of them lost attraction for him because of how quiet Steve is naturally.  Tom felt that, even though his motives behind why he was doing some of these things was wrong, at least he was making strides to improve himself.  “But what did you think of my playing?” Steve asked.

“Very good man,” Tom said.  “You’re very focused.  I can tell the way you keep your eyes on what you’re doing.  The fingers on your left hand are a little slow getting to the right notes, but they do get there in time.  And you definitely taught yourself an awesome playlist in terms of lyrics, beat, and popularity.”  Tom leaned back and raised the legs of the recliner.  “What’s your plan once you officially know what you’re doing?”

“I want to start a band, dude,” he said.  “You’d be the drummer of course because of how talented you are.  Then I want to start touring around Jersey – from Nutley to Cherry Hill to Cape May.  I don’t want to establish any invitations at bars or anything, but I want to play in the open, under the bright sun.  I want people to hear us, to notice us.  And when they ask who we are and why we’re playing, we can make up our own stories.  And I can tell them that I’m rocking to show my ex-girlfriend that I’m a different man.  I want this whole state to know what I’m doing – with the help of my loyal friends.

Think about it.  We’d get to travel to every city, try new amazing restaurants, explore museums and go for long walks in the parks or on the beaches.  There’d be girls everywhere for all of us.  Girls in bikinis and short skirts with low cut tops.  Well – okay I guess I wouldn’t tell them what I’m doing.  But just imagine the fun we’d have!”

Tom laughed.  “You’ve got quite the imagination.  You want to start a New Jersey street band with the purpose of getting Amy back?  Girls don’t mope about at home, you know.  Odds are that we’d play in her town and she’d be off somewhere else… with her new boyfriend.”

“But that’s why we’d play during the day on Saturdays and Sundays.  And I would spread word of what I’m doing.  I’m in it for my ex, you could be in it for fun or to meet a band to join.  Who cares!”

“But that’s not what we’re really doing.  We’d really just be helping you.”

“Well, I can’t have a band where I play every instrument.”

Tom rolled his eyes.  He knew Steve was trying to conceal his egocentrism, but he wanted to see his best friend happy again.  “Okay, so then let’s say we’re playing a song and you see her in the crowd.  What would you do?  Stop?  Address her?  Or play a song that she’d recognize from your relationship?”

“The last one.”

“Which song?”

“Oh, I know exactly which song,” Steve grinned.  “Exactly which.”

The Eyes of the Awakened

The stars of the black night stare down below
Sneering at a quietly broken man
Watching him slouch in defeat to the world
His shattered sword lay in pieces on the ground
As he rests with hollow eyes to the sky
Tranced breathing his only sounds, mouth agape 

His furtive eyes scan every single star
To whom does his misery owe its thanks?
The trees, stars, and stones all watch him in pairs
Even they can find partners in lifelessness
He treads alone, then, now, and forever
Ignoring all tales of the lies of love 

An unknown wind blows through his open sill
A rejuvenating scent murders the ache,
Fertilizing his lungs with faith and friendship
New beliefs scatter and connect his mind
An aged puzzle remade for his triumph
The world has robbed him, it’s time for revenge 

Spitting out the mournful pain that drowned him
He jumps up, retributive repercussions in mind
In place of his sword, he retrieves a pen
Paints his reality in truthful words
The emotion, beauty, and pain he shares
Now a landmark for the starlight, not a corpse

Catastrophic Complacency

Andrew kissed his girlfriend before her front door.  He made a gentle fist with some of her hair in the back of her head with one hand and pulled her in by the hip with the other.  His hand glided up and down her side above her pelvis and found its way to the small of her back.  He continued to pull her closer and let his hand squeeze her rear. 

Melissa released her body into his grip and wrapped both arms around Andrew’s torso.  She used her hands to explore his taut backside.  Feeling his robust body made her throb inside.  Her breath grew heavy, so she withdrew one hand and started to massage the curves of his chest.  His panting aroused her – she felt like Andrew had a deep craving that only she had the recipe to suppress.  Each of them drew the other closer and closer and brushed their lips with exponential passion.  Both breathed restlessly through their noses.

“I want you,” he said, eager and breathless.

Andrew and Melissa were together for a five and a half months now and have been intimate with each other for five of those months.  They met online and things haven’t stopped going well since the first date.  Both in their mid-twenties, they were just starting to grow into a routine with each other around their hectic jobs, so they were growing very comfortable around each other.  They weren’t afraid to share secrets with one another and held a tight companionship.  Andrew told her that he loved her for the first time just two weeks earlier.

