Saturday, February 19, 2022

A New Release for February - In Search of the Creators


Just in time for 2022, here is February's offering of short stories for the price of only 99¢ US.

When humanity discovered they were alone in the cosmos, they returned to Earth and uplifted their animals, seeding them throughout the Milky Way. They then waited for their creations to evolve and relieve the loneliness of humanity.

But then the humans disappeared.

In Search of the Creators is coupled with Canticle of the Wolf, an SF retelling of the legend of Saint Francis and the wolf of Gubbio.

Enjoy these two parables of humanity's responsibilities when they uplift animals.

And please, if you purchase the eBook, please consider leaving a review.

Amazon US site and it will be available in all foreign Amazon markets on Wednesday, February 23rd if not before.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Patterns: Release of a New Short Story

Amazon has released my newest work for the Kindle eBook Reader: Patterns, a dark urban fantasy.

Ryan Williams won what everybody thought was a Go Board at Walt’s Cards and Games, but when he took it home, he discovered it was something very different. It was a relic from a long-ago past that could alter one's mind and eventually act as a portal to a very dangerous place. And what can one do when an addictive game threatens your sanity as well as your life?
Please consider investing 99¢ in my work and enjoy a tale that you can read over and over again.

All I ask is that if you do purchase any of my work, I would be grateful for a review. Thank you.

American Amazon
Canadian Amazon

Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Cave (Inktober, Sunday 25, 2020)

For Inktober, October 25, 2020. Prompt word: “buddy.” Tuckerization: Matt Alleman
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant’s name. Other than that, no other similar characteristics are implied.


The Cave

The Cave
by Alan Loewen

The quartet stopped in front of the forested hillside and dropped their backpacks with sighs of relief.

The leader looked at the small crevice on the side of the hill with excitement evident on his face. Just wide enough for a man to enter, Matt approached it, holding out his hand. He smiled. “Just feel the breeze coming out of there! This system has to be huge.” Matt pointed at the ground. “No footprints or signs anybody else has been here. We’re going to be the first explorers.”

Brandon grinned. “Good find, Matt.”

Matt had found the crevice a few days ago when walking the woods near his home. The breeze from the gap implied it led to a cave large enough to be affected by the highs and lows of the weather. Contacting his three closest buddies, Brandon, Jared, and Ricker, Matt made them swear to silence as it was evident the cave was as yet undiscovered. This guaranteed pristine formations and rooms and hallways that had never seen the presence of any other explorer.

“Okay, gents,” Matt said. “Hardhats with helmet lights? Extra batteries? Good. Flashlights with extra batteries? Does everybody have at least four light sticks? Ricker, why are you carrying a knife?”

Ricker laughed, took the knife out of its sheath, and spun it expertly in his hand. “You know I never go anywhere without my Spyderco Bow River. We might run into some troglodytes.”

Matt rolled his eyes. “If it snags on a crawl, you’ll just have to leave it behind.”

Jared opened his backpack to reveal five energy bars and a bag of trail mix. “Can’t eat a knife, Ricker.”

Ricker shrugged. “I also brought beef jerky. Homemade. Anyway, like we all planned, we’re only going in for an hour and then turning around and coming straight back.”

Brandon tied his backpack shut. “Yup, one hour in and one hour out and turning around if we discover a technical climb.”

Matt nodded. “That’s right. Okay, light check.”

After being satisfied the helmet lights and flashlights worked, Matt turned to the group. “Okay, I’m first, and I’ll let you three fight it out as to what order you want to follow.”

With that, Matt turned around and, turning sideways, began to squeeze himself into the crevice while carrying his backpack behind him in his left hand. The way was tight but navigable, with a steady breeze blowing into his face. About fifteen feet in, the passage turned to the left and became so close, Matt had to exhale all the air out of his lungs. He pushed himself a few feet further where the passage opened enough to allow him to breathe normally. Behind him, Matt could hear his friends as they followed. “It’s real tight where you make a left turn,” he yelled. His voice echoed ahead of him.

In the light of his helmet, Matt could see the passage ended in a larger space that the light could not penetrate. Excited, Matt forced his way further until the crevice ended up in a much larger room, so large, his light could not reach the far wall. He moved to the side to let Jared, Brandon, and Ricker into the room. The combined light showed walls receding to the left and right into the darkness. The ceiling was a modest eight to ten feet high.