“Not tonight,” she said, embarassed.  She dropped her head and put a big smile on her face.  “My parents are home.”

“That hasn’t stopped us before.”

She laughed.  “Yeah, but we didn’t have to walk in while they were waiting for me any of those times.”  Melissa brushed her hair behind her ear and looked into his eyes.  “Listen, there’s something I need to tell you.”

Andrew thought Melissa a beautiful specimen, truly one of God’s masterpieces.  She was short at five foot three and her brown hair flowed with an irreplaceable sexual ambience.  Her blue eyes reminded him of his own and her tight behind blended well with her ample breasts and thin build.  She was very attractive physically, but even more impressive was the fact that she graduated college with honors as a physics major.  She worked in a professional lab helping her collegues operate neutron scattering studies of different materials.  Best of all, she was easy to get along with.  She often surprised Andrew by paying for meals, giving him tickets to new major league baseball parks (seeing all of them was always one of his dreams), and supporting him every time he made any kind of decision.  Andrew found her to be irresistible physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

“What’s up?” he asked, his body still tingling, shaking, and trembling with arousal.

Melissa sighed and diverted her eyes from his.  “I’m not really sure how to say it, but I don’t think this is working out.”

Andrew tilted his head in curiosity.  “What do you mean?”

“Andrew, I’m busy with work and I’ve been trying to get into graduate school and I really feel like I need some time to myself for a while.”  She said.  “I get panic attacks everyday and am always worried about what’s gonna happen.  I just don’t feel like I have room in my life for this right now.”

Andrew watched Melissa’s eyes circle around all of the space around him and never fully make contact with him as she spoke.  It was almost like he suddenly became a piece of furniture to her.  He observed her lips part and come together again, like she was kissing each word that came out of her mouth.  Her tongue licked her upper teeth and whipped back down and he imagined massaging his tongue with hers as he did all those other times before.  She scratched the back of her neck the same way she did when he first met her, when she acted shy and was flush red in the face speaking to him.

“You are right,” he said, very much to her surprise.  “We should stop seeing each other.”

Melissa’s jaw hung open and stood speechless as she tried to account for the miscaclulation.  “What do you mean?” she asked.  She found herself repeating his question.

“My being with you was always a sin under the eyes of God,” he said.  “When my eyes first came upon you, I knew that you were a transcendent creature; beautiful in the light of both sun and moon.  You were like the end of the universe, out of everyone’s reach, but always a thought to dwell and ponder upon.  How do I accomplish that which no man has ever achieved?  How can I fuel the rocket of my desire to have you, to hold you, to love you, and to tell the world about you?  How do I find the words to tell them that you’re even more spectacular up close and that you still manage to blush when you get a peck on the cheek, right on the corner of your lips?  Even your blushing tells me that the absolute best need to feel wanted and desired, like part of a set rather than isolated in superiority.  The star doesn’t make the Christmas tree, the Christmas tree makes the star and I’m your tree.”

Melissa watched him with wonder in her eyes.  She couldn’t believe any of what he had to say.  Did he really want to break up with her when he clearly felt so passionately about her?  Why did he agree with her decision?  Melissa memorized each and every word he said like they composed the best poem ever written – and it was written specially for her.  She finally found to courage to look up at him and his eyes drooled emotion all over her body.  She leaped forward, threw her arms around him, and gave him a big kiss in a way she never had before.

“I love you,” she said for the first time.  Then she let his arms consume her and continued to kiss him with renewed ardor.

Andrew inhaled the steam emanating from her body and succumbed to his addiction of her tobacco kiss.

Spring of Rejuvenation

Exan and company were traveling to the Spring of Rejuvenation.  According to fellow adventurers, the Spring bore the ability to restore men and women to the prime of their lives, when their strength, vigor, and confidence was high and they felt most immortal in lieu of their humanity.  Exan and his friends lost a battle to the Warlords of Wipson, where they were cast under a spell of accelerated aging.  He, along with Iyra, Bergg, and Caas were forced to flee because their now sixty-five year old muscles and minds couldn’t support the speeds of wartime fighting.

In order to get there, they needed to pass through the Dungeon of Agony, a seemingly endless labyrinth of caged souls eternally trying to squeeze through the world of the dead back into living beings.  It is said that their cries carry so much anguish that their sadness preys on every adventurers’ greatest fears and weaknesses.  The pain grows so heavy that many kill themselves or literally fall into the reaching grip of those that died, only to join them in wailing death.  The problems were that only a small handful of travelers around the globe actually survived the journey through the Dungeon into the Spring and those that did were viewed as cynical and crazy.  Thus, the Spring of Rejuvenation was only a myth, a distant afterthought in the minds of the curious.  Exan and his friends vowed to either regain their best abilities and reclaim their enslaved armies or to finish what the Warlords started.

There were only a few clouds in the sky and the autumn breeze cooled the company beneath what little armor they could wear.  They set out as soon as they escaped from battle in the open plains due east of Lansur’s Keep, their former stronghold.  After two hours of travel southeast, they nearly arrived at the Dungeon of Agony.  All that remained was to cross the forest surrounding it.

“Where exactly is this place?” Bergg asked.

Exan stopped the group in front of the tree line at the forest entrance.  “I don’t think anyone knows,” he said.  “Travelers have reported hearing despondent voices in their heads while traveling through this forest.  Maybe they’ve been the closest without actually going in or actively looking for it.”

Exan didn’t hesitate jumping into the forest.  Time was essential to the survival of the armies in Lansur, so the others followed behind him.  The dense trees mostly covered the bright sky above, so the forest had an eerie gloom to it.  One or two birds rustled between the branches high above, adding to the effect of spook.

As the company traversed the depths of the forest, Caas would occasionally swing around his backside thinking he heard something dangerous in the near distance.  And why shouldn’t he?  They were heading off to risk their shortened lives to get revenge on the Warlords for the spell they cast.  They were cheaters.  They couldn’t rely on their own strength to find victory.  Only magic.

But now they were the ones defeated.  They had to run away to survive.  They were just as cowardly as the Warlords.

“I think we’re near,” Caas said.  “I’m hearing strange thoughts in my head.”

Exan stopped.  “Imagine the expression on most travelers’ faces when they die from their own mental nightmare.”

The company came to a clearing in the forest.  The towers at the top of the Dungeon of Agony were in sight just over the trees there.  Exan moved forward cautiously and stopped in front of the dungeon’s entrance.  A zigzagging staircase, some two or three hundred steps in length, led to a gaping black doorway.

“Don’t believe anything you hear in there,” Iyra said.  She stepped forward and began walking up the stairs in twos.  Her company, weary from the aches of age and the tires of travel, ignored the exhaustion and followed her.  The large number of steps didn’t make the journey any easier on them, but they were at the top sooner than they anticipated.

“I just realized something,” Bergg said standing before the labyrinth’s foyer, a dark corridor lit by one torch on each wall.  “If we do find the Spring of Rejuvenation, that means we’ll have to travel back through these depths in order to return home.  That means more scary voices in our heads.”

“Yes,” Exan agreed, “but we’ll also have half our lives back, so overcoming them a second time should be easier with strength of mind.”

No one heard anything in the dungeon’s corridor.  The main path broke off on both sides into many rooms and chambers, but the company maintained the direct path without diverging into new and unknown dangers.  The dungeon was quiet.  After half an hour of walking, the main path came to an ornately carved closed doorway.  A single frieze was carved into the post and lintels, depicting kings in bejeweled thrones, knights standing victoriously in empty battlefields, and civilian workers helping each other along bustling markets.  The company looked to each other in confusion, but Exan placed his hand upon the golden doorknob and turned.

Like rolling thunder, the cries of the dead spilled beyond the door into the labyrinth’s main corridor.  Everyone covered their ears and fell to their knees and the door opened up the rest of the way on its own.  The dead were waiting in cages on both sides of the hallway on the other side.  Many hands and skeleton bones, covered in deathly brown cloths, reached out of the cages toward all of the companions.  Each face of the dead didn’t have eyes.  Their mouths dropped down to their chests and bellowed with revenge for the living.

“Maybe the fool before us should have left the door open as warning,” Caas shouted.  “Even the quiet creeped me out.”

The hall of death stretched so far they could only see a tiny square of darkness on the other side.  Iyra grabbed one of the torches along the wall and got in front of everyone.  “The longer we’re here,” she said, “the worse this will get.  Let’s move.”  She strutted forward into the deafening wails. 