A breeze could be felt coming from ahead. “Okay, let’s be logical about this. Jared and Brandon follow the left wall, and Ricker and I will go to the right. If you find any passageways, mark them.” With that, Matt took out a glow stick, snapped it in half, and shook it until it gleamed with a bright white light. It would remain active for twelve hours illuminating the exit, long enough for a quick explore.

Slowly, Matt and Ricker made their way around the right wall as Jared’s and Brandon’s lights became smaller as they made their way around the cavernous room.

Matt and Ricker had not gone thirty feet before they found the remains of an ancient campfire, small but once a source of light. Now the cold ashes only spoke of a bygone time long before the four explorers had entered the cave.

“What do you think, Matt?” Ricker asked. “Indians?”

Matt nodded. “That would be my guess. I don’t know how old these ashes are, but this area was uninhabited until 15,000 years ago. I can’t believe the ashes are that old. Just don’t touch them. We’ll have to let some archeologists know eventually and let them sift through it all.”

The duo continued to follow the wall, and far across the room, they could see the twinkling lights of their friends. Then, a few minutes later, a glow stick glimmered from far across the room.

“They found a hallway,” Ricker said. Matt nodded in response.

Suddenly Matt and Ricker stopped as a burst of excited chatter came from across the room. The two stopped and tried to listen, but the distance could not carry the conversation.

“Let’s keep going,” Matt said. After a few minutes, Matt could see the far lights continue their exploration as well.

Twenty minutes later, the two groups met neither having encountered any other exits from the room.

“Guys, you are not going to believe what we found?” Jared said.

“A campfire?” Matt asked.

“What?” Brandon asked. “No, but you have got to see this. Come on.”

Matt and Ricker followed the other duo. Ten minutes later, they found themselves staring at the wall next to a large hallway leading into the darkness.

“Pictographs,” Matt said in awe.

“We’ll be famous,” Ricker said. “Have any ever been discovered in a cave?”

Brandon shook his head. “Not that I know of. There are a lot of rocks in streams and rivers, but none in a cave.”

The quartet stared in wonder at the figures carved into the wall.

“This is weird,” Matt said. "Pictographs that I know about are nothing more than symbols. This kind of tells a story.” He pointed at the carvings, crude images of men with spears and clubs fighting what looked like a …

“Is that a dinosaur?” Jared asked.

Matt scrutinized the carving. “No, it can’t be. It’s walking on four legs so I think it may be a cave bear. No way could they be fighting a lizard that big.”

Brandon gestured down the dark unexplored hallway. “Should we?”

With that, the quartet made their way into the stygian darkness, their lights for the first time illuminating cave formations. Flowstone, stalactites, stalagmites, and columns glistened wetly as they reflected back the light.

Ricker turned around to study a column they had walked past. “Um … guys!” he said. “Look at this!”

The rest turned about and mutely stared at the ancient skeleton half concealed in the column that had formed over it.

Matt stared in a combination of awe and wonder. “I cannot even guess how long that’s been laying here. This is a living cave with formations still growing, so I have no idea how long it took for that skeleton to be covered like that.”

“There’s another one over here,” Jared said. The rest turned around to see another skeleton, this one with a shattered rib cage. Next to it lay a stone-headed spear, the wooden handle mostly rotted away.

“I guess some of them didn’t get away from that cave bear,” Jared said.

“Glad those things are extinct,” Ricker muttered, his hand subconsciously dropping to knife sheathed on his belt. “He looked at the rest of the group. “We’re coming up on our hour time limit. What do you say about adding another 30 minutes? Our lights are going strong.”

Matt looked at Jared and Brandon who nodded in agreement. “Okay. Thirty minutes more, then we clear out and notify somebody who can make sense of all this. We’ve already made our mark in history.”

The group continued but hadn’t gotten more than thirty feet when they stopped again with yet another surprise before them. “Is … is that a cave bear?” Brandon asked.

The skeleton was monstrous, twice the size of a man, laying on its right side with several spears around it and two of them penetrating its rib cage. Under it, they could see a complete skeleton of a man, except the skull lay a few feet away from the body.

“Oh, man,” Ricker muttered. “This just keeps getting better and better.”

“Yeah,” Matt said in response. “Just don’t touch anything.”

Jared shook his head. “That is not a skull of a mammal. And those teeth! Look at the front fangs. They’re hollow. This animal was venomous.”

Stunned into silence, the quartet studied the skeleton and then, as one turned down the cavern tunnel and walked further done the corridor.