The others didn’t want to abandon her, so they rushed out of the doorway.  As soon as they did, the flame of Iyra’s torch blew out, then vanished from her hand and reappeared behind the doorway.  Bergg, closest to the door, turned around to retrieve it, but the door slammed itself shut.  The glowing corpses around them lit the hall.  He swallowed and turned back toward his friends, who immediately resumed their pace onward.

Caas couldn’t resist looking to both sides of the hall out of both fear one of the hands might actualy reach him and pull him into death and lingering curiosity for what might deliver him.

“Best not to look at them,” Exan said.  “It could make things worse.”

Caas nodded quietly and wrapped his fingers around his sword for safety.  Though he knew it wouldn’t do him any good, it gave him a glimmer of safety.  He wanted to give himself comfort.  He was shivering from the howls all around him.

“It’s hard to imagine that people actually die like this,” Exan said.  “This place is ripe with emotions; yearning, lust, hate, lost loves.  Every one of these souls lost something important to them in their lives.  And because they only desire retribution, the gods banish them into this place.”

“And what better place than the citadel protecting a treasure to steal from death and evade the gods’ judgment?”  Iyra inquired.  “Not all of us lead happy lives.  There exist those of us who fall prey to inner demons.  Turmoil amongst the grace of the world.  It seems some people just have a hard time seeing through the black.”

“So, these are people who have died of suicide, homicide, and broken hearts?”  Bergg asked.

“The worst things you could imagine,” Iyra responded.

Caas wondered if things could have been worse than this.  He considered his loneliness.  What did he have in his life outside of the army?  A place to live in solitude where he could write his books undisturbed.  But that was it.  His family abandoned him by dumping him in the military to aid his maturity.  That was seven years ago and no one ever wrote him since.   Any friends he had all left him for the things he had to say.  He never knew the touch of a woman, not to mention how he was too afraid to say hello and approach one.  Who or what did he have in his life?  Only stories to fill the voids in his own life.

He was alone.  He was always alone.  Maybe he was just too afraid to admit it to himself.  Sure, he knew people from the army, but that security was fleeting.  He didn’t have anyone to open up to.  To share his immense pain with.  How could he survive if he didn’t have any support?  Who would help heal him?  Even worse, what woman would even bear this calamity of a man?

Caas scratched his gray beard and looked off toward the walls of the hallway again.  A bright white light emanated from each wall.  Behind the cages were kings, queens, and sterling silver knights.  Many had welcoming wings that kept them afloat and they all had orange halos above their heads.

Caas stopped and looked up in amazement.  The others saw the awe in his eyes and shouted his name.  They shook his body to wake him from his visions, but he began to walk toward the divine beings.  With newfound energy, he dodged his enemies grips and was pulled in by the hands of his new friends.  Friends.  That comforted him.

Caas’s body squeezed perfectly through the cage bars and he smiled up at his new family.  Just before the end, his eyes came clear and he saw what was really happening around him.  When is body was fully ensnared by the demons around him, he died.  In his final breath he screamed louder than any of the monsters around him.

Iyra, Exan, and Bergg all ran down the hallway now and stayed as close to the center of the path as they could.  Exan, in the front, held Iyra tightly in his left hand and Bergg just as tightly in his right.  All of them each heard their own voices in their head, same as Caas, but he was unaware they were communicating to each other what had been happening  to them.

So they ran and ran until the hallway turned toward the left, where even more of the dead waited around the bend.  After a much shorter amount of time, a white door waited  for them at the end of the hall and sunlight eked through the creasing of the doorway.  All three of them used their collective momentum and jumped for the door in one motion.  Surprisingly unchallenged, the company flew through the door easily and landed in the forest outside.  The door slowly closed itself because of the weakness in its hinges, but never locked.  A powerful stream of water flowed directly in front of them.

“Do we drink or do we swim?”  Bergg asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” Iyra responded desperately.  “Just jump in and do both.”

The company struggled to their feet and ran for the spring.  There was no current, so everyone dunked their bodies into the water and when they came up, they cupped their hands and drank until they felt uneasy inside.  They remained afloat for a time, but nothing happened.  Disappointed, they all returned to flat land and sat upon the ground.  All around, the dungeon’s walls encapsulated the section of forest they were in.

“This can’t be right,” Exan said.  “This has to be the Spring of Rejuvenation.  We’re still trapped in this nefarious dungeon!”  He jumped to his feet and held his fist in the air.