About forty yards, they stopped in shock at another unexpected surprise. Where the corridor narrowed, a primitive door blocked the way. The wood was at the point of crumbling, and remnants of thick vines littered the cavern floor.

“Now what?” Brandon asked.

Matt chewed his lower lip for a while, lost in thought. “Common sense says we turn around and let the experts handle this, but I have got to see what’s on the other side of that door.”

Carefully, Matt attempted to shine his flashlight through the gaps in the door. Still, the darkness refused to yield any discoveries. So finally, he turned to his companions.

“Okay, let’s take a vote. Who’s for opening the door?”

Three hands were raised. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

As Matt touched the door, it crumbled into dust and fragments. “Well, now we can tell the experts it was already in pieces when we reached this spot.”

The hallway continued into the darkness.

The group had not walked more than twenty yards when suddenly Matt was blinded by a flash of brilliant cobalt blue, and the next thing he knew, he found himself in a rushing torrent of water.

Desperately trying to keep his head above water, the water flowed so fast he could not gain a secure foothold on the bottom of the stream. A bright white light in front of him made him feel disoriented.

Gasping for air, Matt felt himself fall a short distance and plunge into a deep pool. As he struggled for air, he was stunned by the presence of the light, and Matt felt relief that he had clearly exited the cave for the surface.

He made his way toward a stone bank made slippery with algae. Behind him, he heard his friends sputtering and splashing about. Matt turned and grabbed Jared’s hand and pulled him toward the safety of the rocks.

Ricker came to the surface, and Matt pulled him to safety as well. “Where’s Brandon?” he yelled.

Further down the pool, still struggling in the current, Brandon surfaced, gasping for breath. Jared and Matt pushed off the shore and reached Brandon, helping toward more rocks further down the stream. Behind them, the small waterfall they had all tumbled over poured into the pool. The strong current flowing to the far side of the pool ultimately flowed into a …

“Where in the world are we?” Jared asked. 

Hugging the rocks, Ricker made his way to the group. Together, they struggled over the rocks and out of the water.

Soaked, they ignored the discomfort to stare in shocked surprise at the scene before them.

The fast-flowing stream from the pool ran about fifty yards before emptying into a sea that stretched to the horizon. To their right and left, massive cliffs soared into an alien sky composed of bright, roiling clouds that never ceased in their boiling, clearly the source of illumination.

The cliffs curved about the sea and disappeared in the distance, vanishing in the mist.

The shoreline was composed of large trees that swayed in a breeze. Thirty feet away from the breakers, the beach stretched to the right and left in an unbroken vista of glistening black sand.

“Now what?” somebody asked.

Matt turned and stared at his friends in shock, his emotions mirrored in the faces of all three.

He turned and looked at the cataract that spilled out of the cave mouth where they had just escaped. “I don’t know how we can return. That water … the current is just too fast. There is no way we can swim against it. We didn’t carry any pitons or any climbing gear because we weren’t going to climb.”

Brandon dropped to the ground, his head in his hands. “We’ve got to find a way out of here,” he said.

“Listen,” Matt said. “I left a note in our car giving the location of the cave and the time of our return. That’s what I do even when I’m just hiking. So somebody will find the car and come rescue us.”

“What do we do until then?” Ricker asked.

“We survive,” Matt responded.

Thirty minutes later, the group dried out their clothes over a campfire courtesy of Jared’s waterproof Zippo lighter. There was plenty of firewood from the trees, and the presence of a warm fire brought a modicum of feelings of calm and security.

After drying their clothes and the contents of their backpacks, Jared shared his energy bars with the group.

Brandon’s watch had not survived the unexpected swim, but when the rest of the watches said it was time for nightfall, there was no dimming of the clouds overhead.

Curious and careful, Ricker made his way down to the shoreline. Moments later, he ran back to the group. “Better put that fire out right now,” he said.

The group questioned his urgent command until Ricker motioned them down to the shore. There, away from the noise of the water that poured from the cave, they stood in stunned silence, listening.

At some distance away, the quartet heard the faint sound of drums.

“I hope we’re rescued soon,” Matt said. “The sooner, the better.”


Days later, a large, hastily erected tent at the cave’s entrance served as a base of operations for several men and women who bustled about carrying exotic electronics. Occasionally a figure in a hazmat suit would make their way into or out of the cave’s entrance.

A woman entered the tent and stood before a man seated at a table covered with electronic equipment and paper reports.

The seated man looked up. “Yes?”

“We sent a camera on the back of the mobile robot down the hallway past the door. As soon as it goes twenty-three yards, it vanishes in a flash of harmless Cerenkov radiation. And the tether is cleanly severed.”

The seated man sighed and pushed the papers away from him. “So going down the hallway is a one-way trip?”

The woman nodded.

The seated man stood. “Okay. We’ll give up the four men for lost. Seal the cave with concrete and then bury the entrance in dirt and stone. We’ll explore the cave sometime in the future when we have better tech. Until then, all the reports are sealed." He sighed. "I suspect those four men are dead. Whatever happened to them, we can’t help them. Maybe someday, we’ll solve the mystery."

The woman nodded. “Very good, sir. I’ll make sure there are cover stories available for the missing men and the rest of our team. Nobody will ever know the truth.”


Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Holy Well of Saint Blodeuwedd (Inktober, Saturday, October 24, 2020)

For Inktober, October 24, 2020. Prompt word: “dig.” Tuckerization: Joy Henley
On my honor, I am never doing this again. I’m getting closer to being a year behind on this project. Yet, I confess a cancer diagnosis can throw the proverbial monkey wrench into anything. (No worries. I’m going to be okay.)
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant’s name. Other than that, no other similar characteristics are implied.

The Holy Well of Saint Blodeuwedd
by Alan Loewen

The Holy Well of Saint Blodeuwedd

“Everybody, please watch your step but do come a little closer.” The tour guide motioned for the small crowd to join him. At their feet, white granite blocks surrounded a small pool of water. The visitors could see many feet down until sunlight itself could no longer penetrate. “Thank you all for coming and touring the British Museum’s latest archeological discovery. Here in the shadow of Mount Snowden, an obscure entry in an old hagiography revealed the location of the well and hermitage of Saint Blodeuwedd, a heretofore unknown Welsh saint from the 6th century.

“The well before you was the first item we uncovered, easily done as it feeds a small stream and the tiny pond behind you.”

As the tour guide rambled, Joy Henley turned to observe the various faces of the rest of her group from Eastern Nazarene College. Five of them had been lucky enough to be selected for doing a summer overseas course in Wales. Their expressions ranged from fascination to boredom, but all were delighted to be anywhere than the United States for 6 weeks.

One of the group raised a hand. “Yes?” the tour guide asked.

“How deep is the well?”

The tour guide shrugged. “We don’t know yet. We’re mostly interested right now in scouring the area around it for artifacts, but as you can see there is no visible bottom. Our next project is to fully dig out Blodeuwedd’s stone cell, and we may have gotten a lead on her grave. Speaking of her cell, please follow me as that is our next stop.”

As the group carefully walked over the uneven ground to a square of stones not far from the well, Joy felt a tug on her sleeve. Turning to see Deb, her college roommate, Joy whispered a quick, “What’s up.”

Deb pointed at Joy’s chest. “Your necklace popped out of your blouse again. You’re gonna lose that, ya know. I told you not to wear it today.”

Joy grabbed the pendant that had slipped out from where it hung suspended under her blouse. Her fingers ran over the delicate silver filigree of flowers and slipped it back into safety. “I told you I never take it off. It’s a gift from my parents.” Deb rolled her eyes.

The group stopped to hear the guide drone on about Blodeuwedd’s hermitage, a rough hut of fieldstone where people came to hear her wisdom and drink from the holy well. Today only the foundation existed, and some rocks to show where the walls stood.

Now that could be a life I’d like, Joy thought. Here in this quiet. In nature. Just me, God, and a few daring souls willing to travel to talk to me.

Afterward, the group broke up and gathered by the tour bus to eat box lunches purchased back at the hostel.

“Hey, Deb,” Joy said. “You can have my crisps. I want to get some pictures now that the well and hermitage aren’t surrounded by people.”

Deb nodded to busy eating to look up. Quickly Joy went up to the well and began snapping pictures with her disposable Kodak camera.

I wonder if I can take a picture looking straight down the well? That would be a fascinating picture

Carefully, Joy made her way around the mouth of the well looking for a good vantage point. Unfortunately, just as she attempted to frame a shot in the viewfinder, the granite block under her foot shifted, and Joy slipped into the well.

Joy’s last sensation was a panicked sense of incredible cold as she sank into the well's depths.