Just as he was about to curse the gods, Iyra stopped him.  “Look at your hand,” she exclaimed.

The gray hairs on Exan’s knuckles returned to a dark brown color.  Inside, he felt warm, like he just drank a fine liquer.  Slowly, his hair grew back to its previous length and strength returned to his jaw bones.  He suddenly felt like his voice could carry through the forest around the Dungeon of Agony.  He turned to Iyra, whose red hair regained its long, cascaded flow and Bergg returned to his former six foot four inch stature.  The company looked around.

“It doesn’t look like there’s any way out other than back in,” Bergg said.

Iyra emptied one of her canteens and filled it with spring water.  Bergg and Exan looked at her astonished.  “We’ll need this if we are going to fight the Warlords again.”  Agreeing with her point, they emptied a canteen of their own and filled it with spring water.

“Let’s head back,” Exan said.  “This should be easier with our youth restored, but let’s do the same as the way in and leave nothing to chance.  This time, just run through.”

Exan turned back toward the Dungeon of Agony.  Before he could open the door himself, it swung open.  Caas was standing before him, a walking corpse with holes in his skin and glowing yellow eyes.  Behind him stood an army of the dead, all released from their cages.  They stood tall and organized and were strikingly silent.

“The waters of life belong to the dead,” Caas said in a hollow voice.  He licked his purple lips.  “Return your preserves or suffer us.”

With their youth, magic, and minds restored, Iyra unsheathed her lance, Bergg readied his staff, and Exan drew his blade from his baldric.  The company was forced to decide between being cheated by death through the Warlords and cheating death themselves.

Journal of the Omitted Man

It was 10:30 on Saturday night and Carl was in the passenger seat of Aaron’s car, talking to him about some of the troubles he’d been experiencing.  It was dark outside, doubly so because of the intense overcast in the sky.  The black clouds viciously circled above, like snakes waiting for the opportune moment to strike their prey.

Carl was recently dumped by a girl in favor of another man.  Normally, he wouldn’t call his best friend for advice, but the number of times it was happening to him was starting to wear his confidence.  It wasn’t that simple, though.  Carl had a girlfriend once, briefly.  And she left him because he wasn’t serious in their relationship.  A few years prior to when he met her, Carl stumbled across some helpful self-improvement material to help his dating life.  He’s able to get three or four dates with many girls without issue now, but that’s about it.  After that, girls just grow bored of him.

He traced his fingers along the folds of his palm in Aaron’s car, listening to the thunder countdown the impending storm. 

“I’m tired of girls,” he said.  “Every girl I date strings me along with a fleeting sense of security when, in reality, every one of them is fantasizing about the other guy they’re seeing behind my back.”

“Girls aren’t easy,” Aaron agreed.  “But it’s no reason for you to get depressed because another girl didn’t like you.”

“No, it’s not, but I’m just losing faith, man.”  Carl looked up from his clammy fingers and wiped them on each leg of his jeans.  “Most of these girls think I have no idea about these other guys, even though their eyes reveal the shattering truth about how much of a regular guy I am to them.  These girls make their choice and all the other men they’re seeing are forgotten like smoke in the air.  I become the man these ‘better’ guys never were; alone, hopeless, grim, depressed.  Then multiply that feeling by every single girl you meet.  It wears on a man.

“And then these girls boast about seeing their men and how great they all are individually while me and all the other guys like me sit at home thinking about how another girl we liked lost attraction for us in favor of this prick we don’t even know, but hate everything about.  And when they boast, it’s about ordinary things like a funny joke or a nice restaurant they’re going to for dinner.  Ordinary things men like me are more than capable of and succeed at doing while we’re seeing these girls.

“It bothers me that girls can openly tell their dates that they’re seeing other men to spark competition and can choose among who she finds more attractive,” he continued.  “It bothers me that if a guy dated two or three girls, he’d have to keep it secret from all of them because if he was honest, every girl would just lose interest.  Plus, he’d just be labeled a player.  He’s not keeping his options open like she is, he’s just an untrustworthy player.  I’ve been on both ends of this.  And it’s only one of the many double standards I’ve experienced.