Three weeks later, archeologists carefully exhumed the stone sarcophagus of Saint Blodeuwedd. Unfortunately, the disappearance of a visiting student from the States had hindered the dig for a few days. That the poor woman had never been found only formed one more mystery near Mount Snowden.

Now she was forgotten as the archeologists and their volunteers celebrated finding the elusive grave. Discovered just a few yards away from where the saint spent her life in holy isolation and meditation, excitement ran high.

With bated breath, they carefully lifted the heavy lid. The body of Saint Blodeuwedd was little more than a skeleton covered with scraps of rough homespun wool. Yet the grave held one shocking surprise. A necklace around the saint’s neck had a pendent of flowers in the form of a delicate silver filigree.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Happy Little Accidents (Inktober, Friday, October 23, 2020)

For Inktober, October 23, 2020. Prompt word: “rip.” Tuckerization: Nick Weaver
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant’s name. Other than that, no other similar characteristics are implied.
Coyote Personality

Happy Little Accidents
by Alan Loewen

"We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents. – Bob Ross

Nick tapped his chin with his charcoal pencil as he pondered the mystery about him. Butterflies in black and white fluttered about his room, occasionally resting on flowers with a similar lack of color.

The odd phenomenon had started early this morning when Nick sat down in front of his drawing station for his daily practice session. Determined to hone his skills, he had made a decision to wake up early every morning and spend thirty minutes drawing whatever came to mind. Slowly, over the weeks, his art took on a more pleasant life-like quality. Yet, this morning, for the first time, Nick's quick pencil sketch of butterflies and flowers had done precisely that.

Inspired by the miracle, he had tried his skill on a still life, and his green plastic drinking glass from his bedstand now had a colorless companion. No matter what he drew, ten minutes after completing the picture, the subject reappeared in his room looking exactly like its drawn counterpart.

Now his usually untidy room looked more cluttered as black and white copies of items genuine and imagined lay about. Black and white dollar bills, a fine copy of his Nike sneakers, and other bric-a-brac lay scattered about. However, all of them appeared in a stark, colorless form appearing in the black and white pencil in which they were drawn.

Abruptly, Nick grinned. Not knowing if it was the pencil or the paper that worked the magic, he grabbed a fresh sheet and some colored pencils and began drawing feverishly.

The creature’s head came first, mischievous eyes peering from a canine head and a battered fedora riding high to make room for the dog-like ears. Nick completed the face of the figure by drawing a wolfish grin.

For years, Nick had portrayed himself in his art as a cartoonish, anthropomorphic coyote, a sort of alternate persona that embraced a form of chaos so prevalent in the cartoons of the 40s and 50s. If the magic was somehow part of him, he looked forward to talking with an alternative form of himself.

As the final part of the piece--coloring in the blue jean vest--Nick sat back in eager anticipation.

And nothing happened.

After waiting an additional ten minutes, Nick ripped the artwork up, discouraged the magic had so obviously failed.

As Nick’s roommate came home from work that evening, Tommy screamed to see a very real anthropomorphic coyote sprawled on the sofa watching television. Dressed in a baseball cap, blue jeans, a t-shirt, and a vest, the creature acted like it was at home.

“Cool your jets,” the coyote muttered. “I can’t hear the TV with you bellerin’.”

Tommy had backed up against the wall in fear as he stared at the creature before him. “Nick?” he whispered. “Is ... is that you?”

“The one and only,” Nick muttered. “I learned that when I was human, I used to be magical as well as impatient, but now as a ‘yote ... well ... not so much magical anymore.”

He looked up with a toothy grin. “So what ya got for dinner?”

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Siren’s Dice Cup (Inktober, Thursday, October 22, 2020)

For Inktober, October 22, 2020. Prompt word: “chef.” Tuckerization: Chris Williams
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant’s name. Other than that, no other similar characteristics are implied.

The Siren’s Dice Cup
by Alan Loewen

The night air was chilly, and the streets were dark. Lantern light streamed through the frosted windows of the tavern, barely illuminating the overhead sign: The Siren’s Dice Cup. Above the streets, constellations, strange to Chris’s memory, twinkled in the sky. A gaseous nebula hung in the west, pale and majestic, its heart illuminated by a bright green star.

“So are we going to go in or spend the night in the streets?” The speaker was a young girl in her mid-20’s shivering in jean shorts and a t-shirt that exposed too much midriff. Chris regretted he couldn’t remember her name, but they had all just met that night. They had no idea where they were now.

“Might as well go in,” her companion said. He held her arm in his, and Chris remembered his name, Marc with a “c.” Marc’s voice shook, but Chris thought it was more from fear than the brisk night air.

The trio had already given up trying to comprehend how they had ended up in such a place. All of them avid fans of Dungeons and Dragons, they had responded to an ad for a new role-playing group. Each had already talked to Garret, the advertisement’s author, over the phone who expressed an eagerness for new players. As the Dungeon Master, Garret would act as rules interpreter and guide the trio through the adventures.

When they reached the address, Garrett answered the door with a friendly smile and ushered them inside. Strangely enough, his apartment was almost empty of furniture. There were no bookshelves, television screens, or any other furniture. They sat down at a bare wooden table. Chris also thought it odd the table was empty of dice and role-playing rule books. There wasn’t even the ever-present screen where the Dungeon Master would secretly roll dice to determine reactions, encounters, and events.

After a quick round of introductions, Chris put his books on the table along with a pad of paper, a pencil, and a large bag of dice. “Should we begin to roll out characters?”

Garrett shook his head and smiled. “No need.”

And suddenly, Chris and the other two players found themselves on their backs in a meadow outside a medieval-appearing town as the sun quickly set. It took a while to overcome the shock and the multitude of unanswered questions they asked each other. They saw their wisest move was to enter the town for shelter and information.

The streets were bare, and the trio only saw two or three individuals hurrying down the darkening streets. The hoods of their home-spun robes were pulled low over their faces as if to avoid any and all interruptions. Oddly enough, the townspeople did not even pause to stare at the oddly dressed visitors.

Now standing outside the tavern, Chris opened the door to be met with a gentle wave of warm air and the aroma of roasted meats and potatoes. Five or six people sat at tables and dressed in the same fashion as the people on the street. They drank from hardened leather tankards and ate from wooden trenchers. Seeing slabs of bread smothered in meat and broth and surrounded by roasted vegetables. Chris’s mouth watered despite himself.

A man looked up interrupting his conversation with a companion. His eyes showed no surprise at the newcomers but instead, he yelled through an open door behind the bar. “Hey, Mariah! We got some more newbies!”

A woman walked through the door wearing a well-stained apron. She walked up to the newcomers and looked them over. “Don’t tell me,” she said. “You went to play Dungeons and Dragons with a new Dungeon Master, and you found yourself outside the town in a meadow.” Mariah motioned the trio toward a table. “Have a seat, and I’ll tell you what happened.”

Thirty minutes later, Chris and Marc sat in shock as Marc’s girlfriend, Summer, quietly wept.

Mariah sat back in her chair and drained her mug dry before speaking again. “And that’s the story. Whoever this Garrett is, he sends new people to this world regularly, at least two hundred in the last year alone. Some settle down here, and others move on to settle new towns or explore. Wandering isn’t a safe option in my book. There are creatures out there with teeth.”

“So … so what do we do?” Chris asked. “Where do we go?”

Mariah nodded. “Well, we aren’t a charity. Tomorrow, you start earning your keep until you’ve earned enough to either buy a place of your own or move on. I need help in the kitchen. Another chef would always help.” She waved her hand at Summer. “I need somebody to wait tables.” She pointed at Marc. “You look like you can wield a sword. The town is always in need of new guards.”

Marc shook his head. “No way. I play D&D; I don’t live it. I’ll cook in the kitchen. I want to stay near Summer anyway.”

Mariah looked at Chris. “Well, you could join the town guard yourself or apprentice yourself to the blacksmith or cooper. It’s all hard work, but it’s honest. Those that come here with darker motives don’t last long. We don’t tolerate criminals. We have gallows on the other end of town. Fortunately, we don’t have to use them often.”

Ten months later, Chris stood outside the town wall and looked back for the last time. Marc and Summer had decided to remain at the tavern, but Chris had the itch to explore. Apprenticeship to the blacksmith had strengthened his body and honed his muscles. The very sword he wore at his hip, as well as the wrist and shin guards, were ones he had crafted himself. A bag of hard-earned coins jingled at his belt.

The walled village of Stonemere lay only a short day’s journey to the north, and the road was primarily considered safe from creatures that fancied a quick snack on travelers. And from there? Chris smiled.

Making sure his backpack was securely fastened to his shoulders and balanced on his hips, he took his first step toward his new life.

(Graphic by artist Carl Nilsson)