“Then there are the guys that were too nice to their girlfriends so the girls leave them for ‘alpha males’ that know how to make her loins tingle with desire.  Guys that only care about tomorrow night’s lay.  I’ve been the asshole.  I’ve been the nice guy.  Neither one seems to win out.  And I can’t be myself because the real me is too sensitive, boring, insecure, and lacks conversational depth – every quality girls, and everyone else on the planet, gets grossed out by.  That’s why none of them maintain attraction.  So what the fuck am I supposed to do?”

“What can you do man?” Aaron asked coolly.  “Just keep your head up and keep fighting.”

“I’ve been trying.”

“You haven’t been the same since Sandy left you,” Aaron said.  “Don’t try to word your way around it, but that’s what this is about.  You feel like you got lucky because you met one girl that liked you.  She was your first major fuckup.”

“You imply that there’ll be more.”

“Likely, yes.”

“I can’t handle more fuckups.  I’m just giving up hope man,” Carl said.  “Sandy and I were great together and I made the foolish mistake of not opening up my feelings to her.  Sure, it’s a mistake I’ll never make again, but fucking a.  Why couldn’t anyone just teach me more about relationships instead of just the goddamn pickup, which covers the span of dates I can hold a girl?  Or how to handle things better?  I can’t keep learning how to do things the hard way.  It just hurts too much.  What really bothers me, though, is that these girls that boast about their men are really cute.  The girls that do treat me that way aren’t as physically attractive, so why should I feel like I have to settle for less?  Men instinctively want good looks and I’m not about to surrender my masculinity when these other guys aren’t.”

“There’s more to it,” Aaron said. “We’re alone in my car in a Montclair parking garage.  You’re too afraid to go outside because the world has hurt you so many times.  That’s why you never go out.  You’re missing out on a ton of opportunities to meet new people.  That and you never chase your hobbies.  There are girls in every profession except browsing the fuckin’ internet by yourself on the weekends.”

“We’re 27,” Carl said.  “All around me for the past few years girls and guys our age have been getting married left and right.  Most are totally happy.  Most know what they want out of life and already built the foundation for it.  I’ve had one girlfriend and it lasted a few weeks.”

Carl was an attractive guy too.  He was tall, with blue eyes and always walked confidently with his shoulders back and chest out.  He certainly felt like he deserved more with good looks, a stable job, and his own apartment, but things never found his favor.  He grew angry with his age.  Resentful.  Worse yet, he knew he had to hide those feelings from everyone because then he’d just be viewed as misogynist or sexist.  How was he supposed to get a girl to even like him, let alone be attracted to him, when he was in so much pain? It kills him that he wakes up alone every morning while every girl he ever wanted to sleep with is off in bed with other guys.

“Sandy’s downside was that she was slutty,” Aaron said.  “Sluts move on fast and they don’t care about the wreckage they leave behind them. Sandy’s been with over twenty guys and she’s in her early twenties.  That’s like five or six guys a year if you consider when she lost her virginity.  Eventually her fickle attitude would have ended your relationship anyway.”

Carl knew that wasn’t true.  In his time with Sandy, he found that she was very aware of her past behaviors and was actively working on ending them.  That’s why they were even in a relationship to begin with.  He saw the very self-improvement process he was going through in her.  That’s why he always had faith in her.  “Does that mean she’ll never get married or find someone to love her?” he asked.

“It doesn’t matter right now.  She disappeared.  You need to find someone who will love you.”

“Maybe I already did,” Carl suggested.  Sandy said he loved him before he found the chance.  And then she dumped him the very next week.  It couldn’t be more obvious to him that she just grew sick of the jokes.  He looked out into the looming storm.  “I’m sick of Hollywood lies.  Every movie has a happy ending.  Every guy gets his girl and vice versa.  Everyone achieves their goals and accomplishments.  But what about those of us with harder lives and worse luck?  I’m not gonna live under their conceited fantasy.  People fuck up.  Mistakes are made.  In today’s short attention spanned society, we throw away what’s broken instead of fixing it.  And so that agony endures until time claims either it or you.

“Like you said, I do feel like I got lucky,” Carl said, “Sandy slept with me on the first date, from the rebound she never told me about.  And she kept coming back for more until she realized I was a pretty likable guy.  But is it true?  Did I really get lucky because she used me in lieu of what she concealed?  Am I truly unattractive to girls?”

Outside the parking garage, the first sheets of intense rain began to fall and pummel the ground below.  Carl stared at it derisively through his eyebrows, then turned back to Aaron who continued his effort to soothe his friend’s struggles.